Tuesday, August 9, 2011


- Well, what would you order?
- A very simple crime. A crime with no complications... very unimpassioned, very intime.
- I can't see any excitement in that.
- No, because there are no curiously twisted daggers, no blackmail, no emerald that is the stolen eye of the god... you have a melodramatic soul, Hastings.
"The ABC Murders"

My previous encounters with Yokomizo Seishi's Kindaichi Kousuke short stories have not been very succesful. Kindaichi Kousuke no Shinbouken was very disappointing and while the stories in Nanatsu no Kamen weren't that bad, they were clearly not in the same league as Yokomizo's longer stories. One of Yokimizo's stronger points is that he's able to come up with a complex, multi-layered story, that is supported by a wide-variety of tricks. Even if not all tricks are original, the way Yokomizo strings them together with the other tricks and the plot is certainly impressive. The problem with his short stories is that while Yokomizo comes up with great premises, they always seem a bit disappointing because they miss the sense of scale found in the novels. The problem I have with Yokomizo's short stories is that I have too many short collections lying around; as I was expecting better stories when I purchased them.

So I started rather relunctantly in Kubi ("Head"). With only four stories, this is the shortest collection I have of Yokomizo, but to be honest: I liked this collection! Something I really hadn't thought possible. I really do hope it's because these stories are actually fun and not only because the previous stories were bad.  Anyway, the stories previously discussed were rather weak on the puzzle-structure side, but the four stories of this collection were done pretty well. The four stories are pretty similiar in set-up, sharing one important characteristic: in the stories, something is done to the victim's body. Always. Decapitation is the most normal act done to a dead body in the stories here. It gives these stories a distinct, disturbing vibe and yes, that's precisely when Yokomizo starts to shine.

Ikeru Shikamen ("The Living Death Mask") starts with a reference to the story of Aozukin ("Blue Hood") from the Ugetsu Monogatari. Fast-forward to the post-war period, where a similar incident happens: a patrolman happens to discover that an artist, who is known for his homo-sexual tendencies, was sleeping with the practically decayed dead body of a young man. As the artist had made a death mask, the police is able to identify the body, but with more body parts popping all over town and doubts about the body's identity, Kindaichi Kousuke is asked to solve the case. Which he does, of course. With a disturbing atmosphere and a properly clued story, Yokomizo finally delivers a story I feel satisfied with.

And he (mostly) continues this good trend with Hanazono no Akuma ("Demon of the Flower Garden"). The naked dead body of a young woman is found in a flower garden of a tourist resort. She is quickly identified as a nude model who had her picture taken in that same flower garden some time ago. To the police's surprise, it seems like the criminal raped the victim after the murder. The murderer luckily enough left enough clues for the police to quickly identify him and soon enough, the murderer's picture is in all the newspapers. However, nobody seems to have any clue to his whereabouts. It's Kindaichi Kousuke who reveals the horrible truth behind this strange murder. While the trick used by the murderer was OK, it's too bad that one part of the solution doesn't seem properly clued, making that deduction (which was important) seem rather forced. A good story nonetheless though.

I'm not sure whether this story was very advanced for its time or not, but Roubijin ("The Wax Beauty") is about forensic facial reconstruction. Which was kinda surprising. A professor claims he is able to reconstruct the face of the skull of an unidentified woman who committed suicide. To everyone's surprise, the reconstructed face is awfully like that of a murdereress who was thought to have fled overseas. Add in a second murder (of the professor who made the reconstruction), a man who says he has slept with the dead body (when she was not as decayed) and we have a very busy Kindaichi Kousuke who is investigating both the murder commited by the ower of the reconstructed face as well as the current murder. The story is not as well-polished as the previous two stories, with some hard to swallow coincidences and such, but amusing due to the subject matter.

Kubi ("Head") is like a Yokomizo novel, condensed into 60 pages. We have a) a story of a decapitated head placed on a cliff of a waterfall 300 years ago, b) the same crime repeated half a year ago and c) once again while Kindaichi Kousuke and police inspector Isokawa are in the neighbourhood. The latest victim is a film director and the circumstances of his death are precisely the same as of the incident half a year ago: three men sleep near the top of the waterfall, the next morning two of the men discover that the third man has disappeared and they finally discover his head on the cliff sticking out of the waterfall, with his body in the water at the end of the waterfall. The plot could have easily been used for a longer story and I do think that it might have been better, as some parts of the story seem rather short and under-used, but this is nonetheless a fairly good story. Two minor points: that one hint Kindaichi has that makes no sense at all. At least, why would the murderer leave that hint? And two: the trick itself wasn't too special anyway, but I got it literally the instant I read one sentence near the beginning of the story which was practically screaming "I'm a hint! I'm a hint!". Could have been hidden a bit better.

While I liked this collection, I'm afraid I can't be that positive about the remaining short collections I have. One is a collection of stories that have been rewritten at a later stage, while the other consists of stories that have been rewritten, but I didn't like them very much the first time, so I don't expect too much from them.

(Oh, and just to push myself; I will finally finish and write a review of Roger Scarlett's Murder among the Angells this week)

Original Japanese title(s): 横溝正史 『首』/ 「生ける死面」 / 「花園の悪魔」 / 「蝋美人」 / 「首」


  1. When was "The Wax Beauty" originally published? The earliest example of forensic facial reconstruction I know of stems from 1935, Anthony Abbot's About the Murder of a Startled Lady, but I'm sure Freeman must have tackled this problem much earlier than that. And if I remember correctly, there was a real-life account in Veertig jaren speurderswerk by C.J. van Ledden-Hulsebosch (who was an actual living, breathing Golden Age Detective!).

    Finally, we'll know more about Roger Scarlett! :)

  2. I'm not sure when the story was published, but it's certainly post-war. Not sure when the technique become known throughout Japan though.