The Ginza Ghost (2017) by Keikichi Osaka tr. Ho-Ling Wong

A man jumps to his death after being strangled. A man is murdered by a pair of twins with cast-iron alibis. A train mysteriously collides with the same object every week at the same time and place. A sea monster attacks a lighthouse. A man is haunted by his ex-wife’s ghost. A car vanishes between two checkpoints on a road. A child is abducted by a man on skis whose tracks in the snow vanish in the middle of a field. Three madmen escape from an asylum killing the doctor in the process. Someone else vanishes in a lighthouse (no sea monster this time). A man is murdered before being burned to death in a mine. A letterbox seems to eat the letters that are posted into it. And finally someone is murdered by someone who has just committed suicide…

Eleven short stories from Keikichi Osaka, a Japanese author of honkaku short stories from 1932 to 1947. I’ve been meaning to come back to some Japanese crime fiction for a while – but is this the collection to start with?

I’ll go on record as saying, despite being a big fan of locked room and traditional mysteries, that I’ve never quite got the honkaku (original) and shin honkaku (revival) stories. I liked The Decagon House Murders and The Tokyo Zodiac Murders well enough, but other highly rated stories such as The Moai Island Puzzle and The Honjin Murders left me somewhat disappointed. But my fellow bloggers seem to enjoy them enough, so it’s definitely time to give the subgenre another go. But perhaps this was not a good starting point…

There are three collections of Osaka’s short stories available in Japanese, so should I presume that these are the best of those collections? If that is the case, then forgive me for not making the effort to learn Japanese and track down the rest of his work. These are, for the most part, fairly disappointing, especially when approached from the puzzle mystery direction.

Let’s look at the highlights – The Cold Night’s Clearing, the disappearing ski-prints tale, is very good. There’s an oddness to this non-Japanese reader as to the lack of reaction to the final thing the killer did before…, but that might be a cultural thing. The Three Madmen is pretty obvious, but it’s fun, especially with the character of the Diva. The Guardian of the Lighthouse, the second lighthouse tale, is probably the highlight of the pack. The Ginza Ghost, finally, works well, but again, it’s pretty obvious for the most part. As for the rest, they are generally all very well written – The Demon In The Mine is too padded though – and some of them have extremely effecting denouements.

I do wonder what, exactly, was Osaka’s obsession with optical illusions. Three or four of these tales have a crucial aspect that involves an fortunate reflection or heat haze – I might have allowed one of these chance happenstances but that many? I know these weren’t written to be read back to back. I suppose it’s to Osaka’s credit that he wanted to make his own mark on the genre, but it’s an odd mark to make.

So overall? It’s hard to recommend unless you’re a student of the genre. So, fellow mystery fans – what honkaku/shin honkaku is going to convert me?


  1. I’m with you on the honkaku genre – after all, it was initially conceived as a way of ‘copying’ Western crime styles, so it can feel very repetitive and unoriginal at times. I think there are some far more interesting things going in Japanese crime – both of the past and contemporary – the more psychological side of things. I really liked The Aosawa Murders (but there is no neat conclusion to that), All She Was Worth by Miyuki Miyabe (a good insight into 1992 Japan) and The Inugami Curse by Seishi Yokomizu and the work of Keigo Higashino.


  2. Would recommend “Death Among the Undead by Masahiro Imamura” (trans. Ho-ling Wong), preferably without reading the blurb or any review if you want an extra surprise. This particular title is more modern, and has won lots of Honkaku related awards in Japan.

    For short story collection, maybe you would like “The Red Locked Room” by Tetsuya Ayukawa (trans. Ho-ling Wong). I personally think the puzzles in those stories are tighter than Ginza Ghost. If you don’t mind reading Japanese detective manga, I would recommend the series “Q.E.D” by Motohiro Katou. It is unique in that a lot of the mysteries have mathematical elements to it. For example, there are cases involving Riemann Hypothesis, Fermat’s Last Theorem, and Poincare Conjecture.


  3. I feel like you’ve read what I’d consider the best of the available honkaku translations. My rankings of those I’ve encountered — which might be useful, if only because our tastes clearly differ — would probably be:

    1. The Moai Island Puzzle
    2. The Honjin Murders
    3. The Decagon House Murders
    4. The Inugami Curse
    5. The Ginza Ghost [ss]
    6. The 8 Mansion Murders
    7. Death Among the Undead
    8. The Tokyo Zodiac Murders
    9. Lending the Key to the Locked Room
    10. The Village of Eight Graves
    11. The Red Locked Room [ss]
    12. Murder in the Crooked House
    13. The Black Lizard/Beast in the Shadows
    14. The Tattoo Murder Case

    Can’t help but feel I’ve missed a couple off, but that’ll give you an idea of where I stand, at least.

