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Murder in the Crooked House

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Member Reviews

Thanks to NetGalley and the publishers for an ARC in return for an unbiased review.

I’ve not read many books set in Japan, but I have enjoyed some locked room mysteries, and so I requested this one based on the description. It takes place in a quirkily constructed house where everything tilts and there are vents and gaps galore. The owner and his daughter have invited some friends and business contacts over for a New Year’s get together, when the chauffeur to one of the guests is murdered in his locked room. After the police arrive and put the house on lockdown, more deaths occur, all in locked rooms.

At first I liked this book. I think my interest waned considerably when the detectives start a “tell in great detail” about the location of all the rooms, which floors they’re on, which stairs go to which rooms, which rooms have external windows... dear god. It went on and on. My ARC copy didn’t have the diagrams it keeps referring to, so I just had an ad nauseum description. After that, I couldn’t quite get into it again. None of the characters were particularly likeable, which didn’t help.

I didn’t spit whodunnit or how, but maybe that’s because it was so utterly implausible it never occurred to me (and I don’t know what Tengu masks look like).

Worth a read to experience a different country’s take on a locked room, but personally I’ve enjoyed other examples of the genre more.
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A fascinating thriller a locked room mystery found the authors plot line very interesting entertaining even after I figured out who did it.An excellent Japanese thriller.#netgalley#pushkinpress
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While the “Who” in this whodunnit locked room mystery is fairly easy to figure out, the intricate planning when the killer provides their explanation for the why is what makes this book a fascinating thriller.
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Soji Shimada has written several books which are patchy, and especially difficult at the ends. It's hard to judge quite what the author had in mind. Much weaker than Higashino.
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'Murder in the Crooked House', translated into English by Louise Heal Kawai, is the second instalment in Soji Shimada's Mitarai Kiyoshi series. As is usually the case with mystery/detective novels, reading them in order is not obligatory, so I delved right into it without having read the previous one.

The original Japanese novel was initially published in 1982 (I truly wish English translations didn't take so long to appear) and it belongs to the classic mystery genre, with a(n almost) perfect locked room mystery to solve. Kozaburo Hamamoto, an eccentric millionnaire, invites friends and acquaintances to his equally eccentrically built house, the Crooked House of the title, which is located in nothern Japan. When the first murder occurs, the guests are shocked and the local police comes to solve this seemingly easy murder case. However, nothing goes according to plan, and yet another murder occurs.

Although I truly enjoyed the atmosphere of the novel and the mystery itself, I did think the plot was very slow in most parts of the book. The main character, the detective who will finally solve this riddle of a case, doesn't appear until the last few chapters. While I understand this may intensify the despair of the characters and the unsolvable nature of the case, it was rather tiring for me as a reader. As for the mystery, precisely because it dragged on for so long, I came to solve it long before the culprit was revealed.

Overall, it is a very enjoyable and rather unique, I daresay, mystery novel, worth spending your time on even if just for its classic status.
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Published in Japan in 1982; published in translation by Pushkin Vertigo on June 25, 2019

Murder in the Crooked House is a locked room murder mystery that Soji Shimada divided into acts and scenes. A locked room murder in the first act is followed by another in the second. The novel challenges the reader not just to identify the killer but to figure out how the murders were committed. The latter is the more difficult challenge.

Kozaburo Hamamoto constructed the Crooked House, an isolated Western-style house next to a leaning glass tower, at the tip of Japan’s northernmost island. Hamamoto is a reclusive millionaire. He invites a few elite businessmen and their glamorous wives to a Christmas party at his Crooked House, as well as a couple of students. The chef, chauffeur, and maid are also present.

The students both have an interest in marrying Hamamoto’s daughter Eiko. Hamamoto puts a puzzle to them, offering his daughter’s hand (if she so wishes) to the winner. The challenge is to determine the significance of the flowerbed at the base of the tower. The significance will be revealed at the novel’s end.

