Sunday, January 30, 2011

『How to Read』

"The current vogue in detective literature is all for the practice of placing the reader in the position of chief sleuth. I have prevailed upon Mr. Ellery Queen to permit at this point in The Roman Hat Mystery the interpolation of a challenge to the reader... "Who killed Monte Field?" "How was the murder accomplished?"... Mr. Queen agrees with me that the alert student of mystery tales, now being in possession of all the pertinent facts, should at this stage of the story have reached definite conclusions on the questions propounded. The solution - or enough of it to point unerringly to the guilty party- may be reached by a series of logical deductions and psychological observations.... In closing my last personal appearance in the tale let me admonish the reader with a variation of the phrase Caveat Emptor: "Let the reader beware!",
"The Roman Hat Mystery"

Reader beware. This post doesn't really make a point. Or any sense at all. I think.

Funny how things tie in to detective fiction. Lately, I've been listening quite often to game-related podcasts like The Brainy Gamer and the Experience Points Podcast and the topic of game (genre) literacy is something that pops ups quite often as a topic. It involves the concept of game (genre) conventions and how well a player is able to read these conventions and work with it. A highly game literate person will be able to draw upon his experiences when he plays a new game.

Someone who has played never played games may not be familiar with the concept of a hit point bar, while a literate person may have seen dozens of variations of a HP bar within a game. While games within a genre also differ from each other, many staples stay the same. Fighting games often include buttons for attacking and blocking, roleplaying games HP and magic bars, et cetera. Experienced gamers might skip tutorials (something inherent to videogames?), while newcomers might want to read everything before starting the game.

This literacy is not built (solely) on things like cliches. It's more akin to tropes, devices used by authors to make up their story. These also include unnamed systems. In games, you are often confined to a certain area to move in, because that's all of the world the creaters have made. You can't get behind that unsurmountable waist height fence, and while beginners might try all kinds of things to get around it, an experienced gamer recognizes it for what it is and accepts it.

And as I was listening to another podcast (the excellent ゲーム脳ばと "Game Noubato"), the topic of Arisugawa Alice and the detective novel came up. Specifially, the Queen-styled detective with a formal "Challenge to the Reader". One of the hosts noted how he throrougly enjoyed the book and how the Challenge to the Reader forces the reader to read the book in a specific way. And that remark was something that really interested me.

As someone quite used to a Challenge to the Reader, I had never really thought about how a newcomer to the genre, specifically a story with a Challenge, would react to it. Like I noted before, games often include tutorials to explain how a game system works and how the player must interact with the world to succeed. Book don't have them. Like Bissel remarks in Extra Lives: Why Videogames Matter, you don't go through a tutorial every time you pick up a book. You just pick it up and read it. But is a detective story (with a Challenge) different? The Challenge changes a normal literary work to something much more akin to a game. There is a win/lose condition. There are rules to the game, which, ideally, the author adhers to.

Of course, it is our knowledge of a genre, our literacy in it that often allows us to see through the tricks authors have set up. Like the HP bar, experienced readers have seen it dozens of time and it is this knowledge that allows them to outsmart the author. Like Poirot said in The ABC Murders:

"But what is often called an intuition is really an impression based on logical deduction or experience. When an expert feels that there is something wrong about a picture or a piece of furniture or the signature on a cheque he is really basing that feeling on a host of small signs and details. He has no need to go into them minutely-his experience obviates that-the net result is the definite impression that something is wrong. But it is not a guess; it is an impression based on experience."

In an attempt to let detective novels take over the world, I occasionally (*cough*) recommend detectives to people and because of my own preference, these usually turn out to be the Queen-like puzzler. Should I explain to them how 'the game works'? Is a tutorial necessary for a novice detective reader?

I do think a puzzler detective novel should be read differently from 'normal' novels. While readers of many genres might guess the ending of a story way before the end, it is seldom expected from the reader. I sometimes see people commenting how detectives are no fun, because they always end in an unexpected way, but is this because these people are not literate in the genre? Should they have been informed that they could and should have tried to solve the case on their own? Compare to the thriller, which may have common points with a formal detective novel, but differs at the essential point. Detective novels and thrillers try to provide totally different kinds of entertainment.

