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/)

Exploring Japanese Detective Stories: Honkaku Mysteries

511qA5dMDQL._UY250_Japanese Detective Fiction comes in many flavours. At this stage I’m mainly interested on Honkaku. To become familiar with it I’ve made up the following list. Not sure whether all the books and authors can be qualified as Honkaku. Your help to improve this list will be highly appreciated.

On my TBR

  1. The Black Lizard (1934) and Beast in the Shadows (1928) by Edogawa Ranpo (1894 – 1965) pen name of Tarō Hirai
  2. Inspector Imanishi Investigates (1961) by Seichō Matsumoto (1909 – 1992)
  3. Murder in the Crooked House  (1982) by Soji Shimada (Born October 12, 1948)
  4. The Devotion of Suspect X (2005) (Detective Galileo Series #1) by Keigo Higashino (Born February 4, 1958)
  5. Salvation of a Saint (2008) (Detective Galileo Series #2) by Keigo Higashino (Born February 4, 1958)
  6. Murder in the Red Chamber (2004) by Taku Ashibe (Born 21 May 1958).

On my Wish List

  1. The Ginza Ghost, is a collection of twelve of Keikichi Osaka (1912 – 1945 ) pen-name of Fukutarō Suzuki best stories, almost all impossible crimes.
  2. The Tattoo Murder Case (1948) by Akimitsu Takagi (1920 – 1995) pen-name of Takagi Seiichion.
  3. The Resurrection Fireplace (2011) by Hiroko Minagawa (Born 1930).
  4. The Tokyo Zodiac Murders (1981) by Soji Shimada (Born October 12, 1948).
  5. The Moai Island Puzzle (1989) by Alice Arisugawa (Born April 26, 1959) pen name of Masahide Uehara.
  6. The Decagon House Murders (1987) by Yukito Ayatsuji (Born December 23, 1960) pen name of Naoyuki Uchida.
  7. The 8 Mansion Murders (1989) by Takemaru Abiko (Born October 7, 1962)

On my radar (Authors whose books have not been translated into English yet, as far as I know)

  • Kaoru Kitamura (Born December 28, 1949) pen name of Kazuo Miyamoto
  • Rintaro Norizuki (Born 15 October 1964)

Honkaku Mystery Writers Club of Japan

Edogawa_RanpoA kind reader in Twitter has asked whether can we recommend a good Japanese/Asian Detective fiction book outside of Shimada, Arisugawa, Ayatsugi, Matsumoto, Yokomizo, or Rampo?

I’m afraid that both, The Puzzle Doctor and myself did answer the same: I’ll be honest, I’m not that well read in that aspect of the genre. Sorry.

The following is a private note that might be of interest to some readers: (Source: Wikipedia)

    Honkaku Mystery Writers Club of Japan (Honkaku Misuteri Sakka Kurabu) is a Japan-based organization for mystery writers who write honkaku (i.e. authentic, orthodox) mystery. The organization was founded on 3 November 2000 by Yukito Ayatsuji, Natsuhiko Kyogoku, Hiroko Minagawa, Kaoru Kitamura, Tetsuya Ayukawa and other mystery writers. It is currently chaired by Rintaro Norizuki and claims about 170 members. It presents the Honkaku Mystery Awards to writers every year and produces the annual anthology.

    Honkaku mystery: Honkaku (i.e. au­then­tic, or­tho­dox) mys­tery is one of sub­gen­res of mys­tery fic­tion that fo­cuses on “fair play”. Mys­tery nov­els writ­ten dur­ing the “Golden Age” of the mys­tery novel (e.g., the Ellery Queen nov­els) are re­garded as ex­am­ples of honkaku mys­tery.


    1. Alice Arisugawa (2000–2005)
    2. Kaoru Kitamura (2005–2009)
    3. Masaki Tsuji (2009–2013)
    4. Rintaro Norizuki (2013– )

        See also

        External links

        So far I have in my Kindle:

        1. The Black Lizard and Beast in the Shadows by Rampo Edogawa
        2. The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino
        3. Inspector Imanishi Investigates by Seicho Matsumoto
        4. Murder in the Crooked House by Soji Shimada
        5. Salvation of a Saint by Keigo Higashino
        6. The Thief by Fuminori Nakamura

        And on my wish list:

        1. A Quiet Place by Seicho Matsumoto
        2. The Tattoo Murder Case by Akimitsu Takagi
        3. The Tokyo Zodiac Murders by Soji Shimada
        4. Journey Under the Midnight Sun by Keigo Higashino
        5. The Silent Dead by Tetsuya Honda
        6. Confessions by Kanae Minato

        Though I need to investigate further. I’m not sure if all the above titles can be qualified as Honkaku. Your views are welcome.