Later that night, a female guest sees the face of a monster in her window — seemingly impossible since her room is on the third floor. The next morning, the chauffeur is found dead in his room with a knife protruding from his chest. The only door is locked from the inside. An art object, sort of like a large puppet or mannequin, is found in the snow outside his room. This turns out to be part of Hamamoto’s impressive collection of wind-up toys and other figures. He calls it a golem.

DI Okuma, DCI Ushikoshi, and DS Ozaki lead the police investigation. They take note of the house’s unusual design, which makes it difficult to move from room to room. A guest might need to climb down one staircase, walk the length of the house, and climb up a different staircase to access an adjacent room. The house is built on a slant and there are gaps between walls and the floor. The intricacies are difficult to follow, but Shimada provides helpful diagrams and maps of the house and murder scene.

Murder in the Crooked House is a classic locked room mystery. Several people were staying in the crooked house, all had gone to bed, most of them had their own room and no alibi, and none had an obvious motive to murder the chauffeur. The second murder is of a lecherous old man. This time, the only guests who had a motive were in the company of a police officer at the time the killing occurred.

The detectives are frustrated and, by the end of Act Two, they are wishing they had the assistance of a Japanese Sherlock Holmes. Enter Kiyoshi Mitarai, the star of Act Three. Mitarai’s role in the story is narrated by his own version of Watson, Kazumi Ishioka. Prior to the final act, the reader is assured that all the clues are in place and is challenged to solve the mystery.

And it’s true, the clues are there, but only a reader with some esoteric knowledge of Japan (and perhaps the ability to speak Japanese) will be able to unlock all of them. Most of the clues, however, would allow a reader to piece together how the murders were committed. To do so, the reader would need to be more astute than I am. Guessing the killer’s identity is somewhat easier.

The plot provides readers with an entertaining murder mystery, but the story is fascinating in its glimpse of certain aspects of traditional Japanese culture. A wife complains that her husband, a salaryman, is sycophantic in his relationship with a business owner, but bullying and bossy when he is at home. An older businessman is sleeping with his much younger secretary but hiding his conduct for the sake of appearances. The detectives are more worried about saving face than catching the killer. The murderer’s motivation for one of the killings is related to Japanese history. When the murderer is revealed, the unfailingly polite detectives fall over themselves to compliment the killer on an ingenious plan. And, of course, the polite murderer praises the investigator who solves the crime. What a nice place Japan must be to live (if you can avoid being murdered).

Mitarai isn’t quite Sherlock, but he brings a theatrical flair to his detecting style. An epilog gives the story a final twist. Murder in the Crooked House is a good choice for fans of Japanese crime fiction and a really good choice for fans of locked room murder mysteries.

RECOMMENDED
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A remote, snow covered mansion; a group of people arriving for a Christmas house party; a seemingly impossible locked-room murder; a detective whose methods are unusual and unorthodox. These may sound like the ingredients of a classic British Golden Age mystery, but Murder in the Crooked House is actually a Japanese novel first published in 1982 which Pushkin Vertigo have now made available for the first time in an English translation by Louise Heal Kawai.

I was really looking forward to reading this book as it sounded like just my sort of thing, and it did get off to a great start. The descriptions of the Ice Floe Mansion in northern Japan are fascinating, with its sloping floors and drawbridge leading to a leaning tower (which gives the house its nickname, the Crooked House). Inside, the mansion resembles a fairground fun house with a maze of rooms, unusually positioned staircases, and a room containing a collection of Tengu masks and mechanical dolls, including a life-size Golem which is said to get up and walk around at night.

This weird and wonderful building is the home of retired businessman Kozaburo Hamamoto, who has invited his family and friends to spend the Christmas of 1983 with him. The guests include his daughter Eiko and her two suitors Togai and Sasaki, his great-nephew Yoshihiko, and a former business partner Eikichi Kikuoka, who brings several of his employees along with him. On their first night in the Crooked House, one of the guests is found dead inside a locked room, Kikuoka’s secretary is terrified by a face at her top-floor window, and Golem appears to have thrown himself into a snowdrift outside. The local police are baffled; there seems to be no explanation for any of these incidents and no obvious motive either. It is only after several more murders take place and the brilliant detective Kiyoshi Mitarai arrives on the scene that the truth is finally revealed.

