The Graveyard Apartment (1993) – Mariko Koike

Don’t delve into this book looking for answers and explanations. There are horrible things at work in and around the apartment building that is so central to the story, but no explanations will be offered and that can make things scarier for some, letting their imagination run wild, or disappointing for those who need everything to be explained and wrapped up in a nicely sealed box to slip under the bed to ferment in the darkness there.

Mariko Koike is a crime and horror author of some renown in Japan, and I was quite interested to dive into a different kind of horror novel. This is that, and while it may not appease all fans with a taste for the horrific, there are definitely some chilling moments interspersed throughout that you know would get under the skin had this been a J-horror film.

There’s even a suggestion that whatever happens in the building has unleashed something larger by the story’s end.

Like most haunted house stories, a young family can’t believe their luck in finding what seems like the perfect living conditions even if the surrounding area doesn’t seem to be the best, in this case, a massive cemetery which occupies the apartment building’s southern view, a crematorium, and a Buddhist church. Still, father, Teppei, mother, Misao, daughter, Tamao and Cookie the dog moves into the Central Plaza Mansion.

The apartment is large and comfortable and an easy commute to work for Teppei who works in central Tokyo, but odd things begin to happen. There is a storage area in the basement that is only accessible by elevator, and it feels wrong, even with the lights odd. There are strange winds, mysterious shadows, and windows and doors that won’t open even if they are unlocked.

And the building, which only has fourteen apartments and a residential manager spread over eight floors, grows increasingly empty as more and more people move out. What will happen to the last family? And what is in the basement?

You’re not going to get all the answers you want, but it’s an interesting ride. Not all of the translation from East to West works, and some of the dialogue feels a little stilted, but the spooky moments do their job, and the last lines of the book definitely leave you feeling creeped out.

The fact that the family is so normal, so regular, there’s a hint that a dark incident from their past may be connected, but overall, this family could be anyone, they’re just in the wrong place at the wrong time and then end up paying for it.

The story leaves you wondering about what is going on, what evil is lurking in the walls beyond the basement, and under the cemetery, but the imagination can create something even more frightening than the author could put into words, and that definitely comes into play.

It’s a haunted house ghost story, and if you can get past some of the awkward dialogue the creepy moments really work. I may have to hunt down some more international horror novels. Any recommendations?


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