Blog Tour: ‘The Aosawa Murders’ by Riku Onda

Thanks so much to Anne Cater for the blog tour invite, and the publishers Bitter Lemon Press. This novel has been translated from the Japanese by Alison Watts. ‘The Aosawa Murders’ won the 59th Mystery Writers of Japan Award for best novel.

Blurb:

On a stormy summer day in the 1970s the Aosawas, owners of a prominent local hospital, host a large birthday party in their villa on the Sea of Japan. 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 family member spared death. The youth who emerges as the prime suspect commits suicide that October, effectively sealing his guilt while consigning his motives to mystery.

Inspector Teru is 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. 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.

My thoughts…

This is a steadily paced read that draws you in by beautifully directed prose and takes you through a journey of questions and puzzles to the final pages. Through the accounts of an author, an assistant, a housekeeper’s daughter, a detective, an elder brother, a young master, a tobacconist’s grandson, an editor, a friend and some other snippets of prose, poetry, diaries and file extracts – we are introduced to a horrific mass murder during an aggressive deluge of rain at a birthday party on the Sea of Japan and its sombre aftermath.

Each narrative voice opens up more information and pulls the reader into the complexities of the event and the psychologies of everyone involved. The delicacies and nuances in the writing are lovely, despite the pain and brutality of the deaths in the umbrella arc of the story.

What I really enjoyed is the distance some of our narrators have from the actual event, for example, the housekeeper’s daughter is recalling events via her mother, who was at the party and one of the only survivors. Another is the young master observing a man who holds his interest and keeps drawing his attention, and who we find is wrapped up in the shocking events. I do enjoy novels that offer varying perspectives on a single event, and this novel is a joy in how the reveals are constructed.

I think this book would suit readers who enjoy unusual mysteries. The final conclusions I found were ambiguous and there are gaps in the story when you read the closing lines, but I feel this book is more about the people affected by the shocking crime; I found more fascination from their viewpoints than in the hunt for the perpetrator. There’s also the bonus of insight into Japanese crime literature and culture that reading this novel brings.

A complex, ambiguous puzzle of a crime novel with a darkness at its core.

The Author – Riku Onda

Riku Onda, born in 1964, is the professional name of Nanae Kumagai. She has been writing fiction since 1991 and has won the Yoshikawa Eiji Prize for New Writers, the Japan Booksellers’ Award, the Mystery Writers of Japan Award for Best Novel for The Aosawa Murders, the Yamamoto Shūgorō Prize, and the Naoki Prize. Her work has been adapted for film and television. This is her first crime novel and the first time she is translated
into English.

Translated by Alison Watts, who is an Australian-born Japanese to English translator and long time resident of Japan. She has translated Aya Goda’s TAO: On the Road and On the Run in Outlaw China (Portobello, 2007) and Durian Sukegawa’s Sweet Bean Paste (Oneworld Publications, 2017), and her translations of The Aosawa Murders and Spark (Pushkin Press, 2020) by Naoki Matayaoshi are forthcoming.

Blog Tour

Check out these other brilliant bloggers posting now until the 3rd of March.

Beast by Matt Wesolowski

I’m very pleased to be part of this Blog Tour for ‘Beast’, with thanks to the lovely Anne and Orenda Books.

Beast will unveil a darkness from which you may never
return…

The Blurb

In the wake of the ‘Beast from the East ’ cold snap that ravaged the UK in 2018, a grisly discovery was made in a ruin on the Northumbrian coast. Twenty-four-year-old vlogger, Elizabeth Barton, had been barricaded inside what locals refer to as ‘ The Vampire Tower ’, where she was later found frozen to death.

Three young men, part of an alleged cult, were convicted of this terrible crime, which they described as a ‘prank gone wrong ’. However, in the small town of Ergarth, questions have been raised about the nature of Elizabeth Barton’s death and whether the three convicted youths were even responsible.

