The Lady Killer: Japanese whodunnit

ladyAn artful, old fashioned murder mystery which merrily leads its investigators (and the reader) along a convoluted pathway scattered with clues. Even the title is a masterful play on words, open to several interpretations… more than one of which may be correct. The Lady Killer isn’t as outright bizarre as more modern Japanese crime fiction, but is still imbued with cultural idiosyncrasies and social conventions which make it a distinctly different reading experience to the average mainstream thriller.

The story is told almost exclusively from a male perspective, initially from that of the womaniser who escapes his unhappy marriage by hunting female ‘prey’ in the big city. When his lovers are found strangled, the rest of the investigation is unveiled by his lawyer’s assistant who’s been tasked with proving the client’s innocence. That might be tricky because the evidence against him is compelling…

Although it was written over half a century ago, back in 1963, this slender novel rings some seriously contemporary bells. The predatory adulterer who stalks, seduces and discards vulnerable women makes for an uncomfortable protagonist – but does being a despicable sexual slimeball automatically condemn him as a cold-blooded murderer? The Lady Killer was most definitely ahead of its time in terms of forensic police investigation, and incorporates early insights into the identification of a suspect from blood and other samples, long before DNA typing became commonplace.

The author (a woman) elegantly depicts complex characters in entangled situations, describing just enough detail to bring Tokyo’s seedy side to life without burying the reader in everyday trivia. Presented in fairly plain language, this story is deceptively straightforward – until the moment that it obviously isn’t and you realise just how cleverly you’ve been misled.

8/10
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
The Lady Killer by Masako Togawa is available at Amazon

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If you enjoy short, sharp, stripped-back crime-thrillers…

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…meet JJ Stoner, the contract killer with a complicated conscience:
available at Amazon

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