"One can sometimes do good by being the right person in the wrong place”
"The Sins of Prince Saradine"
Of course, even though I have all my books now, the problem just shifted from 'no books to write about' to 'I read books, but for one reason or another I never actually write the reviews'. I've only just started reading and I already have a backlog of reviews to write...
A Aiichirou series
A Aiichirou no Roubai ("The Discombobulation of A Aiichirou" AKA A For Annoyance)
A Aiichirou no Tentou ("The Fall of A Aiichirou" AKA A Is For Accident)
A Aiichirou no Toubou ("The Flight of A Aiichirou" AKA A For Abandon")
Awasaka Tsumao's A Aiichirou no Roubai ("The Discombobulation of A Aiichirou"; alternate English title by publisher Tokyo Sogen: A For Annoyance) is a short story collection I had been planning to read for a long time now. It is the first short story collection to rank in the Tozai Mystery Best 100 list, and several stories collected have been named as serious candidates for the title of best Japanese impossible crime story, so that partly explains why I wanted to read the book. Partly I say, because another reason was because Takumi Shuu, of the Gyakuten Saiban game series, named Awasaka Tsumao and the A Aiichirou series as a major influence on his works, which was something I couldn't just ignore.
I have reviewed Awasaka's short story collection Kijutsu Tantei Soga Kajou Zenshuu- Hi no Maki in the past already; longtime readers might remember me mentioning that Awasaka was a stage magician: stage magician + detective fiction is usually enough to gather the attention of readers of the genre. I was mildly positive about the collection, so I started with a modest amount of expectations in A Aiichirou no Roubai. What I got, was a classic! No wonder so many people stated this as one of the best collections in Japan. A Aiichirou no Roubai is sometimes compared to the Father Brown stories; this is naturally partly because of the titles of the books (mirroring titles like The Innocence of Father Brown etcetera) and the intuitive mode of reasoning of Aiichirou, but the sheer ingenuity found in the relatively short stories is also reminiscent of the Chesterton's classic.
A Aiichirou is young, handsome cameraman who has the habit of arriving at the wrong place at the wrong time. Or being the right man at the wrong place at the wrong time. He seems to come across murder quite often (and because of his somewhat strange nature, the police usually suspects him from at least a little bit of foul play), but he always manages to clear his own name by pointing out the real murderer, usually by making enigmatic statements in the spirit of Father Brown. Oh, and because any post on A Aiichirou should mention this: the series detective was given the even in Japanese quite rare name of A Aiichirou by Awasaka, because this name would end up to be the first entry if a lexicon on (fictional) detectives would be published.
The stories in the collection can be divided in roughly three kind of stories. Awasaka's debut short story, DL2 Gouki Jiken ("The Flight DL2 Incident"), is a good example of the first kind, which mainly serves to showcase A Aiichirou's intuitive reasoning. Here Aiichirou is witness to a man who seems to stumble on a staircase on purpose, which might seem strange, but nothing more than that, right? So imagine the surprise bystanders, as well as the reader, experience when Aiichirou correctly foretells an attack on the man's driver based on the fact his master faked a fall! The solution might be a bit hard to deduce a priori to the solution, but the hinting and plotting is really solid actually. The same holds for Magatta Heya ("The Crooked Room") and Kuroi Kiri ("The Black Fog"), which both feature enigmatic, yet not criminal situations per se, but Aiichirou shows that there is much more than meets the eye. Because of the intuitive reasoning, it might be hard to deduce the solutions completely beforehand (especially Kuroi Kiri goes a bit far), but the stories work and the reader won't be disappointed.
The second set of stories focuses on impossible crimes. A man seemingly commits suicide in a hot air balloon in Migiudeyama Kuujou ("Above the Skies of Mount Migiude"), but A Aiichirou shows it was murder, even though the victim was alone up there in the sky. Definitely the highlight of the collection. A very good second is Shoujou no Ougon Kamen ("The Golden Mask on Top of her Hands"), where a man dressed in a cape and golden mask is standing on top of the hands of a giant statue, throwing pamphlets to the people below on the streets. Unlike Edogawa Rampo's Golden Mask however, this Golden Mask is less of a superman, as he is shot down quite easily, with his body falling on the streets below. The only person who could have shot him is a man in a hotelroom right across the statue, but the only weapon in his possession is so crooked, it was impossible for him to have hit the target across the distance. Really good story, once again made more impressive because of the brevity of the tale. G-Senjou no Itachi ("Weasle on the G-Line") features a taxi-driver who claims to have been attacked by a robber, but when the police find the cab, they discover the dead robber in the car, and only the taxi driver's footsteps in the snow. A simple story, mostly a variant of a famous trope and the intuition needed to pick up the main hint is something I for one don't have. And finally Horobo no Kami ("The God of Horobo"), which is often seen as one of the better impossible crime stories in Japan. On a trip to recover the dead bodies of his fellow soldiers who had died when they had stranded on the island of Horobo during World War II, an old veteran tells (the unnamed) Aiichirou the strange experience he had seen there: the head of the local tribe had been seen entering a small shrine holding the effigy of the local god, the God of Horobo, to mourn the death of his wife, whose body was placed there. The tribesmen had all stood watch over the shrine, but the next day, after hearing a cry, they discover the head shot to death, by a gun held in the dead wife's hands, with everybody swearing nobody had entered or left the shrine! The solution is admittedly quite ingenious, but it is close, though definitely not across, the border between a fair and unfair mystery. One should really read it though, if only just to remind you that such a trick also exists.
The third pattern found in A Aiichirou no Roubai is Horidasareta Douwa ("A Dug Up Fairy Tale"), which features a coded message. I was the least impressed by this story: the code itself is really ingenious and one of the best I've seen in Japanese stories thus far, but the story surrounding it is unneccesary long (the longest in the collection) and not very interesting to begin with. It feels a bit out of place and I can't help myself but asking the question whether Awasaka couldn't have done something else with the solid code.
All in all a solid collection. The standard is quite high, and there are some real classics to be found too. Despite my love for the short story format, I haven't been able to find that many Japanese collections I would call a must read, but A Aiichirou no Roubai (as well as the early Norizuki Rintarou ones) are definitely the ones you'd want to read.
Original Japanese title(s): 泡坂妻夫 『亜愛一郎の狼狽』 「ＤＬ２号機事件」 / 「右腕山上空」 / 「曲がった部屋」 / 「掌上の黄金仮面」 / 「Ｇ線上の鼬」 / 「掘出された童話」 / 「ホロボの神」 / 「黒い霧」