Book review:『七年目の脅迫状』by Futari Okajima

Cover of 七年目の脅迫状. Illustration: a brown horse is grazing on a green background.
Title: 七年目の脅迫状 (しちねんめのきょうはくじょう)
First published: 1983
Page Count: 328
The Japan Racing Association has received threatening letters: either they manipulate the races to allow a designated horse to win, or a horse will be infected with EIA (Equine Infectious Anemia), a viral disease for which there is no treatment. Shintaro Yasaka is tasked to investigate the matter discreetly, as making it public would bring chaos among fans and owners.

This book belongs to the series of horse race mysteries written by Futari Okajima, and I heartily recommend it if you are looking for a good murder mystery. Even though I love all three of them 焦茶色のパステル (won the Edogawa Rampo prize), あした天気にしておくれ and 七年目の脅迫状, this last one might be my favourite by a small margin. They are all very similar, all taking place in the context of horse racing and featuring an engrossing crime mystery.

The main topics are insurance and disease, but there is nothing difficult to understand, even if you are not familiar with racehorses. I personally enjoyed the setting very much, I also found that the pace of the novel was perfect, the cast of characters was great and the way the plot unfolds makes this book a real page-turner. I particularly enjoyed the classic scene at the end, where one character explains everything, it was really exciting to read!

Another thing that I really appreciate in this novel (though this is true for the three novels about horse racing), is that the protagonists never make bad decisions just to allow the plot to go on. I have read some books lately that rely on missed opportunities and bad decisions to make a weak mystery remain intact until the end, so I really appreciate to see a real, hard to crack case that involves different types of crime and gets so complex that only the dedication of our protagonist can break it.

I discovered Futari Okajima through the Mystery Writers of Japan Award (they won it in 1986 with チョコレートゲーム), but the horse racing mysteries are even better than チョコレートゲーム in my opinion. Exploring the catalogue of the authors who won the prize was definitely a good idea!

Other books by this author:
Cover of チョコレートゲーム. The focus of the cover image is a small desk and two chairs facing the desk, typically the kind that are used in classrooms. On the table there is some kind of board game involving chocolate bars. There are also bank notes and chocolate around it.
解決まではあと6人 (かいけつまではあとろくにん)
99%の誘拐 (きゅうじゅうきゅうぱーせんとのゆうかい)
焦茶色のパステル (こげちゃいろのぱすてる)