"But by dividing each difficulty, the murderer made the impossible, possible!"
"The Young Kindaichi Case Files: The Vampire Legend Murder Case"
I once wrote a bit about Comic Shock, a used bookstore I frequented when I was Kyoto. I can still recognize which books I bought there because of the plastic covers the people gave every book there. And yes, today's book was bought at Comic Shock. I even think it was the first book I bought at Comic Shock: I was quite surprised to find it there, because while not rare, it is certainly not a really popular book, so I hadn't expected it to find it in an used bookstore.
Amagi Hajime no Misshitsu Hanzaigaku Kyoutei ("Amagi Hajime's Curriculum on Locked Room Criminology") is a collection of both fiction featuring, and critical essays on locked room murders and other impossible crimes. The first two parts of this book are subtitled "Practice" and "Theory", in which Amagi Hajime presents his own locked room typology (like the locked-room lecture in John Dickson Carr's The Hollow Man), with several of his own stories as examples of the types of locked room murders he identifies. The third part collects several of Amagi's early impossible crime stories, but these are not presented as part of the lecture course on impossible crimes. Because of the two distinct 'goals' of the book, I decided to divide my thoughts in two parts too. In this review, I will only discuss the third part of Amagi Hajime no Misshitsu Hanzaigaku Kyoutei: the locked room lecture parts of the book (parts one and two) I will probably discuss in a seperate review on its critical qualities someday. Maybe.
Part three of Amagi Hajime no Misshitsu Hanzaigaku Kyoutei collects all the stories starring amateur detective Maya Tadashi, a brilliant philosophy scholar and friend of Police Lieutenant Shimazaki (who after becoming an inspector, would later star in Amagi Hajime's alibi-breaking stories). Maya is dubbed 'the Clown of the Crime Scene' by the police, because he always seems to be talking utter nonsense whenever he is facing an impossible crime, but while his statements always seem to be too stupid to be true, they always turn out to be the key to solving the mystery.
The Maya Tadashi stories are all extremely short, but plotted very well, making maximum use of the limited amount of pages. They are also set in the time they were written, so just after World War II and this is of importance: many of the stories deal with the social and economical changes the war had brought upon the country and many of Maya's philosophical musings can be taken as a critique on the manner in which modernity and industralization has changed the country's mode of thinking. I would therefore say that a lot of these stories are quite context-heavy stories, as I think some of these stories are kinda difficult 'to get' without a bit of knowledge on Japan's (socio-cultural) history.
Fushigi no Kuni no Hanzai ("The Crime of Wonderland") was published in 1947 as Amagi Hajime's debut story and is about a man killed in a small passageway, with both entrances at each end of the passage constantly observed by multiple witnesses. A very short story, as well as fairly simple problem: for me, I think the story's merits lies in its historical value (an impossible crime story just after the war, so it belongs next to Giants like Honjin Satsujin Jiken and Shisei Satsujin Jiken), as well as the way Amagi manages to work out the problem in just a few pages, but I wouldn't consider it among the best of the stories collected in this volume.
Kimen no Hanzai ("The Crime of the Devil's Mask", 1948), Kiseki no Hanzai ("The Miraculous Crime", 1948) and Yume no Naka no Hanzai ("The Crime Within the Dream", 1948) are stories featuring similar tricks and to be honest, I didn't really like them. Sure, the premises of a mask of an Oni killing people in a locked room (Kimen no Hanzai) and other disappearing murderers (Kiseki no Hanzai, Yume no Naka no Hanzai) may be alright, but the solutions are extremely basic, probably even when these stories were first published. And I doubt the trick in Yume no Naka no Hanzai could even work as it was described in the story itself: it can be done (I've seen it in other stories too), but those had different conditions that made the execution possible. Here, it seems highly implausible it could have worked.
Takamagahara no Hanzai ("The Crime of Takamagahara", 1948) is considered one of the best Japanese impossible crime stories and I can understand why, though this is really a very unique locked room murder that could only have happened under these very special circumstances. The "god" of a new religion is strangled to death in his room, but the two men guarding the staircase to the room saw they saw nobody enter or leave the room. How then was the deicide committed? I guessed the solution quite quickly actually, because I have reviewed at least other three stories on this blog that feature a similar trick (I won't link them, because it may be a bit too spoilery), but I would say that the execution in this story is very good and it is indeed a very memorable story. But again, only under these special circumstances.
Ashita no Tame no Hanzai ("The Crime for Tomorrow", 1954), Potsdam Hanzai ("The Potsdam Crime", 1954) and Fuyu no Jidai no Hanzai ("The Crime in the Winter", 1974) are all three about footprints on the ground, or more precisely, the lack of footprints. Ashita no Tame no Hanzai has footprints that stop in the middle of a garden: the solution is simplicity at its best. Maya's short answer to the question how such a miracle was performed is short, but it explains everything in an instant and has the reader go 'why didn't I think of that!'. Fuyu no Jidai Hanzai has a naked, dead lady in the snow with no footprints around it: the solution is a bit like that of Ashita no Tame no Hanzai: they work with the same principle, but are executed quite different. Interesting to look at as a pair. Potsdam Hanzai has some interesting links with the Potsdam Declaration and is an okay impossible crime story, but every effort at summarizing the story sorta spoils the solution, it seems. There is a nice piece of misdirection there, but my attempts at summarizing this story kinda make the solution seem too obvious.
Kuromaku - Juuji ni Shisu ("The Mastermind - Die at Ten", 1955) features a murderer who disappears from an observed house which was searched immediately after the shot, but the solution hinges on 1) one very obvious trick and 2) one very silly trick that can't possibly have worked.
Nusumareta Tegami ("The Purloined Letter", 1954) is the most interesting story of the collecion together with Takamagahara no Hanzai, I think. Holmes always keeps complaining to Watson his stories are too sensational, that the records of Holmes' investigations should place emphasis on the thought process behind each case, right? Well , Holmes would have loved this variation on Edgar Allan Poe's famous short story. The story consists of a letter written by Maya Tadashi, who explains precisely how he manages to find the location of a hidden film with a photograph of a compromising letter. Starting with the definition of what 'solving the case' means, he moves to definitions of clues, and even discusses the role of philosophy and the sciences in modern police investigations, and just as you think his story has nothing to do with the case, he shows how all the previous arguments were crucial parts in the thought process behind locating the hidden film. Nusumareta Tegami is a fairly theoretical story though, something Edogawa Rampo had noted too when he had read one of the earlier versions, and while this is still a very scientifical piece even after several rewritten versions, I think it is a great story.
I am aware that this is an incomplete review, as I've only looked at the third part of Amagi Hajime no Misshitsu Hanzaigaku Kyoutei, but I feel that this part can stand perfectly on its own: while not all stories are as memorable as others, stories like Nusumareta Tegami and Takamagahara no Hanzai make this a worthwile read. But besides that, the way in which Amagi manages to depict these impossible crimes and their solutions in just a few pages is amazing. A final note: I have no idea when I'll look at the critical study parts of Amagi Hajime no Misshitsu Hanzaigaku Kyoutei. It might be soon, might take ages. And in the worse scenario, I'll just forget.
Original Japanese title(s): 天城一 『天城一の密室犯罪学教程』: Part 3 毒草 / 摩耶の場合 「不思議の国の犯罪」 / 「鬼面の犯罪」 / 「奇蹟の犯罪」 / 「高天原の犯罪」 / 「夢の中の犯罪」 / 「明日のための犯罪」 / 「盗まれた手紙」 / 「ポツダム犯罪」 / 「黒幕・十時に死す」 / 「冬の時代の犯罪」