Post illustration created by Dall-E.
I finished 홍학의 자리 by 정해연, and it was excellent! I read it as part of the #22tlreadingchallenge, and I really recommend it to fans murder mysteries and crime investigations.
When I finish a book, I often like to have a look at the reviews posted by readers. For 홍학의 자리, I found people saying that they were disappointed by the “shocking twist” promised by the publisher.
The commercial banner for the book promises a 충격 반전 (shocking twist) and warns that 스포 절대 금지! (Spoilers are strictly prohibited!). It advertises a 전무후무한 반전과 예측 불가능한 결말 (a twist never seen before and an ending impossible to predict) and adds again that this is 최고의 반전 소설 (the best novel with a twist).
I understand that publishers have to advertise their books, but they sometimes tend to promise more than the book (which can be a really good book) was meant to deliver.
If you read 홍학의 자리 for the big twist, I guess you might be disappointed. It sure takes you by surprise, but it is not shocking in the sense that you see the whole novel in a different light, that you immediately flip back pages to re-read passages, and that suddenly, the whole murder case takes a different meaning. It is strangely not really related to the case, and does not feel necessary at all.
This is clearly not the best novel with a twist that I have read, but it is without a doubt one of the most entertaining and engrossing murder investigation that I have read in Korean or Japanese. I did start to have a good idea of what happened at some point, but I did not get everything right and some elements of the end did surprise me.
The novel is also really easy to read, it definitely belongs to the list of easiest books that I have read in Korean. I really loved how the chapters alternate between our protagonist (who finds himself in a very awkward position and has to find a way out of it) and the police detectives (who are really good, it was really a joy to follow their investigation). The chapter are also short, the story has a good pace and the book is a real page-turner. I think that all of this is good enough! It is a shame that the publisher focuses on the twist as if it was the best part of the book.
I also finished 妄想銀行 by Shinichi Hoshi (星新一) and loved it. These are SF short short stories, with an average length of 10 pages. I read this book in my project of reading all the available winners of the Mystery Writers of Japan Award, and this one won the prize in 1968.
I must say that I am very surprised that this book should have been eligible for the prize. I guess you could give a very loose definition of “mystery” and say that some of the short short stories in this collection have elements that connect them to the genre, but I am still surprised. All the winners that I have read so far strictly belong to the crime genre and are exactly the books that I expected to find.
I looked at their website to see if there was an explanation but did not find one. However, Shinichi Hoshi’s testimony on receiving the prize is quite funny: http://www.mystery.or.jp/prize/detail/10211.
I will not hide that I am a little worried, because I don’t really like SF and I hope that not too many prize winners belong to this genre. Unfortunately, the prize winner of 1974 is 日本沈没 by Sakyo Komatsu (小松左京) 😱 I really don’t feel like reading this novel to be honest. First, again, I don’t love SF. Then, I am afraid that Japan Sinks will be quite difficult to read. And finally, it is relatively long.
I made it a point of honour to read all the books that I could find and to finish them (even the ones that I did not like), but here I will have to skip.
I read Sakyo Komatsu’s testimony, and he says that he was very surprised when he won the prize and immediately telephoned Shinichi Hoshi, who was the first SF writer to have won the award:
In any case, I hope that there won’t be too many SF works among the list of winners. Surely, there are prizes for SF as well. I find it a little bit unfair to give the mystery prize to great works of SF instead of rewarding authors of mystery novels 🤔
Speaking of winners of the Mystery Writers of Japan award, I started 乱れからくり by Tsumao Awasaka (泡坂妻夫). It won the prize in 1978.
I am trying to read the winners in chronological order to see how the genre has evolved over the years, but I made an exception here. Most of the earlier winners were out of print, and it was impossible for me to find them in paper. As a result, I read them digitally, either on Booklive when available there, or on Bookwalker (If I am given the choice, I prefer Booklive, but some titles were only available on Bookwalker). Now that I am reaching the 1970s, more and more books are available in paper, so I browsed the titles and bought a bunch of them:
I am a bit tired of reading digitally, and when I received my books, I could not wait to start one, even though this means that I am jumping from 1968 to 1978. I will catch up with the others later 🙂
I am almost halfway through 乱れからくり and I am not sure that I am liking it. Something just happened that will certainly boost the story, so hopefully the second half will be more exciting than the first one. It is not bad at all, but I find it hard to connect with the characters and understand some of their actions. The tone is also on the lighter side, whereas I prefer more realistic and serious murder stories. We’ll see! I hope to finish it this month.
Finally, I started another book for the #22tlreadingchallenge: 재생 by 정명섭 (Jeong Myeongseop). The wrapping band says that it is a 좀비 타임루프 그릴러 (zombie time loop thriller), and it is exactly that! It reminds me of the film Happy Death Day, except that the day resets when the protagonist is bitten by a zombie instead of being killed.
I like zombie films, but I have rarely read novels about zombies. This one is really good, with really good scenes, a good dose of humour too, and the time loop makes things really exciting. It would be great if this novel received a movie adaptation.
I am not quite halfway through the book, but I can already recommend it as very entertaining and easy to read. 홍학의 자리 is also on the easy side, but I would say that 재생 is even easier, with the time loop mechanism leading to a lot of recurring vocabulary.
That’s it for now, hopefully I can finish these two last books this month!