Japanese Crime Fiction

This page is an index of all of the works currently reviewed on the blog that are written by Japanese authors.

A

Takemaru Abiko

The 8 Mansion Murders

An impossible crime story in which a businessman is shot in the heart with a crossbow in a deserted courtyard.

Though its puzzle may not be quite as ingeniously constructed as either The Moai Island Puzzle or The Decagon House Mystery, other shin honkaku titles published by Locked Room International, I think it is most accessible of the three and it might make a good first step for readers beginning to explore this style of Japanese crime writing.

Read my full review here

Alice Arigsugawa

The Moai Island Puzzle

A mixture of treasure hunt and impossible crime story set on an island covered in wooden moai statues.

Though not perfect, I think if you are able to look past its sometimes dull protagonist and investigative procedure, there is some excellent material here.

Read my full review here

C

Shunshin Chin

Murder in a Peking Studio

A man involved in passing bribes to government officials in China is murdered in his locked studio moments after receiving $250,000 which mysteriously vanished.

The historical details are excellent and do a good job of conveying a sense of place and time. The locked room, while it takes a minute to arrive, is good enough to justify the read on that score alone.

Read the review here

H

Tokuya Higashigawa

Lending the Key to the Locked Room

A man is surprised to find his friend murdered in his apartment where all the windows are locked and the door secured with a chain.

An excellent example of a lightly comic puzzle mystery with some clever plotting.

Read the review here

Keigo Higashino

The Devotion of Suspect X

An inverted crime story in which a high school math teacher tries to cover up a murder committed by his neighbor.

I am most impressed by the way the construction of the narrative echoes the key themes of the novel. The novel is layered extremely cleverly, building up to a really interesting and satisfying conclusion.

Read my review here

Malice

An inverted crime story in which we know the who and the how but are left to puzzle over why the crime was done.

What Higashino does particularly well is explore questions of what it means to be creative and the nature of the publishing industry while telling an interesting, character-driven mystery.

Read my review here

Newcomer

A recently divorced woman who is a new arrival in the Nihonbashi district of Tokyo is found murdered in her apartment.

Never breathtaking but very readable, this is an enjoyable and surprisingly traditional mystery story with some very appealing subplots.

Read my review here

K

Natsuo Kirino

Out

A woman murders her abusive husband and enlists the help of her coworkers to dispose of the body.

A dark and gruesome crime story with rich, dimensional characters.

Read the review here

M

Seicho Matsumoto

Inspector Imanishi Investigates

A body is found placed under a train moments before it is to depart. The face has been battered beyond recognition, preventing the police from easily identifying the deceased. With only a few very vague clues, Inspector Imanishi works to figure out their identity and why they were murdered.

A very competent, if leisurely-paced, police procedural. As interesting for the issues it discusses as the case itself.

Read my review here

A Quiet Place

In this character-driven story, a Japanese businessman learns of his young wife’s death while away and returns home to find he has questions about the account of her death.

…while I think it is ultimately a very successful novel that contains some wonderful character and thematic moments, it is perhaps less compelling as an example of the mystery genre.

Read my review here

Kanae Minato

Confessions

This book explores the circumstances leading to the murder of a schoolteacher’s very young child by two of her teenaged students.

A powerful, fascinating and utterly devastating read. The subject matter is much darker than I typically like but it is handled very well.

Read my review here

Penance

This book explores how a horrific murder affects the lives of the four children who discovered the body and the penance they each feel obliged to pay for failing to identify the murderer.

A really dark and powerful read that is just as devastating as the author’s debut work, Confessions.

Read my review here

N

Fujimori Nakamura

The Gun

An inverted crime story about a young man’s discovery of a gun and an exploration of his psychology as he starts to fantasize about using it.

The problem is that as the novella strikes one note repeatedly, it ends up feeling a little repetitive by the point we reach the end and it fails to develop any great moments of surprise or the sense that the reader is engaging in an act of discovery.

Read my review here

The Thief

An exploration of the life of a thief and a robbery job he gets involved with.

