|Mystery: June 23, 2021 Issue [#10838]|
This week: Honkaku: Testing Your Logic Edited by: Jayne
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If you're a mystery fan, love a challenge, but have never heard of Honkaku, it's time to sit up and pay attention. For those who love the sub-genre, there's no better take on the classic mystery. A myriad of websites praise its intricacies, and there's a real push to highlight the genre. There's even the Honkaku Mystery Club . Honkaku isn't your average whodunnit—read on to find what you're getting into.
Honkaku means “orthodox” or “authentic”, referring to the author’s promise to provide the reader with all the clues they need to solve the puzzle—whether or not the reader is up to the task is a distinct thing altogether. Honkaku isn’t just a procedural of solving a mystery; it’s the author playing cat-and-mouse with the reader.
The title of Honkaku emerged in the mid-1920s, although the concept of the sub-genre existed well before its naming. Saburō Kōga is credited with developing the moniker and definition defined as “a detective story focused on the process of a criminal investigation, where the entertainment value is derived from pure logical reasoning.” Honkaku strives to play a game of multi-dimensional chess in the reader’s mind, similar to the Sherlock Holmes logic construct, but still differentiated from the concept of classic Western puzzle-mysteries. What set honkaku apart was a deeper appreciation for the “impossible crime” (such as the locked-room mystery), and avoidance of trope-traps such as major last-minute clues or surprise characters near the end of the story.
The Modern Honkaku Movement
Before you go thinking this sub-genre needs to be relegated to the past, you should know a major resurgence of honkaku writers emerged in the 1990s, re-branding the genre as shin honkaku, meaning “new honkaku”. Genre-blending with horror, fantasy, and sci-fi is common, as is pushing the genre itself and forcing the reader to question the very essence of what makes a mystery. Still, at its core, shin honkaku promises a game of chess with the reader. The attraction for readers is not only the appreciation of honkaku principles, but the emergence of shin honkaku subgenres, catering to specific tastes while remaining true to its roots. It also allows readers to bypass the grittier mysteries found in much western contemporary writing.
How Is That Still Honkaku?
Whether shin honkaku is really honkaku isn’t necessarily a settled question. A novel containing too much realism (closest to, say, a ‘hard-boiled’ mystery) falls under the shakai (“social”) concept. It’s not a direct correlation with the hard-boiled, though. Shakai differentiates itself with a focus on the social ramification of the crime. Like all things mystery-genre related, shakai and honkaku borrow from each other, and, well, let’s just say readers often disagree about genre.
Further disagreements follow the shin honkaku style. While some argue the addition of new genres and genre-bending elements gives the author more ways to challenge the reader, others argue it falls under other categories. Since the books often defy the strict logical processes of Honkaku by using supernatural or fantasy concepts, they may fall under the low-fantasy genre of shin denki. On the other hand, some don’t even consider shin denki a genre at all .
If you’re a mystery fan, especially those of the mind-game nature, or simply looking to expand your reading horizons, honkaku or shin honkaku might be a worthy addition to your bookshelf. Many books have English translations, so you won’t suffer from lack of choice.
You may be the type of reader who enjoys seeing the progression of a writing style, in which case, you’ll want to head back in time to the original honkaku authors: Ranpo Edogawa is near the earliest, and Seishi Yokomizo falls into the ‘later’ part of the classic genre.
If evolution of a genre isn’t your thing, diving into shin honkaku is perfectly fine. Natsuhiko Kyougoku is known for an innovative style even within the genre. There’s other award-winners, such as Hiroshi Mori and Outarou Maijou, but the genre continues into today. These authors should lead you to a plethora of choices and may lead you to some other genres you’ll enjoy.
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