7 Japanese Mystery Novels to Keep You on the Edge of Your Seat

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Japanese literature has gained immense popularity in the past few years. Thanks to translators working tirelessly, we have a cache of Japanese novels to choose from, both literary and popular. In the popular fiction category, there has been a boom in the field of mysteries and thrillers. The honkaku and shin honkaku schools of Japanese writing, in particular, have produced many novels published in English recently. These Japanese mystery novels are reminiscent of the Golden Age of British crime writing and tend to play fair with the readers when it comes to clues about the mystery. If you are someone who enjoys reading mysteries, the following books might just be up your alley.

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7 Japanese Mystery Novels that Keep You Hooked

Murder in the Crooked House

Title: Murder in the Crooked House

Author: Sōji Shimada, translated by Louise Heal Kawai

Publisher: Pushkin Vertigo

Price: 319

Pages: 352


A locked-room Japanese mystery novel, Murder in the Crooked House is set almost entirely inside a whimsically built mansion that has many curious features like slanted walls and strange staircases. When a guest is found murdered in unusual circumstances, and nobody can tell how, detective Kiyoshi Mitarai attempts to solve this complex mystery. This is completely a fair-play mystery and the reader has all those clues to solve the murder that the detective does, along with a challenge by the author to solve it before Mitarai.

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Title: Malice

Author: Keigo Higashino, translated by Alexander O. Smith

Publisher: Abacus

Price: 323

Pages: 320


Keigo Higashino’s Malice is a brilliant piece of crime writing where he takes the cat-and-mouse game between the murderer and the detective to new heights, keeping the reader glued to the book in the process. More of a whydunit than a whodunit, Malice is the story of the murder of Kunihiko Hidaka, an author, on the evening before his move to Canada. Detective Kaga has the feeling that Hidaka was killed by his best friend Osamu Nonoguchi, but he has to find the reason. Malice has a very clever plot and the cat-and-mouse game between Nonoguchi and Kaga is the highlight of this novel.

If you enjoy this Japanese mystery title, you will also likely love reading his Devotion of Suspect X.

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Death Among the Undead

Title: Death Among the Undead

Author: Masahiro Immamura, translated by Ho-Ling Wong

Publisher: Independently Published

Price: 1717

Pages: 234


Another locked-room Japanese mystery novel, Immamura’s Death Among the Undead features a group of university students who go on a trip only to find that there’s been a bioterrorist attack nearby and they are under threat from zombies. When a murder occurs due to bite marks in a locked room where there are no zombies, the mystery becomes doubly complex. Further deaths only escalate the situation until the brilliant Hiruko is able to find the solution to the deaths. Cleverly plotted with a zombie twist thrown in, Dead Among the Undead makes for an engrossing read.

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The Master Key

Title: The Master Key

Author: Masako Togawa, translated by Simon Grove

Publisher: Pushkin Vertigo

Price: 316

Pages: 192


Set in post-war Japan in The K Apartment for Ladies, this Japanese mystery novel is a story of past sins coming to haunt the present. The plot is between the present when the building is being shifted a few metres without evacuating anyone using new technology and two different times in the past – one with a burial in the building’s foundation and the second with a child’s kidnapping. As these events become enmeshed in one another, we meet the various occupants of the apartment and realise that one of them might have a connection to the crimes of the past.

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A Quiet Place

Title: A Quiet Place

Author: Seicho Matsumoto, translated by Louise Heal Kawai

Publisher: Bitter Lemon Press

Price: 766

Pages: 224


Tsuneo Asai is on a business trip when he learns that his wife Eiko has died of a heart attack. In a bid to know more about Eiko’s sudden death, he visits the place where she died. But instead of getting answers, he finds himself getting more and more puzzled. What was his wife doing in an area she never told him she visited? Perhaps she was meeting a lover?

This strong suspicion takes hold of Asai, and the rest of this Japanese mystery novel is a gradual build-up of everything he does because of this. A slow-burn psychological study, A Quiet Place is also the picture of Japanese society at a given moment and a study of guilt and obsession.

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The Tattoo Murder

Title: The Tattoo Murder

Author: Akimitsu Takagi, translated by Deborah Boehm

Publisher: Pushkin Vertigo

Price: 305

Pages: 384


This Japanese mystery book is set in post-war Japan and is intricately linked with the social and cultural norms of the time. The beautiful and tattooed Kinue Nomura is found dead and dismembered with the tattooed part of her torso missing. The brother of the policeman in charge also becomes embroiled in the case as he was the one who found the body and then starts a strange tale of suspense and mystery that finds its origins in legends and folktales and includes Yakuza gangs and obsessed collectors.

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The Mill-House Murders

Title: The Mill-House Murders

Author: Yukito Ayatsuji, translated by Ho-Ling Wong

Publisher: Pushkin Press

Price: 266

Pages: 288


The last part of Japanese mystery recommendations: The Mill-House Murders by Yukito Ayatsuji.

Fujinuma Kiichi lives in his secluded mill house with his young wife Yurie and wears a mask and gloves as a result of horrible injuries suffered many years ago. Every year, on a fixed date in September, he invites 4 people to let them view his father’s paintings.

In the year 1985, during the annual visit, one painting and a guest goes missing, while two people are murdered. Then the next year, on the same day, Detective Kiyoshi Shimada comes to the Mill House along with the other three usual guests and tries to investigate the truth behind what happened the previous year. An interesting but slow-burn Japanese mystery story, The Mill House Murders is the second book available in English translation by the author.

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Sneha Pathak

Sneha Pathak

Sneha Pathak loves reading over everything else and has a degree in English Literature. She loves discovering new authors and new books. Her favourite genre is mystery/detective fiction, but she reads all genres with equal gusto and enjoys writing about them. When not reading, she can be found book-browsing.

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