Kyōtarō Nishimura*

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Contemporary Japanese Writers

Kyōtarō Nishimura*

Kyōtarō Nishimura* 西村京太郎

Kyōtarō Nishimura (1930–)  first went to work during the Occupation for the Temporary National Personnel Commission, which later became the National Personnel Authority, a government board that advises the prime minister on pay and working conditions for public servants. Eleven years later he resigned and took on such jobs as private investigator and watchman while starting his writing career. Although he has written mystery novels of every form and description, the enormous success of his 1986 Shindai tokkyū satsujin jiken (Murder on the Limited Express Sleeper) has led him to focus on travel-oriented mysteries. Overall, he has authored more than 400 novels totaling 200 million copies in print. His fictional Lieutenant Totsugawa is one of the most popular and hardworking policemen in Japan. A two-hour mystery show broadcast nationwide based on Nishimura’s works is the longest-running of its kind in Japan, and he remains one of the country’s most beloved writers.

The novel Koroshi no sōkyokusen (Hyperbola of Murder) is a mystery featuring two sets of identical twins. Anonymous invitations to a mountain villa in northern Japan are sent out to six men and women. They each accept, though not quite sure what it is all about. Meanwhile, in Tokyo, identical twins pull off a series of armed robberies, taking advantage of the near impossibility of proving which of them is the culprit. Back at the villa a man commits suicide, and someone hangs a notice on his door: “And so concludes the first act of revenge.” The others are killed off one by one; each time, a similar notice appears. In Tokyo, when the twins wanted for the heists are captured, the police receive a card that says, “And so concludes the final act of revenge.” This links the two serial crimes. The police investigation establishes that it was a different set of identical twins, owners of the villa, who murdered the guests and instigated the heists. One of them appears before the police and justifies their deeds as payback for unforgivable wrongs. When the twins’ mother fell from a train station platform, no one came to her aid, and when she later died in the hospital, people laughed unfeelingly at her sons’ distress. The twin is fully aware of the difficulty of establishing which of them carried out the crimes. However, when told that a bullet fired in one robbery killed a little girl, he turns pale.

In Yottsu no shūshifu (Four Full Stops), Tatsuko Sasaki, a bedridden woman with a heart condition, dies under suspicious circumstances in a dilapidated and poverty-ridden apartment building. The cause of death is poisoning from arsenic mixed in her nutritional supplement. Her deaf only son, Shin’ichi, is immediately arrested and arraigned. Bar hostess Sachiko feels responsible for the accidental death of her younger brother, who was also deaf, and she believes in Shin’ichi’s innocence. With the help of her coworker Tokie she begins an investigation, but to no avail: Shin’ichi commits suicide in jail. Sachiko then kills herself too. Outraged at her friend’s death, Tokie pursues the case with the help of a newspaper reporter who theorizes that the real criminal is Tomiko Kashimura, the woman pharmacist who sold Shin’ichi the supplement. Tokie has her doubts. Hearing that Tomiko’s husband had encouraged her to take the same supplement, she finally solves the mystery: the poison had actually been intended for Tomiko. The husband is arrested and confesses to doctoring the tonic. Too late, Shin’ichi’s name is cleared.

In Shūchaku eki satsujin jiken (Murder in the Terminal Station), seven male and female graduates of the same high school in Aomori Prefecture head back home for the first time in seven years, aboard the Limited Express Sleeper Yūzuru Number Seven leaving from Ueno Station. Starting with a murder in the station, the seven are killed off one by one. Only three make it safely back to Tokyo: Machida, Kataoka, and Miyamoto. It was Miyamoto who planned the trip and sent out personal invitations to the other six. Later, Kataoka is summoned back to Ueno Station and poisoned to death. The police take Machida for the killer and surmise he will go after Miyamoto as well, which he does. Miyamoto’s last words are “I made a mistake.” The letter he had meant to send to Kataoka had gone to Machida by mistake. The joke it contained would have meant nothing special to Kataoka, but to Machida it dredged up an incident from the past so painful that he was driven to murder his six old classmates.

* Yottsu no shūshifu (Shun’yodo, 1970, 232 pages)
* Koroshi no sōkyokusen (Jitsugyo no Nihon Sha, 1971, 287 pages)
* Shūchaku eki satsujin jiken (Kobunsha, 1980, 263 pages, Mystery Writers of Japan Award for Novels)