The Master Key (King Penguin)

by Masako Togawa

Paperback, 1986




Penguin Books (1986), 160 pages


The K Apartments for Ladies are occupied by over a hundred unmarried women, once young and lively, now grown and old - and in some cases, evil. Their residence conceals a secret, a secret connecting the unsolved kidnapping in 1951 of four-year-old George Kraft to the clandestine burial of a child's body in the basement bath-house. So, when news comes that the building must be moved to make way for a road-building project, more than one tenant waits with apprehension for the grisly revelation that will follow. Then the master key is lost, stolen and re-stolen, and suddenly no-one feels safe.

User reviews

LibraryThing member gpangel
The Master Key by by Masako Togawa, Simon Grove (Translator) is a 2017 by Pushkin Vertigo publication.

Originally published back in 1962, this ‘puzzle’ mystery has been translated into the English Language and is now available in digital format.

Although I consider myself somewhat well versed on mystery novels and the various sub-genres, I wasn’t quite sure what was meant by ‘puzzle mysteries’, which, of course, piqued by interest, on top of the cultural aspects and the vintage/classic angle I’m always a sucker for.
The story is centered around the K apartments for single ladies, which is about to be moved due to the widening of a highway. As the story progresses the past and present slowly merge as the truth behind the death of an infant is revealed amid shocking revelations.

The apartment's master key plays a prominent role in the way these tightly held secrets emerge from the shadowy corners of loneliness, obsession, and sorrow, and the deceptively benign activities transpiring at the K apartments for women.

The story is short, but it packs a big punch. It was almost like reading a group of connected vignettes with the post war backdrop of Tokyo creating a stunning atmosphere. These ‘vignettes’ are all a piece of the puzzle, which gradually comes together, piece by piece, to give the reader the full, entire picture.

Fate! It can stab you in the back any time, upsetting the most carefully thought out activities. Fate doesn't care what the upshot is.

Very clever! The definition of a puzzle mystery is rather vague, but it is supposed to focus on solving the puzzle, without spending a great deal of time on the development of the characters. However, I did get a nice glimpse into the secret lives, and human foibles, of these women, as a tragic story unfolds.

I’ve never read a mystery quite like this one, and the more I pondered on it, the more appreciation I had for the author’s ingenuity. I am very interested in reading more books by Masako Togawa if I can locate any with translations.
I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys mysteries that are a little outside the box, are masterfully written, and keeps you guessing or if you enjoy vintage mysteries.
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LibraryThing member Hardboiled
I had high expectations for this novel based on its initial hype. I'd heard everything from murder mystery, puzzle mystery, finely honed characters to cultural commentary and fateful tale. After having read it, however, I think a better title might have been Lost In Translation. Lost in the sense that if you boil it down it's no more than a collection of vignettes loosely tied together by the ever allusive master key. I will be the first to admit I enjoyed these character vignettes individually but overall never saw them jell into a unified whole. I only have to point to the last chapter prior to the epilogue to make my point. I thought I'd been promised one thing only to find in the last few pages I'd been duped. I had not been provided with enough facts and details about what was going on to even offer a half boiled explanation of what ninety-eight percent of the novel really had to do with itself. That was left till that last chapter and the epilogue where the author sat me down, explained what was really happening thus rewriting whatever I thought I was reading by telling me all of the things I should have been fed along the way to truly get any appreciation of the tale. If that sounds like sour apples that's because it is. If this is a puzzle mystery or even if it's not there has to be some rhyme or reason dictating a logic on how the lives of these characters should be connected.… (more)
LibraryThing member Aug3Zimm
Rounded up. Short book but it took me a while to get through because it never really grabbed me. Told out of order and with many characters, it’s got neat little connections from one story to the other that help tell a larger story, but then it twists were the story you thought it was leading up to wasn’t the one solved and so you end up with all the build up and none of the resolution until the epilogue (which feels tacked on and very different than the rest of the book) just spills all like an answer key to a quiz. Yes, it’s a twist but it feels fake and gimmicky.… (more)


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