Tuesday, August 26, 2014

City of Darkness

On every corner
The same old story
Somebody's tellin' a lie
Somebody's laughin'
Somebody's cryin'
Somebody's lonely tonight
"Give Me Your Love Tonight" (Suzuki Kiyomi)

As you have probably noticed, I write mostly, but not exclusively about Japanese detective fiction here. When it's not Japanese, it's usually English or Dutch, but I don't really care where it comes from as long as it's fun and I can read it. Today, a fairly important Korean mystery classic!

Kim Nae-seong (1909-1957) was a Korean writer and is commonly seen as the father of the Korean detective story. His first detective story Daenkei no Kagami ("The Elliptical Mirror") was published in 1935. Note that this was a story published in Japan, written in Japanese: the Great Korean Empire had been annexed by Japan the year after Kim's birth and Kim himself had studied at Japan's Waseda University. Kim wrote more detectives stories in Japanese after his debut and also translated some of them to Korean. After his return to the Korean peninsula in 1936, Kim continued writing detective stories in Korean (grand-scale cultural assimilation would take off with the Pacific War, leading to language censoring practices like described in Lee Jung-Myong's Pyŏ-rŭl Sŭch'i-nŭn Baram / The Investigation).

The fact that "Lady Peacock" Ju Eun-mong's birthday party was going to be the very first masquerade ball in Keijou (Seoul as it was called in Colonial Korea), no, the first in Korea was big news. The fact that Ju Eun-mong and her patron Baek Yeong-ho were going to marry was even bigger news. But the biggest news was that a clown dressed in crimson attacked Eun-mong during the masquerade ball and managed to disappear without a trace. And that wasn't the only strange happening that night, because another guest managed to disappear from a street leading to a dead end while being chased by the police as an important suspect in the case. Who is trying to murder Eun-mong? How did the clown disappear? Who was the other disappearing guest? The events of the masquerade ball are just the beginning of a long mystery, in which we follow great detective Yu Bu-ran as he tries to save the beautiful Ju Eun-mong from the clutches of the crimson clown in Kim Nae-seong's Main ("The Demon", 1939).

Main was first published in serialized form in 1939 from February until October in 170 installments and then released as a hardcover volume in December of the same year in Korea. It was a bestseller at the time and has later also been made into a film. I read the Japanese translation of Main by the way (Majin in Japanese), because I can't read Korean (well, I can read it, but I don't comprehend what I'm reading). As far as I know, Kim Nae-seong's detective stories are not available in English, despite his importance as the father of the genre in Korea.

To start with the conclusion: I enjoyed the novel! A lot, actually. I only discovered just as I was looking things up for this review that series detective Yu Bu-ran's name was a wordplay on Maurice Leblanc (similar to how Edogawa Rampo was based on Edgar Allan Poe), but Leblanc, or more specifically, Arsène Lupin was precisely what I had in mind as I was reading Main. It's a fun mystery adventure, with the thrills and melodrama like you'd expect in a book with the French gentleman detective. Of course, the fact we follow a man dressed as Arsène Lupin during the masquerade ball in the beginning of the story did help with that association, but the way the adventure develops, the use of newspaper articles and jumping between characters to present the story, it's all good old fashioned fun and I loved it (then again, Main does date from 1939...).

Sure, the story is quite easy to solve for the experienced reader (and probably the not very experienced reader too), but I have a weakness for the... honest, pure feelings that go into these kinds of stories. It's the same I have for a lot of the Arsène Lupin and Edogawa Rampo novels: they can be a bit easy and quite silly at times with their almost childish tricks and masquerades and all, but I can almost always see the writers in my mind, with indeed childish laughs on their faces as they were writing their stories. Main is a bit predictable, but it still manages to capture me as a reader through its passion.

Part of the charm lies with the protagonist Yu Bu-ran. Yu Bu-ran is presented as the Classical Great Detective, with a brilliant mind and a knack for disguises. But he isn't one really. I mean, he is a smart guy and all, but he is definitely not the perfect thinking machine, basically everyone in the novel eventually sees through at least one of his disguises and his relations with the fair sex invokes slightly Arsène Lupin. I wonder whether Yu Bu-ran is so human because he originally starred in several mystery stories aimed at children/YA (Rampo's Akechi Kogorou also starred in a whole series of children's mystery stories). Main is, as far as I can tell, the last in the Yu Bu-ran series by the way.

