The Aosawa Murders
By Riku Ondab
Translated by Alison Watts
In 1973, in a small Japanese seaside city, the prominent Aosawa family held party for the neighborhood to celebrate the joint birthdays of three generations. Joy turned to tragedy when seventeen party goers died from cyanide poisoning, including the entire Aosawa clan save for Hisako, Dr. Aosawa’s twelve-year-old blind, captivating daughter. The only clue was a strange poem left on the kitchen table.
Detectives spent months pursuing the investigation with no leads, but a troubled young man previously unknown to the police killed himself and left a suicide note confessing to the murders. The police force was happy to officially close the high-profile investigation, but loose ends remained: What was the young man’s connection to the family? Was Hisako a survivor or a mastermind behind the evil deed? Why would someone want the family dead?
The Aosawa Murders considers these questions through multiple, diverse perspectives: interviews with an author who wrote a bestselling book about the crime ten years later, her assistant, her editor, the lead detective, and more. Other chapters provide third-person accounts from witnesses close to the case, while one is composed of copies of letters and newspaper transcripts. Personally, I love books structured in this way; however, the drawback (worth it to me) is that there is less depth to each individual character.
While the myriad voices together provide a thorough (though slightly ambiguous) explanation of the events surrounding the murders, the gaps and blind-spots point to the limitations of memory and the difficulty of achieving an entirely true account. Beyond the mystery and how it effected those touched by the crime, the book’s descriptions of weather—particularly heat, humidity, and heavy rain, architecture, and the city itself are cinematic.
Reading mysteries and thrillers like The Aosawa Murders from other countries is a pleasure for me because they don’t follow the same tropes and patterns as English-language crime novels. Not only did the book have an unusual and interesting format, it also provided insight into Japanese history and culture. I definitely encourage mystery lovers to add this to their reading list!
The Aosawa Murders will be released February 18, 2020! Look for it at your favorite bookstore.
Thank you to Bitter Lemon Press for providing an advance reading copy in exchange for an honest review.