Never before available in English.
By the author of the acclaimed Tokyo Zodiac Murders.
The Crooked House sits on a snowbound cliff overlooking icy seas at the remote northern tip of Japan. A curious place for the millionaire Kozaburo Hamamoto to build a house, but even more curious is the house itself - a disorienting maze of sloping floors and strangely situated staircases, full of bloodcurdling masks and uncanny, lifesize dolls. When a man is found dead in one of the mansion's rooms, murdered in seemingly impossible circumstances, the police are called. But they are unable to solve the puzzle, and powerless to protect the party of house guests as more bizarre deaths follow.
Enter Kiyoshi Mitarai, the renowned sleuth, famous for unmasking the culprit behind the notorious Umezawa family massacre. Surely if anyone can crack these cryptic murders he will. But you have all the clues too - can you solve the mystery of the murders in The Crooked House first?
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
The Entrance of the Ice Floe Mansion
The cheerful notes of "White Christmas" and the sounds of merrymaking spilt out from the salon behind them.
From down the hill came the grinding of tyre chains, and a black Mercedes-Benz appeared out of the swirling snow — more party guests arriving.
Kozaburo Hamamoto stood in front of the open double doors, smoking a pipe, a brightly coloured ascot tied at his neck. Although his hair had turned completely silver, he was in excellent shape with no hint of excess flab, making his age difficult to estimate from his appearance. He lowered his pipe to exhale a plume of white smoke, then turned to smile at the woman by his side.
His daughter, Eiko, was wearing an elegantly expensive cocktail dress. Her hair was up, exposing her shoulders to the evening chill. She'd inherited her father's aquiline nose and rather prominent chin, but was nevertheless something of a beauty. She was tall; in heels she stood slightly taller than her father. Her make-up was carefully done, but on the heavy side, as you would expect for an occasion like this evening. Her tight-lipped expression was that of a company president listening wordlessly to the demands of her union members.
The porch was illuminated in a yellow glow as the car pulled in. The instant it stopped in front of the Hamamotos, the door was flung open with great force and a tall, rather heavily built man with thinning hair leapt out into the snow.
"Well, what have we here? My own personal welcoming committee!" he bellowed, rather louder than necessary, his words forming white clouds in the air around him. Eikichi Kikuoka was the kind of man who had probably never spoken softly in his life; the extroverted company president was forever out and about attending social events. Perhaps that was why his voice always sounded a little raspy.
The lord of the manor nodded graciously, and his daughter formally welcomed the guest to their home.
A petite woman emerged from the car behind Kikuoka. She wore a black dress with a leopard-skin coat thrown over her shoulders and her movements were graceful and catlike. Her presence seemed to make the two inhabitants of the manor — or at least the younger — uneasy. Neither of the Hamamotos had set eyes on her before this evening. Her face was kittenish too — tiny, cute.
"Allow me to introduce you to my new secretary, Kumi Aikura. Kumi, this is Mr Hamamoto."
It was clear that Kikuoka was doing his best to suppress it, but a hint of pride had crept into his voice.
Kumi Aikura smiled sweetly.
"I'm very pleased to meet you," she said. Her voice was astonishingly high-pitched.
Unable to stand the sound of that voice, Eiko quickly stepped up to the driver's window and gave the chauffeur parking directions.
As soon as the butler, Kohei Hayakawa, who'd been waiting politely in the entrance way, showed the two new guests into the salon, a grin of amusement appeared on Kozaburo Hamamoto's face. How many secretaries had Kikuoka gone through now? It was getting difficult to keep count. This Kumi Aikura would be doing her utmost to perform those all-important duties of sitting on her boss's lap and walking arm and arm with him through the streets of Ginza, no doubt earning a small fortune in the process.
"What is it?" Hamamoto replied without taking his pipe from his mouth.
"Why don't you go inside now? There's only Togai and the Kanais still to come. There's no need for you to welcome them personally. Kohei and I will be fine by ourselves. Go and keep Mr Kikuoka company."
"Hmm. I suppose you're right ... But aren't you going to catch cold dressed like that?"
"Could you ask Auntie to fetch me a mink? Any of them will do. See if she can get Sasaki to bring it out to me. It'd be nice if he could be out here too to greet Togai when he arrives."
"Will do. Kohei, where's Chikako right now?"
"She was in the kitchen last time I saw her ..." replied the butler from his post inside the doorway.
The two men disappeared into the house.
