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Detective novels and thrillers in Korea

With the translation of Un-su KIM’s novel The Plotters, we have seen a growing interest in Korean thrillers outside Korea (see this article by the Guardian). But what about Korean crime novels in Korea? The Guardian mentions that it is still difficult for Korean authors to find their place in their own country, but things might be changing.

Looking for Korean genre fiction…

In 2008, the Korean detective novel celebrated its 100th anniversary. The first novel that can be defined as “detective novel” (추리소설) was published in 1908 (쌍옥정 by LEE Hae-jo 이해조). Since then, Korean detective novels have grown and known a period of prosperity during the 70s and the 80s. Since the middle of the nineties, however, translations of detective novels and thrillers have become more and more popular, and Korean crime fiction has disappeared from the best-selling shelves.

Until only recently, it was difficult to find Korean detective novels in the big bookstores of the country like the Kyobo bookstore chain. On the table “detective novels” where best and steady sellers are piled up, you could only find translations, mostly from Japanese and English. Japanese detective and mystery novels are particularly popular among Korean readers. On the table for “Korean literature”, most of the books piled up were literary fiction. While detective novels are still massively represented by translations in Korean bookstores, things begin to change, and more and more efforts are made to put the spotlight on Korean authors.

Several publishers are launching a collection of Korean detective novels and thrillers. 책과나무 has published 3 titles in its series “한국추리문학선” (Selection of Korean detective literature) in 2018 and 2019, and Human & Books has launched the “H&B 스릴러-미스터리 컬렉션” (H&B’s collection of thriller and mystery) in 2019, and plans three publications in this collection before the end of the year.

With the publication of the English translation of Un-su Kim’s novel The Plotters, the Korean version has been republished with a new cover and an advertising wraparound band. It has also found its place on the bookstores’ tables for promotional display.

Why do Korean detective novels lack popularity?

There are several reasons why Korean detective literature is not as developed as in other countries like the United States or Japan. According to 박광규, chief editor of the magazine 미스터리, there are two main reasons: the lack of detective novels for children and young readers, and the lack of critics. (source)

But he also mentions another more fundamental reason: the way detective novels are seen in Korea. Genre fiction is seen with suspicion, it is not “serious” literature. Reading detective novels are even seen as a harmful activity for the young readers’ studies.

Indeed, Korean detective novels are struggling to be recognised as a genre. In his novel 교동회관 밀실 살인사건, YUN Ja-yeong (윤자영) introduces his protagonist as such:

우리나가에서는 아직 추리소설이 영미와 일본에서처럼 한 장르로서 당당하게 인정받지 못하고 있는 가운데 한국 추리소설이 위상을 높이기 위해서 15년 넘게 많은 노력을 쏟아온 당승표였다. (p.8)

In Korea, authors are under pressure to write literary fiction, and it is difficult to be recognised as an author of genre fiction. YU Guang-su (유광수), author of 싱글몰트 사나이, said in an interview with Munhwa ilbo:

추리소설이 발달한 일본은 이미 순수문학과 대중문학의 경계 논쟁을 지나왔다. 순수문학을 써야 한다는 부담감에 있어 한국 작가와는 느낌이 전혀 다르다 (…) 한국은 추리소설의 자질이 없는 게 아니라 그동안 그럴 수 있는 분위기가 아니었다. 문학의 범주가 한층 넓어져야 한다 . (source)

There are Korean authors who write great detective novels, but the literary scene in Korea still has to widen its definition. If Korean publishing world embraces genre fiction the same way it does for literary fiction, we will certainly see a new wave of exciting Korean crime novels invade the Korean scene and maybe, the rest of the world.

New collection of Korean thrillers and mystery novels by publisher Human & Books!

Korean publisher Human & Books has launched a new collection of thrillers and mystery novels in 2019: “H&B 슬리러-미스터리 컬렉션”.

The first book of this collection is the thriller <싱글몰트 사나이> by YU Guang-su (유광수). It was published in January 2019. The publisher said that they felt a sense of duty when they saw that Korean readership was reading mostly crime novels in translations.

The novel <싱글몰트 사나이> came with a promotional wraparound band that announces the birth of the Korean style thrillers: “한국형 대형 스릴러의 탄생! 한국 스릴러 소설, 세계를 겨냥하다!”. The author YU Guang-su also said that he incorporated a typical Korean setting through the country’s politics, economy and modernity.

The publisher Human & Books announced that they planned to publish at least 3 other books in this collection in 2019.

Source: munhwa ilbo

Book review: 교동회관 밀실 살인사건 by YUN Ja-yeong (윤자영)


Easy to read and highly addictive, 교동회관 밀실 살인사건 is one of the most engrossing novels I have ever read!

Introduction

Title: 교동회관 밀실 살인사건
Author: YUN Ja-yeong 윤자영
Published by 책과나무

교동회관 밀실 살인사건 was published in January 2019 and it belongs to the series 한국추기문화선 (Selection of Korean detective literature) of the publisher 책과나무. Its author, YUN Ja-yeong, is a highschool teacher of biology.

Note: I don’t know how the author is used to transcribing his name, and his book hasn’t been translated (yet) so I don’t know how to write it in English. In this review, I am using the Revised Romanisation of Korean.

The setting

It is hard to talk about the setting of 교동회관 밀실 살인사건 because there is a lot going on in this novel!

To sum up the main setting in a few words: Several persons are locked in one place and confronted with dangerous situations and choices. If this kind of stories appeals to you, you will enjoy 교동회관 밀실 살인사건, but there is much more than murders behind closed doors in this novel. It contains several stories that are linked together and it is very exciting to discover where the author will eventually lead us. To me, the structure of the novel was one of the reasons why I loved it so much!

Why I loved it

교동회관 밀실 살인사건 is one of the most entertaining novels that I have ever read. It is a real page-turner, easy to read and full of suspense. YUN Jayeong’s novel contains all the elements that I would like to find in a detective novel: murders, deduction, clues, scientific tricks (always well explained and easy to understand), danger, investigation, and so much more. It is a mix of detective story, thriller and psychological thriller. It also has a typical Korean setting with main themes like the gapjil culture and the power of chaebols.

While the story is suspenseful, I also found the structure of the book very appealing. The novel is divided into three parts, and each part contains two stories. I felt like I had to make my own detective work to see how the different stories are linked. I recommend making a characters list while reading because there are a lot of characters in the novel!

교동회관 밀실 살인사건 is easy to read in Korean and is a perfect first book for Korean learners who like detective stories and want to start reading novels in Korean.

Conclusion

I cannot tell enough how much I loved this book. I really feel grateful when I read a book that keeps me engrossed from start to finish.

I am a fan of Japanese author Keigo Higashino (who is very popular in Korea) and I found that YUN Ja-yeong’s novel was as easy to read and as entertaining as Keigo Higashino’s novels, but with a Korean setting and Korean social characteristics that make it very interesting.

I want to read more novels like <교동회관 밀실 살인사건>! I really hope that YUN Ja-yeong will publish other similar novels.

Korean version of The Plotters by Un-su KIM

Since it has been translated into English by Sora Kim-Russell, the Korean version of Un-Su KIM’s novel The Plotters has been republished with a brand new cover and a list of Western critics on the back. D.B. John’s catchy phrase “Kill Bill meets Murakami” is printed on the advertising wraparound band.

The cover also features the title and the name of the author in English.

Most read fiction Author in Korea? Keigo HIGASHINO!

According to the Korean bookstore chain Kyobo, the author of fiction who has sold the most books in Korea during the past 10 years is the Japanese author of detective and mystery novels Keigo HIGASHINO.

Korean translations of Keigo HIGASHINO’s books in Kyobo bookstore.

The bookstore Kyobo announced that the author of fiction who sold the most from January 2009 to January 2019 was Keigo HIGASHINO with 1,270,000 copies sold.

This is not surprising given that the “detective novels” sections of all the Kyobo I have visited are covered with Korean translations of Keigo HIGASHINO. You are sure to find some of his books in the best-sellers and steady sellers sections.

Korean translations of Keigo HIGASHINO’s book on a shelf devoted to “Japanese authors of detective novels”.

Among the novels by Higashino, the best selling title in Korea is <나미야 잡화점의 기적> (Japanese title: 『ナミヤ雑貨店の奇蹟 』)

Following Keigo HIGASHINO are Japanese author Haruki MURAKAMI, French author Bernard WERBER and French author Guillaume MUSSO. They are followed by two Korean authors: Jinmyeong KIM (김진명) and Kyung-sook Shin (신경숙), author of Please, look after mom.

This result shows that there is a huge readership for detective novels in Korea, let’s hope that there will also be more publications of crime novels by Korean authors!

Source: Yonhap News

The “Korean detective novels selection” by the publisher 책과 나무

The Korean publisher 책과나무 has launched a new series of Korean detective novels in 2018.

The series is called 한국추리문학선 (Selection of Korean detective literature), and it has three titles so far: 커피유령과 바리스타 탐정 by YANG Su-ryeon (양수련), 표정없는 남자 by KIM Jae-hui (김재희) and 교동회관 밀실 살인사건 by (윤자영) YUN Ja-yeong.

I have read YUN Ja-yeong’s novel, and I highly recommend it for Korean learners who want to read books in Korean and improve their reading skills. 교동회관 밀실 살이사건 is easy to read and highly addictive. Read my review here!

Welcome!

Welcome to my blog! I have created it for mainly two reasons:

  • Improve my reading skills in Korean
  • Explore the world of Korean detective novels!

There might not be many publications of detective novels in Korea for now, but there are still great novels out there, and hopefully, there will be more and more in the coming years.

Reading in Korean is not an easy task, but I hope that I can find easy and engrossing novels to improve my reading skills.