A very short but powerful exploration of the life of a thief with strong characters and thoughtful development of themes.

Read my review here

Shizuko Natsuki

Murder at Mt. Fuji

When a young woman confesses to the accidental killing of her wealthy Great Uncle the family agrees to try and protect her by making it seem like the work of an outsider.

This boasts a great set-up but the rushed investigation and resolution phases of the novel made it feel a little anticlimactic.

Read my review here

O

Keikichi Osaka

The Ginza Ghost and Other Stories

A short story collection which includes a few locked room adventures.

The Ginza Ghost does at least feature a few stories that I feel will stick with me for a while and I could appreciate Osaka’s skill at inventing interesting puzzles to challenge his readers.

Read my review here

R

Edogawa Rampo

A collection of two novellas. The Black Lizard is a cat and mouse game between a crime boss attempting to kidnap the daughter of a diamond merchant for ransom and series detective Akechi Kogoro. Beast in the Shadows is a dark and twisted story about sexual obsession.

The Black Lizard is pure pulpy thriller stuff and good fun but Beast in the Shadows is a much darker and more interesting work. That story, while shorter, is worth the cost of the collection in itself.

Read the full review here

Japanese Tales of Mystery and Imagination

A collection of short stories by one of the giants of twentieth century Japanese crime fiction. Some stories are mysteries where others evoke more of an adventure style.

As a whole I was very impressed with the collection and found it to be an enjoyable and absorbing read. There is a good variety of story types and styles here and I imagine that several of these tales will stay with me for a while.

Read my review here

S

Soji Shimada

The Tokyo Zodiac Murders

One of the founding texts in the shin honkaku movement in Japanese crime fiction. It is celebrated as an example of a locked room mystery although I personally found that aspect of the novel disappointing.

The locked room elements of the plot are oversold and the least interesting part of an otherwise fascinating case.

Read the review here

T

Masako Togawa

The Master Key

The author’s first work in which she explores the lives of characters living in an apartment block for single women.

…I was really impressed both by the depth of characterization as well as the sense of unease she builds in this world. At times I was left curious how some elements could be fully resolved, making the ending all the more striking and powerful.

Read my review here

The Lady Killer

A thriller in which we follow a man who goes into nightclubs to seduce women, keeping a diary of his conquests only to find they are starting to end up dead.

I liked the novel a lot and found its characterization and discussion of themes of social isolation and of male and female sexuality to be thoughtful and considered but I do think it is a slightly less polished work than The Master Key.

Ready my review here

Slow Fuse

A psychosexual thriller in which a psychiatrist attempts to uncover why his patient has written a confession to killing a woman who is still alive.

Slow Fuse feels superficial and often a little juvenile. Meanwhile the psychosexual thriller style feels aged and rooted in a form of sexual politics and gender relations that is very much of the period in which it was originally written.

Read my review here

A Kiss of Fire

A novel concerning three men who, as children, witnessed (and perhaps were involved in) a fire that killed an artist. Years later their paths cross again during a hunt for an arsonist.

Though the premise of this story appears heavily reliant on coincidence, the ending is superb and satisfying.

Read my review here

Various

Ellery Queen’s Japanese Golden Dozen

A collection of short stories selected by Fred Dannay showcasing the enormous breadth of styles in Japanese crime fiction at the time.

Several of the stories are really entertaining and imaginative. My pick of the collection is The Kindly Blackmailer in which a barber finds that a new customer intends to blackmail him for his involvement in a hit-and-run.

Read my review here

Old Crimes, New Scenes

A collection of short stories that attempt to illustrate the development of the mystery genre within the Japanese literary scene. Several authors are either not known for their mystery stories or appear for the first time in translation.

An excellent collection of works written over a span of more than a hundred years.

Read my review here

Y

Seishi Yokomizo

The Honjin Murders

The first of the Kosuke Kindaichi stories explores the murder of a bride and groom in a locked room on their wedding night.

An interesting murder story told in a journalistic style. The murder mechanism is a little much for me, but Yokomizo’s choice of killer and exploration of their motivations are excellent.

Read my review here