The Mill House Murders by Yukito Ayatsuji – review

Published by Pushkin Vertigo

Publication date – 30 March 2023

Source – review copy

Every year, a small group of acquaintances pay a visit to the remote, castle-like Mill House, home to the reclusive Fujinuma Kiichi, son of a famous artist, who has lived his life behind a rubber mask ever since a disfiguring car accident. This year, however, the visit is disrupted by an impossible disappearance, the theft of a painting and a series of baffling murders. The brilliant Kiyoshi Shimada arrives to investigate. But will he uncover the truth, and will you be able to solve the mystery of the Water Mill House Murders before he does?

On a September evening in 1985, in a house set alone in the Japanese countryside a storm guests are gathered. Their reluctant host is wheelchair bound Fujinuma Kiichi, who lives with his wife and two servants hiding from the world, just as he hides his scarred face from everyone behind a white mask. The guest stay just once each year, gathered to see the works of Kiichi’s father. But on this occasion death follows.

Firstly the housekeeper falls to her death. Then a painting is stolen and two of the guests disappear. One is found later than night, alight in the house’s incinerator, the other vanished and never seen again. One year later the remaining guests are again gathered to see the art collection. Only this time a stranger is present, Kiyoshi Shimada, to find out the truth about the disappearance of his friend, Furukawa Tsuenhito, the man believed to have committed the murders and theft.

This the very definition of a closed room murder mystery. An isolated house, a storm and a collected, limited group of suspects. There are hints and clues left, often fleetingly. There is the sense that all is not as it seems. The characters are all unusual. There is Mitamura,  the arrogant doctor, Mori, the idiosyncratic professor, Oishi the annoying art collector, the taciturn butler Kuramoto and the teenage bride of the host, Yurie, who has lived with Kiichi for nearly half her life and barely utters a word.

The narration switches between the present and the same day the previous year, when the murders too place. As the past is reckoned with, the more Kiichi, who narrates the present period, seems to unravel. There’s a sense of disquiet as the story progresses, as the reader becomes away that there is more to the events than meets the eye. The dénouement, when it arrives, is fiendishly clever.

An engaging, entertaining locked room mystery with a puzzle fit for the most ardent of armchair detectives.

An edited version of this review first appeared in NB Magazine. You can find out more about the magazine here.

(This not an affiliate link).

You can buy a copy of the book here.

(This is an affiliate link so I may make a small amount should you purchase through it. You can also buy The Mill House Murders from your local independent bookshop.)

2 Comments Add yours

  1. I have a copy of this TBR Janet, and it does sound marvellous – looking forward to it!!


  2. heavenali says:

    I just bought a copy of this having read and enjoyed The Decagon House Murders last month. I love the sound of it, especially the switching time period.


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