Honkaku (“Orthodox”), The Japanese Form of the Golden Age Puzzle-plot


I’m reading Alice Arisugawa’s The Moai Island Puzzle (Locked Room International, 2016) translated by Ho-Ling Wong. In the Introduction, Sōji Shimada explains the origin and significance of honkaku (“orthodox”), the Japanese form of the Golden Age puzzle-plot. Honkaku refers to a form of the detective story that is not only literature but also, to a greater or lesser extent, a game. It follows the concept of “a high degree of logical reasoning,” the key prerequisite for the most exciting form of detective fiction as proposed by S.S. Van Dine.’ He goes on to explain that ‘after World War II, novelist like Akimitsu Takagi and Seishi Yokomizo wrote several excellent honkaku detective novels, but the arrival in the 1950s of “the social school” of Japanese mystery fiction dried up interest in the honkaku mysteries almost overnight. This school, led by Seicho Matsumoto, emphasised “natural realism” in which the motive that led to the crime and the depiction of the psychology of the criminal were the most important elements.’ Further to what he says: ‘The “winter of the age of honkaku” lasted until the early 1980s and ended with the publication of my own humble work The Tokyo Zodiac Murders (1981), followed by Ayatsuji’s The Decagon House Murders (1987).’ And ended by saying: ‘The term honkaku was actually coined in the mid-1920’s by Saburo Koga, but it was Edogawa Rampo in his essay collection Gen’eijo (The Phantom Castle), who first applied the term shin honkaku to the style of British post-Golden Age writers of the 1940s, such as Michael Innes, Margery Allingham and Nicholas Blake.’

Further reading:

The Ginza Ghost (Locked Room International, 2017) by Keikichi Ōsaka Translated by Ho-Ling Wong. Book Description: The Japanese form of Golden Age detective fiction was re-launched in the early 1980s as shin honkaku by Soji Shimada and Yukito Ayatsuji, but the original honkaku dates from the 1930s and one of its pioneers was Keikichi Osaka.  The Ginza Ghost is a collection of twelve of his best stories, almost all impossible crimes. Although the solutions are strictly fair-play, there is an unreal, almost hallucinatory quality to them.  Osaka, who died tragically young, was an early pioneer and master of the genre, whose work is only now starting to be re-discovered.  Readers of LRI’s The Decagon House Murders and The Moai Island Puzzle will not be disappointed.(Source: Locked Room International)

The Tokyo Zodiac Murders (Pushkin Press, 2015) by Sōji Shimada. Book Description: Japan, 1936. An old eccentric artist living with seven women has been found dead- in a room locked from the inside. His diaries reveal alchemy, astrology and a complicated plan to kill all seven women. Shortly afterwards, the plan is carried out: the women are found dismembered and buried across rural Japan. By 1979, these Tokyo Zodiac Murders have been obsessing a nation for decades, but not one of them has been solved. A mystery-obsessed illustrator and a talented astrologer set off around the country – and you follow, carrying the enigma of the Zodiac murderer through madness, missed leads and magic tricks. You have all the clues, but can you solve the mystery before they do? (Source: Pushkin Press)

The Decagon House Murders (Locked Room International, 2015) by Yukito Ayatsuji. Translated by Ho-Ling Wong. Book Description: Students from a university mystery club decide to visit an island which was the site of a grisly multiple murder the year before. Predictably, they get picked off one by one by an unseen murderer. Is there a madman on the loose? What connection is there to the earlier murders? The answer is a bombshell revelation which few readers will see coming. A milestone in the history of detective fiction, The Decagon House Murders is credited with launching the shin honkaku movement which restored Golden Age style plotting and fair-play clues to the Japanese mystery scene. It is also said to have influenced the development of the wildly popular Anime movement. This, the first English edition, contains a lengthy introduction by the maestro of Japanese mystery fiction, Soji Shimada. (Source: Locked Room International)

The Moai Island Puzzle (Locked Room International, 2016)  by Alice Arisugawa. Translated by Ho-Ling Wong. Book Description: Three students from Eito University in Kyoto travel to a remote island populated with moai statues in order to find a hidden treasure, but several murders—including one impossible–occur before it can be located. Don’t be fooled by the bland description. The locked room murder is brilliant and worthy of John Dickson Carr at his best, and the dying message and chain of deduction leading to the killer rival anything written by Ellery Queen. And neither Carr nor Queen ever combined both in one novel. (Source: Locked Room International)

The 8 Mansion Murders (Locked Room International, 2018) by Takemaru Abiko. Translated by Ho-Ling Wong. Book Description: The 8 Mansion, so called because its owner Kikuo Hachisuka, constructed it in the shape of a figure 8, is the scene of two gruesome crossbow murders. First Kikuo’s son, and then another resident who witnessed the first murder, are slaughtered in seemingly impossible circumstances. The crimes are investigated by Inspector Kyozo and his accident-prone assistant Kinoshita, but they are actually solved by his brother Shinji, who delivers a “quasi-locked-room lecture” reminiscent of John Dickson Carr’s Dr. Fell. Takemaru Akibe was, with Yukito Ayatsuji and Rintaro Norizuki, one of the founders of the shin honkaku movement that has blossomed in Japan since the 1980s, and Locked Room International is delighted to bring another influential impossible crime novel to the English-speaking market. (Source: Locked Room International)

Ho-Ling Wong, author of the introduction to Edogawa Rampo’s The Fiend With Twenty Faces. Translator of Ayatsuji Yukito’s The Decagon House Murders, Arisugawa Alice’s The Moai Island Puzzle, Ōsaka Keikichi’s The Ginza Ghost, Abiko Takemaru’s The 8 Mansion Murders and more. (Source: https://ho-lingnojikenbo.blogspot.com/)

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