A seam of superb Japanese detective novels and short stories have crossed the language barrier in recent years, teaching even the most culturally ignorant of us to tell our honkaku from our shin honkaku. And here to give us a sense of the work involved in making that happen is literary translator Louise Heal Kawai.
After years of occasional titles like The Tattoo Murder Case (1948) by Akimitsu Takagi trickling through the East-West translation gap, it seems English-speaking audiences might be getting more classic Eastern honkaku. The shinhonkaku translations brought to us by Locked Room International have highlighted the ingenuity in works coming out of Japan, China, and surrounds during the 1980s and 1990s, an era when the Western crime novel was rather more focussed on character and procedure, and so the puzzle-rich seam of GAD-era honkaku titles might finally get more attention. And the first non-LRI novel to come across is one that was greeted with much excitement.
Disclosure: I proof-read this book for Locked Room International in March/April 2017.
After two wonderful shin honkaku novels in The Decagon House Murders by Yukito Ayatsuji and The Moai Island Puzzle by Alice Arisugawa, John Pugmire’s Locked Room International now brings you this honkaku story collection from early pioneer Keikichi Ōsaka. The introduction by Ashibe Taku, author of Murder in the Red Chamber (2004), does a great job of putting Ōsaka in context, since this was a nascent form of mystery writing that allows a fascinating and at times hugely inventive take on a genre we thought we’d seen everything in already — no mean feat when some of the best here are over 80 years old. And some of these solutions have to be read to be believed… (in a good way, that is).
Since Soji Shimada’s The Tokyo Zodiac Murders was republished by Pushkin Vertigo, I’ve found myself reading increasing amounts of Japanese detective fiction: the shin honkaku of The Decagon House Murders by Yukito Ayatsuji and The Moai Island Puzzle by Alice Arisugawa from Locked Room International, The Salvation of a Saint by Keigo Higashino (yes, The Devotion of Suspect X will follow in due course…), and I’ve recently started Gosho Aoyama’s Case Closed (a.k.a. Detective Conan) manga. And authors such as Seicho Matsumoto and Kyotaro Nishimura are climbing ever-higher up by TBB list as I encounter more of the high-quality work that has been translated for our pleasure. And, of course, the proliferation of impossible crimes in these stories doesn’t hurt, with the added cross-cultural glimpses also offered simply making them an even more attractive proposition.