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Summer sizzles with mystery, horror, thriller novels

By Hwang Dong-hee

Published : Aug. 14, 2023 - 19:52

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As the heat wave swept through Korea, so did the feverish appetite for spine-chilling tales and gripping mysteries.

In July, sales of mystery, horror and thriller novels rose by 56.1 percent over the previous month, according to Yes24, Korea's largest online book retailer.

The novels behind recent drama adaptations led the July bestseller lists, while support for genre-specific writers remained strong and major publishing houses released anthologies.

“Lies Hidden in My Garden” (left) by Kim Jin-yeong and “Happiness Battle” by Joo Young-ha (Elixir, Gozknock Entertainment) “Lies Hidden in My Garden” (left) by Kim Jin-yeong and “Happiness Battle” by Joo Young-ha (Elixir, Gozknock Entertainment)

Original novels of drama adaptations lead

Two original novels that were aired as drama series this summer, “Lies Hidden in My Garden” and “Happiness Battle,” led the mystery/horror/thriller chart in June-July.

First published in 2018, Kim Jin-yeong's “Lies Hidden in My Garden” saw sales figures jump 7.5-fold over the previous week when the drama adaption first aired on June 19, according to Yes24.

The psychological thriller revolves around two very different women -- Joo-ran and Sang-eun.

With a doctor husband, a smart son and an affluent family, Joo-ran moves into the perfect house that everyone dreams of. In this seemingly happy family, Joo-ran is satisfied as a wife and a mother. The only thing that bothers her is the peculiar smell from the yard. Her anxiety grows little by little, coupled with her husband’s oddly flawless behavior.

On the other hand, Sang-eun regrets her marriage and longs for an escape from domestic violence.

By chance, the two women's paths cross and they realize they are tracking the same secret.

The series stars Kim Tae-hee as Joo-ran and Lim Ji-yeon from “The Glory” as Sang-eun.

Posters for ENA series “Lies Hidden in My Garden” (left) and “Happiness Battle” (ENA) Posters for ENA series “Lies Hidden in My Garden” (left) and “Happiness Battle” (ENA)

Another novel that was made into a drama series, “Happiness Battle” by Joo Young-ha, ranked fourth on the bestseller list. In the first week of airing, sales were 14 times higher than the previous week.

The story unfolds with the murder of a happy couple in an apartment in an affluent neighborhood of Gangnam, sending shock waves.

Mi-ho, upon hearing about the incident in the news, discovers that the deceased woman is Yu-jin, her best friend from high school, with whom she lost touch years ago. Stricken by a sense of debt, Mi-ho struggles to accept Yu-jin's death. While going through Yu-jin's old social media accounts, she stumbles upon peculiarly contradictory comments,

The book is translated or published in Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Taiwan and France, according to the publisher Gozknock Ent.

The ENA drama series starring Lee El as Mi-ho aired May 31 to July 20. Author Joo also scripted the series.

Cho Ye-eun (Safehouse) Cho Ye-eun (Safehouse)

Emerging horror-thriller writer Cho Ye-eun

Writers specializing in horror/mystery continued to hold strong positions on the chart.

The emerging horror-thriller writer Cho Ye-eun stands out as a prime example, having created a unique literary realm through her eerie yet engaging horror thrillers. Two of her books -- “Cocktail, Love, Zombie” (2020) and her latest novel “Teddy Bears Never Die” -- have landed on the bestseller chart on the third and seventh places, respectively.

The publishing company Safehouse said, “Cocktail, Love, Zombie” has secured contracts for publication in China and Taiwan, while “New Seoul Park Jelly Vendor Massacre” (2019) is set to be released in English in the spring of 2024.

“Cocktail, Love, Zombie” (left) and “Teddy Bears Never Die” by Cho Ye-eun (Safehouse) “Cocktail, Love, Zombie” (left) and “Teddy Bears Never Die” by Cho Ye-eun (Safehouse)

“Teddy Bears Never Die,” which has shown steady growth over the summer since its release in June, revolves around a tragic incident that occurred at a luxurious city apartment. Nine lives were lost due to poisoned rice cakes in an unprovoked act.

Hwa-yeong, who lost her mother in this tragedy and lives in the gloomy Rainbow Apartment, finds herself on the brink of being swindled. Then a strange teddy bear brandishing a hatchet saves her. The story delves into the identity of this mysterious teddy bear and whether the duo can uncover the truth behind Hwa-yeong’s mother's demise and ultimately achieve their quest for revenge.

Meanwhile, Japanese mystery novelist Keigo Higashino continues to bask in unwavering support from Korean readers. Four of his books -- “The Name of the Game Is a Kidnapping,” “The Black Showman and the Fantasy Woman,” “The Devotion of Suspect X” and “Malice” -- have made the bestseller list on the second, sixth, ninth and 10th places, respectively.

From left: From left: "Nights of a Private Detective," "Ever Know Never Trust" and "Study with X" (Moonji Publishing, EunHaeng NaMu Publishing, Changbi Publishers)

Major publishing houses in sync with summer trend

Hard-boiled crime thriller "Nights of a Private Detective" by Kwak Jae-sik (published by Moonji Publishing), is a collection of eight stories set in Seoul in 1949.

It follows a nameless detective as he unravels mysterious incidents. Against the backdrop of rapid inflation and societal turmoil in post-liberation Korea, the story vividly portrays the struggles of individuals adapting to the changing times, capturing the surging tide of events and investigations that unfold in the midst of it all.

The narrative evokes the atmosphere of black-and-white films from the 1940s and 1950s, where a detective in a trench coat wanders through solitary alleyways, solving crimes.

"Ever Know Never Trust," a horror anthology, featuring the collaborative efforts of eight young authors -- Kang Hwa-gil, Kim Mella, Seo Jang-won, Lee Won-seok, Jeon Yejin, Yi Hyun-seok, Jung Ji-don and Jo Woori -- has been published by EunHaeng NaMu Publishing.

The anthology weaves together eight stories that span from the urban legends of the 2000s, such as the red mask tale, to the horror of hidden cameras, transitioning from the eerie imagination to the chilling realities that lurk in real life.

Kang Hwa-gil's "Woman in the Dream," unfolds in a secluded community where an unspoken disappearance occurs. Suspicions cast over the entirety of the story engenders an atmosphere that is hauntingly captivating.

In another anthology from Changbi Publishers, titled "Study with X," six writers have come together to craft chilling narratives set in a school. The authors include Kwon Yeo-reum, Na Pu-reum, Yoon Chi-kyu, Eun Mo-deun, Lee Yuri and Jo Jin-ju.

This compilation of stories focuses on the anxiety and fear felt during adolescence.

The anthology unveils tales involving a mysterious figure captured in a YouTube video uploaded by the top student, a recurring curse afflicting students in the same class each year, an inescapable chat room and a unique class initiated by the rise of a full moon. The stories also address pressing school-related issues as such academic pressure and school violence.