But how do you explain newcomers 'how to read this book'? In a first person shooter, your enemy has a red name (and is probably shooting at you). How do you explain to a person how to pinpoint a criminal or how to break that alibi? Is it something that can only come with experience?

Saturday, January 22, 2011



"I don't understand, ya know. No matter what their reasons are, I don't wanna understand what a murderer feels"
 "Detective Conan"

The third and final post in the Edogawa Rampo month series. Because I don't think that planning something for my blog was a good idea. But to be honest, the whole declaring a Edogawa Rampo month was all just to force myself to translate something by Edogawa Rampo. Because it's been a while since the last time I've done that. And the lucky one is 1929's Nanimono ("Who"), which is a very interesting Edogawa Rampo story.

Nanimono is an early story by Edogawa Rampo and probably his final real orthodox detective story. The publication of this story was between the publication of Kumo Otoko ("The Spider Man") and Majutsushi ("Magician") was kinda unlucky, because Nanimono is a very orthodox story without any of the outlandish and fantastical elements found in those stories, and so it wasn't accepted that well by the general public. They longed for more of the dreamy, fantasy-like crime stories (ero guro nonsense) stories written by Edogawa. Seeing this reaction, Edogawa stopped writing orthodox detective stories like Nanimono and D-Zaka no Satsujin Jiken ("The D-Slope Murder Case") and concentrated on writing his more pulpy stuff. So Nanimono is a turning point in Edogawa Rampo's writing career. Which is a shame, as this is one of the few stories Edogawa Rampo himself was pleased with and it was also quite well received by detective critics in Japan at the time.

I doubt I will ever translate something as long as this any time soon though. It's the longest story I have translated here yet and to be very honest, I don't feel very pleased about the translation, but it's readable. Enjoy Edogawa's story, and not my sleepy English-with-definite-elements-of-Dutch-and-Japanese-mixed-within.


Author: Edogawa Rampo

A word from the author

Even though the guilty party is right in front of the eyes of the readers from the beginning on, the readers don't know who it is until the very end: this has become one of the rules to orthodox detective novels. I've tried to comply to this rule as best as possible. Alert readers might figure out the guilty party halfway through this story. People who aren't used to reading detective novels, might not find out until the end. I have tried to write this story with this in mind. Please read this as a game of wits, where you are the one who has to solve the case.

Jiji Shimbun (evening paper). Shouwa 4 (1929): 19 december, 24 december.

Sunday, January 16, 2011



"I feel the fundamental fun in detective novels is the paradox. The fun in the impossible is the paradox (a magic trick of the thought)" 
"The Peculiar Criminal Motives Discussed in Detective Novels"

Second post in the Edogawa Rampo month! And yes, I am a bit late, but that was planned. Sort of. I have decided this is the last time I'm going to plan something for my blog.

So, the plan was to discuss the more orthodox side of Edogawa Rampo this month, right? The fact that he himself has written very few orthodox detectives might seem a problem, but it actually isn't. Because even if Edogawa didn't write many orthodox detectives himself, he sure has written a lot about them. He has especially published many essays on them in the post-war years.

And Edogawa's most important essay collections are surely Geneijou ("The Illusion Castle") and its sequel Zoku Geneijou ("The Sequel: The Illusion Castle"). The first one comprises of essays published between 1946 until 1951, while the sequel was published in 1954. And they're both treasure chests full of information.

And today, I will discuss just a little part of it. Because reading too much of this stuff in just a couple of days is just too much for my head. There is just too much interesting information. The last two days, I've been having fun with a certain part of Zoku Geneijou, namely a series of essays on tricks used in detective novels.

Apparently, Edogawa Rampo took notes whenever he was reading anything crime related. Notes on what kind of tricks the murderer (or detective!) used in the story. Notes on motives. Notes on real crimes. And inspired by The Locked Room Lecture in Carr's The Hollow Man, he wished to write a book on all tricks used in detective novels.

Of course wishing isn't going to bring you far, and because he states his notes were incomplete (he didn't have much on Japanese detective fiction, for example) and he didn't want to re-read everything again, he never got to writing that book. But he did the next best thing: he wrote a series of essays based on his (incomplete) notes and these essays are the most interesting part of Zoku Geneijou.

