"That's a good one, an orangutan as the murderer"
"Hahaha, that would be stupid. That would be just a third-rate mystery. Anyone writing such a story would be the laughing stock of everybody"
"....." Okubo suddenly stopped laughing. "Just asking to be sure, but are you really a member of the detetive fiction research club?"
Now that I think about it, I wrote more reviews of Dutch mystery novels than Japanese ones the last couple of weeks. Wow. To think this would one day happen.
Books by Jan Apon
Raoul Bertin series
Paniek op de Miss Brooklyn ("Panic on the Miss Brooklyn")
Een tip van Brissac ("A tip from Brissac")
Rudolf Temesvary series
Het gorilla-mysterie ("The Gorilla Mystery")
Een zekere Manuel ("A certain Manuel")
Twelve years ago, Dr Cavelli was found guilty for the murder on Mrs Irene Baginsky, who had recently broken off their affair. Cavelli claimed they were attacked on the road, and while Cavelli managed to escape, Irene had less luck. The only witness who could confirm, or deny Cavelli's story was Irene's baby gorilla, but as animals don't talk, the police had to do with evidence like Cavelli's gun and glove lying around the crime scene. The baby gorilla was donated to the Budapest zoo after his mistress' death, and now, twelve years later, the gorilla is once again witness to a murder. This time, the gorilla's caretaker has been killed, and the gorilla taken away by some person or persons unknown. Inspector Rudolf Temesvary of the Budapest police force thinks there's more to this beast than meets the eye in the aptly titled Het gorilla-mysterie ("The Gorilla Mystery") by Jan Apon.
Het gorilla-mysterie was originally published in 1937 and planned to be the first in a series of stories starring inspector Rudolf Temesvary, it says in the foreword. Jan Apon never did write more Temesvary novels however (in fact, he didn't write any novels after World War II), so Het gorilla-mysterie is both the first and last appearance of the Hungarian police detective. Anyway, the biggest differences with Apon's Raoul Bertin series is that Temesvary is an official detective and the story is set in Budapest (instead of... mostly France in the Bertin series).
The mystery of the kidnapped gorilla is quite interesting: why would someone go the trouble of dragging a gorilla out of a zoo and even kill a man for it? The first half of the book, which is about the missing gorilla and two murders, is the best part of the book, with relevant plot developments and some neat deductions pushing the story forward. Especially the puzzle of the gorilla is fun and the somewhat grotesque problem, as well as its neatly hinted solution almost has a Queenian quality to it.
The conclusion has that familiar Apon characteristic to it: the clue that comes out of nowhere (see my review of Paniek op de Miss Brooklyn for more about that). Seriously. If you are going to refer to hints in your conclusion, maybe you should consider actually writing them in the main story. To have a fair story. And beyond the question of fair play or not: it's usually good to have references refer to actual happenings. Apon's strange way of ending his novels each and every time kinda take down his novels. In general, I do like the events and plot of Het gorilla-mysterie, so I think it's really a shame Apon pulled of the same lets-conjure-up-some-evidence ending again.
You'd think that Poe's contribution to the genre (maybe contribution isn't big enough a word) would have resulted in more mystery fiction featuring animals, but that's not really so. I wouldn't say mystery fiction featuring animals are rare, but still... I remember once attending a presentation about cat mysteries (i.e. mystery fiction featuring cats), which was interesting (FYI, cat mysteries reviewed on this blog include Mikeneko Holmes no Suiri, Cat Food and Kanzen Hanzai ni wa Neko Nanbiki ga Hitsuyouka). The titular gorilla of Het gorilla-mysterie makes no real appearances in the story, but the animal is definitely at the heart of the mystery. I think Apon did something really fun with the animal for this story and I am definitely tempted to call this a gorilla mystery. Which is the title. Heh.
Het gorilla-mysterie is a fun mystery with a great premise and first half. While not perfect, definitely among the better of Apon's works I've read.
Original Dutch title(s): Jan Apon "Het gorilla-mysterie"