Left alone, Eiko hugged her exposed arms as she listened to the music of Cole Porter drifting out from the salon. And then suddenly she felt the soft brush of fur around her shoulders. She turned her head to see Shun Sasaki.
"Thanks," she said curtly.
"Togai's late," Sasaki remarked. He was a young man, fair-skinned and handsome.
"He'll be stuck in the snow somewhere. You know what a terrible driver he is."
"You're probably right."
"I want you to stay until he gets here."
They stood there quietly for a while, until Eiko abruptly broke the silence.
"Did you see Kikuoka's secretary?"
"Yes, er ... Well ... Yes, I saw her."
Sasaki looked confused.
"Vulgar and ill-bred."
Eiko frowned. Normally when she spoke, she took the greatest care to conceal her true emotions. It made her something of an enigma to all the young men who moved in her circle.
A Japanese-made mid-size saloon came struggling up the hill.
"Looks like he made it."
The car pulled up in front of them and the window was wound down. The driver's plump face with its silver-framed glasses appeared. Despite the wintry weather, Togai was covered in sweat. He opened the door slightly, but stayed in his seat.
"Thank you for inviting me, Eiko."
"The roads were thick with snow. It was terrible. Whoa! You're more beautiful than ever tonight. Here, I've got a Christmas present for you."
He handed her a wrapped gift.
"Hey, Sasaki. What are you doing out here?"
"Been waiting for you. Just about to freeze to death, too. Hurry up and come inside."
"Right. Will do."
The two men knew each other and would sometimes get together in Tokyo for a drink.
"Go and park. You know where, right? The usual place."
"Yeah, I know."
The saloon puttered off through the snow and disappeared around the back of the mansion. Sasaki hurried after it.
Right away, a taxi pulled up in its place. The back door opened and a tall and extremely skinny man stepped out into the snow. It was one of Kikuoka's employees, Michio Kanai. He turned and reached back into the taxi, his silhouette like a solitary winter crane in the middle of a snowbound field. It appeared to take all his physical strength to extract his wife, Hatsue, from the narrow back seat. The woman who eventually emerged was his exact physical opposite.
The husband turned to Eiko.
"It's so lovely to see you, Ms Hamamoto. How kind of you to invite us again."
It might be a little unkind to say, but Kanai was the master of the ingratiating smile — so much so that the muscles of his face seemed to be permanently fixed in that one expression. You could call it an occupational hazard. With only the slightest flexing of these muscles, he was able to create a smile, even when his real emotion was something quite different. Or maybe it was every other expression besides this smile that required special muscle power. It was hard to say.
It was impossible to recall this man's regular facial expression, Eiko always thought. In fact, whenever she tried to picture Kanai he was wrinkling up the outer corners of his eyes and showing his teeth. Eiko frequently wondered whether he had been born that way.
"We've been looking forward to seeing you. Thanks for making the journey."
"Not at all. Not at all. Has the boss arrived yet?"
"Yes, he's here already."
"Oh, dear. We're late!"
Hatsue Kanai stood patiently waiting in the snow. At first glance, she appeared pleasant and laid-back, but her eyes were surprisingly sharp, and now her gaze was hastily checking out Eiko, sweeping her over from head to toe. In the next instant, her face broke into a smile.
"What a simply gorgeous outfit!" she announced. Her praise didn't extend beyond her hostess's dress.
With the arrival of the Kanais, all the guests were assembled.
The last of them safely inside the mansion, Eiko primly turned on her heel and headed in towards the salon. Cole Porter became louder. She strode like a stage actress passing from her dressing room, through the wings and out to her audience, with just the appropriate mix of apprehension and confidence.CHAPTER 2
The Salon of the Ice Floe Mansion
A gorgeous chandelier hung from the ceiling of the salon. Her father had protested that such a grandiose item didn't suit the style of the house, but Eiko had insisted and won.
In the west corner of this oversized living-dining room, there was a circular fireplace, next to it a pile of branches and logs. Above the fireplace was a giant inverted funnel that served as a chimney. On the brick surround of the fireplace, a single metal coffee cup sat forgotten by the side of Kozaburo Hamamoto's favourite rocking chair.
All of the guests were seated around a long, narrow table beneath the electric candles of the chandelier. The effect was of a tiny floating forest of lights. The music had changed from Cole Porter to a Christmas medley.
Because the floor of the salon was on a slope, the legs of the table and surrounding chairs had been cut just the right amount to keep the dining arrangements perfectly horizontal.
