Entitled The Tattoo Murder, this first novel by Japanese writer Akimitsu Takagi has been published by Pushkin Press.

It is part of the Pushkin Vertigo collection, which features the best crime novels from around the world.

Initially published in 1948, with the original title Shisei Satsujin Jiken, the work was decisive for the young author. It was an immediate success when it came out (over 30,000 copies sold), and launched the writer’s career. In the decades that followed, Takagi became one of the most popular – and prolific – authors of Japanese crime fiction. Incidentally, Takagi began writing on the advice of a fortune-teller. Trained as an engineer and unemployed after the defeat of 1945, the former scientist was looking for a future. He found it in the predictions made by a medium after reading the lines in his hand.

irezumi at the heart of the plot

For this first story, Takagi uses the theme of tattoos, which he places at the heart of the plot of The Tattoo Murder. Set in a Tokyo devastated by American bombing during the Second World War and psychologically destroyed by the country’s military defeat, it features the atrocious murders of people with tattoos. In this complex, fiendishly well-crafted plot, the author brings together a gallery of unusual characters: members of an old irezumi club, a femme fatale and a collector of tattooed skin.

Two complementary books

The Tattoo Murder is the perfect complement to the book of photographs, the tattoo writer. Although the photographs were taken a few years after the novel was written, around 1955, they faithfully illustrate the tattoo culture of the period described. Akimitsu Takagi is very familiar with this milieu, which he learned about during his preliminary research. A conscientious writer, he came into contact with this underground milieu to gather information and add authenticity to his plot. He forged strong links with tattoo artists and their clients. They led him to become a privileged observer of this shadowy world. By photographing it between 1955 and 1965, he became one of the most important witnesses to the history of tattooing in 20th-century Japan.

This first novel, now translated into English and published by Pushkin Press, is also available in French (Irezumi, Denoël) and Italian (Il mistero della donna tatuata, Einaudi).