Book review: 『寝台特急殺人事件』by Kyotaro Nishimura

Cover of 寝台特急殺人事件. The cover illustration is a picture of a train wagon taken at night. There is a logo on the train that represents a blue bird with the name はやぶさ written on it.
Title: 寝台特急殺人事件 (ブルートレインさつじんじけん)
First published: 1978
Page Count: 405
Journaliste Aoki is sent to board the sleeper train (also called Blue Train) “Hayabusa” that runs between Tokyo and Kagoshima to write an article on the recent hype around the Blue Trains. He falls under the spell of a beautiful woman but soon encounters very strange events on board. In the meanwhile, a woman is found dead in a river. The possible implication of a minister complicates the matter and Chief Inspector Totsugawa and his…

This is the first book in the train series (鉄道ミステリー) and the one that started it all. I was very excited to read it because I read another one from this series and loved it very much.

I find that the concept behind the series is really great: each novel is focused on a different train line and characteristics of the line will be used in the case. In this one, we are in the Hayabusa that ran between Tokyo and Kagoshima between 1942 and 2009. Timetables are used in the plot, and I believe that the author used real timetables. As such, the novel must be even more enjoyable for readers who know these trains and lines and/or have boarded them in person.

But even I who never had the opportunity to board a sleeper train in Japan find that the novel felt nostalgic and that it perfectly captures the atmosphere and excitement offered by old sleeper trains. So for the setting alone, I would recommend the series.

As for the mystery, I would say that the book started really strong with an engrossing first chapter. Then, we have a more classic murder case / police investigation that was very good and enjoyable. However, I found that the solution and the whole case in general felt too far-fetched to sound credible. Nevertheless, the investigation is still really engrossing. I liked the dynamic between Chief Inspector Totsugawa who would often stay at the station to coordinate the investigation and police officers on the field.

I also liked how characteristics related to the Hayabusa as well as timetables are used in the plot. I think that reading some passages will be more enjoyable if you take notes or remember the name of some stations and the time when the train went through them. There is nothing too complex in the novel, but as someone who is not familiar with most of the station names used in the novel, I had to make an extra effort to check out their pronunciation and their position on the map.

Overall, I found this novel very similar to the one that won the Mystery Writers of Japan Award, 終着駅殺人事件, but there is no need to read this one before the other.

Other books by this author:
Cover of “Terminal satsujin jiken”. On the cover is a picture taken by night of Ueno Station.