Monday, March 29, 2010

『Kind Of Blue』

"Tragedy of errors.... When you look back over the case, it was a tragedy of errors for nearly everyone involved. The whole world is a tragedy of errors..."
"The Tragedy of Errors"

Ellery Queen's "Tragedy of..." series, of which to make things confusing, "The Tragedy of Errors", is not part of, rank amongst the best of Queen's work. The works are quite popular in Japan too, with several novels and anthologies named after the series. And of course, Queenian writer Norizuki Rintarou has his own "Tragedy of" series too. While I own the books already, they're back in the Netherlands, so I opted this week to listen to the radio play of Ni no Higeki ("The Tragedy of Two"). Because Queenian radio plays are always fun.

Ni no Higeki was, in retrospect, a decent story, but nothing more than that. It's very similar to a short story by Norizuki, in which the reading of a diary and the following deductions forms the main story. The style closely followed early Queen, that is, something was observed, deductions were made and then new development come along that prove or disprove the previous deductions, allowing new deductions to be made. Which is all fine and well, but because this was a 10-part radio play of 15 minutes, every 10 minutes something new came up, which was kinda annoying. Despite the many developments, the scope of the story was quite small, so the story quickly came to a Love Dodecahedron plot and nobody was who they should've been.

This is the simple version.

But was it worth a listening? Sure it was. I do think the story would've worked better in short story form and while the solution was kinda lame (which I suspect is resolved slightly less suddenly in the original novel), it did work in the frame of the story, which ends on very tragedic note. Which is something you of course should expect from a story with "The Tragedy of Two" as its title. It is no match of Queen's Tragedies in terms of detecting, but the title is a lot more fitting. 

Original Japanese title(s): 法月 綸太郎 『二の悲劇』

Sunday, March 21, 2010


"The criminal is the creative artist; the detective only the critic." 
"The Blue Cross"

It's funny how one of my favorite detectives is in fact a criminal. Arsene Lupin from Maurice LeBlanc's novels is the quintessential gentleman thief. He will politely inform you he will rob you. Heck, Lupin will even offer a chance to the victim to send all the items Lupin wants to him beforehand, just so he doesn't need to go to through all the hassle. Strangely enough, there is a strong sense of justice in him too, so he'll not let evil (greater than him) go wild. Especially when there's women involved.

While I've read all of the English translations available of the Lupin stories, there are still some not available in English and so I had been holding them off. I could, in theory, go read them in the original French, but it's not something I would look forward to. Thus, I was quite surprised when I found several Lupin novels at the local bookstore as new releases of this month. Now I know that Lupin was (is?) quite popular in Japan, but to have a re-release in this day and age? And a smile forced its way on my face, a smile I always get when reading Lupin, when I found out that I hadn't read several of these novels yet. The reading backlog is gigantic anyway, so what difference are two or three books going to make?

Midori Me no Shoujo ("The Girl with the Green Eyes"), which is the translation of La Demoiselle aux yeux vert, is a Lupin novel, so experienced Lupin readers should immediately know what kind of novel this is. While the Lupin short story collections are more classical detective stories, the Lupin novels are more adventure stories with detection in it and are of more epic scale. In this novel, Lupin is victim of a train robbery, as well as witness to a murder commited by said robbers. The murder victim turned out to be a female thief, not unlike Lupin himself, while it at first seems that the murderer is a green-eyed girl. Because attractive girls can not possibly be murderers (according to Lupin), he tries to help the green-eyed girl and uncovers a plot of several parties all surrounding the poor girl. And he solves the murder somewhere along the way. And makes a fool of the magnificent bastard secret agent Marescal.

While the story is not a Lupin epic like 813 or the Teeth of the Tiger, it's certainly a nice read. Lupin does what Lupin does best: being a magnificent bastard and hero at the same time. I also feel this book had a bigger influence on Miyazaki Hayao's magnificent Lupin III movie, The Castle of Cagliostro, compared to the similarly named Countess of Cagliostro (people who say otherwise, probably haven't read the books).