I didn't really notice it while I was reading Main, but this book is culturally really subdued. I guess that this was because of the colonization of Korea by Japan and growing censorship / advancing cultural assimilation, but it could also just have been Kim's style. Anyway, the story is mostly set in the capital Keijou (which Kim likes to dub the 'demon capital'), but Main could have basically happened anywhere, because there is so little in the story that ties it to something more than a vague "Asian" culture. I would definitely have believed it if someone had just changed the names of locations and characters and then told me it was a Japanese story. A bit disturbing if you think about it knowing when this was written.

Anyway, I had great fun with Main. People who like the Arsène Lupin novels or Edogawa Rampo's novels should take a look at this Korean mystery classic. And of course, people interested in the detective genre should keep an eye on the book, as it was a bestseller by the father of the Korean detective story and thus in its way an influential piece of mystery fiction.

Original Korean title(s): 김내성 (金來成) 《마인(魔人)》

Sunday, August 24, 2014

ReturN: File 4

『金田一少年の事件簿: 金田一少年の決死行』

"In the name of my grandfather... and my own honor!!"
"The Young Kindaichi Case Files: Young Kindaichi's Road to the Final Battle"

Doing these Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo NEO reviews of each episode as they are broadcast is luckily not as time consuming as I had initially feared: with these multi-episode stories, I can usually skip a week until the whole story is broadcast!

Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo NEO
Pre-series TV Special 2 (January 4, 2014: The Prison Gate Cram School Murder Case
Episode 1 (July 19, 2014): The Murderer of the Silver Screen 
Episode 2 (July 26, 2014): The Game Mansion Murder Case
Episode 3 & 4 (August 2 & 9, 2014): The Will-o'-the-Wisp Island Murder Case
Episode 5 & 6 (August 16 & 23, 2014): Young Kindaichi's Road to the Final Battle
Episode 7 (September 6, 2014): The Yukikage Village Murder Case
Episode 8 & 9 (September 13 & 20, 2014): The Rosenkreuz Mansion Murder Case

Kindaichi Hajime, grandson of the great detective Kindaichi Kousuke, his childhood friend Miyuki and club leader Makabe make their way to the Grand Dragon Hotel to watch a hypnotist show. Hajime allows himself to be hypnotized, but seems to be a bit drowzy even after the show. The Grand Dragon Hotel is also the center of a police investigation into the abduction of its owner by someone calling himself the Count of Monte Cristo. Hajime initially gets involved as a suspect in the case, but Inspector Kenmochi vouches for the high school student detective and asks Hajime to join the investigation. That night however, Miyuki, Makabe and Kenmochi's subordinate receive a message to go to a certain room: there they see how Hajime stabs a knife in Kenmochi's chest. Hajime claims he doesn't remember a thing, as he is still kinda dazy from his hypnosis session, but with several witnesses and the fact nobody else was present in the room, the police has little choice but to arrest Hajime. He promptly escapes though and discovers he has been set-up by Takatoo Youichi, a man who designs murder schemes for other people, whom he had met earlier in Malaysia. Can Hajime prove his innocence, discover the identity of the Mount of Monte Cristo and get his hand on Takatoo in Young Kindaichi's Road to the Final Battle.

The original comic version of Young Kindaichi's Road to the Final Battle was released in 2000 and served as the finale of the Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo series (the series restarted four years later). As such, it was plotted as a grand scale story with a slightly different feel from the 'normal' series. Sure, Hajime had been on the run as a suspect in older stories too, but those were very early stories and this time, Hajime's big nemesis Takatoo was also involved. I loved the story as a series finale: it had a sense of dread because Hajime was on the run in a foreign country (the original story was set in Hong Kong), Takatoo was actively trying to get Hajime and his allies out of the way and basically every important recurring character, including those who had only made appearances in the novels, chipped in to help Hajime prove his innocence. It truly felt as the final story of the series, which is why I was very curious why this particular story had been selected to be adapted as episodes five and six of Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo NEO and whether it would work.

And I would say it didn't work. The elements that made the original story interesting, were not present and because the story had to be simplified to fit in the runtime of two episodes, the live action adaptation of Young Kindaichi's Road to the Final Battle just feels strange. It's not that I don't understand why things had to be changed from the original story (in fact, it can work out quite fine). For example, I understand quite well they can't shoot another episode on location in Hong Kong. But a lot of the original story's sense of thrill was derived from the fact Hajime was on the run in a foreign country, with (initally) no friends around. Heck, he couldn't even speak the language! So then I think, why choose to adapt this story at this stage of Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo NEO, if you can't possibly utilize all its potential?