The eyes of each guest were on the glass of wine and a candle in front of them, as they politely waited for Eiko to begin her speech. Presently, the music faded out and all eyes turned to the mistress of the mansion.
"Thank you, everyone, for making the long journey to be here this evening."
Her shrill voice carried clearly through the large space.
"We have both young guests, and older. You must be exhausted, but I'm sure it's going to be worth your while having made the trip as there is something very special about tonight. It's Christmas Day, and Christmas means snow. And by snow I don't mean a bit of decorative cotton wool or shredded paper. I'm talking about the real thing. Our Hokkaido home is the best place for the authentic experience. Tonight, for your delight, we have prepared a very special Christmas tree."
The moment the words were out of her mouth, the lights of the chandelier faded to darkness. Somewhere at the back of the room the chef, Kajiwara, had hit the switch. The music changed to a more solemn, traditional carol.
This part of the programme had been rehearsed what felt like a thousand times over. The military precision of her preparations would have put an army to shame.
"Please take a look through the window."
There were gasps and exclamations of wonder. A real fir tree had been planted in the back garden and decorated with hundreds of multicoloured light bulbs which suddenly began to twinkle in every colour. The snow that dusted its branches sparkled with the lights.
At Eiko's command, the room lighting snapped back on, and the music changed back to upbeat Christmas songs.
"You will all have plenty of chances to enjoy the tree. If you don't mind the cold, I recommend standing under its branches and listening to the creaking sound of the ice floes rubbing together out in the Okhotsk Sea. Christmas here is the real thing — like nothing you can experience in Tokyo.
"And now, lend an ear to the man who has made this fantastic Christmas experience possible for all of us. My dear father, of whom I am incredibly proud, will now address everyone."
As she spoke, Eiko began to applaud vigorously. The assembled guests scrambled to follow suit.
Kozaburo Hamamoto got to his feet, his pipe clasped in his left hand as always.
"Eiko, please don't flatter me so much. You're embarrassing me in front of our guests."
There was general laughter.
"Not at all! Everyone here is proud to be a friend of yours, Daddy. Aren't you?"
This last part was addressed to the assembled guests, and like a flock of sheep they all began nodding as one. The most emphatic of all was Eikichi Kikuoka. It was well known that the fortunes of his company were entirely tied up with the Hama Diesel Company.
"Dear friends, this is the second time most of you have been invited to this old man's whimsical mansion, and I'm sure it won't be the last. I hope you have got used to our sloping floors, and that no one will lose their footing and take a tumble. But don't get too comfortable. I do rather enjoy watching you all stagger around."
The guests laughed.
"Here in Japan, Christmas is just an excuse for bars and restaurants to make a bit of money. It was very wise of you all to come and spend it here instead.
"And now let's enjoy our champagne before it gets warm. Well, I don't suppose it matters if it does. You only need to put it outside for five minutes and it'll be perfectly chilled again. Anyway, I'd like to lead you all in a toast ..."
Kozaburo picked up his glass. Everyone reached immediately for theirs and held them up. As Kozaburo toasted Christmas, everyone else in the room murmured something like "Thank you for everything and all the best for the next year" or other choice phrases that they hoped would help to improve their business relationship with their host.
Kozaburo put down his glass.
"Many of you will be meeting for the first time this evening. Young, silver-haired alike, I'll make the introductions right now. And lest I forget, there are several people among us who also make this mansion their home and are of the greatest help to my family. I really ought to include them in my introductions. Eiko, I'd like to introduce Kohei and Chikako to everyone."
Eiko raised her right hand and spoke briskly.
"I'll take care of that. You don't need to make the introductions yourself. Sasaki, go and fetch Mr Kajiwara, Kohei and Auntie."
The mansion's staff arrived in the salon and followed the mistress's directions to line up by the side wall.
"Mr Kikuoka and Mr Kanai already visited us back in the summer, and so you'll both probably remember the faces of our staff, but I think it's the first time for many of you to meet them, or each other. So let me introduce everyone, beginning with our guest of honour. Please listen carefully and remember everyone's name. No mistakes later, please.
"First of all, this fine figure of a gentleman. I think you are all familiar with Mr Eikichi Kikuoka, President of Kikuoka Bearings? Some of you may have seen his photo in the magazines, but now you have the opportunity to see the real thing."
