Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Sign of Four


"The treshold of truth and lie"

Having handed in my research proposal, it's finally, finally vacation. So there is finally time to work on my reading/watching backlog.

A fine start was R. Austin Freeman's The Eye of Osiris, which was once recommended as a must-read for the reader of Japanese detectives. And verily, it was so. With the bones of a chopped up body popping up here and there and a dispute regarding an inheritance (is there any other?), this 1911 novel is not only a great early work in the Golden Age style, it is decidely very proto-Japanese-detective-ish. In a very dry, English way. This is strangely enough my first Freeman novel, but his reputation precedes him. He is indeed a very, very sober writer. It suits the investigative style of his detective dr Thorndyke. And while the solution was quite easy to see, I think that's more because countless of other works are based on the same pattern set in this book.

And while The Eye of Osiris wasn't translated in Japanese till in the '50's, I wouldn't be surprised if Edogawa or some other early Japanse detective writer hadn't read it. Edogawa had certainly read Freeman's The Singing Bone and was quite content with it, so The Eye of Osiris might well have been a inspiration of works like Mojuu ("The Blind Beast").

Somewhat the inverse of Freeman's style is Raymond Chandler's The Lady in the Lake, a novel in his hardboiled Philip Marlowe series. While I'll admit The Long Goodbye was written wittier and more pleasant to read, there actually is a real puzzle plot in this novel. While it's not very surprising (especially not after reading The Eye of Osiris), it somehow feels good. Hardboiled and puzzle plots can work (see the Tantei Jinguuji game novels.) and this is a good example.

And I might be the stupidest reader ever, because not once, not once since I have known about this title, did I imagine that the story would in fact feature a lady. In a lake. Only when someone made a comment that the title was kinda scary while I was reading it in the International Student Center, did it hit me (at that time, no murder had occured yet). Somehow, when reading the words the lady in the lake, my head automatically connects it to Arthurian legend. Which is of course the lady of the lake, but I am no expert on Arthurian legends.

But yeah. Sometimes titles are just too obvious, so you suspect it means something else.

Most pleasant of the bunch was the American TV series A Nero Wolfe Mystery, based on the Nero Wolfe novels by Rex Stout. Having the slightly hardboiled (halfboiled?) Archie Goodwin work together with thinking machine / heavyweight food lover Nero Wolfe results in the-best-of-both-worlds concept, with puzzle plots spiced up with some hardboiled dialogue and scenes. Except for the milk drinking by Archie. While I have only read Some Buried Caesar, I quite like the '50-'51's radio drama The New Adventures of Nero Wolfe and having finished that, A Nero Wolfe Mystery piqued my interest.

And what a fine show it is! The music, the backgrounds, the acting is all a bit more gaudy than in real live and that really makes this show. Scenes of a slick Goodwin and an immensive Wolfe bouncing comments on each other are fantastically dynamic. Interesting for a TV production is how a small cast is used for this show. Like a theater troupe, the same cast members play the non-recurring roles for each episode, resulting in the actor playing the victim in one episode turning out to be playing the murderer in the next. While it adds a decisive flavor to the show, the fact I'm bad with names and faces does sometimes makes the show very confusing.

And today I finally watched the in Japan recently released Sherlock Holmes. Which was kinda like Arsene Lupin. In England. With explosions. And fights. And steampunk. And fights. And stuff. Arsene Lupin. Well, Arsene Lupin and Batman Begins. Especially the ending was quite Batman Begin-ish.

While I did like the effort to portray a Holmes never shown before, I think Downey Jr.'s Holmes was somewhat too Bohemian. And stuff. I fear that if I really delved into it, it would ultimately end on a negative note. I did like the Watson as a foil to Holmes though.

Wait. It suddenly hit me. The movie was kinda Detective Conan-ish. With explosions. And stuff.

1 comment :

  1. I'm a little bit surprised to read that The Eye of Osiris wasn't published in Japan until the 1950s. I thought I had unearthed a transitional fossil in the evolution of the Japanese detective story, but then again, as you said, there were probably early Japanese writers like Rampo who were aware of this book. There is one thing I never understood though – why was the obvious resemblance between the scattered body parts and the Osiris myth never mentioned? That would've really made the book a proto-Japanese-detective story!

    The Lady in the Lake was the first detective I read this year and it was great to see Chandler, despite all his criticism, put together a story with a very traditional plot. If you like this combination of hardboiled storytelling and orthodox plotting, I can recommend Ross MacDonald's The Far Side of the Dollar.