Sunday, January 16, 2011



"I feel the fundamental fun in detective novels is the paradox. The fun in the impossible is the paradox (a magic trick of the thought)" 
"The Peculiar Criminal Motives Discussed in Detective Novels"

Second post in the Edogawa Rampo month! And yes, I am a bit late, but that was planned. Sort of. I have decided this is the last time I'm going to plan something for my blog.

So, the plan was to discuss the more orthodox side of Edogawa Rampo this month, right? The fact that he himself has written very few orthodox detectives might seem a problem, but it actually isn't. Because even if Edogawa didn't write many orthodox detectives himself, he sure has written a lot about them. He has especially published many essays on them in the post-war years.

And Edogawa's most important essay collections are surely Geneijou ("The Illusion Castle") and its sequel Zoku Geneijou ("The Sequel: The Illusion Castle"). The first one comprises of essays published between 1946 until 1951, while the sequel was published in 1954. And they're both treasure chests full of information.

And today, I will discuss just a little part of it. Because reading too much of this stuff in just a couple of days is just too much for my head. There is just too much interesting information. The last two days, I've been having fun with a certain part of Zoku Geneijou, namely a series of essays on tricks used in detective novels.

Apparently, Edogawa Rampo took notes whenever he was reading anything crime related. Notes on what kind of tricks the murderer (or detective!) used in the story. Notes on motives. Notes on real crimes. And inspired by The Locked Room Lecture in Carr's The Hollow Man, he wished to write a book on all tricks used in detective novels.

Of course wishing isn't going to bring you far, and because he states his notes were incomplete (he didn't have much on Japanese detective fiction, for example) and he didn't want to re-read everything again, he never got to writing that book. But he did the next best thing: he wrote a series of essays based on his (incomplete) notes and these essays are the most interesting part of Zoku Geneijou.

The first essay to actually discuss tricks in detail in the collection is The Peculiar Criminal Motives Discussed in Detective Novel. Which is indeed on what it says in the title. Edogawa identifies four major categories: emotional crimes, crimes for profit, crimes commited because of some abnormal psychology and crimes for ones beliefs. Within every category, he has many subcategories (for example: inferiority complex under emotional crimes), many of them accompanied by some example. Most of these examples are from British or American novels.

And the work Edogawa has done is fantastic! While the essay is a bit on the long side, it's a very interesting one and it strengthens his argument that motives are indeed a sort of trick an author might use for a detective novel. I for one am not a reader who pays much attention to motives, but this essay surely has made me rethink my position on that. I am not sure though whether crimes for ones beliefs are to be considered a different category from the crimes commited because of an abnormal psychology.

But the best essay is certainly A Categorization of Tricks. Which is also what it says. It's too long to translate (though I'd love to do it sometime!), but the contents are as follows:

I Tricks concerning the criminal (or the victim) as persons

A. One person, two roles
1 The criminal disguises themselves as the victim
2 An accomplice disguises themselves as the victim
3 The criminal disguises themselves as one of the victims
4 The criminal and victim are the same person
5 The criminal disguises themselves as a third party to attract suspicion
6 The criminal disguises themselves as a non-existing person
7 Substitution (two persons, one role; two persons, four roles)

B Unexpected criminal (besides the One person, two roles trick)
1 The detective is the criminal
2 A judge, policeman or prison warden is the criminal
3 The one who discovered the crime is the criminal
4 The narrator is the criminal
5 A child, or an elderly is the criminal
6 A handicapped person, or an ill man is the criminal
7 A corpse is the criminal
8 A puppet is the criminal
9 An unexpected number of persons is the criminal

C The criminal erasing himself
1 Faking being burned to death
2 Other fake deaths
3 Transfiguration
4 Disappearance

D Strange victims

II Tricks concerning evidence of the criminal having entered and left the crime scene
A Locked room tricks
1 The criminal was not inside the room at the time of the crime
a A mechanism placed inside the room
b A murder commited from outside through the window or some other opening
c Setting things up so the victim inside the room dies
d Suicide made to look like a locked room murder
e Murder made to look like a suicide
f  A non-human criminal inside the locked room