        Picture: Edogawa Ranpo

        My Book Notes: The Cask, 1920 by Freeman Wills Crofts

        Esta entrada es bilingüe, para ver la versión en castellano desplazarse hacia abajo

        Collins Crime Club, 2016. Book Format: Kindle Edition. File Size: 2310 KB. Print Length: 368 pages. ASIN: B01CY4SU2E. ISBN: 9780008190538. First published in Great Britain by The Crime Club by W. Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1921. Introduction by Freeman Wills Crofts, 1946.

        x400Synopsis: A strange container is found in a busy London shipping yard, and its contents point to murder. The cask from a consignment of French wine from the steamship Bullfinch from Paris is bigger than the rest, its sides reinforced to hold the extraordinary weight within. As the longshoremen are bringing it onto the London docks, the cask slips, cracks, and spills some of its treasure: a wealth of gold sovereigns. As the workmen cram the spilled gold into their pockets, an official digs through the opened box, which is supposed to contain a statue. Beneath the gold he finds a woman’s hand—as cold as marble, but made of flesh. He reports the body to his superiors, but when he returns, the cask has vanished. The puzzling case is given to Inspector Burnley, a methodical detective of Scotland Yard, who will confront a baffling array of clues and red herrings, alibis and outright lies as he attempts to identify the woman in the cask—and catch the man who killed her. (Source: Goodreads)

        My Take: The Cask, Freeman Wills Crofts’ debut novel, is set in 1912, though it was published in 1920. Croft’s himself recognises in an Introduction, written in 1946, that The Cask was built up, as it were, from hand to mouth. Each new ‘good notion’ was incorporated as it occurred to me, with the not infrequent result that it came out again next day, being found to conflict hopelessly with something else. The book must have been written at least five times before the final draft was reached . . . . Were I writing The Cask today, it would probably turn out a very different book . . . . a much greater attempt should be made to interest the reader in the actors through their characters. Anyhow, The Cask was widely acknowledged at its time as one of the best detective novels ever written. Martin Edwards wrote in his book The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books, published in 2017:  ‘The meticulous account of detective work, coupled with the ingenuity of the construction (and deconstruction) of the alibi were to become Freeman Wills Crofts’ hallmarks, and they set his debut novel apart form the competition. Over the next twenty years, The Cask sold more than 100,000 copies.’ Likewise, Curt Evans at The Passing Tramp reminds us that ‘The Cask, the first of Crofts’s unbreakable alibi tales, was remarkable in its day for both the complexity of its mystery and the clarity with which that mystery is investigated and explicated.’ It goes without saying that these opinions encouraged me to read this book.

        For fear of disclosing too much of the story, I would not like to add more about the plot. I rather leave the would-be reader the opportunity to find out what it is all about. I found The Cask  a really entertaining and interesting reading, taking into account the time and circumstances in which it was written. I cannot forget it did mark a true milestone in the evolution of the story of detective fiction. As it is widely known, The Cask was written in 1916 and published in 1920, the same years Agatha Christie wrote and published The Mysterious Affair at Styles, but all similarities end up here. Christie had to struggle to find an editor, while Crofts’ manuscript was resting in a drawer. Christie’s success had to wait for some years, while Crofts had an immediate success. Today, however, it is regarded that both titles helped  launching in full force the Golden Age of detective fiction. Besides these circumstances I truly believe that today’s reader will fully appreciate the reading of The Cask by its own merits. In a nutshell, the story is intelligent and nicely crafted.

        My rating: B (I liked it)


        About the Author: Freeman Wills Crofts was born in Dublin in 1879, the son of a doctor in the British army, who died before he was born. He was raised in Northern Ireland and became a civil engineer. His first book, The Cask, was published in the summer of 1920, immediately establishing him as a new master of detective fiction. Scrupulously planting clues for the reader to find, he was continually praised for his flawless plotting. Crofts was a founder member of the Detection Club and elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts in 1939. He created the popular detective, Inspector French, and died in 1957 with more than 30 ingenious books to his name.

