The Decagon House Murders is an #OwnVoices Japanese, honkaku, psychological horror novel written by Yukito Ayatsuji who is mostly known for his novel, Another. The book is Ayatsuji’s very first work of published fiction, released in Japan in 1987, and takes minor inspiration from his college days at Kyoto University. It was published in English in June 2015 by Locked Room International.
The Decagon House Murders revolves around a group of six to seven college kids who are part of K-University’s Mystery Club. While on holiday from school, they take a small trip to an isolated island, which was the scene of a brutal murder from one year ago. The case has remained unsolved, so the kiddos decided to spend their vacation deciphering and, hopefully, solving the mystery! However, upon arriving to the island and getting situated into the decagon shaped house, they start getting killed off one by one. Is it someone from within their friend circle, or are the mysteries of the island and it’s demised trying to keep them from discovering the horrendous truth?
🚪 It’s a classic locked-room mystery.
🚪 The novel does a rather wonderful job of dissecting common tropes of the genre within the story, which helps to define certain personality quirks of the characters.
🚪 The trope examinations are folded into the actual plot, so it never comes off as random walls of factual text, or disjointed information.
🚪 There are many references to famous authors from the mystery genre, Western and Japanese alike, and it can be fun to catch some of them while you read; makes the book more insightful if you have knowledge of these things.
🚪 There is one major spoiler for a Japanese murder mystery story within the first few pages of the book, however the source for the spoiler goes unnamed. If you are familiar with Japanese crime fiction, then it’s very easy to figure out which book it is, even if you haven’t read it (happened to me, unfortunately).
🚪 The story progression is slow at first and gradually picks up as the plot gets more suspenseful, nonetheless it’s intensity is rather moderate overall.
🚪 Initially, the descriptions of the setting can be slightly confusing, but illustrations are provided for particular portions that greatly helps to put concrete points into perspective.
🚪 The English translation isn’t the best and doesn’t do a great job of capturing Ayatsuji’s writing style or prose, however, the novel is his first work and the discrepancies from amateur versus seasoned writing does show itself in the execution regardless of the translation; the translation probably enhances those discrepancies, in hindsight.
🚪 After the first one-third, the novel begins to take on creepy qualities by tightening the tension and beginning it’s subtle play on the psyche, yet it retains a bit of mediocrity due to the translation.
🚪 People who are familiar with Japan’s geography will enjoy catching small references to certain cities and other locales; makes it much easier to visualise the area and atmosphere for the narrative.
🚪 Post-reading I’ve found myself randomly thinking about this book–the events that occurred, the motives, the way that the mystery came to a close–and it felt wonderful to able to pick up on tiny fragments long after I had finished reading it; it’s definitely a tale that can stick with you.
🚪 Recommended to folks who greatly enjoy the mystery genre–particularly classic locked-room mysteries–that don’t mind something more straightforward and less of a thriller.
🚪 3.5 lipsticks outta 5!
If you’re interested in more #OwnVoices Japanese psychological thrillers and crime fiction, please check out the book recommendations below!
Out by Natsuo Kirino: The book is about a group of women who come together to help a fellow friend cover up a grotesque murder. It’s gritty, fucked up, and a slow burn for the psyche with impeccable prose and meticulous detail. Out is a fantastic contemporary crime fiction that examines the Japanese woman’s subconscious in sinister ways.
Another by Yukito Ayatsuji: The book surrounds a bunch of kids in a small fictitious city that is drowning in a deep, dark secret. It does psychological thriller and supernatural horror immensely well, with intricately laced intrigue that is spine-chillingly atmospheric, and morbidly absorbing. It’s one of the finest pieces of psychological horror that I have ever read; stupendously well-written.