Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Just a Hunter

Love you, love you 世界は
The end of days!!
「鋼の救世主」 (JAM Project)

Love you, love you, the world
is just waiting for you
The end of days!! 
"The Steel Messiah" (JAM Project)

I finished the wonderful Dr. Sam Hawthorne series last year, but that doesn't mean I won't read more of Edward D. Hoch's mysteries. Today, a poor Hoch I bought around the time I bought my very first Sam Hawthorne book, and which had to wait until I finished that series.

Simon Ark is a mysterious man, who claims to be walking around Earth for two-thousand years now. He does more than just walking of course: his goal is to find and fight evil in all its forms. The protagonist, a journalist (and later editor), first meets Simon during the coverage of a mysterious mass suicide, where all 73 inhabitants of a small isolated village jumped off a cliff together. Since then, the two have become friends and while we never know for sure whether Simon is really as old as he says he is and whether the rumors of Simon once being a Coptic priest in Egypt are true, we do learn one thing about Simon in Edward D. Hoch's The First Casebook of Simon Ark: he sure knows about people and the evil schemes they can concoct. Simon travels the world researching the Occult and Supernatural and he occasionally comes across strange cases that seemingly involve Powers of the Other Side, but he ironically always proves that behind these strange, impossible murders, disappearances and other mysteries lurks not the devil, but simply the hearts of wicked men.

Yes, Tokyo Sougensha always has awesome covers for their Edward D. Hoch books.

Simon Ark was Hoch's very first series detective, as he starred in Hoch's 1955 debut story, The Village of the Dead. And because Simon Ark is already about two-thousand years old, a couple more or less years don't matter: Hoch had Simon Ark appear in stories all the way up to 2008, for a total of 61 adventures. The First Casebook of Simon Ark (the English title of Simon Ark no Jikenbo I) is the first of five volumes published in Japan that sadly enough don't cover the entire series yet. Each of the volumes contains a random selection of Simon Ark stories. This first volume for example features both Hoch's debut story from 1955, as well something more recent like The Faraway Quilters from 2003. These Japanese volumes are not based on any of the earlier English Simon Ark releases, as far as I know.

The Dr. Sam Hawthorne stories were highly standardized impossible crime stories, set mostly around one setting. While most of the stories were really good, they were practically all made with the same LEGO blocks and the background settings of the stories tend to seem very much alike. This is definitely not the case with the Simon Ark stories. Yes, most stories do feature some kind of supernatural or occult element, be it the mention of devils, some occult book or magicians, werewolves or other fantastic beings. But the stories are set all over the world, with different people and background settings and types of mystery. Sure, it's often an impossible crime, but definitely not always and the reader is always kept on his toes because you don't really know what's coming until you're actually in the story. It's something I kinda missed in the Sam Hawthorne series, so I quite enjoyed that in The First Casebook of Simon Ark.

I'm not doing write-ups on all the stories, because they are kinda short and I might spoil too much just by writing about them. But to pick a few out: Not really impressed by the opening story/Hoch's debut story, Village of the Dead. It has potential, sure, as it's a great setting (the mass suicide) and there are hints here and there about something really supernatural, but it lacks convincing power. The S.S.S. deals with a shady religious society which kinda reminds of the faux cults and psychics in Trick: the story is a great whodunnit for the amount of pages. Master of Miracles is probably the most Sam Hawthorne-esque story in this volume, with an impossible disappearance set in a small community (a woman and her car disappears from inside a car wash). Somewhat easy to solve, but quite entertaining.

Random thought: a globetrotting priest solving impossible crimes with a supernatural and occult tone.... Simon Ark is like a palette swapped Father Brown. Slightly darker Father Brown.

One of my earliest encounters with the mystery genre was Scooby-Doo! and I still love it when supernatural elements (or the suggestion of) make it into a detectives story. So you can imagine that I quite enjoyed The First Casebook of Simon Ark. But it's not just the occult tone of the series: while I have to admit that not every story is as good as the other, there are quite some well written mysteries collected in this volume and I think that most readers will be quite pleased with this first meeting with the mysterious Ark.

Original title(s): Edward D. Hoch 『サイモン・アークの事件簿』: 'Village of the Dead' 「死者の村」 / 'The Vicar of Hell' 「地獄の代理人」 / 'Day of the Wizard' 「魔術師の日」 / 'Funeral in the Fog' 「霧の中の埋葬」 / 'The Man who Shot the Werewolf' 「狼男を撃った男」 / 'The S.S.S.' 「悪魔撲滅教団」 / 'The Touch of Kolyada' 「妖精コリヤダ」 / 'The Society of the Scar' 「傷痕同盟」 / 'Master of Miracles' 「奇蹟の教祖」 / 'The Faraway Quilters' 「キルトを縫わないキルター」


  1. I have been a fan of the Ark series for many years. This is a very difficult series to collect because most of them have never been reprinted in English from their original magazine appearances. I would have thought the Japanese would do a better job of it, but, from your description, apparently not. Crippen & Landru have been promising an Ark book Funeral in the Fog for more than a decade, but I have not seen any trace of it. The only Ark stories which have been reprinted are in two slender paperbacks, The Judges of Hades and City of Brass, and a more substantial hardcover, The Quests of Simon Ark. For everything else you have to get the usually very obscure magazines in which they were published.

    1. Oh, "Funeral in the Fog" has not been released? Hmm, the Japanese Wiki mistakenly says it was released in 2009, that's why I thought a fair amount was available in collected form in English.

      As for the Japanese version, I just found out they did release a fifth volume last year (corrected that in my review) after a two year hiatus, leaving only 18 stories to be collected. At a schedule of one volume in two years, all the Ark stories should be available in Japanese before 2020.

  2. The Crippen & Landru website lists Funeral in the Fog as forthcoming, as it has for many years. I translated the German Wikipedia page on Hoch and found a reference to Funeral in the Fog, but it also noted that it was forthcoming. A few years ago I sent an e-mail to Crippen & Landru asking when it was coming out, but they never responded. There are a lot of rude people in the mystery field. You don't improve your business by ignoring the customers.