The first essay to actually discuss tricks in detail in the collection is The Peculiar Criminal Motives Discussed in Detective Novel. Which is indeed on what it says in the title. Edogawa identifies four major categories: emotional crimes, crimes for profit, crimes commited because of some abnormal psychology and crimes for ones beliefs. Within every category, he has many subcategories (for example: inferiority complex under emotional crimes), many of them accompanied by some example. Most of these examples are from British or American novels.

And the work Edogawa has done is fantastic! While the essay is a bit on the long side, it's a very interesting one and it strengthens his argument that motives are indeed a sort of trick an author might use for a detective novel. I for one am not a reader who pays much attention to motives, but this essay surely has made me rethink my position on that. I am not sure though whether crimes for ones beliefs are to be considered a different category from the crimes commited because of an abnormal psychology.

But the best essay is certainly A Categorization of Tricks. Which is also what it says. It's too long to translate (though I'd love to do it sometime!), but the contents are as follows:

I Tricks concerning the criminal (or the victim) as persons
A. One person, two roles
1 The criminal disguises himself as the victim
2 An accomplice disguises himself as the victim
3 The criminal disguises himself as one of the victims
4 The criminal and victim are the same person
5 The criminal disguises himself as a third party to attract suspicion
6 The criminal disguises himself as a non-existing person
7 Substitution (two persons, one role; two persons, four roles)

B Unexpected criminal (besides the One person, two roles trick)
1 The detective is the criminal
2 A judge, policeman or prison warden is the criminal
3 The one who discovered the crime is the criminal
4 The narrator is the criminal
5 A child, or an elderly is the criminal
6 A handicapped person, or an ill man is the criminal
7 A corpse is the criminal
8 A puppet is the criminal
9 An unexpected number of persons is the criminal

C The criminal erasing himself
1 Faking being burned to death
2 Other fake deaths
3 Transfiguration
4 Disappearance

D Strange victims

II Tricks concerning evidence of the criminal having entered and left the crime scene
A Locked room tricks
1 The criminal was not inside the room at the time of the crime
a A mechanism placed inside the room
b A murder commited from outside through the window or some other opening
c Setting things up so the victim inside the room dies
d Suicide made to look like a locked room murder
e Murder made to look like a suicide
f  A non-human criminal inside the locked room
2 The criminal was inside the room at the time of the crime
a A door-mechanism
b Making it seem like the crime was commited later than actually was
c Making it seem like the crime was commited earlier than actually was (a fast murder commited inside the room)
d The simple method of hiding himself behind the door
e A locked room in a train
3 The victim was not in the room at the time of the murder
4 Escape from a locked room

B Tricks concerning foot tracks

C Tricks concerning fingerprints

III Tricks concerning the time of the crime
A Time tricks with vehicles
B Time tricks with clocks
C Time tricks with sound
D Time tricks concerning the seasons or other natural phenomenon

IV Tricks concerning murder weapons and poisons
A Tricks concerning murder weapons
1 Unexpected sharp instruments
2 Unexpected bullets
3 Electrocution
4 Beating to death
5 Death by pressure
6 Strangulation
7 Falling to death
8 Drowning to death
9 Murder using animals
10 Other remarkable tricks concerning weapons

B Tricks concerning poison
1 Oral poisoning
2 Poisoning by injection
3 Poisoning by inhalation

V Tricks concerning hiding persons or objects
A Hiding a corpse
1 Hiding for a period
2 Hiding forever
3 Deception by moving corpses
4 A corpse without a face

B Hiding a living person

C Hiding objects
1 Jewels
2 Coins, gold bars, bills
3 Documents
4 Other objects

D Substituting corpses or objects

VI. Other tricks
1 Tricks concerning guns
2 Optical illusions
3 Illusions concerning distance
4 Misunderstanding of the chaser and the one being chased
5 Murders commited very quickly
6 A murder commited in a mass of people
7 "The Red-Headed League" trick
8 "The Two Rooms" trick
9 Probability crime
10 Crimes commited by making use of one's profession
11 Tricks concerning legitimate self-defense
12 Tricks concerning double jeopardy
13 Tricks with the criminal witnesseing the crime from far away
14 Nursery rhyme murders
15 Murder following a script
16 A letter from a deceased person
17 A maze
18 Hypnosis
19 Sleepwalking
20 Amnesia
21 Remarkable stolen objects
22 Murder exchange