Elusive online journalist Scott King speaks to six witnesses – people who knew both the victim and the three killers – to peer beneath the surface of the case. He uncovers whispers of a shocking online craze that held the young of Ergarth in its thrall and drove them to escalate a series of pranks in the name of internet fame. He hears of an abattoir on the edge of town, which held more than simple slaughter behind its walls, and the tragic and chilling legend of the Ergarth Vampire…

My thoughts…

This is, in a nutshell, brilliant storytelling. It’s the fourth book in a series of similarly presented books: ‘Six Stories’, ‘Hydra’ and ‘Changeling’. I haven’t read any of the other books, so ‘Beast’ is my first taste of Matt Wesolowski’s work. I am hugely impressed, what a dark and addictive read. It’s one of those books that would work brilliantly as an audio-book (just checked and I can see the first are all available on Audible – so I’ll be adding them to my collection soon), as it’s designed around a series of six interviews for a podcast. I must admit, I’m only a minor book blogger, and I don’t completely understand the more commercial blogging world, so I found the concepts running through this book fascinating, and particularly as a social study of our ever-modernising world. It also contains the central theme of power and the impact social media has on people, and considering the awful news about Caroline Flack this week, the resonances are incredibly disturbing. This awful power-play for importance and ‘deemed’ value is very scary, and as a parent slightly terrifying. I’m currently in a room with a teenager who is flicking through her phone, and I have no idea what’s going on in her mind and on her phone screen (she’s 17, and we’ve had many discussions and I am 99.9% sure she is honest, caring and compassionate to others).

But back to ‘Beast’ which is built around the brutal murder of a blogger in a site connected with the legend of a local vampire, and considering she was beheaded, it builds questions and fear from the local community. Her crime is solved, and the perpetrators imprisoned, so when a new question arises, a new interest in her cases emerges. This introduces our online journalist Scott King and we follow his investigation via six reports. It’s clear I have missed something about Scott’s personal life from the previous books, but it by no way affects the read, it does make me want to order the previous three books pretty pronto though.

I really do recommend you pick up this book, it’s addictive and underneath the witness accounts there festers a dark and gothic tale of elusive, satanic behaviour waiting to inflict pain and misery. There’s also the valid and current debate of our modern society and its narcissistic and needful personalities thriving in the world of social media and the consequences of this. I was hooked from start to finish. Loved the mystery, the darkness and the debate it raises.

Highly recommended!

The Author

Matt Wesolowski is an author from Newcastle-Upon-Tyne in the UK. He is
an English tutor for young people in care. Matt started his writing career in
horror, and his short horror fiction has been published in numerous UK- an
US-based anthologies such as Midnight Movie Creature, Selfies from the End
of the World, Cold Iron and many more. His novella, The Black Land, a horror set on the Northumberland coast, was published in 2013. Matt was a winner of the Pitch Perfect competition at Bloody Scotland Crime Writing Festival in 2015. His debut thriller, Six Stories, was an Amazon bestseller in the USA, Canada, the UK and Australia, and a WHSmith Fresh Talent pick, and film rights were sold to a major Hollywood studio. A prequel, Hydra, was published in 2018 and became an international bestseller

The Publisher

Orenda Books is a small independent publishing company specialising in literary fiction with a heavy emphasis on crime/thrillers, and approximately half the list in translation. They’ve been twice shortlisted for the Nick Robinson Best Newcomer Award at the IPG awards, and publisher
and owner Karen Sullivan was a Bookseller Rising Star in 2016. In 2018, they were awarded a prestigious Creative Europe grant for their translated books programme. Three authors, including Agnes Ravatn, Matt Wesolowski and Amanda Jennings have been WHSmith Fresh Talent picks, and Ravatn’s The Bird Tribunal was shortlisted for the Dublin Literary Award, won an English PEN Translation Award, and adapted for BBC Radio Four ’s Book at Bedtime. Six titles have been shortor long-listed for the CWA Daggers. Launched in 2014 with a mission to bring more international
literature to the UK market, Orenda Books publishes a host of debuts, many of which have gone on to sell millions worldwide, and looks for fresh, exciting new voices that push the genre in new directions. Bestselling authors include Ragnar Jonasson, Antti Tuomainen, Gunnar Staalesen,
Michael J. Malone, Kjell Ola Dahl, Louise Beech, Johana Gustawsson, Lilja Sigurðardóttir and Sarah Stovell.
http://www.orendabooks.co.uk
@OrendaBooks