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In Japan, while summer is traditionally associated with ghost stories, spring takes the spotlight for shedding winter layers and curating reading lists filled with gripping mysteries and thrillers. The roots of Japanese crime fiction trace back to two influential Japanese crime writers: Kido Okamoto and Taro Hirai, who penned their works under the pseudonym Edogawa Ranpo. By blending Japan’s reverence for ghostly tales and the supernatural with the established elements of detective fiction from the Western canon. These Japanese crime novels transformed the fledgling mystery genre into a robust literary industry that continues to captivate readers and earn critical acclaim.

Notably, Japanese crime novels often wove in popular Western mystery motifs, including the classic ‘locked room’ conundrum—a scenario where an apparently impossible crime unfolds within a confined space. Ranpo pioneered this theme in his 1925 story, ‘The Case of the Murder at D. Hill.’ However, this was merely the beginning. The potent combination of tense narratives and ingenious resolutions has consistently delighted Japanese readers.  

Japanese Crime Fiction: Unlocking Locked Room Mysteries

Japanese Crime Fiction- Soji Shimada

Japanese crime novels even created their own golden age of mystery fiction in Japan, often referred to as honkaku, and modern writers have continued that legacy, carrying the torch with gusto. Thankfully, the past few years have seen an increase in available translations, allowing English-language readers to dive deep into this unique intersection of art, culture and entertainment. Below, I present seven iconic locked room mysteries published by Pushkin Press, perfect for delving into the thrilling world of Japanese crime fiction.

Japanese Crime Fiction -Soji Shimada

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 to recreate an ancient Japanese goddess from the body parts of these women. Shortly afterwards, the plan is carried out: the women are found dismembered and buried across rural Japan. For 40 years these Tokyo Zodiac Murders have been obsessing a nation for decades, but not one of them has been solved.

Enter a mystery-obsessed illustrator and a talented astrologer. Driven by curiosity, they embark on a journey across the country, chasing the enigma of the Zodiac murderer. Their path is fraught with madness, missed leads, and unexpected magic tricks. This tale unfolds as a classic “fair play” mystery, where the author provides all the clues to the audience before the detective reveals the killer’s identity, method, and motive. Set against a backdrop of traditional Japanese culture, this captivating story presents readers with a fully solvable puzzle that will keep them guessing until the final revelation. Japanese crime novels have long been fascinated by such intricate mysteries.

Japanese crime fiction -Soji Shimada

The Crooked House is located in the remote northern tip of Japan on a snowbound cliff. A curious place to build a house, but even more curious is the house itself; a maze of uneven floors and strange staircases, full of eerie masks and watchful dolls. When a guest is found murdered in seemingly impossible circumstances, the police are called. But they are unable to solve the puzzle, and more bizarre deaths follow. Enter Kiyoshi Mitarai, the renowned sleuth. Surely if anyone can crack these cryptic murders it is him. In classic Shimada style you the reader have all the clues too. Can you solve the mystery of the murders in the Crooked House before the intelligent Mitarai?

Japanese Crime Fiction-Soji Shimada

The rockbound island of Tsunojima is notorious as the site of a bloody unsolved murder. A mansion and its annex burned down, claiming the lives of the owner, his wife, and their two servants. Evidence of foul play emerges from the fact that all the deceased had been administered a sedative and were murdered before the fire consumed the building. Naturally this dark history makes the island the perfect destination for the K-University Mystery Club’s annual week long club trip. But when the first club member turns up dead, the remaining amateur sleuths realise they will need all of their crime solving expertise to get off the island alive.

As the group are killed off one by one, the survivors grow desperate and paranoid, turning on each other. Will anyone be able to untangle the murderer’s fiendish plan before it’s too late? As the group is killed off one by one, the survivors grow desperate and paranoid, turning on each other. Will anyone be able to untangle the murderer’s fiendish plan before it’s too late? This gripping tale combines elements of Japanese crime fiction with intense suspense.

Japanese Crime Fiction- Soji Shimada

The K Apartments for Ladies in Tokyo conceals a dark past behind each door: a woman who has buried a child, a scavenger driven mad by ill-health, a wife mysteriously guarding her late husband’s manuscripts, a talented violinist tortured by her own guilt. The master key, which opens the door to all 150 rooms, links their tangled stories. However, someone has stolen it, and dirty tricks are in motion. Beneath the building, a deadly secret remains buried, and when it is unveiled, anything could occur. A building full of secrets. A key that will unleash them all. One murder that connects them. 

