Thursday, June 2, 2011



"'Wait a second. Why didn't you speak up until now? It seems like you already knew everything since yesterday,' the detective said. 
'Unlike the others, I have a lot of free time, so I was thinking of coming up with some kind of interesting ending for this special occasion.'"
"The Running Corpse"

Ah, the lonely books that reside in my library. Many of them still waiting for the day they are read. Some have been waiting for months, some even for years. Waiting for that one day. Which reminds me, it's been a while since I last read a detective with books/bookstores as a theme.

I'm pretty sure I bought Shimada Souji's Mitarai Kiyoshi no Aisatsu ("Mitarai Kiyoshi's Greetings") about two years ago. I finished it just now. Some parts do seem sorta familiar, so I think I have tried reading it several times before. Anyway, Mitarai Kiyoshi no Aisatsu is the third entry in Shimada Souji's Mitarai Kiyoshi series, released after the excellent Naname Yashiki no Hanzai ("The Crime at the Slanted Mansion"). This is the first short story collection featuring Mitarai Kiyoshi, and also the first time he makes an acts as a real private detective, as he officially gives up his work as a fortune teller in the first story to work as a professional private detective, accompanied by his Watson, Ishioka.

Suujijou ("Number Lock") is set in the last days of 1979, just when Mitarai and Ishioka are preparing to move to Yokohama. Mitarai is asked to assist the police in solving something that seems like a locked room murder:  a signboard maker has been stabbed to death in his workshop, with only two entrances: the backdoor, locked by a combination lock and the shutters on the front of the shop. It seems rather unlikely that the murderer could have opened the (noisy) shutters without the people in the apartment above the shop noticing, but the combination lock doesn't seem forced and nobody but the deceased knew the combination, not even his four employees (who have an alibi for the time of the murder anyway). Mitarai comes up with a rather surprising solution: I didn't like the locked room at all, as it was literally the first solution I came up with, yet the other trick found in the novel was OK, even though it relies a bit on...well, expert knowledge is too strong a word, but surely something that shouldn't be called common knowledge for someone not living in Tokyo. I do like the story though, even that's more because of the story is plotted and how Mitarai acts within the story.

Shissou suru Shisha ("The Running Corpse") is a more like the Shimada I know: a grand trick! How did a man seen stealing a necklace and running out of an apartment on the top floor of the building get on the railway bridge in time just to get run over by the train? Not even a world record holder could have covered that distance in just 10 minutes. Especially not during a storm. Even more more puzzling is that the man was apparently strangled to death before he was run over by the train. Did a corpse just run over to the railway bridge? Shimada presents us with one of his trademark grand, almost grotesque impossible situations that, while not as impressive as his novel-length stories, is quite fun. Also for the Mitarai-on-guitars-scene. 

Shidenkai Kenkyuu Hozonkai ("Shidenkai Research Preservation Assocation") is a lot like Holmes' The Red Headed League or The Stockbroker's Clerk, where a seemingly curious, yet harmless incident is connected to something more sinister. A man called Sekine recalls an incident of seven years ago, when someone looking like the colonel from Kentucky Fried Chicken (and apparantly the head of the Shidenkai Research Preservation Association), paid him a visit at the office. This KFC-man seems to know a dark secret connected with Sekine's family and pretty much blackmails Sekine, but only for one day: if Sekine comes over the Shidenkai Research Preservation Assocation to help them address the pamphlets they need to send out that day , mr. KFC will help him hush the whole thing up. Rather surprised, Sekine agrees to help him with the pamphlets and after a couple of hours of work, his work is done. The two part their ways and Sekine never heard anything about it again. Mitarai who hears Sekine telling this story, of course comes up with a plausible explanation for this strange incident.

Girisha no Inu ("The Greek Dog") starts with the theft of a takoyaki stand and continues with the discovery of a strange note with Greek on it and the kidnapping of a little child and ends in a boat-trip on the Sumidagawa. A rather long story that I don't find too interesting, as the solution to the note is pretty much unsolvable for any normal reader (especially for someone not living in Tokyo!), but the way the kidnappers planned to get the ransom was a rather smart one, again one of those grand tricks that border the bizarre. It's at these times that you realize you're reading a Shimada story, but the story is on the whole not particularly interesting, I think.

All in all a pretty good short story collection, with Shissou suru Shisha as the story the most like the previous two Mitarai Kiyoshi novels with a grand trick. I prefer short stories, but maybe full-length novels are more suited to Shimada's style of plotting.

Original Japanese title(s): 島田荘司 『御手洗潔の挨拶』/「数字錠」/「疾走する死者」/「紫電改研究保存会」/「ギリシャの犬」


  1. "The Running Man" sounds like an absolute gem, but haven't you given away too much by saying that even a world record holder couldn't have covered that distance? It immediately suggests that the body was transported to the bridge on, oh, let's say on top of a train?

  2. Read it yourself, I would say (:P), but I certainly haven't said anything that wasn't said in the story itself at an early stage. :)

  3. That wasn't just mean... it bordered on cruelty! Now you have to translate a superspecialawesome impossible crime story to make up for it!