Title: Death on Gokumon Island (Detective Kosuke Kindaichi #4)
Author: Seishi Yokomizo (Translated by: Louise Heal Kawai)
Republished by Pushkin Vertigo on 28 June 2022
Genre: Mystery and Thrillers
Kosuke Kindaichi arrives on the remote Gokumon Island bearing tragic news. , Chimata, the son of one of the island’s most important families has died on a troop transport ship that was bringing him back after the Second World War. Chimata and Kosuke met when the surviving soldiers of the war regrouped. Kosuke had nursed Chimata when the latter fell sick many times (malaria). When Chimata was on his death bed, he asked Kosuke to visit Gokumon Island and protect his three step-sisters from danger.
Soon after Kosuke’s arrival, one of the sisters is found murdered. Kosuke learns the islanders are a closely knit group. They are all inter-related and would go to any extent to protect their own – even a murderer. The existing family feud (main and branch family) also fuels doubt in Kosuke’s mind. When bodies start piling up, Kosuke fears there is a murderer in their midst.
What an engrossing and entertaining mystery. I recently discovered Pushkin Vertigo’s Japanese translation books and I cannot seem to get enough of them. I am the kind of reader who looks for an enjoyable reading experience. And this book is just that. Murder mystery, curses and secrets, insanity, alibis (false ones too) and drama. I love me some drama!!
I would start the review by crediting Louise Heal Kawai for the wonderful translation work. The issue with most translated books is, how to portray the exact emotions from a native language to English. As I was reading through, I almost forgot that Death on Gokumon Island was a translated book. Kudos to the translator for that.
The story begins with a priest and the weatherman talking on the boat to Gokumon Island. A young man overhears their conversation and then introduces himself as Kosuke Kindaichi. He tells them he’s on the island as per his late friend’s request. The priest introduces Kosuke to (late) Chimata’s family and then allots a room in the temple quarters. The next evening, during the funeral gathering for Chimata, one of the step-sisters goes missing. A search party is sent and her body is discovered hanging from a tree – she’s brutally murdered.
Kosuke was sent to Gokumon to protect the step-sisters. And now, one of them is dead. As Kosuke tries to unravel the island’s secrets, he learns there’s a lot at stake. The ongoing family feud, the dark secrets, and a family member who is caged at all times as he’s a lunatic.
Then there is Kosuke’s famous head scratching and dandruff. I have seen many reviewers point this out so I should also do the same, no? He must have scratched his head 5 or 6 times in the entire story. But there was one yucky scene where he scratches his head so bad that the local policeman has to take a step back because the dandruff is all over the place. Yuck! But as the suspense builds and Kosuke finds himself overly involved in solving the murders, the head scratching stops. Remedy for dandruff: solve murder mysteries! 😉
The mystery behind the murders kept me guessing till the end. When the first murder occurred, I was quite confident that Kosuke will stop the next. Hmm… that didn’t seem to happen though. But why murder innocent victims? It all made sense at the end when Kosuke finally had a light-bulb moment. The reason for murders were quite shocking. Nothing to do with jealousy or anger, mind. This was something more sinister.
There’s a bit of history about Gokumon Island at the beginning of the story. Gokumon translates to ‘Hell’s Gate’. It was first inhabited by pirates and then, convicts. Intermarriages were allowed and present residents are descendants of both. Another interesting note (which I already pointed out above) is how closely knit these families are. They are inter-related and if a crime occurs on the island, they would protect the perpetrator, making the policemen’s job difficult.
Next comes the setting. The story takes place soon after the war. The island was inhabited and used by the soldiers. The outposts now lie uninhabited and the residents are left to deal with it. Soldiers are demobbed. Families listening to the evening news on radio, eagerly waiting for any details on repatriation. Also, on islands like Gokumon, the Buddhist priests hold a higher authority than the local mayor.
There was one other character who caught my interest – Yosamatsu, Chimata’s father. He’s supposedly a lunatic and must be kept behind bars at all times. In the second half of the story, Kosuke learns about Yosamatsu’s life – and the events that made him insane. It was quite sad to read Yosamatsu’s life story. The man might have given in to lust and married his mistress but neither he nor his second wife did not have to suffer for it.
Overall, this was a very engaging and engrossing read. I am looking forward to reading more of Kosuke Kindaichi’s sleuthing adventures. Kindaichi might be Japan’s answer to Hercule Poirot. 🙂