2 The criminal was inside the room at the time of the crime
a A door-mechanism
b Making it seem like the crime was commited later than actually was
c Making it seem like the crime was commited earlier than actually was (a fast murder commited inside the room)
d The simple method of hiding himself behind the door
e A locked room in a train

3 The victim was not in the room at the time of the murder

4 Escape from a locked room

B Tricks concerning foot tracks

C Tricks concerning fingerprints

III Tricks concerning the time of the crime

A Time tricks using vehicles

B Time tricks using clocks

C Time tricks using noise

D Time tricks concerning the seasons or other natural phenomena

IV Tricks concerning murder weapons and poisons

A Tricks concerning murder weapons
1 Unexpected sharp instruments
2 Unexpected bullets
3 Electrocution
4 Beating to death
5 Death by pressure
6 Strangulation
7 Falling to death
8 Drowning to death
9 Murder using animals
10 Other remarkable tricks concerning weapons

B Tricks concerning poison
1 Oral poisoning
2 Poisoning by injection
3 Poisoning by inhalation

V Tricks concerning hiding persons or objects

A Hiding a corpse
1 Hiding for a period
2 Hiding forever
3 Deception by moving corpses
4 A corpse without a face

B Hiding a living person

C Hiding objects
1 Jewels
2 Coins, gold bars, bills
3 Documents
4 Other objects

D Substituting corpses or objects

VI. Other tricks
1 Tricks concerning guns
2 Optical illusions
3 Illusions concerning distance
4 Misunderstanding of the chaser and the one being chased
5 Murders commited very quickly
6 A murder commited in a mass of people
7 "The Red-Headed League" trick
8 "The Two Rooms" trick
9 Probability crime
10 Crimes commited by making use of one's profession
11 Tricks concerning legitimate self-defense
12 Tricks concerning double jeopardy
13 Tricks with the criminal witnesseing the crime from far away
14 Nursery rhyme murders
15 Murder following a script
16 A letter from a deceased person
17 A maze
18 Hypnosis
19 Sleepwalking
20 Amnesia
21 Remarkable stolen objects
22 Murder exchange

VII Categories of secret codes
A Tally code

B Orthography

C Allegoric codes

D Displacement
1 Normal displacement
2 Mixed displacement
3 Insertion
4 Windowing

E Substitution
1 Simple substitution
2 Complex substitution
a Codes using a square
b Codes using a ruler
c Codes using a circle
d Codes using a calculator

F Mediation

VIII  Peculiar Motives

A Emotional crimes
1 Romance
2 Revenge
3 Superiority complex
4 Inferiority complex
5 Flight
6 Other crimes

B Crimes for profit
1 Inheritance
2 Tax evasion
4 Protecting one's life
5 Protecting a secret

C Abnormal psychology
1 Homicidal mania
2 Murder as art
3 Electra complex

D Crimes for ones beliefs
1 Religious crimes
2 Crimes for ideology
3 Crimes for politics
4 Superstition

IX Tricky hints for detecting crime
A Physical clues
B Psychological clues

Yes, it's quite comprehensive. Most categories are of course accompanied by short examples and explanations. It was using this scheme, that Edogawa wanted to write a complete book. While every category is discussed briefly in this essay, the original plan was to discuss every category in detail. I don't have to mention the Motives essay anymore, but the essays that follow this essay, Ice as a Murder Weapon, Bodies without Faces and Hiding Tricks are clearly expansions on what is discussed in the Trick essay. While I understand Edogawa not wanting to read everything again, it's still a shame he never 'finished' this work. Just imagine what a wealth of information this would have been! It's like a TV Tropes solely on detective novels!

Of course, it's a bit spoilerific on tricks (though he usually avoids actually naming the titles), but for someone who enjoys the puzzle-element of detectives, this is a must-read. For the English reader, a follow-up essay to this one ("An Eccentric Idea") is available in The Edogawa Rampo Reader.

I'd love to know whether there is a more recent index of tricks like this available somewhere! I myself don't feel much for re-reading everything I've read until now, mining for motives and tricks, but there has to be someone who is making such a database right?!

And the next posts will be translations and I hope to finish one for next weekend, but not sure if I'm going to make it.

Original Japanese title(s): 江戸川乱歩 『幻影城・続 』「探偵小説に描かれた異様な犯罪動機」/「類別トリック集成」

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