The Decagon House Murders

This was a weird one. I loved it.

The Decagon House Murders by Yuk­ito Ayat­suji is an exem­plar of a genre I hadn't known existed: “new orthodox” mysteries, shin honkaku in Japanese — a return to the old rules of the game:

Per the intro­duc­tion by mys­tery writer Shi­mada Soji:

As a result, [Ayat­suji’s] char­ac­ters act almost like robots, their thoughts depicted only min­i­mally through repet­i­tive phrases. The nar­ra­tion shows no inter­est in sophis­ti­cated writ­ing or a sense of art and is focused solely on telling the story. To read­ers who were used to Amer­i­can and British detec­tive fic­tion, The Decagon House Murders was a shock. It was as if they were look­ing at the raw build­ing plans of a novel.

That reads as much like a warn­ing as a recommendation!

It was a review in the Washington Post that piqued my curiosity. The book that arrived from Ama­zon was flimsy, with a thick seam of glue — clearly print-on-demand. This endeared me to it instantly. The publisher, Locked Room International, is deeply niche and delight­fully specific — the kind of operation that only sur­vives in book publishing. (Some days, I think this kind of oper­a­tion is what book pub­lish­ing is for.)

The Decagon House Murders is a weird read, and you should believe Shi­mada Soji when he tells you the writ­ing is clunky and the char­ac­ters vacant. But the book presents a fas­ci­nat­ing puzzle, and the solu­tion is electrifying, in large part because it relies entirely upon the book-ness of this book. No movie adap­ta­tion is possible. I'll say no more.

January 2016, Berkeley