Sherlock Holmes is a name everyone knows. The iconic detective is the protagonist of some of the best mystery stories in the world, and now he returns in Sherlock Holmes: A Scandal in Japan. One of Japan’s most prolific mystery writers, Keisuke Matsuoka, takes up his pen to tell his tale of what Sherlock got up to after his famous disappearance at Reichenbach Falls. Is this novel worth your time? Let’s find out!
The story begins with Sherlock facing off against Moriarty at Reichenbach Falls. After shoving his mortal enemy to his death, Sherlock fakes his own death and goes on the run. With help from his brother Mycroft, Sherlock is sent to Japan to stay with an old acquaintance: the first Prime Minister of Japan, Hirobumi Ito.
Upon setting foot in Japan, it’s not long before Sherlock is embroiled in a new case. Just three months before his arrival, an assassination attempt was made on Nicholas Alexandrovich, the Tsarevich of Russia, who was touring Japan. Now tensions are running high between Russia and Japan as the Japanese decide on their punishment for the attacker, Tsuda Sanzo. Fearing war with Russia should they not give Tsuda the death penalty, but equally wary of judging Tsuda too harshly under Japanese law, Japan faces one of their greatest challenges yet.
When Sherlock arrives in Japan he finds that Ito is no longer Prime Minister, having stepped down and chosen to lead Japan’s Privy Council instead. This gives him more time to consult with and investigate with Sherlock, who quickly realises that all is not as it seems with the attack on Nicholas. The way Nicholas acts towards Japan now, compared to during his visit is too drastically different. He refers to the Japanese as “yellow monkeys”, when previously he’d even claimed to have been seeking a Japanese wife. As Sherlock digs deeper, he discovers that Russia may have been acting behind the scenes, piling more pressure on Japan than necessary in a bid to drive the country to its ruin. A compelling tale of politics and deceit ensues as Sherlock tries to bring those with ill intentions to justice.
Those of you familiar with Japanese history will likely have noticed that this book is based on real historical events. The initial set-up is very true to life, as are the characters depicted, but needless to say, the story does begin to twist events quite drastically to create a case for, and make room for, Sherlock’s involvement. However, that doesn’t mean the story isn’t plausible – because it is. Matsuoka does a good job at keeping things grounded and consistent with the tone of the incident. It’s incredibly well written and obviously very well researched.
As a fan of Sherlock Holmes, it’s comforting to see that Matsuoka has captured the character wonderfully. All of the quirks and dialogue you’d associate with Sherlock are accounted for and, as a result, it’s easy to care and to root for Sherlock with no introduction being necessary. Matsuoka also does a wonderful job at portraying 1890s Japan and London, making it easy to picture the streets Sherlock walked through during that time period.
Sherlock Holmes: A Scandal in Japan comes West thanks to publisher Vertical and appears to be the first of Matsuoka’s works to make it into English. I’m hoping that this marks the start of more following suit. This book has been translated by James Balzer and reads well, which I was happy to see, given my last experience with one of Balzer’s translations (which was not very good).
Overall, Sherlock Holmes: A Scandal in Japan is a compelling story showcasing the world’s most iconic detective. Matsuoka does the character great justice in this tale revolving around an unforgettable incident that readers will be engrossed in from start to finish.