I’m delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for The Aosawa Murders today. This is a fantastic mystery with an unusual structure, and it’s a novel that will appeal to those who like their whodunnits to be intricately plotted.
On a stormy summer day, the Aosawas, owners of a prominent local hospital, host a large birthday party. The occasion turns into tragedy when 17 people die from cyanide in their drinks. The only surviving links to what might have happened are a cryptic verse that could be the killer’s, and the physician’s bewitching blind daughter, Hisako, the only person spared injury. But the youth who emerges as the prime suspect commits suicide that October, effectively sealing his guilt while consigning his motives to mystery.
The police are convinced that Hisako had a role in the crime, as are many in the town, including the author of a bestselling book about the murders written a decade after the incident, who was herself a childhood friend of Hisako’ and witness to the discovery of the murders. The truth is revealed through a skilful juggling of testimony by different voices: family members, witnesses and neighbours, police investigators and of course the mesmerising Hisako herself.
The Aosawa Murders takes the classic elements of the mystery genre but steers away from putting them together in the usual way, instead providing a multi-voiced insight into the psychology of contemporary Japan, with its rituals, pervasive envy and ever so polite hypocrisy. But it’s also about the nature of evil and the resonance and unreliability of memory.
Part Kurasawa’s Rashomon, part Capote’s In Cold Blood.
I love the structure of The Aosawa Murders, which somehow manages to be both familiar and unusual simultaneously. It begins with a short prologue – a transcript of a police interview with Hisako Aosawa, the only member of the Aosawa family to survive the poisoning. The following chapters are then told from the perspectives of different characters, each of whom has something to add to the mystery. There is an author who fictionalised the events in a novel, herself a young girl at the time of the murders who had been at the Aosawa house that day, as well as the inspector who led the investigation. Part of what makes this structure work so well is that each chapter reveals another small piece of the puzzle to the reader. No one knows everything – although some have more insight than others – but all have some snippet of pertinent information, even if they don’t realise the relevance of what they know.
It’s clear that each character is being interviewed, although the interviewer remains nameless, and doesn’t speak to the readers at all. The characters sometimes repeat the interviewer’s questions, making it clear what has been asked, but this isn’t necessary most of the time. This adds another element to ponder – who is the interviewer, and why are they revisiting a crime that is some thirty years old, unsatisfactorily solved it might be? To me, it felt as though Riku Onda herself were interviewing her own characters – imagining what she would need to ask and who she would need to speak to in order to write a novel about the events. There is a reference to the interviewer writing a book, which is maybe what has convinced me on this point. It’s a bit meta, but cleverly done.
The poisoning itself seems to be an almost perfect crime, and the mystery is one of the more complex that I’ve come across, and it’s one that I’m still thinking about some time after turning the final page. It’s intricately plotted, and I enjoyed the slow reveal of information through each character’s testimony. The interviews take place many years after the poisoning of the Aosawas, and this adds another layer of complexity to the novel as the question of unreliability and the mutability of memory comes into play. The Aosawa Murders is a wonderful read, and one to savour as you try to piece together the clues you’ve been given.
The Aosawa Murders is published by Bitter Lemon Press, and is available to purchase now. Many thanks to the publisher and to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for the review copy and the opportunity to take part in the blog tour.
Make sure you check out the other bloggers taking part in the tour: