London, UK

Interview with Soji Shimada Japan’s Man of Mystery

Soji Shimada, author of The Tokyo Zodiac Murders and winner of the 2009 Japan Mystery Literature Award. Photograph: Mark Yu.

Red Circle, the curated group of award-winning Japanese writers, has published an extensive interview in English with the prolific Japanese author Soji Shimada, the master of postmodern whodunnits who originally wanted to become a painter but turned instead to reinventing the art of mystery writing.

The interview is best read in parallel with the detailed profile of Shimada, whose debut novel, The Tokyo Zodiac Murders, is now ranked among the top five best locked-room mysteries published worldwide, on Red Circle’s website.

The Tokyo Zodiac Murders by Soji Shimada, republished in English translation by Puskin Vertigo in 2015. Translated by Ross Mackenzie and Shika Mackenkie.

Shimada’s section on Red Circle’s website includes a biography of his career and early life as well as the author talking about how he made his debut as an author and the history of the postmodern whodunnit known as new classical mysteries, shin honkaku, in Japan. 

Despite showing promise as a storyteller from a very young age, Shimada initially dreamt of becoming an artist. After high school, he studied at the Musashino Art University, a private university in Tokyo, where he studied commercial design. 

After trying out various jobs as a musician, and truck driver for instance, he decided in his late twenties to write a novel when he turned thirty; a novel that subsequently made an enormous impact.

“At that time, social realism in the style of authors like Seicho Matsumoto (1909-1992), dominated the Japanese literary scene, and honkaku mysteries based on logic and deduction, weren’t held in high regard, falling outside the interests of the critics. 

It was as if a spell had been cast on publishing and society, and even though powerful works were still being written because they were viewed as honkaku mysteries or mere classical whodunnits, they were, back then, simply ignored. It was a type of village mentality, with insular rules governing tastes, not the quality of what was being written, and books just weren’t appraised or reviewed”, Shimada explains in the interview.

Murder in the Crooked House by Soji Shimada (translated by Louise Heal Kawai) published in English January 2019.

“Looking back at it now, it sounds odd almost like an Aesop’s fable, but that is really how it used to be. So you couldn’t simply target general readers when writing mysteries and detective stories”, he adds.

Shimada has since written over a hundred novels and continues to write brilliant whodunnits that baffle readers with unfathomable murder mysteries, ingenious plots and unusual twists. 

In this rare and extensive English language interview, Shimada whose books have been translated into many languages including English, French, Russian, and Chinese, talks about why he writes; describes his creative process; as well as his favourite books, manga and films; and explains why he thinks international interest in Japan is one the rise.

the interview he compares Japan, the nation, to genre fiction saying: Japan itself is a mystery” and just like his own works. “Despite Japan being strange, if you are interested in looking for things to learn and to study, Japan may have a lot to offer”, he adds.

The interview split into seven sections covering; Readers, Books, Writing, Reading, Japan, Interests, and Life can be read here within a sub-section of his detailed author page on the Red Circles Authors website.

Next year, Red Circle will publish an original new work by Shimada in its critically acclaimed Red Circle Minis series, launched last year.

This new work will be published in English translation before any other language including Japanese as part of Red Circle Authors Limited’s English-first publishing strategy.

Display of the first three books published in the series Red Circle Minis. Photograph: Red Circle Authors Limited


  • RedCircle
    About Red Circle:
    Red Circle Authors Limited is a specialist publishing and communications company that conducts bespoke projects on behalf of a carefully selected and curated group of leading Japanese authors. Red Circle showcases Japan’s best creative writing. For more information on Red Circle, Japanese literature, and Red Circle authors please visit:
    • Soji Shimada
      About Soji Shimada:
      Soji Shimada is the master of postmodern whodunnits who originally wanted to become a painter turned instead to reinventing the art of mystery writing. His debut novel, The Tokyo Zodiac Murders, now ranked among the top five best locked-room mysteries published worldwide, became an instant classic, transforming him into Japan’s Man of Mystery and one of the country's bestselling authors.