Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Golden Cocktail

危険。混ぜるな。

Do not mix. Hazardous.

Seems like it's been a while since I did a review on a 'proper' Japanese detective novel, instead of a Japanese translation of a Western novel or reviews on (Japanese) games.

Akechi Kogorou tai Kindaichi Kousuke ("Akechi Kogorou VS Kindaichi Kousuke") is a 2002 short story collection by Ashibe Taku, and the second volume in his The Exhibition of Great Detectives series, a showcase of pastiches starring famous detectives from both East and West. Like many pastiches, these stories also feature an element of parody, and they are best enjoyed if by the reader if they do actually know the detective beneath the spotlight. The story which lends its title to this collection for example, Akechi Kogorou tai Kindaichi Kousuke, features arguably the two most influential detectives in Japanese detective fiction: Edogawa Rampo's famous gentleman-detective Akechi Kogorou and Yokomizo Seishi's quintessential Japanese detective Kindaichi Kousuke. And the reader is sure to enjoy this story if they know something about these detectives, because at the core, this is a very Kindaichi-esque story, about two rival pharmacy shops which used to be one single shop (many Kindaichi stories about the troubles that exist between main and branch families). I already discussed the 2013 TV drama adaptation back then, so I refer to that review for more indepth views on the story. It's a good mystery yarn, with a surprising conclusion, and I definitely prefer the stort story to the drama version, which had some questionable direction in terms of characterization. In the end, this story is still not really a "Versus" story though, so the title might be a bit misleading.

French Keibu to Raimei no Shiro ("Inspector French and the Thunderclap Castle") has Freeman Wills Crofts' Inspector French going on a well-deserved holiday with his wife Emily. The couple needs to change trains at the station of Cranerock, but there they run into a little problem. Old man Smithers, butler of the Callaway family, has been waiting for ages for a "famous detective from London with the initial F", and thinks that he has found his man in Inspector French. The Inspector learns the story of Harriet Cathaway, last of the Cathaways and owner of Thunderclap Castle in Cranerock. She has recently become of age, but her legal guardian, Mannering, wants to sell the castle behind her back to settle his debts. Mannering is willing to do anything to accomplish this, which is why Harriet's grandfather had arranged for the "famous detective F" to watch over Harriet after his demise. Inspector French and his wife stay for the night in Thunderclap Castle, but the following morning, the body of Mannering is found in the Cathaway Crypt. What's more baffling is that no footsteps of anybody leaving the crypt were found on the snowfield surrounding the crypt, and the crypt was locked from inside, with the key found inside Mannering's mouth.

To be honest, I was a bit confused when I started with this story. An Inspector French story, with a Gothic feel and an impossible crime? I had expected an alibi deconstruction story, like Mystery on Southampton Water. But there is a perfectly good reason why this story does not feel like an Inspector French story and a lot more like a story featuring a certain different character, though it would spoil a bit of the surprise if I'd tell you now. Suffice to say that not all is what they appear to be. The impossible crime plot is great by the way, as it ties in fantastically with that one plot-point I can't tell you about here. Is it a completely fair story? No, as it requires some information not explicitly made known to the reader until the conclusion, but for readers who know about the characters featured in this story, French Keibu to Raimei no Shiro is nothing less than fun, that is a great pastiche, parody and impossible crime story. Definitely my favorite of the book.

Brown Shinpu no Japonisme ("The Japonisme of Father Brown") is based on a fanzine story by Komori Kentarou, but heavily rewritten by Ashibe. G.K. Chesterton's Father Brown finds himself at the residence of Lord Huntington, recently deceased, as the request of his old friend Flambeau. Under the influence of his wife, Lord Huntington had become a great collector of anything from the Far East, especially Japan, and he had hired Flambeau for his detective services. The lord however was found murdered yesterday inside a locked exhibition room, filled will Japanese collectibles. His body was stuffed inside a nagamochi storage trunk, while the murder weapon, a pistol, was found inside an urn. Suspects include the lord's wife, a socialist journalist, who had just had an interview with the lord and a Japanese businessman who had a big row with the lord. The solution Father Brown poses is absolutely brilliant, but almost cheating. It's a wonderfully Father Brown-esque solution, reminiscent of the famous The Invisible Man, but taken to the extreme. It's a bit hard to swallow, especially in this time and age, but it's not one I would deem utterly impossible, and I think it works quite well here, though I do wish there were more hints to this solution. Brilliant, but so utterly crazy it wouldn't work in something outside a pastiche or parody.

Soshite Orient Kyuukou Kara Dare Mo Inaku Natta ("And Then There Were None On The Orient Express") is a very short epilogue set in an alternative universe to Christie's Murder on the Orient Express, which focuses on the Yuguslavian Police Force, who were given a dead body and a report of Hercule Poirot's solution to the crime after the events in the book. It's a simple story that with a surprise ending gimmick, which was not bad. It's not a mystery story though, it's just offering a different way to look at the ending of Murder on the Orient Express.