I at first had my reservations about reading Lupin in Japanese, but after realizing I had been reading them in English instead of French anyway, I though that wouldn't make that much a difference. However, the translation is somewhat dodgy at times, after a quick comparison with the original text. While it's not a re-write, it seems that the translator did change bits and pieces here and there, like expanding certain passsages or for example actually using the name of Lupin instead of his alias Baron Limezy in the text. It's an old translation too.I love the retro design though! Cool art in on the cover as well inside the book, including maps and art for every named character in the novel!

And now's hoping they're going to re-release more of the novels. I still want to read the The Revenge of Cagliostro and all the other Lupin novels not available in English! 

Original Japanese title(s): モーリス・ルブラン 南洋一郎 『青い目の少女』

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Origin of Evil

"The time has come," the Walrus said,"To talk of many things:
Of shoes and ships and sealing-wax
Of cabbages and kings

And why the sea is boiling hot

And whether pigs have wings
"Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There"

One Japanese writer whose work I've been enjoying all along is Norizuki Rintarou. The first work by him I read, was "An Urban Legend Puzzle", which was translated in Passport to Crime, an international crime story anthology. It was an excellent story on its own merits, but what really attracted my attention was the fact that it was a Queenian work. Here we have a writer called Ellery Queen Norizuki Rintarou, who writes about a fictional writer called Ellery Queen Norizuki Rintarou, who helps his father, police inspector Queen Norizuki with cases. And of course, all cases are solved through sheer logic.

Afterwards, I explored the short story bundles Norizuki Rintarou no Bouken ("The Adventures of Norizuki Rintarou") and Norizuki Rintarou no Shin Bouken ("The New Adventures of Norizuki Rintarou"), which besides Queen-ish titles, contain very Queen-ish stories and highly recommended to everyone interested in classical detectives. And Japanese detectives. And any mix of those two.

And this week, I finally read the novel that started it all. Norizuki Rintarou debuted with Mippei Kyoushitsu ("Airtight Classroom"), but his second work (and first as a professional writer) introduced us to the Rintarou and father duo. Yuki Misshitsu ("Locked Room in the Snow") has a straight-in-your-face title, which is quite nostalgic. Murder on the Orient Express. Death on the Nile. Mrs. McGinty's Dead. Yes, the story does involve a locked room. In the snow. No surprises there (note the snow on the cover).

The book revolves around inspector Norizuki, who heads out to a mansion (in the snow!) being invited by a woman called Shinozuka. Who gets killed. In a locked room cottage. And of course everyone had a motive for wanting her dead. The inspector begins his investigation, gets stuck and tries to get help from his writer and amateur detective son, who of course has a deadline for an upcoming book. Very classic stuff indeed, in fact, Yuki Misshitsu is amongst the first wave of novels that brought forth the "New Orthodox" detective wave in Japan.

With its focus on the inspector's work, the motives behind Shinozuka's murder, a challenge to the reader and some other scenes, this work in more than one way reminds me of Queen's own debut work, The Roman Hat Mystery. Both works also have their faults, but the writers of both series certainly improved with following works. The locked room is not very original, but the 'padding' story is quite well done (especially the epilogue which functions as a prologue, makes for a nice piece of misdirection).

Another Queen-ish work was Arisugawa Alice's 46 Banme no Misshitsu ("The 46th Locked Room"), which also happened to be a starting point. In this novel, Arisugawa Alice introduced us to the character of Arisugawa Alice (yes, I'm seeing a pattern here), a detective writer. And he has a friend, the criminologist Himura. They fight crime. And with they, I mean Himura. Arisugawa is just a device to spew out as many detective references as possible.

The titular 46th locked room referes to the final locked room mystery the "Japanese Carr", Makabe has decided to write. Wanting to go beyond the boundaries of the detective novel (and having written several mediocre locked room novels in succession), Makabe decides that he'll quit being the Japanese Carr after the publication this book. Which is a surprise to the detective writers (including Alice) and editors invited to his holiday villa for the Christmas holiday. What also surprises them is a series of strange "presents" they find in their rooms. But what surprises the most, is that Makabe gets killed. In a locked room. Oh, and another unknown person too. In another room. But in the same way, that is, burned in the fireplace in a locked room.