Murder in the Crooked House is a very clever murder mystery. I found the culprit easy to guess – there was only one person it could have been, in my opinion – but what I didn’t know was how they carried out the murders. The solution is certainly very original and although Shimada states in a ‘Challenge to the Reader’ towards the end of the book that he has given us all the clues we need to solve it, I will be impressed if any reader has actually managed to work out the exact method used by the murderer! However, the cleverness of the novel was also one of the things I disliked about it.

The book contains a number of diagrams showing floor plans and layouts of rooms and sadly these weren’t included in the ebook I received for review, which obviously wasn’t the final version.  However, I think even if I’d been able to study all of the diagrams in the finished book I would still have found the plot overly complicated. As well as a lot of importance being placed on alibis and who was in which room at what time, there’s also a lot of discussion of distances of windows from floors, positions of ventilation holes in walls and which rooms can be reached from which staircase. I do like mysteries with puzzles to solve, but I felt that this one became too technical – too concerned with the details rather than with the characters and their motivations. As a result, the characters seemed to lack depth and didn’t feel like real people to me, which wasn’t helped by the dialogue which felt a bit stilted, although that could have been due to the translation.

Most of the novel is written in the third person, so I was surprised to find that, when Kiyoshi Mitarai arrives at the Crooked House well into the second half of the book, the perspective switches to the first person (from the point of view of Kazumi Ishioka, Mitarai’s friend who has accompanied him to the house). It seemed unusual to have such a change so far into the book, but I got used to it quickly enough. Although this is the first novel I’ve read by Shimada, I’ve learned that this is one of a series of mysteries featuring the partnership of Mitarai and Ishioka, as a sort of Holmes and Watson. I would possibly try another book in the series – the first one, The Tokyo Zodiac Murders, is also now available in English and presumably some of the others will follow.
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After reading Murder in the Crooked House, I have come to realize that locked room mysteries really aren’t my favorite, especially in a longer format such as this novel rather than a short story. For those who appreciate the necessary complexities of this type of novel, this story may provide more enjoyment. That’s not to say there aren’t aspects I did appreciate; there are.

The setting of the novel is unique, the titular “crooked house” that seems to affect everyone who visits. And the house itself is in a bleak and lonely area by the northern sea, in far north Hokkaido. Setting is a definite plus. The characters are to some extent unknowable and many are not sympathetic. But that is neither here nor there in this type of mystery, where form is as important as character. They do offer sharp contrasts and sounding boards for opinions. And one does wonder about motive for murder!

One aspect of the book that I found somewhat confusing was the idiomatic American English spoken by the characters. While the book obviously has to be translated to English for an English speaking audience, the use of such idiomatic language seemed to conflict with the setting and the characters at times. (This may be my personal quirk.) Perhaps it was used to suggest a casual type of Japanese speech, but I don’t know.

A problem with this specific ebook ARC was the absence of all the illustrations referred to in the text when describing the set-up of the house and the murders. No doubt these are included in the final published edition.

Lastly, there is a Sherlock/Hercule type character who does enter the action late and learn things that I doubt even the most discerning reader would be able to discover. I did correctly identify the killer fairly early on but why and how? I had no clue.

If you enjoy locked room mysteries and the challenge of trying to work out the “ how” of it, even without the why, you may enjoy this tale in all its complexity.

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest review.
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Murder in the Crooked House was written by Soji Shimada and published in Japanese in 1982.  It has since been updated and this translation by Louise Heal Kawai into English was published earlier this year by Pushkin Vertigo.  I received a free eARC of Murder in the Crooked House but this has in no way influenced my review.

I have a bit of a thing for Japanese crime fiction.  There are two standout novels which I always recommend to people.  One of these is The Tokyo Zodiac Murders which is also by Soji Shimada (and also published in English by Pushkin Vertigo).  I LOVED The Tokyo Zodiac Murders which was also Shimada's debut.  So you can imagine my excitement when I saw Murder in the Crooked House, another locked room mystery, was available on NetGalley.  This was a must-read for me.  So much so, I added it to my #15BooksofSummer list to make sure I got it read sooner rather than later.