Q no Higeki - Mata wa Futari no Kurofukumen no Bouken ("The Tragedy of Q - Or: The Adventure of the Two Men With Black Masks") starts with the discovery of the body of Professor Cotswinkel  in his research room in the Detroit Public Library. A witness (and suspect) says the last time he talked with the professor, the man said he had just seen Ellery Queen. The problem is: which Ellery Queen? Because both Manfred B. Lee and Frederic Dannay were in Detroit to do a lecture as Ellery Queen and Barnaby Ross. This is an original pastiche about the Queen cousins, as opposed to the character, set in the time when Lee and Dannay were posing as both Ellery Queen and Barnaby Ross. The story makes good use of this past of the Queen cousins and the solution to the problem is solved in a typical Queen manner, by logical reasoning. The denouement scene is golden by the way: with both "Ellery Queen" and "Barnaby Ross" deducing their way to the murderer in front of an audience. 

Tantei Eiga no Yoru ("Night of the Detective Films") is not a pastiche, but combines an essay on Hollywood adaptations of mystery novels with a locked room murder. A big fan of mystery films is murdered inside his house, and several witnesses swear they saw a strange green, alien-like creature inside the house just moments before the murder was committed. But when the victim's fiancée and the local beat cop enter the house right after the murder, they find only the mask of the alien, with no sign of the person who should've been wearing it. A simple story: the impossible crime is just a minor variation of a familiar pattern. I described the story as a combination of an essay and a mystery short story, but that's really what it is. The first part was intended as an essay on Hollywood adaptations, but it was expanded a bit to include a mystery story.

The final story in the collection, Shounen wa Kaijin wo Yume Miru ("The Boy Who Dreamt of a Fiend"), is basically impossible to describe without giving it away. It's not a mystery story actually, more a fantasy/adventure novel and it ties in eventually with one of the more well-known figures in Japanese mystery fiction, but yeah, mentioning who would spoil the whole thing. Not a big fan of the story, but it is also a very different kind of story compared to the rest.

Overall though, I'd say Akechi Kogorou tai Kindaichi Kousuke is a very amusing pastische collection. The book features a lot of impossible crime situations, and I'd say most of them are actually quite good (especially the first half of the book), though I have to say the collection feels a lot more rewarding if you actually know the many characters that appear here, because the book definitely has a slight parody-angle.

Original Japanese title(s): 『明智小五郎対金田一耕助』: 「明智小五郎対金田一耕助」 / 「フレンチ警部と雷鳴の城」 / 「ブラウン神父と日本趣味(ジャポニズム)」 / 「そしてオリエント急行から誰もいなくなった」 / 「Qの悲劇 または二人の黒覆面の冒険」 / 「探偵映画の夜」 / 「少年は怪人を夢見る」

8 comments :

  1. Look at all these stories I'll never be able to read

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    1. You could always try learn Japanese

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    2. how long does it take to know how to read japanese ?

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    3. I'd say you should be in a better position to make a guess than me. It depends on so many factors: How much time can you afford each day? Do you have experience with learning languages? What's your mother tongue (i.e. is it close to the Japanese language)? What are your specific goals (reading/listening, what kind of things do you want to consume)? etc. etc.

      In broad terms, basic Japanese grammar is fairly simple. The vocabulary can be difficult if you are not familiar with Chinese characters, or more broadly taken, languages that use several scripts. Linguistically, Japanese has quite some similarities with Korean, so it'd help if you know that.

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  2. it's often said by people that in Kindaichi, the main characters aren't interesting at all while the suspects are more interesting
    while in Detective Conan, the suspects are really dull and boring, while the main characters are not

    what do you think ?

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    Replies
    1. People say that? I don't think the suspects are particularly more interesting in Kindaichi Shounen than Conan. Sure, usually, a suspect 'lasts' longer because an average Kindaichi Shounen story is about four, five times longer than an average Conan story, but in terms of characterization, I really don't think Kindaichi Shounen is much better than Conan. In fact, with the shorter stories, as well as the non-optimal paneling in Kindaichi Shounen, you can see that characterization isn't especially better in Kindaichi Shounen compared to Conan. They're either jerks, or seemingly good people, but then there's always that one panel where they smile in a sneaky way.

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    2. what about kindaichi and friends ? do you find them boring as people say ?

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    3. Instead of asking me, why not tell me if you think they're boring or not and why? (Though to be honest, I'd appreciate it if you could ask your questions in a relevant post, because your questions have next to nothing to do with this post, while I have dozens of other posts on Kindaichi Shounen where your questions would be much more relevant to the readers).

      Though in short: yes, compared to Conan, the cast of Kindaichi Shounen *is* boring. But that's design. Conan has an ongoing story that involves the larger cast. Kindaichi Shounen only has hints to that (once every two years or so). It's like comparing the characters of Doraemon with those of Fullmetal Alchemist. That's why when Kindaichi Shounen does try things with its cast, it often falls flat, because the reader doesn't really have any connection to them (not naming details because of spoilers, but see Saki I, Senke for example). The characters of Kindaichi Shounen aren't supposed to be interesting. They're just archetypes.

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