Ruikō’s Maze

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Ruikō’s Maze
Author: Kenji Takemoto
Specifications: ISBN  978-4062199544
351 pages
13.4 x 19.5 cm / 5.3 x 7.8 in (WxH)
Category: Fiction
Publisher: Kodansha Ltd.
Tokyo, 2017
Awards: Konomys No. 1 Ranking, 2017
Honkaku Mystery Award, 2017
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This mystery novel revolves around a real-life figure, Ruikō Kuroiwa (1862–1920), a newspaper founder, journalist, and prolific translator and adaptor of numerous English and French novels.

The protagonist is Tomohisa Makiba, an 18-year-old with an IQ of 208 who is a professional player of the game of go and has several of the seven honorary go titles to his name. Makiba solves two intertwining mysteries to bring the novel to a dramatic finish.

The first revolves around a murder in an old traditional inn. The victim is a man in his seventies who has been stabbed in the back with an ice pick. The wound is deep, piercing right through the heart. The body is slumped over a go board, and go stones are scattered everywhere, suggesting he was murdered in the middle of a game. Naratsugi, the detective in charge, reaches out to Makiba for help. Naratsugi is an avid go player himself and knows Makiba from a previous case on which they also worked together. Arriving at the scene, the first thing Makiba points out is that there seem to be an awful lot of the black and white stones, but other than that he offers no fresh insights.

The second mystery concerns a large stash of codes apparently left by Kuroiwa in a secret location. A wealthy scholar named Asō has been researching Kuroiwa for some time and enlists Makiba’s help in his search for the fabled hideaway. Thanks to Makiba’s sleuthing skills they find it in the basement of a dilapidated building on the shores of a lake situated at the bottom of a steep ravine in the mountains of Ibaraki Prefecture. On August 20, at Asō’s request, Makiba and a number of others make their way to the isolated site to participate in an excavation. On his way to the hideaway, Makiba is hurt by a boulder that comes crashing down a cliff, but the injury is not serious. Later a woman in the group, a mystery aficionado, dies from drinking poisoned orange juice that was intended for Makiba. The pelting rain and raging winds of a typhoon accentuate their isolation and force the group to hunker down in the basement, everyone wondering all the while who the murderer may be.

At this point the storyline veers back to the first mystery. With Makiba’s help, the victim is identified as Yūsai Sugamura, age 75, an avid player of renju, a variant of go played according to rules defined by Kuroiwa. It turns out Sugamura had attended a party held by Asō in July as a prelude to an exhibition about Kuroiwa, planned for December. At the party, he confides to Asō that he has something he wants included in the exhibit. Makiba guesses that the person who tried to kill him is the same one who murdered Sugamura, and as he follows the clues readers are led into a maze of go games, puzzles, and wordplay that reflect the author’s encyclopedic knowledge and his almost maniacal obsession with language and the game of go.