Because in mystery novels, the first suspect is almost certainly never the murderer. No matter how much unmovable evidence there is, it will all be smashed in pieces by the wrath of the remaining number of pages of the story. (Is there someone who can come up with a round-type of book especially for detective novels, with the pages bound like a ring?, says Fuutarou).
"The Evil Spirit of the Zushi Clan" (Yamada Fuutarou)
Happy New Year! I'm kinda ridiculously far ahead with writing reviews, so I'm writing this very first post of the year 2015 in August of 2014. Who knows what happened between my writing this post and it appearing online?!
Kyozou Inraku ("Virtual Carnal Pleasure") collects nine of Yamada Fuutarou's early short stories, originally published in the period between 1947 and 1953. Unlike the Yamada Fuutarou short story collections I've discussed earlier on the blog (Meiji Dantoudai, Youi Kinpeibai), Kyozou Inraku is just a random collection of short stories, without any connection whatsoever between them storywise. Formwise, these early stories do already feature certain familiar tropes Yamada Fuutarou likes to use in his later detective stories and is thus quite interesting for those who want to dig a bit deeper into Fuutarou's writings. A notable omission in this collection is Yamada's debut story, Daruma Touge no Jiken ("The Darma Pass Case"), which dates from 1947, like many other stories in the collection.
One interesting motif in this collection is the use of letters as a plot device. Almost all stories feature a letter in one way or another and some stories consists even only out of letters, presenting the mystery and solution in one or multiple epistles. The opening story, Ganchuu no Akuma ("The Demon In Her Eyes"), for example, is one long letter, written by the narrator to his brother to explain his sudden flight from home. Like so many with Yamada's stories, his tale is that of unrequieted and unfulfilled love and it takes a while before a mystery of sorts presents itself to the reader. The basic premise is one Yamada Fuutarou simply loves and often reuses in different forms, and while this effort wasn't bad, Yamada has certainly written better variations on this story.
Renzai ("Sin of Love") consist out of a series of letters written to "Yamada Fuutarou", a certain famous mystery writer. An old school mate tells Yamada about how he happened to have met his old sweetheart, how sad he was to hear she was already married and the mysterious murder of the woman's husband some time later. He implores Yamada Fuutarou to help clear his sweetheart's name, who is the main suspect because she was the only other person in the house during the murder. The impossible crime aspect of the story is a bit unbelievable, but it works in the world Yamada has sketched within these letters and the story is actually quite well written, with the tone of each letter changing slightly, and with the reader's view on events described in previous letters changing with each subsequent letter.
I can't talk too much about Rounin ("The Wax Person"), as it kinda spoils the interesting points of the story, but it starts with the narrator receiving a letter from a friend who has recently died; the letter was written before his death. The truth behind his death becomes clear as he reads the letter. This story is more a horror-mystery story than a pure mystery story, despite the presence of a locked room mysery, but I quite like it.
Shisha no Yobigoe ("The Call of the Dead") is where Yamada Fuutarou goes Inception with the letter motif: it is (1) a story, where in (2) a letter is read, which chronicles past events, in which (3) another letter is read. So a story within a story within a story. The focus of everything is the second-level story, about the ex-husband who had been receiving letters from his deceased wife every week after her death for some years. The letters were without a doubt written by his dead wife, but can one really believe that the postman of Hades makes his round all the way to the world of the living? The mystery makes use of a familiar Yamada Fuutarou trope, but I liked it how it was done here and this story is fun to read, because as you go deeper in each level, you gain new questions and answers about the previous level. Kinda like how the consequent letters of Renzai work.
Letters are also used in Zushike no Akurei ("The Evil Spirit of the Zushi Clan") and Kokui no Seibo ("The Madonna Dressed In Black"), but less prominently: letters are usually just used to deliver the truth, rather than being a formal part of the story structure. Zushike no Akurei ("The Evil Spirit of the Zushi Clan") reminds of Yokomizo Seishi or Takagi Akimitsu, with twisted family relations, family curses about a one-eyed dog, logical chains based on the criminal's actions, but is nonetheless very Yamada Fuutarou-esque story. A lot happens within the just short of hundred pages though, a bit too much: by the end of the story, you'll have lost count of the number of surprise twists.
Kokui no Seibo ("The Madonna Dressed In Black") on the other hand is a very different kind of story, about a man and his relation with a female medical student who has to sell her body to feed her and her baby. The man especially feels attracted to the gap between the girl 'in the light' and the girl in bed. It would kinda spoil the story if I go on, so I'll just stop here, but once again a letter explains everything about a mysterious event later in the story. Truly shocking, it is not, but I liked the writing of the story: Yamada Fuutarou does these kind of stories about almost fetish-like love quite well.
Kyozou Inraku ("Virtual Carnal Pleasure") is one of Yamada Fuutarou's better known stories. Actually, all of the stories in this collection are well known, but this one in particular. A woman who has swallowed mercury is brought to the hospital by her little brother-in-law. The woman used to work there as a nurse and everyone is curious to what has happened. It appears the woman's husband was responsible for this, but why? What lies behind this initial event is a wonderful, but absolutely frightening spiraling madness which only Yamada Fuutarou could have come up with. Seldom have I seen such a motive, such twists in such short a story! It reminds of Rampo's ero-guro-nonsense ideas, but this goes deeper than Rampo, and the story actually works quite well as a fair-play detective story. Probably the best story in plotting and execution. And it has one of those titles that make absolutely sense in hindsight.
In Sayounara ("Farewell"), a town is evacuated and sealed because of the discovery of the Black Plague in a dead mouse. Two veteran cops who patrol the town think something fishy is going on and they get the shock of their lives when they realize that this certain part of the town, is built precisely the same as a town they both remember very well: ten years ago, during the war, they were trying to arrest two persons just as US bombers flew over the town and destroyed it completely. A whydunnit that isn't much of a mystery, but a very heartwarming, and heart-rending story.
Kiiroi Geshukunin ("The Yellow Boarder") is strangely enough a Sherlock Holmes-pastiche. Like Shimada Souji's effort, this is a funny crossover with Holmes and the famous writer Natsume Souseki, who had studied in London. Holmes and Watson take on the case of the mysterious disappearance of a certain Mr James Phillimore, whose name should sound familiar to Holmes readers. What follows is a story with many twist and turns, murder and a surprising ending, but I liked it more as a detective story than a Holmes pastiche. Not to diss Holmes, but this story was way too complex for a Holmes pastiche. As a mystery story, it's great though, I just don't think it really fits the form of a Holmes story.
EDIT: The Holmes story is available in English by the way.
As a collection, Kyozou Inraku has some great stories, but one can't deny that a lot of the nine stories resemble each other. Yamada Fuutarou really likes letters, twisted love (sometimes of the sadomasochistic kind) and a certain kind of story structure I can't specify for fear of spoilers, and while he can certainly do great things with these ingredients, it can become a bit boring if you are served the same constantly. I wish the editors had made a more varied selection of stories (of course, if Yamada Fuutarou's short stories are really all alike, then there's not much they can do, I guess...). I wouldn't recommend Kyozou Inraku as an introduction to Fuutarou's short stories (Meiji Dantoudai and You Kinpeibai are much better), but if you have already read some of his works and want to move to his earlier works, Kyozou Inraku is an okay volume.
Original Japanese title(s): 山田風太郎 『虚像淫楽』: 「眼中の悪魔」 / 「虚像淫楽」 / 「厨子家の悪霊」 / 「蠟人」 / 「黒衣の聖母」 / 「恋罪」 / 「死者の呼び声」 / 「さようなら」 / 「黄色い下宿人」