"Furthermore, if you say that the strongest rival is the person who can decide who is guilty or not, than you, the judge, are the person most fit for that role!!"
"Whaat? You mean..."
"Your honor! You are the real new rival!"
"Turnabout Rival 2 - Special Trial"
You have activated my trap card. I turn my face-down card around to reveal Another Historical Mystery and set Bertus Aafjes to attack-mode. ....No idea if I am following the rules.
Judge Ooka. The collection is pretty much the same as Een Ladder Tegen Een Wolk, the first Ooka collection: a series of (fairly) short stories where judge Ooka (a highly fictionalized Ooka Echizen) has to solve... problems. Not crimes per se, but Salomon-esque problems that seem impossible to solve in a satisfactionary way. The way Ooka manages to resolve these ironic and seemingly contradictory problems is entertaining, reminiscent of Father Brown-esque situations.
This collection has the same merits and demerits of the first collection, I think. On one hand, the stories are irononically fun and the solutions Ooka presents are often very satisfying. The problem is that the stories are really short and most of them also based on old (Chinese) court records. Persons familiar with Parallel Cases Under the Pear-Tree may be familiar with them, but these court records are really short descriptions of actual (and often strange) cases. In afterword, Aafjes praises van Gulik having expanded upon these court records, changing them into actual stories, but Aafjes' effort is less impressive. His stories are short, adding little of his own to the original plot except for some framing narratives and his own personal observations and opinion on Japanese culture he throws in. The latter can be troublesome at time. I know that Aafjes' observations are his own, personal observations, but at times his writings tend to lean on very Orientalistic views on Japanese culture, which can feel a bit annoying at times.
Wie begint met een lik uit de pan eindigt met het stelen van de rijst of de zaak van de drie goudstukken ("He Who Starts Stealing A Taste Of The Pan Ends Up Stealing The Rice or The Case of the Three Gold Coins") is a pretty fun story, where a tatami maker Saburoubei loses three gold coins he had borrowed to threat his family for New Year. A screen maker called Choujuurou happens to find the three gold coins and spends five days searching across town for their rightful owner. Saburoubei however refuses to accept the money, saying that he was the one stupid enough to drop the coins and that Choujuurou should accept the money for the trouble. Chuujuurou however refuses to accept the money, saying that Saburoubei is the rightful owner and that he would consider it an insult if he was forced to accept the money himself. The two get into a fight, leaving judge Ooka with the problem of two men who refuse to accept three gold coins because of their honesty.
Men kan de hemel zien door het oog van een naald of de zaak van de venter op het festival ("One Is Able To See The Heavens Through The Eye Of A Needle or The Case of the Festival Salesman") is a variation on a very old and classic problem (with the same solution). A man accidently threw the senbei of a salesman on the ground, breaking all of it. The man is willing to pay for the wares he broke, but the problem lies in the price: the man swears the salesman only had 50 senbei over when he bumped into them, while the salesman says he had 150 senbei. With only the crumbs left, how is judge Ooka going to be able how many senbei the man broke? And that answer that first came into your mind as you read this? It's correct.
In Wat de ene mens doet overkomt een ander mens of de zaak van het omstreden lamsvel ("What One Man Does, Is Done To Another Man or The Case of the Disputed Lambskin"), judge Ooka happens to be witness to a fight between a dock-worker and a ferryman. The reason: a lambskin coat. Both men claim to be the owner of the new, fine coat, but how is the judge going to find out which of the two is lying? The solution is brilliant in its simplicity.
Judge Ooka has to solve a problem of emperial proportions in Daglicht dringt door een klein gat of de zaak van de keizerlijke erfgenamen ("Daylight Enters Through A Small Hole or The Case of the Imperial Heirs"). Two heirs have been making a ruckus about their inheritance. With two heirs and two grand mansions, you would think that dividing the inheritance would be easy, as you can just give one mansion to one person and the other to the other person. But the two both claim that the other mansion (the one they didn't get) is better and thus refuse to accept that division. The solution to the problem is very simple and not particularly impressive (it's basically the same as an old riddle also concerning the division of a wanted item).
Rival judge Kujou tries to trick judge Ooka into a loss of face in Wie de generaal wil doodschieten moet eerst zijn paard doodschieten of de zaak van het ondeelbare paard ("He Who Wants To Shoot The General, First Has to Shoot His Horse or The Case of the Undividable Horse"). Ooka is to solve the problem of two rich and influential land-owners who wish to terminate their horse-breeding joint-venture. The problem: they have 13 horses and while they have agreed to pick out six horses each, they can't come to an agreement regarding the last horse Neither of the two men are willing to give up the last horse. How is Ooka to come to a solution that benefits everyone? The solution is eerily similar to the first story in this bundle and I thought this was not as fun as that story.
But Niets is zo zichtbaar als wat men verbergen wil of de zaak van de vele gauwdieven ("Nothing Is As Visible As What One Wants to Hide or The Case of the Many Thieves") is a fun story. A bunch of lower-ranking officials want Ooka to lose face and officially request that Ooka, as the highest official in Edo, to solve the problem of the thieves running wild in town. The solution Ooka has is brillant and more importantly, hilarious.
I am pretty neutral about Een rijke en een vuilnisvat worden vuiler naarmate zij meer bevatten of de zaak van de bekeerde timmerman ("A Rich Man And A Dustbin Become Dirtier The More They Have or The Case of The Converted Carpenter"), where a group of people practicing Nichiren Buddhism tried to convert a carpenter who practices Jodo Buddhism by paying him. The carpenter converts to Nichiren Buddhism for half a year, but reverts back to Jodo Buddhism, saying that practicing the latter is less demanding for the same results. The group of men practicing Nichiren Buddhist claim that the carpenter had deceived them and sue him for the money. The judge's solution is funny, but not particular memorable.
Als de dag aanbreekt wordt ook de vuurvlieg weer een insekt of de zaak van de vergeetachtige geldschieter ("When Day Breaks a Firefly Turns Back Into An Insect or The Case of the Forgetful Moneylender") has the judge trying to help a poor woman who laid fire to a moneylender whom she had given money to for investments. The moneylender took the money, but now claims to never have received money from the woman, driven her to her act of madness. Her sentence is already set, death by fire, but the judge still wants to help the woman who was deceived by the heartless moneylender. The trick judge Ooka pulls off is really satisfying and feels almost similar to those moments in Gyakuten Saiban when they reveal some kind of judicial magic that saves the case.
Bij het rijden leert men het paard kennen, bij het praten de mens of de zaak van de leerjongen op zijn vrije dag ("One Gets To Learn The Horse While Riding, The Man While Talking orThe Case of the Page on His Day Off") is a somewhat bland ending to this volume. The tongue of the cow of Judge Ooka's neighbour (of his second house) has been cut and the only suspect in the neighbourhood was a page on his way home. The page himself also confirms that there was nobody in the neighbourhood when the crime happened, leaving himself as the only suspect. The case is not particularly exciting, but the way the judge reveals the truth to the page is nicely done (through haiku/haikai).
Overall, I found this collection better than Een Ladder Tegen Een Wolk as the stories were more like actual stories rather than short plot-outlines, though it is still far away from what van Gulik accomplished. Actually, the most satisfying Judge Ooka story I've read until now was Een Lampion Voor een Blinde of de Zaak van de Hollandse heelmeesters ("A Lantern for the Blind or the Case of the Dutch Surgeons"), which was completely different from the short stories presented here: being both longer and constructed more like a classic detective novel. I find the Ooka stories entertaining and I think I will pick the remaining volumes up if I happen to see them again in a store, but I don't think I will actively look out for / order those volumes to complete the series.