        The Cask has been reviewed, among others, at The Invisible Event, Bedford Bookshelf, Mike Grost, Dead Yesterday, Mystery File, ‘Do You Write Under Your Own Name?’, The Grandest Game in the World, Beneath the Stains of Time, and Classic Mysteries.

        Freeman Wills Crofts book notes on A Crime is Afoot:

        Inspector French’s Greatest Case 1924 (Inspector French #1)

        Mystery in the Channel 1931 (Inspector French #7)

        The Hog’s Back Mystery (Inspector French #10)

        HaperCollinsPublishers UK publicity page

        HarperCollinsPublishers US publicity page



        Freeman Wills Crofts at Mysteries Ahoy!

        Freeman Wills Crofts at Mike Grost

        Freeman Wills Crofts at Wikipedia

        The Cask (El barril), de Freeman Wills Crofts

        Sinopsis: Un extraño barril aparece en un concurrido muelle de Londres, y su contenido apunta a un asesinato. El barril forma parte de una partida de vino francés del barco de vapor Bullfinch enviado desde París y es más grande que el resto, sus costados están reforzados para soportar un peso extraordinario. A medida que los estibadores lo llevan a los muelles de Londres, el barril se cae, se rompe y derrama algunos de sus tesoros: una enormidad de soberanos de oro. Mientras los trabajadores llenan sus bolsillos con el oro derramado, un funcionario escarba en su interior en donde se supone que contiene una estatua. Debajo del oro encuentra la mano de una mujer, tan fría como el mármol, pero de carne y hueso. Informa del hecho a sus superiores, pero cuando regresa, el barril ya ha desaparecido. El sorprendente caso le corresponde al inspector Burnley, un detective metódico de Scotland Yard, quien se enfrentará a una desconcertante variedad de pistas verdaderas y falsas, coartadas y mentiras descaradas mientras intenta identificar a la mujer del barril y atrapar al hombre que la mató. (Fuente: Goodreads)

        Mi opinión: The Cask es la primera novela de Freeman Wills Crofts. Aunque se publicó en 1920, la acción se desarrolla en 1912. El mismo Croft reconoce en una Introducción, escrita en 1946, que The Cask fue construido, por así decirlo, al día. Cada nueva “buena idea” se incorporó conforme se me ocurría, con el resultado no  poco frecuente de que de nuevo al día siguiente, se encontraba irremediablemente en conflicto con otra cosa. El libro debe haber sido escrito al menos cinco veces antes de llegar al texto final. . . . Si escribiera The Cask hoy, probablemente resultaría ser un libro muy diferente. . . . Se debe hacer un intento mucho mayor para interesar al lector en los protagonistas a través de sus personajes. De todos modos, The Cask fue ampliamente reconocido en su momento como una de las mejores novelas de detectives jamás escritas. Martin Edwards escribió en su libro The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books, publicado en 2017:  “El meticuloso relato del trabajo de detective, junto con lo ingeniosos de la construcción (y deconstrucción) de la coartada se van a convertir en el sello de identidad de Freeman Wills Crofts, y van a diferenciar su primera novela de la competencia. Durante los siguientes veinte años, The Cask vendió más de 100,000 copias”. Del mismo modo, Curt Evans en The Passing Tramp nos recuerda que “The Cask, la primera de las historias de coartas irrompibles de Crofts, destacó en su día tanto por la complejidad de su misterio como por la trasparencia con la que se investiga y explica ese misterio.” No hace falta decir que estas opiniones me animaron a leer este libro.

        Por miedo a revelar demasiado de la historia, no me gustaría agregar más sobre la trama. Prefiero dejar al lector potencial la oportunidad de descubrir de qué se trata. Encontré The Cask una lectura realmente entretenida e interesante, teniendo en cuenta el tiempo y las circunstancias en que fue escrita. No puedo olvidar que marcó un verdadero hito en la evolución de la historia de la novela policiaca. Como es ampliamente conocido, The Cask fue escrita en 1916 y publicada en 1920, los mismos años que Agatha Christie escribió y publicó The Mysterious Affair at Styles, pero todas las similitudes terminan aquí. Christie tuvo que luchar para encontrar un editor, mientras el manuscrito de Crofts descansaba en un cajón. El éxito de Christie tuvo que esperar algunos años, mientras que Crofts tuvo un éxito inmediato. Hoy, sin embargo, se considera que ambos títulos ayudaron a iniciar con toda su fuerza la Edad de Oro de la novela policiaca. Además de estas circunstancias, realmente creo que el lector de hoy apreciará plenamente la lectura de The Cask por sus propios méritos. En pocas palabras, la historia es inteligente y está muy bien elaborada.

