It is 1947 in post-war Tokyo and the police are confronted by a locked room murder in Akimitsu Takagi’s The Tatoo Murder Case. The book was one of several Japanese mysteries I got for Christmas from my husband. If the others are as interesting, he and David, the owner of Mystery on Main in Brattleboro, choose well.
Akimitsu Takagi was born in 1920. According to both Wikipedia and eNotes, he studied metallurgy, but became a mystery writer when a fortune teller told him that was where his future lay. He was a prolific writer up to the 1990’s; he died in 1995. Only three of his books, including Tattoo, have been translated into English.
As with all good books, one learns a great deal. Post-war Japan and the destruction in Tokyo are prominent. At one point, we visit a house untouched by the war while the house next door is destroyed. And I learned a lot about the art of tattooing. Did you know that people with full-body tattoos have a shorter life span because the tattoo interferes with circulation? Picking up facts like that is one reason I love good mysteries.
In the shadowy depths of Mount Togakushi in Nagano Prefecture, there lived three powerful, wicked sorcerers who were masters of the black arts of magic and enchantment. These mysterious magicians were known as Tsunedahime, Jiraiya, and Orochimaru, and their legendary exploits have been the subjects of folk tales, Kabuki plays, woodblock prints, and some of the most spectacular Japanese art tattoos ever created.
This is the tragic story of three of those tattoos.
I’m not certain if that preface was written by Takagi or not, but assume that it was. The folklore behind the tattoos plays as big a part in the story as the art of tattooing itself. At the time of the mystery, tattooing is illegal in Japan, but there is a flourishing underground. Tattooing is an art to the Japanese who are contemptuous of the random tattoos sported by the occupying Americans. Their tattoos are referred to as sushi after a kind of rice featuring vegetables and other things scattered at random in flavored rice. (Sushi refers to the rice and comes in many forms, not just rolled in seaweed or topped with fish.) A good tattoo should be an entire picture and tell a story, not just be random names of girlfriends, flags, and anchors!
The Tattoo Murder Case provides a glimpse into a different culture and time as well as a fascinating mystery.
Photograph of Takagi from Wikipedia.
Photograph of book cover from Amazon.
The book was translated by Deborah Boehm.