    I’ve not read Death of the Living Dead, but hear great things about it. I got 80 pages in, found it i-n-c-r-e-d-i-b-l-y s-l-o-w, and intend to return to it at some point…but I can’t shake the feeling it needed an edit for Western audiences.

    You might also try some of Shimada Soji’s short fiction: ‘The Running Dead’ is superb, but I guess that’s informed by the ranking above where you don’t rate the book I think is best…so maybe ignore that suggestion 🙂


      • I have — I excluded it from the list above as it’s not technically honkaku, seeing as it’s Taiwanese in origin rather than Japanese. But I’d probably put it second or third for puzzle plotting, and I think the eventual solution to the locked room murders wouldn’t be out of place in something by Carr.

        You can read my fuller thoughts on it here.


    • Hang on, are Death Of The Living Dead and Death Among The Undead different books? I was ignoring the latter as I was projecting opinions from others that match yours about the former…


      • They are.

        Death Among the Undead by Masahiro Imamura concerns a locked room murder-by-zombie with a bunch of university students holed up in a building surrounded by the ravening hordes of a zombie apocalypse. This was one of LRI’s books.

        Death of the Living Dead by Yamaguchi Masaya concerns the dead returning to life, rather than being a strictly blood-and-gore zombie novel. That hadn’t started by the point I stopped reading — very little had happened — but it’s apparently great once it gets going. It was published by Ammo either earlier this year or late last year, I forget.


      • Rest assured, Gokumon Island is one of my most anticipated books of the year. Thoughts shall be had and shared! Thanks in advance for your work in carrying it over the language barrier, Louise, really hope you get to do a few more of these.


  4. I enjoyed this collection and in particular a handful of stories, like “The Mourning Locomotive,” “The Monster of the Lighthouse,” “The Guardian of the Lighthouse” and “The Demon in the Mine,” but agree with you students of the genre will get the most out of this collection. The stories in The Ginza Ghost were originally published during the 1930s, but uncannily resemble the naturalistic/scientific impossible crime from the turn-of-the-century. Just compare The Ginza Ghost to L.T. Meade and Robert Eustace’s 1898 A Master of Mysteries.


  5. Sorry, @MarinaSofia, but I find your comment a *little* disingenuous. Neither honkaku nor shin-honkaku were conceived as idle copycats. Shin-honkaku in particular is more angled towards pushing the genre to its logical extremes with “outside-in” retroactive genre savviness (something that isn’t quite possible when you’re in the thick of the Golden Age), and the classic honkaku was just… genre crossing borders, which is hardly a fault. It feels a little sweeping to accuse them of being derivative because they’re supposedly just meant to be mere “copies” of GAD stories — especially since I’ve always considered shin-honkaku to be marked by being incredibly experimental with form, style, format, presentation, and plotting in the confines of a fair puzzle mystery. But, of course, I get it, there were just *too many* locked-room mysteries involving zombies written by British authors in the early 20th century, huh? (/sarcasm)

    > “If that is the case, then forgive me for not making the effort to learn Japanese and track down the rest of his work.”

    Brrrr, a little chilly! I’m learning Japanese for the *express purpose* of working with honkaku and shin-honkaku stories, so I’m a little sad to hear it’s had the opposite effect on you!

    I recommend the other Soji Shimada book, MURDER IN THE CROOKED HOUSE. I understand the locked-room element is a little overstated in TOKYO ZODIAC, but its core deceptions are all brilliant, so I was surprised to hear your thoughts on it were very lukewarm. CROOKED HOUSE’s locked-room is blinding, though, and much more of a central focus. The impossible crimes are all fantastic, and still have that trademarked Soji Shimada technical complexity. Don’t let Jim turn you off, this one is a tour de force that only flounders in testing credulity — but, in my book, brilliance more than makes up for a solution that’s hard to credit, and brilliant it is…

    DEATH AMONG THE UNDEAD by Masahiro Imamura is also the best hybrid mystery I’ve ever read in my life, with three fantastic impossible crimes beautifully enhanced by the presence of strict rule-abiding zombies. Another commenter told you not to read the blurb to avoid spoilers about the plot, but like… it’s literally called DEATH AMONG THE UNDEAD, I don’t know what’s expected of us here. The Japanese title was much more subtle about hiding this element of the story, though, and hiding the premise of a zombie mystery. Anyway, the novel is a masterpiece, wildly imaginative, complex, beautifully cerebral. An utter treat of impossible murder plotting.


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