The original story also worked because Hajime had been foiling Takatoo's plans for years in the comics: they were rivals, enemies who knew each other. In this live action series? They crossed paths just once. Gone is the tension between the two. Heck, the police officers in the live action series shouldn't even have heard of Takatoo! The original story also worked because Hajime's friends whom he had met during his adventures worked together to help him? In this live action series? It's the friggin' fifth episode, so of course he hasn't made trustworthy allies yet whom suddenly band together for Dramatical Performance, it's just the usual gang.

Of course, there is still an attempted murder mystery and while I do like the main trick behind the Kenmochi stabbing (the victim was Superintendent Akechi in the original, but he doesn't exist (yet?) in the live action series), I still feel a lot of the story depends on seeing Hajime trying to prove his innocence and his friends helping him. We as the viewer naturally know Hajime isn't the murderer and believe he is innocent, but the fact that all his friends within the story also believe in Hajime's innocence, despite what they saw with their own eyes, and help him is quite important for this story to work, also as a mystery. I'd say it's a lot easier to guess the identity of the Count of Monte Cristo because a lot of the good smoke and mirrors of the original story were removed for this adaptation.

In the end, I think I'm not sure why this story was selected for adaptation halway in the series. Its best elements only come to life as a series finale, so at least have Hajime made some important friends in the series, at least have Hajime have confronted Takatoo more than once before doing this story. I think this story would have worked great as NEO's series finale, but now it's just wasted potential. And it's not just the 'yeah-it's-the-finale-everyone-shows-up-again' theme.The mystery-plot loses quite a lot of its impact because of the smaller scale (and it becomes a lot more easier / obvious too), all because it's done at the wrong part of the series.

I've quite appreciated the way they did the adaptations in Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo NEO until now, but this is the first time I really think they did it wrong. Production values were good as ever, but this was not the right story at the right time. Really a shame. And it makes me curious as to what story the team thought was going to be a better series finale than this story. Next week is an adaptation of The Yukikage Village Murder Case. I liked the original comic version for being a bit different from the rest, so looking forward to it!

Original Japanese title(s): 『金田一少年の事件簿N』 サブタイトル「金田一少年の決死行」

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Tender Hearted


"Let's dance. This is also part of the job"
"Detective Story"

My backlog on video material is in general not as bad as my games and books backlog, but there are always exceptions: today's topic had been waiting for... four years now?

Rich heiress Arai Naomi is to move to the United States in a week, and her guardian has hired private detective Tsuchiyama Shuuichi to act as her bodyguard in her last week in Japan. Naomi naturally is not happy with someone watching over her every step, but she slowly starts to get interested in the stoic, yet nice Tsuchiyama. One day, Tsuchiyama's ex-wife Sachiko appears in a panic, saying her lover was murdered in a hotel bathroom, even though nobody else had entered the couple's hotel room. Her lover had some very shady connections, and because it seems like only Sachiko could have commited the murder, both police and gansters try to get their hands on her (for different reasons). After helping Sachiko hide, Tsuchiyama and Naomi try to figure out who managed to murder the lover in a locked hotel room in the 1983 film Tantei Monogatari ("Detective Story").

Tantei Monogatari (1983) stars Yakushimaru Hiroko and Matsuda Yuusaku and should not be confused with the same-titled 1979 TV series Tantei Monogatari ("Detective Story"), also starring Matsuda Yuusaku. This movie was based on a story by Akagawa Jirou which was apparently written with Yakushimaru Hiroko as the lead in mind, who was a popular idol-singer-actress at the time (she would also play the lead in a film of Natsuki Shizuko's W no Higeki the next year). Tantei Monogatari was quite succesful; its earnings ranked second in 1983.

As it's an idol movie, Tantei Monogatari's focus lies not in its mystery plot, but in the love story between the stoic Tsuchiyama and the unexperienced, but lively Naomi. There's the attracted odd couple angle to this movie, of course, which is accentuated by the difference in length between the two lead actors. It's pretty fun to see the banter and the way the two act around each other, and while it's nothing less than a cheesy love story, I guess I shouldn't expect much more of an idol-centred movie.