VII Categories of secret codes
A Tally code

B Orthography

C Allegoric codes

D Displacement
1 Normal displacement
2 Mixed displacement
3 Insertion
4 Windowing

E Substitution
1 Simple substitution
2 Complex substitution
a Codes using a square
b Codes using a ruler
c Codes using a circle
d Codes using a calculator

F Mediation

VIII  Peculiar Motives
A Emotional crimes
1 Romance
2 Revenge
3 Superiority complex
4 Inferiority complex
5 Flight
6 Other crimes

B Crimes for profit
1 Inheritance
2 Tax evasion
4 Protecting one's life
5 Protecting a secret

C Abnormal psychology
1 Homicidal mania
2 Murder as art
3 Electra complex

D Crimes for ones beliefs
1 Religious crimes
2 Crimes for ideology
3 Crimes for politics
4 Superstition

IX Tricky hints for detecting crime
A Physical clues
B Psychological clues

Yes, it's quite comprehensive. Most categories are of course accompanied by short examples and explanations. It was using this scheme, that Edogawa wanted to write a complete book. While every category is discussed briefly in this essay, the original plan was to discuss every category in detail. I don't have to mention the Motives essay anymore, but the essays that follow this essay, Ice as a Murder Weapon, Bodies without Faces and Hiding Tricks are clearly expansions on what is discussed in the Trick essay. While I understand Edogawa not wanting to read everything again, it's still a shame he never 'finished' this work. Just imagine what a wealth of information this would have been! It's like a TV Tropes solely on detective novels!

Of course, it's a bit spoilerific on tricks (though he usually avoids actually naming the titles), but for someone who enjoys the puzzle-element of detectives, this is a must-read. For the English reader, a follow-up essay to this one ("An Eccentric Idea") is available in The Edogawa Rampo Reader.

I'd love to know whether there is a more recent index of tricks like this available somewhere! I myself don't feel much for re-reading everything I've read until now, mining for motives and tricks, but there has to be someone who is making such a database right?!

And the next posts will be translations and I hope to finish one for next weekend, but not sure if I'm going to make it.

Original Japanese title(s): 江戸川乱歩 『幻影城・続 』「探偵小説に描かれた異様な犯罪動機」/「類別トリック集成」

Saturday, January 1, 2011

"And I would have gotten away with it, too, if it weren't for you meddling kids!"

 "Ah, that ever-changing one..."
"Monster Professor and the Boys Detective Club"

This is the first time I've actually really planned something for my blog. January is Edogawa Rampo month here. Despite Edogawa's reputation as the father of the Japanese detective novel, most of his works are actually of the unorthodox, erogurononsense kind that aren't detective stories, but this month I'll focus on Edogawa's orthodox side, which is mainly found in his earlier works and his essays. So expect translations of stories and essays and other stuff this month. And behind the screens, one can expect a lot of last minute changes in topics. Heck, I actually planned a translation to start Edogawa Rampo month with, but I have been slacking. So this week I start with something I had planned for later. Which also kinda falls outside Edogawa's orthodox works and his essays. Nothing goes as planned.

I've written about Edogawa's Shounen Tantei Dan ("Boys Detective Club") series earlier, but I've been wanting to expand on that for some time now. As someone who has been interested in the great art that is detective fiction since childhood, I still have a soft spot for detective fiction for children. I of course grew up with Scooby-Doo Where Are You, I have most books of The Famous Five and I have to admit, I still read the Mickey Lost 't Op ("Mickey Solves It") comics in the weekly Donald Duck magazine with great interest (the older ones with Sul Dufneus were better though...).

Nowadays, quite a nice collection of literature can be found on Edogawa Rampo in English, but most, if not all, of these focus on his formative years, or his onorthodox side. The fact that more than half of his writing career was spent on writing children's detective stories, seems to be either forgotten, or carefully hidden from the public. The Shounen Tantei Dan series however is a series that has a lasting influence on Japanese culture, always returning in a range of different forms, be it a movie, a TV series or even reprints of the original books in recent years.

