Book review: 『真赤な子犬』by Jokichi Hikage

真赤な子犬 (まっかなこいぬ)
Title: 真赤な子犬 (まっかなこいぬ)
First published: 1959
Page Count: 253
Everything starts with a dead body, a poisoned steak au poivre, a red puppy, but nothing quite where it should be! The police is confronted with a baffling mystery, but the reader knows what happened (or at least part of it!).

I tend to associate Jokichi Hikage with serious, if not dark and depressing, topics like in the short story 狐の鶏 or the novel 孤独の罠, so I was almost shocked when I realised that 真赤な子犬 was a humorous mystery. First published in 1959, it is one of the author’s first novels.

There are several things I liked in this novel, the first one being the narrative technique chosen by the author. Contrary to a classic murder mystery where we would follow characters as they discover the body and where reconstructing the process that led to the murder would be the main point of the story, here we have access to this process directly. Sometimes, murder cases are hard to crack because several characters are involved: even though there is only one murderer, multiple characters have come to the scene of the crime for innocent reasons, messing up with evidence or leaving misleading clues. The solution might be clever, but when you think about it afterwards, the abundance of coincidences can feel absurd.

In 真赤な子犬, we see the improbable turn of events and coincidences which led to the puzzling crime scene the police is confronted with. This leads to really comical scenes in the beginning of the novel. Unfortunately, I find that the summary and the obi reveal too much (including something that only happens 2/3 into the novel!) and destroy part of the comical effect. I bought the digital edition, so I didn’t pay attention to the obi, and I am in the habit of never reading back cover summaries in crime fiction, so I found the first pages really funny, but it would have been a different experience if I had known what would happen.

Overall, I enjoyed reading this book from start to finish. The characters, setting and plot are great, and even though the reader knows a lot, we don’t know everything. As a result, we can both enjoy seeing the police trying to entangle the mess of the crime scene while knowing what happened, but at the same time, we still don’t know the solution and can try to figure it out.

This being said, I much preferred the author’s other books, especially the mysteries set in Taiwan under Japanese Rule 内部の真実 and 応家の人々, so I would recommend those before 真赤な子犬.

CW: One character is a person of short stature and the book contains offensive descriptions/comments.

I’m learning Japanese, Korean and Chinese to read detective novels in these languages. I post about my reading progress and language study here. Best way to get in touch is on Mastodon 🙂

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