Everything is clear from the beginning: it was a double love suicide. Two dead bodies side by side found on Kashii beach. The government official Ken’ichi Sayama and the waitress Toki had both taken cyanid and died together. But something seems wrong: Sayama was a key witness aka a suspect in an ongoing investigation of a bribery scandal, and Toki had never before mentioned Sayama as her lover.
Torigai, a police officer, has his doubts about a double suicide: “Usually, in cases like this, the lovers would opt for a suitable indulgent location – a hot-spring resort, say, or a well-known beauty spot – in which to end their lives. True, the view here wasn’t bad, but they could at least have chosen a patch of soft grass over these unforgiving rocks.”
Also inspector Ki’ichi Mihara from Tokyo, who is investigating the bribery scandal, has second thoughts and starts to look into things behind the scenes. There is much confusion about train departure times and arrivals, when businessman Mr. Yasuda comes into focus as a suspect, but he has a watertight alibi. “Walls were blocking his progress in every direction, and each seemed more unbreakable than the last.”
Matsumoto Seichô (1909 bis 1992) was a Japanese writer known for detective stories and crime fiction most popular in the 1960s. He wrote many novels, short stories and books about Japanese history as well. His main interest in writing detective fiction is looking for motives and analyzing crimes from the psychological viewpoint.
“Tokyo Express” was first published in Japan in 1958. The original title is “Ten to sen” (点と線), literally “Points and Lines”. This novel was also made into a movie directed by Tsuneo Kobayashi. It is Matsumoto’s first novel translated into English.
Three other titles of this author are available in English:
“Inspector Imanishi Investigates” (Suna no utsuwa, 1961)
“Pro Bono” (Kiri no hata, 1961)
“A Quiet Life” (Kikanakatta Basho, 1975).
Matsumoto Seichô won several literary awards, for example the Akutagawa Prize in 1952 for his work “The Legend of the Kokura-Diary” (Aru ‘Kokura-nikki’ den”, 或る「小倉日記」伝). He is so famous in Japan, that a museum is dedicated to him: The Matsumoto Seichô Memorial Museum.
“Tokyo Express” is a classic detective novel a la Agatha Christie. An intelligent puzzle, that seems impossible to solve. As an avid reader of detective fiction you probably will have fun solving the puzzle but the solution is still surprising because there are some red herrings. All in all it is a short interesting read and I am curious about Matsumoto’s other crime novels.
Title in Japanese: 松本清張: 点と線,1958.
Matsumoto Seichô: Tokyo Express, newly translated by Jesse Kirkwood. Penguin Classics 2022 (cover).
There is another English translation of this novel by Makiko Yamamoto and Paul C. Blum, published by Kodansha as “Point and Lines” in 1995.