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  • Reviews Aosawa Murders
Reviews Aosawa Murders

KIRKUS STARRED REVIEW:
A bizarre murder in 1970s Japan continues to reverberate through the decades. This book, originally published in 2005 under the title Eugenia, is the first by Onda to be translated into English. After opening with a short, unusually lyrical excerpt from the transcript of a police interview, the book unfolds through chapters told from strikingly different perspectives. The first narrator is Makiko Saiga, who wrote a book about the crime in question, the poisoning of 17 people at a birthday party at the Aosawa family estate. Looking back on the murders 30 years later, Saiga, who was a child at the time, remembers it was a humid summer in a beautiful setting by the sea. Then, several months after the crime, a man who didn't seem to have any connection to the Aosawas wrote up a confession and then hanged himself. Though sceptical, the police took the opportunity to close the case. Saiga went on to research and publish The Forgotten Festival, her only book, about the crime. As she winds up her story, she implies that Hisako, the blind young Aosawa heiress and the only survivor of the massacre, might have been the killer. "You see, it's a very simple story. If there are ten people in a house and nine die, who is the culprit?" The next narrator is Saiga's assistant, who's highly suspicious of her boss's motives. An excerpt from The Forgotten Festival follows, a thinly veiled dramatization in which Saiga places her younger self at the scene of the crime and implicates a man she sees as the messenger of death. Subsequent sections focus on the housekeeper's daughter, the detective, Saiga's older brother, and others on the way to the surprising conclusion. The domino effect of the murder on the community and the nation, as well as the swirl of uncertainty concerning the way its narratives are shaped, gives the book a striking resonance. This dark and dazzling novel defies easy categorization but consistently tantalizes and surprises. 

 

Mrs PEABODY INVESTIGATES: 

The minute I saw this ravishing book cover, I wanted a copy. And – oh happy day – it’s turned out to be one of my most satisfying crime reads of the year.

Opening line: What do you remember?

The Aosawa Murders is a fascinating exploration of a crime: the poisoning of seventeen people at a big family birthday party in 1970s Japan. The case was supposedly solved by the police, but as the novel immediately shows, a number of people have doubts that the truth was properly established – including the lead investigator. In particular, the enigmatic figure of Hisako, the blind daughter and sole family member to survive, is the focus of much scrutiny and speculation.

I loved this novel’s originality, intelligence and verve. Readers are invited to glean new clues about the murders from interviews carried out by an anonymous individual – a kind of Rashomon homage that sifts the memories of those close to the crime, such as local kids who visited the family home, the housekeeper’s daughter, the prime suspect’s neighbour, and the detective in charge of the case. One of these interviewees is Makiko Saiga, who wrote a bestselling book on the crime eleven years after it happened, and who reports on the interviews she carried out back then, creating a kind of Chinese-box narrative on three different time levels (1970s,1980s, 2000s). As we move through the novel, more and more details about what people knew are revealed, along with the toll the crime has taken on them personally. Beautifully written and translated, with great characterization and sense of place, I was hooked from the first to the last page.

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“A superb mystery in the true sense of the word.” Asahi Shimbun

 “This spine-chilling masterpiece will make you aware of the dark places in your own heart.” Hokkaido Shimbun

“With superb skill, Onda depicts the ambiguity of truth and the unreliability of facts.” Shukan Pia

 

  • Author avatar
    Francois Von Hurter