I’ve never been to Japan but the idea of it fascinates me. The Japan of my imagination is built partly from Floating World woodblock prints, calligraphy scrolls in museums, years of watching Manga, and the novels of diaspora writers like Ruth Ozeki and Yoko Tawana. I imagine it as a place where nothing works the way I might expect it to but where everything works nonetheless. So, this week, I’m expanding my imaginary Japan to take in the writings of two well-known Japanese mystery writers, one a prominent golden-age writer and one who dominates the contemporary crime novel landscape in Japan. There is a fifty-year gap between the two novels so I’m expecting to see two very different versions of twentieth-century Japan.
I’m hoping to find another lens on Japan, one that starts with some of the same genre assumptions as the British and North American mystery novels but with a different storytelling tradition and a very different set of expectations about people and society.
‘The Honjin Murders‘ by Seishi Yokomizo (1946)
Despite his prominence in Japan, Seishi Yokomizo’s novels have only recently become available in English, thanks mostly to Pushkin Vertigo who, over the past five years, has put together an impressive catalogue of crime fiction from around the world.
One of the things that fuels my curiosity about Sieshi Yokomizo is that he was fascinated by the locked room mysteries of John Dickson Carr, Gaston Leroux and Agatha Christie and so set out to write some of his own. Published in Japan in 1946, ‘The Honjin Murders’ are set in 1937 and so offers a window into a world that, by 1946, had been damaged almost beyond recognition.
I’m hoping for a good golden age locked room mystery with a distinctive Japanese feel both in terms of narrative style and the characters who populate the mystery.
‘Malice‘ by Keigo Higashino (1996)
I read ‘The Devotion Of Suspect X’ back in 2018 and it became one of those books that I recommended to anyone who would listen that year. I liked it so much that I bought a physical copy as well as the audiobook, just to have it on my shelves.
It’s been way too long since I read one of his books. I could have gone to the next one in the series ‘Salvation Of A Saint’ but I’d heard good things about what a clever book ‘Malice’ is so I decided to go with it even though it features a different detective.
I’m hoping for a rigorously logical and dispassionate approach to solving a clever crime and an insight into the world of Japanese publishing.