        Mi valoración: B (Me gustó)

        Sobre el autor: Freeman Wills Crofts nació en Dublín en 1879, hijo de un médico del ejército británico, que murió antes de que él naciera. Se crió en Irlanda del Norte y se hizo ingeniero civil. Su primer libro, The Cask, fue publicado en el verano de 1920, reconociéndole inmediatamente como un nuevo maestro de la novela policiaca. Sembarando escrupulosamente pistas para que el lector las pueda encontrar, fue constantemente alabado por sus impecables argumentos. Crofts fue miembro fundador del Detection Club y fue elegido miembro de la Royal Society of Arts en 1939. Creó al popular detective, inspector French, y murió en 1957 con más de 30 inteligentes libros a su nombre.

        Otros libros de Freeman Wills Crofts en A Crime is Afoot:

        Inspector French’s Greatest Case 1924 (Inspector French #1)

        Mystery in the Channel 1931 (Inspector French #7)

        The Hog’s Back Mystery (Inspector French #10)

        Annie Haynes (1865 – 1929)


        I first heard of Annie Haynes on The Passing Tramp. Shortly after Martin Edwards also wrote about her on ‘Do You Write Under Your Own Name?’. Other bloggers I regularly follow have written  reviews of her books, but it was only yesterday, after reading Narrating Female Experience through Genre Hybridity in the Novels of Annie Haynes at crossexaminingcrime, that I started to become interested in her oeuvre. As it is my custom, I began to search about her life on the Internet, and much to my surprise I found there’s very little known about her. Oddly enough there`s no Wikipedia entry on Annie Haynes in English, though she does have a Wikipedia entry in Spanish. There I could find out the following (my free translation):

        Annie Haynes
        Annie Haynes (1865-1929) was a British writer of mystery novels.


        Annie Haynes was born in Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Leicestershire, United Kingdom, in 1865 and very little is known of her life. After abandonment by her father, Annie family moved to Beaumont farmhouse, Coleorton Hall (in Coalville, Webster County). In 1908, she moved to London to embark on her literary career after making contacts with Ada Heather-Bigg, a feminist leader of the time. Interested in crafting crime and detective novels, Annie Haynes would often visit murder scenes or attend murder trials to get first information about killers and their victims. She published her standalone novel The Bungalow Mystery in 1923. She wrote at least twelve books and the last in Inspector Stoddart mystery series, The Crystal Beads Murder was published posthumously, and it’s suspected that Dorothy L. Sayers or Agatha Christie completed it. With a painful degenerative illness since 1914, she would die in 1929.

        Who Completed Annie Haynes’ The Crystal Beads Murder? First Suspect: Agatha Christie


        Inspector Furnival Mysteries Books

          The Abbey Court Murder (1923)   
          The House in Charlton Crescent (1926) [Spanish title: Asesinato en Charlton Crescent. — Morcín (Asturias): Editorial dÉpoca, 2017]
          The Crow’s Inn Tragedy  (1927)

        Inspector Stoddart Mysteries Books

          The Man with the Dark Beard (1928)   
          The Crime at Tattenham Corner (1929)   
          Who Killed Charmian Karslake? (1929)  [Spanish title: ¿Quién mató a Charmian Karslake? Sherlock Editores, 2018]
          The Crystal Beads Murder (1930) See review at I Prefer Reading and at Beneath the Stains of Time.

        Other Novels

          The Bungalow Mystery (1923)   
          The Secret of Greylands (1924)   
          The Blue Diamond (1925)   
          The Witness on the Roof (1925)   
          The Master of the Priory (1927)

           Barasorda, Juan Mari: «Annie Haynes la dama misteriosa del crimen». En: Asesinato en Charlton Crescent / Annie Haynes. Morcín (Asturias): Editorial dÉpoca, 2017.

        External Links
            See a complete book list at Fantastic Fiction.

        Besides Kate Jackson @ArmchairSleuth at her blog crossexaminingcrime and Curtis Evans @thepassingtramp at his blog The Passing Tramp have reviewed most of Annie Haynes books, if not all.

        I might read first The Abbey Court Murder (1923). Annie Haynes and Her Golden Age Detective Fiction, by Curtis Evans. Stay tuned.

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