The Shounen Tantei Dan series effectively begins with 1936's Kaijin Nijuu Mensou ("The Fiend with 20 Faces")'s seralization in the magazine Shounen Club, even though the actually Boys Detective Club, the Shounen Tantei Dan itself doesn't appear in that novel. It does introduces us to the titular Kaijin Nijuu Mensou, a brilliant thief 'who has 20 faces', who focusses on stealing pieces of art. In the first novel, detective Akechi Kogorou and Nijuu Mensou try to defy each others plans. In the first part of the book however, Akechi is on a trip abroad and the one who has to battle Nijuu Mensou is his boy assistent Kobayashi Yoshio (who is more often refered to as the boy Kobayashi). Who is actually quite good at fighting off a genius criminal mind, considering he's just a boy around 10-12 years old.

I have no idea where the concept of a very young detective came from, but I think it's safe to say that at least Kobayashi should be considered a direct descendent of Isidore Beautrelet, from 1909's L'Aiguille creuse ("The Hollow Needle") (Maurice LeBlanc), a young boy detective who manages to make Arsène Lupin's life difficult. 1907's Le mystère de la chambre jaune's ("The Mystery of the Yellow Room") protagonist Joseph Rouletabille is also very plausible as a model for Edogawa's Kobayashi. All of these novels have a young detective battling an experienced criminal mastermind and they actually put up a good, if not fantastic fight.

Kobayashi's performance is of the good, but not fantastic kind. He manages to come quite far, but in the end it's Akechi Kogorou who manages to overcome Nijuu Mensou. But even if Kobayashi didn't win from Nijuu Mensou, he sure did win from the editors at the Shounen Club magazine who weren't sure about Edogawa Rampo, at that time known for writing weird stories, writing for a children's magazine. Kaijin Nijuu Mensou proved to be a great hit with the children.

And kids like to read about kids having adventures, so Edogawa created the Shounen Tantei Dan in the second book of the series (1937). Lead by Kobayashi and sometimes helped by Akechi himself, the Shounen Tantei Dan is a group of elementary school kids who fight crime. Or at least, they try to fight crime. And usually, crime is uncanny close, as Kaijin Nijuu Mensou always seems to target some art object that is owned by a family whose son is in the Shounen Tantei Dan. They do stuff, Nijuu Mensou does stuff, Akechi appears, Nijuu Mensou disguises himself, Akechi unmasks him, Nijuu Mensou flees and rince and repeat. It's really just a fun novel for kids admiring detectives.

While the Shounen Tantei Dan of course remind of Holmes' Baker Street Irregulars, they differ in the sense that the Shounen Tantei Dan isn't just a support group to Akechi, they share the limelight with him as protagonists of the series. And instead of street urchins, these are all well to do kids, but more about that later.

The final book that was written before the war, 1938's Youkai Hakase ("The Monster Professor") revives Nijuu Mensou  (who should have died in the last book), who wants to take his revenge on Akechi and those meddling kids. For reasons I don't understand at all, he calls himself the Monster Professor throughout the story, even though we all know he is Nijuu Mensou, but then again, I'm not a master in disguise posed on taking revenge on a bunch of kids. Once again nothing but plain old fun for children.

After the war, Edogawa Rampo mainly wrote books in this series (and a lot of them too!), leaving both the orthodox and unorthodox detective novel behind him. Which is a pity, but it seems the war, especially war censoring, had had a great toll on his creativity (see the movie Rampo for a bit on Rampo and war censoring, and the movie Warai no Daigaku ("University of Laughs"), based on a Mitani Kouki play, for a humorous take on war censoring).

But it wasn't like censoring had played no part in the Shounen Tantei Dan series though. 1937 was also the year the Ministery of Home Affairs implemented a new guideline concerning children's literature, that severely limited the freedom of writers. Stories couldn't feature elements that would be considered bad for the morale of the country, like too gruesome scenes or even love stories. Edogawa Rampo actually wanted to use the  word kai-tou ("strange-thief" -> "phantom thief") instead of kai-jin ("strange-man" -> "fiend") for his kaijin nijuu mensou, as a clear reference to kai-tou Lupin ("Phantom Thief Lupin" = Arsène Lupin) and make him the protagonist, not the antagonist of the story, but he wasn't allowed to use a thief as the protagonist of the story, neither was he allowed by the editors of Shounen Club to use the character tou ("steal").

