Sunday, November 28, 2010


The devil was born here

Say "Japanese detectives", and the image of Kindaichi Kousuke pops up in my head. Yokomizo Seishi's post-war creation has been called the first genuine Golden Age Japanese detective, who made his debut in Honjin Satsujin Jiken ("The Grand Mansion Murder Case") in 1946. The locked room murder mystery (much better than Edogawa Rampo's D Zaka no Satsujin ("Murder on D Street")) was praised a lot, which led to many more adventures of Kindaichi. Yokomizo Seishi ultimately earned the nickname of the Japanese Carr, which I personally think is more because of Yokomizo's flair of creating atmosphere, rather than Yokomizo's locked rooms (though he has written his share of locked room mysteries).

Few Japanese detectives I read are as "Japanese" as the Kindaichi series. The Kindaichi series is set after the second World War and often refers to the war. For example Inugami-ke no Ichizoku ("The Inugami Clan") is set right after the war, and the plot revolves around the post-war chaos and soldiers returning from the battlefield. Another characteristic of the Kindaichi series is the use of small, rural communities as the backdrop of the stories. In fact, the Kindaichi series has been a major influence on Trick, where most of the stories also take place in weird, rural mountain villages.

Which in turn makes Akuma ga kitarite fue wo fuku ("The devil comes playing the flute") actually a bit of an exception. As most of the story takes place in good old Tokyo and features several distinctively urban plot points. The story starts with the Tengin Poisoning Robbery case (based on the Teigin Case, also appearing in Ellery Queen's Ellery Queen's International Case Book). One of the suspects is the viscount Tsubaki, but after a long investigation by the police Tsubaki himself reveals he has an ironclad alibi. Not long afterwards though, he commits suicide, leaving a message to his daughter Mineko saying the shame is too much for him to bear and warning her for the devil who comes playing the flute. Months after viscount Tsubaki's death, Mineko's mother Akiko and several others claim to have seen the viscount and fearing the once mild-mannered viscount might have come back to live to take revenge, the whole family, including Akiko's uncle former Count Tamamushi and Akiko's brother Shinguu's family gather around for a seance, to find out whether viscount Tsubaki has really come back to life. Kindaichi attends the seance, which ends when a mysterious mark, dubbed the Mark of the Devil appears on the seance table, followed by the omnious melody The Devil Comes Playing The Flute, a flute song the viscount wrote before his demise. This is just the beginning though, as former Count Tamamushi is found murdered in a locked room the next day, the first in a chain of murders.

And yes, this is just the beginning. Stuff happens. Good stuff. Akuma ga kitarite fue wo fuku is an interesting detective, with a plot that keeps turning around, with new developments making it hard to see where the story goes. But not in a too convoluted way (except for maybe the ending). The story is roughly split in three parts, with the first being in Tokyo, the second in Hyougo prefecture where Kindaichi tries to find the motive for the murders and in the final part, Kindaichi returns to Tokyo. The first and last part are classic Golden Age detective investigative parts, but actually the most boring. The book becomes much more interesting when Kindaichi travels to Hyougo and Yokomizo shows of his gift for creating atmosphere. The people talking with their local dialects, the way of living there compared to Tokyo, the way the story unfolds when in Hyougo, it is truly the best part of the book and Yokomizo's strong point. Back in Tokyo, Yokomizo concludes the story in an impressive way, which only suffers a bit due to the lack of appendices. Maps and some sort of music sheet to show the notes the flute song The Devil Comes Playing The Flute should have been included to make the story a bit more fair (yes, this book is actually great material to base a movie/TV series on. Audiovisual aids to strengthen the atmosphere!)

I also liked how Yokomizo made use of World War II's influence on Japan. The abolisment of the kazoku (nobility) is a big plot point, but how scarcity of food and electricity or even the circumstances in post-war Tokyo make their way into the story in a non-obtrusive, useful way was well done. Yokomizo was better at making a real Japanese detective than Edogawa Rampo I think. While Edogawa's D-Zaka no Satsujin or Nisen Douka ("The 2 Sen Coin") are the first Japanese detective stories that were really set in Japan (featuring a locked room in a Japanese style house in the former and a Japanese code in the latter), Yokomizo was much better in recreating the atmosphere of Japan, as well as more talented in writing classical orthodox detectives.

I am glad I bought a lot of the Kindaichi series, as I really love this series. Too bad it takes so long to read them compared to modern books... 

Original Japanese title(s): 横溝正史 『悪魔が来たりて笛を吹く』

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