“Living humans convey meaning through words… while the dead do so with their bodies. The corpses are speaking to us.” Dr. Bunnakit.
When coroner Dr. Bunnakit is called to the scene of a supposed suicide, he’s soon convinced that the young woman, Janejira Sookyod, has been murdered. But her boyfriend Tan, a tutor, has an alibi, even though Dr. Bunnakit silently observes that the young man seems oddly distant and unemotional as he describes finding the body. Later that night, a masked stranger breaks into the coroner’s house, attacks him and threatens to kill him if he doesn’t confirm Janejira’s death to be a suicide. “Bad things will happen to you and the people you love.” Injured in the struggle, Dr. Bun tells his prosecutor friend Pued about his suspicions – but then, to his alarm, he hears that Pued has disappeared. When Fai, a young female intern, also disappears, he can only imagine the worst.
Dr. Bun has another concern; he’s gay, he’s just broken up from a straight relationship which hasn’t gone well, and he fears that his sexuality will be used against him if he’s outed. Nevertheless, there’s a murder to be solved and he’s determined to find out why Janejira was killed and her death made to look like a suicide. Which sends him back to investigate her boyfriend Tan, to discover that not only is Tan still protesting his innocence but that he wants to help him find the killer. But when Bun is attacked by the masked stranger again, this time brandishing a gun, Tan comes to his rescue and declares, “I’m never going to let you go through this alone again.” There’s no getting away from the fact that both men feel drawn to each other and they decide to work together on unmasking Janejira’s killer. But is Tan telling Bun the whole truth about himself?
Manner of Death is one of those twisty murder mysteries in which the author (Sammon) delights in misleading the reader by convincing them that the story is going one way but then reveals a quite different turn of events – and continues to do so. Bun and Tan fall for each other, in spite of Bun’s considerable (and understandable) suspicions about the good-looking young tutor – but Tan is concealing many secrets and each time a new one is revealed, Bun falters, wondering how far he can trust his new lover. The plot reveals will keep you turning the pages and Dr. Bun is a sympathetic protagonist: there’s a neat balance here (presumably in the original novel and skilfully delivered in this manga version by mangaka Yukari Umemoto) between keeping the readers in suspense by only showing us what he knows and the occasional reveal of what Tan is doing, unbeknownst to Bun, cleverly keeping us guessing as to what his true motives might be.
The other theme underlying the murder mystery is that of Bun’s sexuality and his fears that his career will be irreparably damaged if the truth comes out that he’s gay. After all, he’s been trying – and failing – to maintain a heterosexual relationship which has just come to an end at the start of the manga. Yukari Umemoto portrays the characters in a distinctive way; there’s no danger of mistaking Bun for Tan (or anyone else) even when they’re both sporting dressings on head wounds. The attraction that develops between them is believably portrayed (although, as this is a 16+ rating, we don’t see anything more than kissing, except – briefly – in the cute bonus chapter at the end) and it’s difficult not to want for Bun to find happiness after a life of disappointment in matters of the heart.
The translation for Yen Press is by Emma Schumacker and flows well. However, given the Thai setting, it would have been very helpful to have a few translation notes to explain the various Thai foods and currency (‘a million baht’) mentioned during the course of the story – even when they’re not vital to the flow/ understanding of the plot, it would still be really interesting to know what ‘Khao Tom Mud’ is. The cover art is aptly dark and monochrome, as is the colour page inside – and the afterword is by the mangaka who reveals this is their first manga and serialized story (it started life in B‘s-Log Comic).
Manner of Death first appeared in 2017 as a novel by Thai author Sammon. Adapted to a popular Thai TV drama, the BL murder mystery now reaches us in a manga version by Yukari Umemoto. The series is ongoing with two volumes released so far in Japan; Yen Press will be bringing out Volume 2 in September 2023. As the plot thickens, Bun and Tan have – in spite of Bun’s best intentions – developed feelings for each other. After a series of disturbing revelations, this first volume is left dangling on a cliff-hanger, so roll on September when we can find out what happens next!