So two locked rooms. In a house full of detective writers and detective story editors. Yes, it's an enjoyable book.

The locked room was not Queen's specialty (The Chinese Orange Mystery is just... incomprehensible...), so in that aspect, the novels mentioned are more Queen-ish in format than in actual content, but the beginning of the book feels Queen-like and even if the author hadn't told us, you'd know it's very The Finishing Stroke-ish. And The Mad Tea-Party-ish. No, not the Alice in Wonderland one. Though the short story of course did reference it heavily. And of course, Arisugawa Alice's logo is a Cheshire Cat with the words Alice in Mystery Land.

Oh, and Alice is male. 

Original Japanese title(s): 法月綸太郎 『雪密室』/有栖川有栖 『46番目の密室』

(And somewhere in between I also read Sherlock in Shanghai, a short story collection of the Huo Sang detective stories by Cheng Xiaoping. Ignoring the fact that Sherlock in Shanghai is a horrible title, it contained amusing stories, but none I really get excited about. Star of the collection is not Huo Sang however, but the Lupin-esque South-China Swallow. )

Thursday, March 11, 2010



"'I don't believe in the existence of Arsene Lupin in the first place. Does Lupin really exist?" (...) Maigret laughed silently. It seemed like the manager hadn't noticed the contradiction in his own words, but it was strange. If Arsene Lupin didn't exist, then neither would Maigret or Ellery. That's why it's a contraction to ask to Maigret and the others whether Lupin really exists"

 "Too Many Great Detectives"

I finally picked up the volumes I was missing in Nishimura Kyoutarou's Meitantei (Great Detectives) series, which stars four famous detectives, Ellery Queen's Ellery Queen, Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot, Simenon's Maigret and Edogawa Rampo's Akechi Kogorou. I thoroughly enjoyed the first in the series, something I've never done with Nishimura's train mysteries, so I was very happy seeing these books in the Book Off. Especially for a 105 yen price.

And reading the back covers, I instantly decided I should read Meitantei ga Oosugiru ("Too many Great Detectives") at once. Because this book did not only contain a crossover between the aforementioned four great detectives, the story would pit them against the legendary French gentleman thief Arsene Lupin. Which made this awesome crossover series into something that words can not describe. I actually opened the book with an enormous grin on my face. And some pages in, I decided this world must be from another world, as even Akechi Kogorou's nemesis Kaijin Nijuu Mensou ("The monster with twenty faces") makes an appearance. How many awesome-ness can one single story from this world possible contain?

The story is set upon a cruise ship (points added!) where Akechi has invited the other detectives for the holiday. It's not long before Ellery Queen gets pickpocketed by Arsene Lupin, a warming up before Lupin makes his formal challenge to the four detectives, as he proclaims he'll steal juwelry from under their noses. The goods are indeed stolen, but the detectives do not only find the disappearence of the juwelry, they also find a dead body inside a locked room. Has Lupin, the gentleman detective, finally commited a murder, or is someone else pretending to be Lupin?

While this story is not as satisfying as the first book, not even containing a challenge to the reader, the book is still really fun to read due to crossover-awesomeness. References to whether the person claiming to be Lupin in Edogawa Rampo's Ougon Kamen ("Golden Mask") was really Lupin? Nice nod to the grandfather of Japanese detective fiction! Queen getting pickpocketed by Lupin? Hilarious! Someone calling Queen out for being an expert on persons playing multiple roles (or in Queen's case, multiple people playing one role)? I couldn't help but smile. Poirot not liking the American Ellery Queen? I could see it happen. The four detectives not wanting to solve the mystery in the hallway, but prefering to first move to a parlor or a lounge? Classic! The somewhat vengeful Lupin in the novel feels a bit out-of-character at times, but the post-813 Lupin is indeed a bit darker. And the ending is almost heart-warming. Almost.

I really wonder whether there is any other detective novel in existence with such a grand scale, pitting 4 great detectives against 2 phantom thieves! 

Original Japanese title(s): 西村京太郎 『名探偵が多すぎる』