Soji Shimada- Japanese Crime Fiction

Every year, a small group of acquaintances pay a visit to the remote, castle-like Mill House, home to the reclusive son of a famous artist, who has lived his life behind a rubber mask ever since a disfiguring car accident. This year, however, the visit is disrupted by a gruesome murder, a baffling disappearance and the theft of a priceless painting. The brilliant sleuth, Kiyoshi Shimada, arrives on the scene but as he investigates the seemingly impossible events of that evening, death strikes again, and again. Can Shimada get to the truth before the killer gets to him? And can you solve the mystery of the Mill House Murders before he does?

Notably, Japanese crime novels often wove in popular Western mystery motifs, such as the classic ‘locked room’ conundrum—a tale where an apparently impossible crime unfolds within a confined space. Ranpo pioneered this theme in his 1925 story, ‘The Case of the Murder at D. Hill,’ which laid the groundwork for subsequent Japanese crime novels.

Soji Shimada- Japanese Crime Fiction

Strange things are happening in the Chizui mansion. At night, someone wearing a ghoulish Hannya mask is seen wandering around the house. Akimitsu Takagi, an amateur crime fiction writer, is dispatched to investigate. However, tragedy befalls them. The head of the Chizurui family is discovers dead in his study, the door locked from the inside. The only clues to this mysterious death are the Hannya mask and the lingering scent of jasmine. As Takagi delves deeper into the case, can he discover the link between the family and the curse of the Hannya mask? Who was the person who called the undertaker and asked for three coffins instead of one? And how many buried secrets lie behind the inexplicable murder?

Soji Shimada- Japanese Crime Fiction

Miyagaki Yotaro is one of Japan’s most famed Japanese crime novels, but several years ago he put down his pen and left the Tokyo literary world for a life of seclusion in the Labyrinth House, a remote property built by the notorious architect Nakamura Seiji. When Yotaro invites four of the country’s most promising Japanese crime fiction writers to his birthday party, they graciously accept. However, their arrival shocks them as they encounter a deadly competition that draws them into its bizarre web. As the competition proceeds, and murder follows murder, the brilliant Kiyoshi Shimada investigates. Can he solve the mystery of the house before all those trapped in its labyrinth are dead?


The above honkaku novels are all thrilling puzzles to solve, full of twisting plots, unsavoury characters and clever solutions. So as sunlight hours grow longer and the nights warmer, pick up one of these Pushkin Press locked room Japanese crime fiction to read on a spring evening. Furthermore, if you like this article you can further read Where to Start Reading Seishi Yokomizo?

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q1: What is the history of the Japanese crime fiction? 

A: The mystery genre in Japan began with two critical Japanese writers, Kido Okamoto and Taro Hirai, who wrote under the name Edogawa Ranpo. They combined Japan’s respect for ghost stories and the supernatural with the elements of detective fiction established in the Western canon, turning Japan’s fledgling mystery and detective fiction offerings into a robust literary industry.

Q2: What is a “locked room” mystery? 

A: A “locked room” mystery is a popular motif in Japanese crime fiction where a seemingly impossible crime occurs within a confined space. This theme was first used in Japan by Ranpo in his 1925 story “The Case of the Murder at D. Hill”.

Q3: What is honkaku? 

A: Honkaku refers to the golden age of mystery fiction in Japan. Modern writers have continued this legacy, carrying the torch with enthusiasm.

Q4: What are some of the Japanese crime fiction novels in the locked room mystery genre?

A: Some of the best crime fiction novels in this genre include “The Tokyo Zodiac Murders” by Soji Shimada, “Murder in the Crooked House” by Soji Shimada, “The Decagon House Murders” by Yukito Ayatsuji, “The Master Key” by Masako Togawa, “The Mill House Murders” by Yukito Ayatsuji, “The Noh Mask Murder” by Akimitsu Takagi, and “The Labyrinth House Murders” by Yukito Ayatsuji.

Q5: Where can I find good crime fiction books in the locked room mystery genre? 

A: Pushkin Press has published several iconic locked room mysteries and Japanese crime novels, making it a great place to explore this exciting genre.


About Keltie Mechalski

A self-proclaimed pastry aficionado, outdoor enthusiast and film lover from Canada. Keltie is based in London and writes on film, literature and anything else that piques her fancy.