“The Tattoo Murder Case” by Akimitsu Takagi. This was originally published in Japan in 1948, but translated to English by Deborah Boliver Boehm in 1998 and reprinted. It’s the summer of 1947 and Japan is recovering from WWII. American Occupation is evident, as the people struggle to rebuild their lives after the horrible war. Black market and crime is rampant, and among the backstreets prostitution and illegal tattoo studios are rampant. Although outlawed, tattoos are a big business in Japan, and considered an art. Some people believe having their whole bodies tattooed actually heightens sexual desire. The Edo Tattoo Society even holds competitions for the best body tattoo.
The story introduces the reader to Kenzo Metsushita, the younger brother of Detective Chief Inspector Deiyu Metsushita (also called Matsu the Demon and the Locomotive for his bull-dog persistence into criminal investigations). Kenzo, now back from the war, has returned to university where he picks up his medical studies in hopes of becoming a police forensic investigator. He wants to study the art of tattoos, thinking it will help him in future investigations, as the criminal element use tattoos as a mark of identity. Attending the Edo Tattoo Society contest he meets a beautiful woman named Kinue Nomura, the mistress of black market and businessman, Takezo Mogami, the older brother of an old friend Kenzo knew in college before the war. The younger brother, Hisashi Mogami, introduces Kenzo to Kinue and a brief affair begins. Very brief, because Kinua Nomura is found murdered in her home a few days later in a locked room. Actually, just her head and lower extremities of arms and legs are found. Her torso containing the full tattoo is missing.
Kenzo wants to help his brother, Matsu the Demon work the murder case, but he becomes a mere foil in the investigation, as if someone is using him to further confuse the police investigation. There are four main suspects: Takezo Mogami, Hisashi Mogami, Sensei Heighiro Hayakawa (a professor of Tattoos for the university), plus a minor gangster who was once the lover of Kinue. In truth, the police have not even solved the locked room mystery after several months. Kamizu Kamizu, a late-comer to the case, was known as the Boy Genius before the war, and even now is a medical and mathematics genius, among other subjects. Plus, he speaks about seven languages. Now back from the war also, Kenzo explains the case to him and the boy genius says he can solve the murder within a week.
Kyosuka Kamizu was the hero of the story, even though he doesn’t appear until half way into the book. He takes over the case and quickly brings it to a close, explaining everything to the stumped investigators, and was really a Japanese version of Sherlock Holmes. The story was well written, although the phraseology was more modern than 1947, which I’m sure was the work of the translator. We do get a feel for the period, but it’s light. Overall, this was a fun story, and we learn a lot about Japanese body art.