The locked room murder is basically an extra. It's almost confusing why a fairly simple love story is saddled with an impossible murder story of all things: you'd think a 'simple' murder plot would have suited the atmosphere better than a locked room murder. The solution to the murder is extremely simple, but I did like how the direct hints leading to the murderer were placed in the story. And as I am writing this, I realize there's actually an inversed impossible disappearance mystery there too, as Tsuchiyama, Naomi and Sachiko have to get out of an observed apartment complex unseen at one point in the story, but again, the solution is among the most basic you could imagine. The impossible sitations in this movie all just play second fiddle to the love story's main.

Nothing to like here? Well, Matsuda Yuusaku is definitely a great actor. Yep. And I love the eighties vibe of the movie. And the theme song, Tantei Monogatari sung by Yakushimaru Hiroko is actually quite nice. But yeah, I'd never go the trouble of actually recommending anyone to watch. Tantei Monogatari. Of course, unless you're a big Matsuda Yuusaku and / or Yakushimaru Hiroko fan.

I am actually not sure why I bothered to write a review about this movie... Ah well. It is, in a way, a fairly famous Japanese detective movie.

Original Japanese title(s): 『探偵物語』

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Diagnosis of Murder

"Good old Watson! You are the one fixed point in a changing age"
His Last Bow

A full review of a Sam Hawthorne volume, and not a Short Short?! Like I mentioned in my review of the third volume, this means it's finally time for the final problems of Dr. Sam Hawthorne.

Dr. Sam Hawthorne series
Diagnosis: Impossible - The Problems of Dr. Sam Hawhtorne
Diagnosis: Impossible 3 - Further Problems of Dr. Sam Hawthorne
Diagnosis: Impossible 4 - More and More Problems of Dr. Sam Hawthorne
Diagnosis: Impossible 5 - Further and Further Problems of Dr. Sam Hawthorne
Diagnosis: Impossible 6 - The Last Problems of Dr. Sam Hawthorne

Dr Sam Hawthorne first arrived in the small New England town of Northmont in 1922 and many things have happened since then. He has become best of friends with the sheriff, has seen nurses come and go, has moved his private clinic to a corner of the local hospital and of course parted with his original sportscar. And not to forget, Sam has solved countless of impossible crimes that happened in and around Northmont, a town even deadlier than Cabot Cove and more mystery-filled than Crystal Cove. But now, in the midst of World War II, Sam is facing his greatest challenge yet. For he is finally getting married. But will marriage change his crime-solving career? Of course not! From gigantic birds that sweep up persons to a man-eating orchard and a suicide inside Sam's locked cottage and caring for his wife and baby, Sam has never been busier than now.The final volume of the Japanese complete collection sports the English subtitle Diagnosis: Impossible 6 - The Last Problems of Dr. Sam Hawthorne and marks the end of an excellent series by Edward D. Hoch.

I first came in contact with Hoch's Dr. Sam Hawthorne series in 2012. I had always wanted to read the series, but with some hesitation, because there was no complete collection available in English. As the Japanese versions seemed to be the only complete collection around at the time (and I think still is), I decided to read the Japanese translation of an English-language series. And I've loved the series since. But, and I have also made that clear in previous reviews, I find it kinda hard to discuss the stories in detail, because I'd risk spoiling important parts of each story as they're all excellent examples of functional brevity. Also, the stories all follow the same set-up and plot structure, so writing the review of one collection, is pretty much writing the review of any other collection. For example, I quote this from my review of the third volume:

The fact is though that a lot of the stories are actually very similar. Like a Scooby Doo episode, you can guess the following is present. 1) Sam Hawthorne meets a fellow townsman whom we have never met before, but Sam is acquainted with (in same cases a recurring character). Said character is involved in way or another with whatever the title of the story is. 2) Sam is witness to the impossible crime. He usually just happens to be there (often doing his rounds). There is a moment where all witness lose sight of the subject or object of the crime. 3) The trick behind the impossible crime was done in that split moment nobody could have seen anything, be it a switch, or setting off a mechanism. 4) The story ends, and Sam alludes to his next adventure. Most adventures follow this scheme, making it easy to guess what's going on. If you'd just read the stories seperatedly, this might not seem to obvious, but as every collection has about ten stories you read in one go, yeah, this pattern tends to become obvious.

