Turning Japanese #12: Death Among the Undead (2017) by Masahiro Imamura (translated by Ho-Ling Wong)

Narrator Yuzuru Hamura had planned to join the Mystery Club when he started at Shinko University but as its members like light mystery and have no interest in classic orthodox mysteries he instead becomes the second member of the Mystery Society run by Kyusoke Akechi. As well as enjoying crime fiction, Akechi enjoys real life minor cases on campus as well as finding lost cats.

Akechi has his sights set on greater things, and wants to join the Film Club’s summer trip to the Villa Violet, reasoning it’s the type of place where something interesting might happen. He is unsuccessful in getting an invitation until Hiruko Kenzaki, who has her own reasons for attending, persuades the club president, Ayumu Shindo, that all three of them should be allowed to come.

The first day of the holiday goes reasonably well, but that evening the group are attacked by zombies and barricade themselves in the hotel. As if that wasn’t enough, the next morning they find that one of them has been killed inside their locked bedroom apparently by a zombie. Except a zombie couldn’t have left the note wedged in the door saying “Thanks for the delicious meal” and surely no human could have killed a person by biting them to death and gnawing off their face.

So the Mystery Society have to solve the puzzle and avoid the internal threat of a determined killer who continues to strike whilst dealing with the external threat posed by the undead.

As detailed in Soji Shimada’s introduction this book is effectively shin shin honkaku, making reference to Ayatsuji’s “House” series and the intriguing sounding “Flower Burial” series by Mikihiko Renjo- can we have one of these please Locked Room International?

There is a three storey floor plan, which includes a clue, if you want to look for it and a cast list as Hamura himself writes “Having to remember eleven names in one day was a little too much for me. Whenever I read mystery novels, I always forget the names of the characters, and have to go back to the list on the front page.”

The presence of the zombies as well as cutting the students off from the outside world and giving them less and less space in which to manoeuvre like the fire in Ellery Queen’s The Siamese Twin Mystery are integral to the how and why of the murders and so are no mere gimmick.

This an absolute triumph and a reminder that the Golden Age tradition is alive and well for those writers who choose to embrace it and is not limited by time, place, or even genre itself.

Previous posts in this series:

The Tokyo Zodiac Murders by Soji Shimada

The Moai Island Puzzle by Alice Arisugawa

The Honjin Murders by Seishi Yokomizo

Murder in the Crooked House by Soji Shimada

The Inugami Curse by Seishi Yokomizo

The 8 Mansion Murders by Takemaru Abiko

Death in the House of Rain by Szu-Yen Lin

The Decagon House Murders by Yukito Ayatsuji – WITH SPOILERS

The Red Locked Room by Tetsuya Ayukawa

Ellery Queen’s Japanese Mystery Stories

Lending the Key to the Locked Room by Tokuya Higashigawa

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