I wanted so desperately to love this novel as much as The Tokyo Zodiac Murders.  I certainly enjoyed parts of it and it bears a number of similarities to Shimada's debut.  But it didn't captivate me like the first book did.  Once again, you, the reader, are invited to solve the crime.  The clues are all there.  But can you solve the mystery and most importantly HOW the crimes were committed before the somewhat inefficient local detectives do.

I have to confess that towards the last half to a third, I started to lose interest a little and began skim reading sections.  These sections mostly seemed to be the local detectives discussing ANOTHER way the murders 'could' have been committed or ANOTHER possible MO they had dreamt up for the house-bound group of suspects.  The story then switches when a familiar detective is brought in to stop the dilly-dallying and make some arrests, Kiyoshi Mitarai from The Tokyo Zodiac Murders.  What I found surprisingly hard at this point was switching from third person to first person.  The entire book is told in third person up until this point.  I struggled to get my head around the change.

Would I recommend this book? If you're a fan of a complex mystery and like to play the part of the detective and you have time on your hands then yes, absolutely, I recommend this book to you.  I'm putting a lot of how I feel about this book down to bad timing.  I should have put it to one side and come back to it at another time when there was less going on in my life.  My love for The Tokyo Zodiac Murders remains strong.  If you are looking for a Japanese mystery to read then I completely and utterly recommend you read The Tokyo Zodiac Murders.

I chose to read and review an eARC of Murder in the Crooked House.  The above review is my own unbiased opinion.
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Though Murder in a Crooked House is technically an engaging locked room mystery, I didnt find it as riveting as the premise/synopsis suggested.  I think that what I found lacking was a depth to the characters, especially the women.  The who and how of the mystery were entertaining to unravel, however the why came as a disappointment.  The novel is more procedure driven than character driven.  The why reveal was presented, but there were no character clues I could look back at and wonder why I hadnt seen that possibility.  Had the characters been as complex and layered as the plot, I think my enjoyment would have been enhanced. 
If youre looking for a clinical who/how mystery to unravel, Murder in the Crooked House is entertaining.
I received my copy through NetGalley under no obligation.
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"Murder in the Crooked House" was a very enjoyable read. It was a classic whodunit novel - Japanese style. The book included typical and familiar tropes found in many murder/ mystery novels - a large remote house on a cliff,  a closed circle of suspects and a quirky and unusual amateur detective. 

This was a highly entertaining read that was great fun, although maybe a little far-fetched. I also suspect that it lost something in the translation (or I did). Nevertheless, give this one a try if you want to try a murder/ mystery with a difference. 

I received a complimentary digital copy of this novel, at my own request, from Pushkin Press via NetGalley. This review is my own unbiased opinion.
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Thanks to Netgalley and Pushkin for providing me with an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.

I'm not entirely sure how to rate this book. I enjoyed certain aspects of it - the remote and uniquely interesting setting, the challenge of the locked rooms, the snow piling up and trapping the guests, the Agatha Christie feel of it all - but I also disliked a lot of things. I didn't like that the main/brilliant detective didn't show up until well past the halfway mark. I didn't like the shift in perspective from third person to first person (into the brilliant detective's friend's POV). I didn't like the wildly improbable (yet still intriguing) explanation of the murder. I also didn't like the feeling that something vital was being lost in translation, nor the fact that the formatting of the ARC meant I didn't get copies of the illustrative figures that were used within the story to show how things were laid out. I feel like that made me miss some necessary pieces of the puzzle.

I will say that, while I didn't guess the method of the murders or solve how the murders took place in locked rooms, I did guess the culprit correctly. Just an inkling I had at one specific point that really nailed it down for me, but I spent the rest of the book wondering HOW, and after that ending, there was absolutely no way I could have guessed.

So overall, I loved the nostalgic Christie feel and the twisty mystery and the fantastic setting, but didn't like the late arrival of the real protagonist, the shifts in perspective, or the completely unguessable method of murder.

