"Well, before we move on to the main topic, let's review the history of decapitation murders in detective novels..."
"Let's skip that," the commisioner said. "Just insert one when you write a novel about this case, 'cause I'm not interested. Let's start"
So there's a new detective drama running in Japan, Otenki Oneesan ("Weather Girl"). The series itself seems to be a scientific detective series in the spirit of Higashino Keigo's Galileo (of which the second season also started recently!), but I was initially drawn to the somewhat vague marketing copy "I've seen through your weather trick" What is a weather trick? My first thought: "And then you lured the victim into a grassy field full flowers and trees, knowing it would become dry and sunny in the afternoon, which would effectively kill the victim because of his hay fever!" (this would definitely work with me as a victim).
Yokomizo Seishi's Kindaichi Kousuke no Shinbouken, an underwhelming collection of stories which were all expanded upon / rewritten to novelletes / novels later. At the end of the review I also mentioned I already had the sequel, Kindaichi Kousuke no Kikan ("The Return of Kindaichi Kousuke"), in my possession. So a very late review (and to be honest: I only reached out to the book because I have nothing else to read at the moment). The set-up is the same: all stories feature the famous private detective Kindaichi Kousuke, with his trademark messy hair and knack for never really preventing people from dying around him (something he shares with his grandson). Different from Yokomizo's more famous works however, almost all of these stories are set in the city, rather than in secluded communities (there are also no legends / curses / etc.). Also, all stories in this volume have been rewritten at one stage or another in Yokomizo's career, either using exactly the same title, or a slightly revised title.
A letter delivered at the wrong address is the cue for Kindaichi Kousuke to step in on a poison pen letter case in Doku no Ya ("The Poison Arrow"). The letters, signed by someone called the Golden Arrow, aren't just slander though; whether true or not (mostly not), the Golden Arrow wants money for his silence. One of the victims is Matoba Natsuko, who came back from the United States with her disabled daughter recently. But the investigation of Kindaichi couldn't prevent from Natsuko being murdered, being stabbed in her back, right through the tattoo of playing cards she had on her back. Is it related to the poison pen letter case? Of course, because this is a short story and we can't have too much subplots here. A rather hasty story, and its greatest weakness is that it a) 'borrows' a famous trick from a Christie novel, b) without hiding that properly, so anyone familiar with that particular Christie novel (and there is a big chance you'll have read it), will know what happened.
The main problem of Trumpdaijou no Kubi ("The Head on the Card Table") is deftly described in its title at. A cut off head. On a table. Oh, and the body is gone. The victim is a stripper called Akemi, who had been playing bridge the previous night and the guests all swear she still had her head on her body when they left her in her room. As a problem, it is interesting what Yokomizo tries here, as we all know what to expect when we find a body without a head, but we don't encounter heads without a body that often, but the short story format binds Yokomizo to a more compact, focused set-up of his tale (which doesn't work out for him well usually, in my opinion), the reader won't have that much trouble figuring out what happened, though I have to admit that this was an okay story, definitely among the better of this collection.
Kashi Boat 13 Gou ("Rental Boat 13") has the titular boat floating, with two dead bodies in it. For some reason, a woman has first been strangled, then stabbed in her heart, after which her head was cut off mostly from her neck. Next to her, a man has been stabbed in his heart, then strangled and his head cutt off slightly from her neck. It doesn't take long to identify the victims, but why did the murderer act in such a strange way? What starts out as a problem which seems fit for an excellent Queenian deduction chain, is solved rather easily because one of the victims overheard something which explains everything in an instant. And I don't mean that it was something vague that suddenly set off the thinking machine in Kindaichi's head, what was overheard explained the murders, practically as is. Which is a shame, because the premise is fun and while actually most of the mystery inYokomizo's short stories can be explained by reexamining the human relations / the relations between characters, this has been one where the trope worked really well.
If Doku no Ya breathed Christie, then Shina Ougi no Onna ("The Woman with the Chinese Fan") can only be described as Carr. The titular 'woman with a Chinese fan' refers to a painting of a woman who famously poisoned her husband in the Meiji period. Fastforward many years ahead, where Minako, a relative of the infamous poisoner, wakes up from sleepwalking, only to find her mother-in-law and maid in a quite dead and murdered situation. Believing she has the same evil blood in her veins as her famous aunt and killed them during her sleep, she tries to commit suicide, but is luckily saved by the police. Kindaichi suspects there is more to it though, and while the solution works, it's very simple (but does require knowledge of a certain historical event).
By now it shouldn't be a surprise, but Tsubo no Naka no Onna ("The Woman in the Urn") indeed features a woman in an urn. When a collector of urns is murdered, his assistent witness the murderer, a woman, trying to escape by getting inside an urn. Noticing the assistent outside the window, the murderer decides to flee on foot, but what kind of murderer was she? This is definitely my favorite story in the collection, as it features a great hidden hint and the use of very commonly used trope in detective fiction, but one which I hadn't foreseen at all, so executed very well. It does ask for a bit of suspension of disbelief though.
More poison pen letters in Uzu no Naka no Onna ("The Woman In the Whirlpool") and once again it led to the murder of a woman. Because in Yokomizo Seishi's stories, women are always beautiful, but they also have a tendency to get murdered. The story feels like a mish-mash of all kind of tropes we have seen in the previous stories in this collection already, which makes it hard to judge. Heck, even names are reused in this story (for different people), making it a very confusing story to read, because memories get mixed. A whirlpool, indeed.
Tobira no Naka no Onna ("The Woman in the Door") is just... underwhelming. With cut-off heads, nearly cut-off heads, women in urns and women with tattoos, a story with a dead body discovered by a girl who happened to have reason to kill the victim and a note with a mysterious message is just not that impressive. Yokomizo's trick once again lies in his less-than-pretty human relations and resulting actions, but it's just too little, too late in this collection.
Meirosou no Kaijin ("The Monster of the Maze Mansion") is the most famous of this collection, as this short story was rewritten as a proper novel under the name Meirosou no Sangeki ("The Tragedy of the Maze Mansion"). Which was probably better, because Yokomizo comes with a great history for the titular mansion, which was built with countless of hidden passageways and trap doors, but practically nobody knows where they are anymore. A murder happens in the mansion, but the hidden passageways and such are... almost of no consequence to the actual mystery. Which is a missed opportunity, because this was the one story in the collection where the creepy atmosphere of Yokomizo really started to come alive, only for it to retreat almos immediately. It's a decent mystery, but the disappointment is larger than the satisfaction you'll derive from reading it.
Overall not as disappointing as Kindaichi Kousuke no Shinbouken, but still not a collection I would recommend to the reader. I am not a big fan of Yokomizo's short stories anyway, but if you really want to read them, the rewritten versions are probably better than these original versions. But this volume is really something you should read if you have nothing else to read: it may be /the original version/, but that doesn't always means better.
Original Japanese title(s): 横溝正史 『金田一耕助の帰還』 「毒の矢」「トランプ台上の首」「貸しボート１３号」「支那扇の女」「壺の中の女」「渦の中の女」「扉の中の女」「迷路荘の怪人」