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.
Before we get onto the book itself, it’s worth mentioning that this is the twenty-ninth publication from Locked Room International. Under the stewardship of John Pugmire, we’ve been brought a wonderful mix of classic and modern impossible crime novels and short stories from all corners of the globe, and — given the standard of their recent output — it certainly seems that the best is far from past. I anticipate a great many excellent, obscure, and previously-untranslated works coming our way in the years ahead thanks to LRI, and I wanted to take a moment to recognise the work that goes into making this happen.
Given that an overwhelming majority of modern crime writing really isn’t my thing, it’s always lovely to see Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine publish some short fiction for me to get excited about, like a new Paul Halter story or, as in the current November/December 2017 issue, something from Japanese master Soji Shimada (I’ll Westernise his name herein, since that’s what I’ve done previously).
You suggested the titles, you voted, and now here we are: these are the top ten novels demonstrating fair-play in detective fiction as selected by nearly 500 votes on 40 titles. Except there are twelve of them, because we had a few ties. So, alphabetically by author we have…
Disclosure: I proof-read this book for Locked Room International in March 2016
Children, incarnations of The Doctor, phases of the moon…generally I try not to play favourites. But if I had to pick one crime fiction conceit above all others it would undoubtedly be a group of people on an island getting killed off one by one. Sure, isolate them in some ancestral mansion via thunderstorm or on a train via unexpected snow and the effect is arguably the same, but there’s something about the island in itself that renders the idea all the more thrilling to my senses. And so this Japanese island-set puzzle, the second collaboration between Locked Room International’s John Pugmire and translator and crime fiction blogger Ho-Ling Wong after last year’s excellent The Decagon House Murders, would be just what the doctor ordered if the medical profession ever thought of prescribing books for those of us with the thrill of fictional murder in our hearts.
Some families have all the luck – take the Khardashians, for example, who are universally blessed with charm, intelligence and talent – whereas some miss out altogether. Into this second category would definitely fall the Umezawa clan: not only is patriarch Heikichi found battered to death in his locked art studio, his eldest daughter is then found murdered a few months later and, following that, his six other daughters, step-daughters and nieces all disappear simultaneously and their dismembered bodies are discovered at various intervals buried in different locations around Japan. Then it turns out that Heikichi Umezawa had written a document outlining his intention to do exactly this to these women, with methods of murder and disposal based on their zodiac signs, so the mystery of who could have carried out his nefarious scheme raises its ugly head and remains unsolved for decades…