If the title sounds like S.S. Van Dine gone Japanese, it should: This first English translation of Takagi's 1947 novel (first of a series starring his improbable Boy Genius, forensic medical student Kyosuke Kamizu) has all the mind-boggling braininess and dazzling artifice of mystery's Golden Age, spiced with voyeuristic close-ups of a dying art in which postwar Japan remains supreme: full-body tattoos. The plot focuses on the three luckless children of nonpareil tattoo artist Horiyasu, each of them tattooed with a mystical totem--a snake, a frog, a slug--whose combination, even one to each blood relative, spells trouble. Trouble wastes no time in finding Horiyasu's daughter Kinue Nomura, whose fears that she's being stalked by a killer are fatally confirmed when her brand-new lover, military medic Kenzo Matsushita, finds her dead and dismembered inside her locked bathroom. Just as Kinue's death is only the first in a series of grisly tattoo-oriented killings, the bizarre twist Takagi puts on this dismemberment--Kinue's tattooed torso is missing, leaving only her head and limbs--is only the first of a series of Grand Guignol touches evidently calculated to outdo John Dickson Carr in both ghoulishness and ingenuity. Intricate, fantastic, and utterly absorbing. More, please.