I guess I'll rate it right down the middle then!
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Murder in the Crooked House is a clever take on the locked-door mystery. A small group of people has gathered at the mansion of a retired industrialist to celebrate Christmas and the New Year. On the first evening, one of them is found murdered in his room. The door is locked from the inside, there are no other entrances in or out and there are no footprints in the snow outside. The scenario is made weirder by several reports from other guests: a terrifying face appearing at an upper-story window, random stakes appearing in the ground and later gone, and a man screaming half an hour after the time of death.

The local police struggle to find any clues that are not instantly dismissed. Their bafflement is deepened by the weirdness of the house's design. The floors slope, there are unusual locks on the doors and the rooms are set out in an array where you cannot easily go from one to another. When a second guest is murdered it seems that the murderer must be one of the remaining guests, but the detectives still can make no progress at all. In the end, they appeal for help, but the person sent is not at all what they were expecting.

I found this a very intricate plot, with a conclusion that ties up all of the preceding weirdness quite neatly. It is possible to work it out in advance, but I couldn't. It could be fun to stop at a point where the author challenges the reader, and try to nut it out, but I didn't accept that challenge.

The scenario for this story reminded me a lot of Anthony Shaffer's Sleuth, which Shimada name-checks in the book. I'd think that anyone who enjoyed that would really like this one.
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This a perfect Golden Age mystery written by a Japanese.
i can say I loved this book: the unusual setting, the mystery, and the characters were well written and you couldn't help trying to solve the mystery even if it wasn't easy.
It's an entertaining, fascinating and engaging book.
Highly recommended!
Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for this ARC, all opinions are mine.
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A few firsts for me with this book, first Japanese Author, first locked room murder and I'm left with mixed feelings. 

I loved the concept of this, I felt like I was at a murder mystery dinner as its written in this context. Friends have dinner, they go to bed, someone gets murdered. You have the clues, can you solve it? I loved how the author gave a few warm up riddles with the dinner table conversations to get my mind warmed up, I felt I was ready for the task of solving this crime. 

But honestly, from the clues there is no way on this planet (or any other) that you can guess how it was all done surely! For me it was ridiculous. From a book I couldnt put down to start with, I'm left feeling like I've been part of a TV show that no one watches with B rated celebrities. 

I'm also not sure how this is in Japanese but the English is super simple and basic. Felt like a children's book at times.

Two stars, a decent rewrite on the conclusion and perhaps a better translator would make all the difference in my opinion.
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An eminently fun and readable thriller, one where the house that provides for the most masterful locked-room mystery is almost a character itself.  When a high-end businessman invites a party for Christmas to his remote and purposely wonky mansion, only for one of the guests to die, everyone is stumped – the room was locked from the inside, hardly anyone would have the strength to kill the man as he was ex-military, even fewer people had even spoken to him, and nobody had any motive whatsoever.  And that's just the start of it – add in the fact some more psychic investigators are at the bottom of the list of characters, and add in the Mystery of the Garden Design – and it's all just a little bit 'wow' and then some.

