Sunday, May 1, 2011



"Mr. Kindaichi , if it's cyanide, does that mean that you finally..."
"The Devil's Christmas"

I think this is the most trouble I've had with reading and collecting my thoughts on a book. In fact, if I'm to believe my notes, I started this particular book almost two years ago and I just finished it last month. And it still took me a month to gather up the energy to write about it. Even now, I'm not sure how to write this down.

And how surprising that is! In theory, Kindaichi Kousuke no Shinbouken ("The New Adventures of Kindaichi Kousuke") should be great, as it has everything I love. It's a 1) short story collection featuring 2) Kindaichi Kousuke. With Yokomizo Seishi writing masterpieces like Inugamike no Ichizoku ("The Inugami Family") and Honjin Satsujin Jiken ("The Daimyou's Inn Murder Case"), I was allowed to have some expectations for this book, right? I should be enthousiastic about Kindaichi Kousuke no Shinbouken, like I'm about the other Yokomizo Seishi works reviewed here, right?

Well, no. With the books I had read until now, Yokomizo always came up with a great setting for the story, backed up by good~great structuring and detective plots. With these short stories, Yokomizo has great premises, but he never manages to work it out to a satisfying detective plot. At least not at the same level as his novel-length books. It might be fair to say that this particular set of stories is special within Yokomizo's corpus, as the stories in Kindaichi Kousuke no Shinbouken, together with the stories in Kindaichi Kousuke no Kikan ("The Return of Kindaichi Kousuke"), have all been rewritten in later years. Like how Christie worked out The Second Gong into Dead Man's Mirror, Yokomizo has rewritten all the stories in these two collections, often using the same titles (i.e. there are two versions of Akuma no Koutansai etc.). So maybe he did make the stories better. But the stories as they appear in this book, are very disappointing.

Akuma no Koutansai ("The Devil's Christmas") starts with a rather agitated woman contacting private eye Kindaichi Kousuke for a consult. She is very eager to meet him as soon as possible, as she feels that someone might die soon, but as Kindaichi is tied up with business until the evening, he arranges for her to wait in his office until he returns. When he returns that evening as arranged, Kindaichi is in for a surprise though: his client lies dead in his bathroom, poisoned. Who would be so audacious as to kill someone in the office of great detective Kindaichi Kousuke?

This story shows exactly the pattern that pretty every story in this collection had: great premise (a murder in Kindaichi's office?!), poor execution. The decisive clue is very poor, the plot is boring and the remake didn't help much, as far as I know. The remake has been made into a drama CD, starring (my favorite) voice actor Kamiya Akira. Which is a rather particular choice. But anyway, you'd wonder why this story of all the Kindaichi stories.

So, to continue with the pattern. Shinigami no Ya ("Death's Arrow")'s premise: a professor has promised to allow the suitor who is able to hit a floating target in the sea with an arrow to marry his daughter, somewhat reminiscent of Nasu no Youichi of the Heike Monogatari, or the bow-shooting of Penelope. Kindaichi Kousuke is asked to witness the event. Two of the three suitors miss, but the final suitor wins the hand of the fair lady. However, soon after these events of the losing suitors is killed. But who'd have a motive to kill the losing suitor, rather than the winning suitor? The execution: a story that starts great with the historical references, but actually turns boring as soon as the murders happen. Wut? That's never a good sign.

Kiri no Bessou ("The House in the Mist") doesn't even have a good premise. If I say that Kindaichi is asked to visit a house in a thick mist, finds a corpse there, but when he goes off to the police and gets back, the dead body is gone, well, I think most people can imagine how the story progresses and ends. Because it most probably is going to be exactly like that.

Hyakkushinfu ("Collection of One Hundred Lips")'s premise: a woman is found dead, stuffed in the trunk of a car. Police investigation reveals that she was one of the victims of the Collection of One Hundred Lips scandal, when earlier that year a popular singer was murdered and it was discovered he had made a notebook, complete with nude pictures, of all the lovers he had.  Had she murdered of the singer because of the book and was she killed in revenge? Execution: seriously, the hint/solution doesn't even make sense. At all.

Aotokage ("The Blue Lizard") is a story that is actually sorta good, both in premise and execution. The only one. A serial murderer is running around city, who ties his female victims, kills them and draws a lizard on their body. It seems that his victims all go the hotels with their murderer on a voluntary basis and the man always manages to disappear from the hotel, so the help of Kindaichi Kousuke is needed to solve the case. The execution: a decently clued story, maybe a bit hard to believe at one particular point, but could well be extended/rewritten into a fairly good story.

In Majo no Koyomi ("The Witch Calendar"), Kindaichi Kousuke is invited to look at a play of the legend of Perseus in a letter that pretty much says somebody will die. And someone does. One of the Graeae dies on the third day during the performance. With intimate relations going between pretty much everyone in the troupe, the motive seems the biggest problem for Kindaichi, but once again the execution, especially the hasty ending, seems to break up an interesting looking story. 

Haato no Queen ("The Queen of Hearts") starts with the visit of wife of a tattoo artist to Kindaichi, who thinks her husband didn't die of just an accident, but was willfully murdered. A bit before his death, her husband was asked to give an unconcious girl the exact tattoo on the exact same place as a picture. He had to do in all secrecy and he didn't even know where the house was where he made the tattoo. As he was run over with a car a bit later, his wife suspects that something sinister is going on. When later a woman is found murdered with exactly that tattoo, it doesn't take Kindaichi long to suspect a substitution of identity, but the question of who this body exactly remains. For a story where you can predict most of the plot-twists, it is actually pretty OK, with a decent ending. Once again, I can see possibilities for this story to develop with some rewriting.

I really hope that Yokomizo's short stories aren't all like this. While my expectations of Kindaichi Kousuke no Kikan ("The Return of Kindaichi Kousuke") aren't high now, I hope that the other short stories/novelletes of Yokomizo reach the level of his masterpieces. 

Original Japanese title(s): 横溝正史 『金田一耕助の新冒険』、「悪魔の降誕祭」/「死神の矢」/「霧の別荘」/「百唇譜」/「青蜥蜴」/「魔女の暦」/「ハートのクィーン」


  1. While I've only watched 3 movie adaptions of Yokomizo's works (and plan on watching 3 others soon) it's sad to read this. But then again... the only short story collection I've actually finished and really liked so far is the one by Maya Yutaka I reviewed recently. In the other cases I either didn't finish the book or eventually thought of most of the stories to be too short/simple to have the impact that was most likely intended; e.g. not enough suspects to make the whodunnit challenging, improbable sloppy tricks, nothing actually witty and unexpected happening in the end etc.

    And yes, I also read detective fiction for the setting and plot, so short stories are always difficult to get into for me.
    But I definitely admit there are tricks and plots that only work in shorter form and then they are awesome indeed. Just think of Carr's "The House in Goblin Wood" wich managed to be jusr as peculiar and unique as it was an excellent gem of the genre while being only 18 pages long. On the other hand there are longer books with rather splendid tricks and constructions that are hard for me to get into because of the way they are told, e.g. "The Judas Window" ...

    Seeing how famous Ayukawa Tetsuya's short stories are I'll most likely check those out after finishing his リラ荘事件, which was the groundwork for any closed circle/mansion mystery filled with students getting murdered during and after the 新本格 movement.

  2. @mousoukyoku

    Ronald Knox's "Solved by Inspection" is one of the all-time classic short stories in the genre, which has one of those brilliantly simple plots that was made for the short story form and the tale itself has a distinct Chestertonian flavor.

    If you think that highly of Carr's "The House in Goblin Wood" you should definitely check out "Solved by Inspection."