Following Washitani (2000) and reading the pre-war Shounen Tantei Dan books as pieces of propaganda is actually quite interesting. The notion that Nijuu Mensou, who is a thief, a man who kidnaps children, who is able to disguise himself from homeless man to idle musician, was a character who essentially represented everything that was considered not good for the war, everything the government wanted to censor, who battles the children from quite good families (and therefore to be the elite of the future) is actually quite interesting.

Matsuyama (1999) looks at the Shounen Tantei Dan from another point, namely of modernization. The members of the Shounen Tantei Dan are all children from well to do families. As mentioned, their families are actually quite often the target of Nijuu Mensou. These children were all part of a new elite in Tokyo, the children who lived in Ginza and Setagaya. People who would grow up to be the next elite, by studying hard and finding good jobs. While people used to inherit their work from their parents, this generation could get places by studying hard and getting in good universities. These kids were the first generation that actually had their own study room and they actually hardly left it, as they had to study. It was actually quite hard to play outside, with gray walls of stone around every house, and the city effectively a maze of asphalt. The scene in Youkai Hakase of Taiji getting lost while following a suspicous man would have be familiar to the readers. Stories like Shounen Tantei Dan and other stories in magazines like Shounen Club, were thus not only propaganda, but one of the few ways to actually "experience" the real world outside their study room for children.

And what a fun 'real world' it is. It must have been amazing to have read those stories in those days! Both Akechi Kogorou and Nijuu Mensou, as story devices, do their best to entertain the children. Nijuu Mensou never really gets dangerous, and the times some trap of his is deadly, Akechi will pop up. And wasn't it nice of Nijuu Mensou in 1938's Shounen Tantei Dan to actually wait till everyone had left the hideout until he set fire to the explosives?!

And of course, the popularity of any given kids' series is visible by the amount of related merchandise. It seems to be able to wear an actual BD ("Boys Detective") badge was almost considered a status symbol by post-war kids, and the kids who didn't get hold of on, would make their own BD badges. The Shounen Tantei notebook also seems to have been quite a popular product. In the '70s, the TV drama BD7 (Shounen Tantei Dan) also spawned its own series of goods (via Same Hat).

Nowadays, Shounen Tantei Dan's influence is mostly felt in Meitantei Conan. The Shounen Tantei Dan in Conan doesn't only borrow its name from Edogawa invention, but many other parallels can be found. For example, Conan's many, many gadgets are actually a modern version of the seven tools Kobayashi carried with him in the first novel. Actually, Kobayashi's tool might be even more effective than Conan's, as one of them was an actual gun.. I hate Meitantei Conan's Shounen Tantei Dan though. Members of the original Shounen Tantei Dan at least  know when they should rely on adults.

In the West, modern remakes of Scooby Doo and even Famous Five have appeared on TV. And while Meitantei Conan may be a sort of a replacement for the original Shounen Tantei Dan, I really wonder how a modern remake would turn out.

Literature of interest:

Edogawa Rampo, Yamada Takatoshi (2004) Shounen Tantei Dan Wandarando. In: Shounen Tantei Dan 2. Shougakkan. 

松山巌 (1999) 『乱歩と東京・1920 都市の貌』双葉文庫
Matsuyama Iwao (1999). Ranpo to Toukyou: 1920 Toshi no Katachi. Futaba Bunko.

佐藤文昭(編集者)(2007) 『僕たちの好きな明智小五郎』 宝島社 
Satou Fumiaki (editor) (2007) Bokutachi no Sukina Akechi Kogorou. Takarajimasha

谷花 (2000) 「怪人、帝都を席巻す : 『怪人二十面相』と『少年倶楽部』の地政学」『文学研究論集』 筑波大学比較・理論文学会
Washitani Hana (2000). The Phantom Thief in the Imperial Capital: Kaijin 20 men-so and the Topology of Syonen-Club. In: Bungaku Kenkyuuron Shuu. Tsububa Daigaku Hikaku Ronri Bungaku Kai

Original Japanese title(s): 江戸川乱歩 『怪人二十面相』、『少年探偵団』『妖怪博士』