Which does make me question the emotions I felt when reading the denouement.  Yes, I laughed at the solution to how, but the way that so much was also quite thoughtful, and in keeping with that particular time in recent Japanese history, meant this was not wholly one of the world's better puzzles.  It's a really good, fun book – getting all the characters to introduce themselves (which is admittedly handy if you're not used to lots of Japanese names all dropped on you at once), then discussing the entirety of the architecture, was a little bit arch, but none the worse for that.  It also serves as a great polygraph, for if anybody says they guessed the solution then they're clearly not to be believed one bit.
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Locked room mysteries are contrived by design and often depend on site-specific peculiarities, so initially I thought setting this one in an oddly designed house was just another interesting way to set up a clever puzzle.  The problem for me was that the extreme oddness of the design (drawbridge-style door leading to an otherwise isolated master bedroom in a leaning tower, slanted floors, stairways leading to only half the house, etc.) required so much explanation and seemed so overly contrived that it actually ended up making the mystery less interesting rather than more.  The weirder the qualities of the house, the less impressive it was going to be to defeat a locked room in it, because then you can invoke some hyper-specialized property of the architecture to aid in the solution.  I wish more text had been devoted to the interpersonal relationships among the guests/suspects.  I’m not sure whether this was a translation issue or a style issue, but I found the sentence structure overly simple and a little strange, as if the characters were reading scripted lines instead of having conversations with one another.  The author plays fair in the sense that the identity of the murderer and the gist of the solution will probably be clear to an alert reader (or maybe just to one who reads too many mysteries).  There was some missing information that would have been relevant to understanding the motive, though.   The precise details of the mechanism require some explanation, and the solution is satisfying at that level.
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Locked room mysteries are classic intellectual games. You assemble a small group of diverse people who seemingly have nothing to do with one another, lock them up (remote island, storm, snow, whatever), and then one person dies in a locked room nobody had access to. Investigate, rinse and repeat. In most cases, the “how” and “who” takes precedence over the “why”. The reader has the feeling that he can play along and guess who the murderer is because he feels that he has the same level of information as the police has.

In this Japanese novel, a dozen people are invited to spend Christmas at the Hokkaido villa of an eccentric millionnaire. It’s on the northernmost tip of Japan, so expect lots of snow and ice foes (living in a moderate climate, I had to look it up). The house itself is crazy, with a leaning tower (à la Pisa), different staircases getting to different bedrooms, air vents and rooms that aren’t really level. Even though the description is quite thorough, the floor plan seems so bizarre that I couldn’t really picture it in my mind. I had a Netgalley ARC, and it would be nice if pictures or drawings were included in the published version.

Alas, the setting was probably the most important character in the book, as it entirely determined how the locked room crime was prepared and executed. I can’t say that Agatha Christie’s characters are always fully fledged, and the genre doesn’t require a lot of character development, but I found that the different suspects in this particular mystery were rather two-dimensional. The result is that many descriptions seemed fastidious to me, and the explanations at the end were far-fetched and implausible. It reminded me of the 1980s manga my son likes, Detective Conan. Still, I’m always on the lookout for mysteries written by other than American and British writers, so it was an interesting discovery.
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Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. I have consistently enjoyed the books I have read from Pushkin Vertigo, so I was looking forward to this one. Murder in the Crooked House is set in the far northern reaches of Japan in the early 1980s. Reminiscent of Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None, the cast of characters gathers at an unusual and very remote house at the invitation of an eccentric millionaire. Creepy masks, an even creepier doll, and a uniquely intriguing house plan have the potential to make a spine-chilling mystery. Unfortunately, stilted dialogue and outdated (even at the time of publication) cliches detract from the story. 
When a seemingly impossible murder occurs in a locked room of the house, police detectives immediately arrive on the scene. These detectives are of the bumbling variety so common in American crime fiction of the early 20th century, and, like their predecessors, their bumbling quickly becomes repetitive and dull. It is not until late in the story that a needlessly eccentric detective arrives to miraculously solve the case. At this point, the narration changes (again needlessly) from a third person omniscient point of view to a first person point of view. The dialogue throughout the book is wooden and unnatural. That may be a cultural misunderstanding on my part, but I have read other Japanese novels and not had the same experience. Overall, the book was a bit of a slog, but the mystery itself, and its conclusion, was interesting and unique enough to keep me reading.
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Set in a remote place on the island of Hokkaido, Japan, Kozaburo Hamamoto, a wealthy hermit and his daughter, Eiko have invited friends and acquaintances to their eccentric house for a Christmas celebration. The next day after they arrive, one of the guests is in his room, dead from a stab wound. Inspector Saburo Ushikoshi and his sidekick, Detective Ozaki are called in to investigate. While the police are trying to figure out the motive behind the murder, another guest turns up dead. 
Murder in the Crooked House is a locked-room murder mystery that will keep you guessing till the end. I enjoyed the setting of the crooked house and its odd layout. 
Overall interesting and I would recommend.

Thank you to Soji Shimada, Pushkin Vertigo, and NetGalley for an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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