Mysteries from the Land of the Rising Sun

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Mysteries from the Land of the Rising Sun

Japanese Crime Novels

As a lover of mysteries, I’m always looking for a new novel full of twists and thrills. This often leads me to reading examples of the genre from all over the world. I read everything from cozy British mysteries with quirky leading characters (Miss Marple!) to gritty psychological thrillers from Scandinavian authors like Jo Nesbo. One of my new favorite places to travel to in a good mystery is Japan. Here is a selection of suspenseful reads from best selling Japanese authors.

A Quiet Place by Seicho Matsumoto
Tsuneo Asai, an unassuming government official for the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, is on a business trip in Kobe when he receives disturbing news: Eiko, his wife, has died of a heart attack. Though the circumstances of his wife’s demise are not entirely surprising (she had a heart condition), Asai is stunned to learn of where she died: a small cosmetics shop in a seedy part of Tokyo. What was Eiko doing there? Why had she never mentioned that she frequented this area before? As Asai attempts to answer these questions, details of his wife’s secret pastimes are revealed. Do these activities have anything to do with Eiko’s death? This deliciously developed psychological thriller follows Asai as he solves the mysteries of his wife's past. Author Seicho Matsumoto is one of Japan’s most acclaimed mystery writers, and this novel is a great example of his complete command of the genre.

The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino
Yasuko Hanaoka is a recently divorced single mother living with her teenage daughter. When her shiftless and abusive ex-husband returns to extort money from her and threaten her and her daughter, Yasuko kills him in a passion-fueled moment of violence. Her next-door neighbor Ishigami, a mathematician who is secretly infatuated with her, offers to help Yasuko dispose of the body and cover up the crime. When the body is finally discovered, Detective Kusanagi enlists physicist and erstwhile police consultant Dr. Manabu Yukawa to help with the case. Dr. Yukawa, nicknamed Detective Galileo, went to college with Ishigami and soon becomes convinced that he is involved in some way. The story follows their battle to outwit each other in a game of cat and mouse. This novel is the third in Higashino’s Detective Galileo series and his most critically acclaimed.  

Malice by Keigo Higashino
Malice, another brilliant work by Keigo Higashino, offers a novel retelling of the age-old locked room murder mystery. Best-selling novelist Kunihiko Hidaka and children’s book author Osamu Nonoguchi are childhood friends. After they spend an evening together, Nonoguchi returns to Hidaka’s house with Hidaka’s wife to find him brutally murdered, but how? Hidaka is found in a locked room within a locked house. As the novel progresses, the significance of the murder shifts from a focus on who and how to the motives behind the gruesome crime.

Six Four by Hideo Yokoyama
This award-winning, bestselling novel by one of Japan’s most celebrated mystery authors tells the story of a decades-old cold case. In 1989, a seven-year-old girl was kidnapped and murdered, and the culprit was never caught. Fast forward 14 years. Yoshinobu Mikami, former detective and current press director of the Tokyo police department, must revisit the case to brief the commissioner before an anniversary visit to the bereaved family. While doing so, Mikami discovers an anomaly in the case files and a shocking police cover-up. Six Four is a fascinating look at the bureaucratic processes that complicate and hamper investigative proceedings. Though this novel is a slow and long burn (it clocks in at nearly 600 pages), the surprising ending is well worth the wait.

Confessions by Kanae Minato
After a devastating breakup, single mother Yuko Moriguchi has devoted herself to balancing her job as a middle school teacher with the demands of rearing her toddler, Manami. It is a tragic shock when Manami is found dead from an apparent accidental drowning. Yuko immediately offers her resignation from teaching in order to focus on healing her grief. The narrative begins on Yuko’s last day. Readers learn that Manami’s death was murder, not an accident, and that the killers are two of Yuko’s young students. Instead of reporting their crime to the police (Yuko fears they will not be sufficiently punished due to their age), she begins a twisted revenge plot against them. Confessions is narrated by alternating voices, providing readers with a glimpse into the motives of all of the central players. It is a dark and gripping novel full of twists that will haunt readers well after they have put it down.