Kikuoka had twice been the subject of a big scandal in the weekly gossip magazines. One time he'd got himself into a mess over payments to a mistress at the end of an affair, and ended up in court. The second time was after he'd been dumped by a famous actress.
His nickname had long been "the Chrysanthemum" (the Japanese characters for "Kikuoka" mean "chrysanthemum hill" and he used to have a rather impressive mop of lightish hair). But now as he bowed to everyone, he revealed a rapidly growing bald spot. He turned to Kozaburo and bowed once again.
"Would you mind giving us a word?"
"Sure. Sorry to go first, folks. So every time I come, wonderful house. Amazing location too. It's a real honour to be able to sit by Mr Hamamoto and share a glass of wine in a place like this."
"And next to Mr Kikuoka, in the gorgeous outfit, is his secretary, Ms Aikura. I'm sorry, what was your given name again?"
Of course, Eiko remembered perfectly well that the woman's name was Kumi, but this way she could imply that she didn't quite believe it was her real one. However, Kumi Aikura wasn't fazed by this in the least. In her sugar-sprinkled voice, she replied with perfect dignity,
"I'm Kumi. So nice to meet you all."
This woman is a tough customer, Eiko decided on the spot.
For sure, she must have worked in a hostess bar.
"What a lovely name! Not at all ordinary." Eiko paused for a moment. "It makes you sound like a TV star or something."
"I'm always afraid I'll fail to live up my name."
The high-pitched, girlish tone didn't falter for a second.
"I'm so short. If I were taller and more glamorous, I might be able to live up to a name like that. I envy you, Eiko."
Eiko was five feet eight. For that reason she always wore flat slipper-like shoes. If she wore heels she'd be getting up towards six feet. Right now, she was momentarily at a loss for words. She moved on quickly.
"And next to Kumi, we have the president of Kikuoka Bearings, Mr Michio Kanai."
She'd been thrown, and the words had just slipped out. But even though she heard Kikuoka tease his employee — Hey, when were you made president? — she still didn't recognize her mistake right away.
Kanai got to his feet, and with his usual fixed smile, began to shower Kozaburo Hamamoto with praise. He didn't forget his own boss either. The skilful speech went on for quite a while. This was exactly the kind of performance that had got him to where he was in the world.
"And the voluptuous lady next to him is his wife, Hatsue."
Eiko realized this blunder immediately. Voluptuous ... Sure enough, Hatsue had a comeback.
"I had to miss my exercise class to come today."
From the other side of the table, Kumi gave her a quick once-over and looked very obviously self-satisfied.
"I'm hoping a breath of this pure air will be a boost to my diet."
She seemed to have been quite put out by Eiko's comment, and didn't add anything else.
Returning to the male guests, Eiko quickly regained her usual composure.
"This handsome young man is Shun Sasaki, in his sixth year at Jikei University School of Medicine. He'll soon be taking the National Medical Examination. For now, he's keeping an eye on my father's health, and staying with us through the winter holidays."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Murder in the Crooked House"
Copyright © 2016 Soji Shimada.
Excerpted by permission of Pushkin Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Dramatis Personae, 7,
Scene 1 · The Entrance of the Ice Floe Mansion, 23,
Scene 2 · The Salon of the Ice Floe Mansion, 29,
Scene 3 · The Tower, 45,
Scene 4 · Room 1, 53,
Scene 5 · The Salon, 59,
Scene 6 · The Library, 90,
Scene 1 · The Salon, 123,
Scene 2 · Room 14, Eikichi Kikuoka's Bedroom, 132,
Scene 3 · Room 9, Mr and Mrs Kanai's Bedroom, 138,
Scene 4 · Back in the Salon, 147,
Scene 5 · Kozaburo's Room in the Tower, 153,
Scene 6 · The Salon, 161,
Scene 7 · The Library, 175,
Scene 8 · The Salon, 205,
Scene 9 · The Tengu Room, 209,
Scene 10 · The Salon, 225,
Scene 1 · The Salon, 235,
Scene 2 · The Tengu Room, 242,
Scene 3 · Room 15, The Detectives' Bedroom, 247,
Scene 4 · The Salon, 249,
Scene 5 · The Library, 260,
Scene 6 · The Salon, 272,
Challenge to the Reader, 285,
Scene 1 · The Ground Floor Landing of the West Wing Staircase, or By the Door of Room 12, 289,
Scene 2 · Room 14, 297,
Scene 3 · The Tengu Room, 302,
Scene 4 · The Salon, 305,
Scene 5 · The Hill, 343,