And it still holds. Does that mean the series is bad? No. The complete series consists of 72 stories, all roughly following the formula above, and I was still entertained each time. Hoch was an amazing writer, both as someone who came up with great impossible crime situations, as well as someone who could write interesting stories. While I wouldn't say that every story in the series is as good as the other, there's is definitely a high standard in quality in these stories. The series has been as good as it was since the first volume, so while it might sound a bit negative if I say, 'you could start anywhere, they all the same', I actually mean 'they're all so awesome, I really can't choose'.

And while I doubt this is the main attraction for most readers, it's also very fun to see time slide by as you progress in the series. You see changes in the characters and the city of Northmont, and while the middle part of the series dealed with the Prohibition, the last two volumes had a distinct feeling of dread because of World War II (which also often ties in with motives in the last quarter of the series), obviously not present in the early parts of the series.

My favorite stories in this volume are The Problem of the Interrupted Seance (which is interrupted because the medium was murdered, and the two other persons in the room knocked out, with no murder weapon inside the observed room) and The Problem of the Shepherd's Ring, where a ring which grants the power of invisiblity is used by a madman to kill one of his enemies. Most of them are worth a read though. It's only a shame the series has no real ending because of Hoch's demise.

I'm not actually sure why I'm writing this review. If you're already a fan of the series, you'll probably know that Diagnosis: Impossible 6 - The Last Problems of Dr. Sam Hawthorne is a must read. And those with no real interest in the series anyway, would hardly choose to start with the last volume of a series.But I'd like to think that everyone who started with Sam's first impossible crime adventures, will eventually reach this final volume.

Oh, and for those who haven't read the stories yet, you might want to check out the Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine podcast: it featured several audio plays of the Sam Hawthorne series!

Original title(s): Edward D. Hoch 『サム・ホーソーンの事件簿』VI: 'The Problem of the Haunted Hospital' 「幽霊が出る病院の謎」 / 'The Problem of the Traveler's Tale' 「旅人の話の謎」 / 'The Problem of Bailey's Buzzard' 「巨大ノスリの謎」 / 'The Problem of the Interrupted Seance' 「中断された降霊会の謎」 / 'The Problem of the Candidate's Cabin' 「対立候補が持つ丸太小屋の謎」 / 'The Problem of the Black Cloister' 「黒修道院の謎」 / 'The Problem of the Secret Passage' 「秘密の通路の謎」 / 'The Problem of the Devil's Orchard' 「悪魔の果樹園の謎」 / 'The Problem of the Shepherd's Ring' 「羊飼いの指輪の謎」 / 'The Problem of the Suicide Cottage' 「自殺者が好む別荘の謎」 / 'The Problem of the Summer Snowman' 「夏の雪だるまの謎」 / 'The Problem of the Secret Patient' 「秘密の患者の謎」

Sunday, August 10, 2014

ReturN: File 3

『金田一少年の事件簿 鬼火島殺人事件』

"My feelings for you, are yours only to know"
"The Young Kindachi Case Files The Will-o'-the-Wisp Island Murder Case"

I just noticed that this post on Conan and Kindachi Shounen was the five-hundredths post on the blog. Yay, I think? Anyway, back to business: another review of Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo NEO ("The Young Kindaichi Case Files NEO"), the currently running live action drama series based on the popular comic franchise!

Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo NEO
Pre-series TV Special 2 (January 4, 2014: The Prison Gate Cram School Murder Case
Episode 1 (July 19, 2014): The Murderer of the Silver Screen 
Episode 2 (July 26, 2014): The Game Mansion Murder Case
Episode 3 & 4 (August 2 & 9, 2014): The Will-o'-the-Wisp Island Murder Case
Episode 5 & 6 (August 16 & 23, 2014): Young Kindaichi's Road to the Final Battle
Episode 7 (September 6, 2014): The Yukikage Village Murder Case
Episode 8 & 9 (September 13 & 20, 2014): The Rosenkreuz Mansion Murder Case

Hajime, grandson of famous detective Kindaichi Kousuke, childhood friend Miyuki and fellow Mystery Club member Saki have summer part-time jobs at a training camp of the Fudou General Hospital, held at Shiranui Island, also known as Will-o'-the-Wisp Island. There is a tradition of a test of courage at the lodge on the island: it is said that one can see a will-o'-the-wisp if one peeks through the keyhole of a particular door at a particular time. Hajime sees more than that though: he sees one of the trainees being hanged! But when they open the door, they find nothing in the room. Everyone thinks it was just Hajime's imagination going wild, but that changes when they find the first dead body. The first, because more hanged bodies that have a tendency to disappear, appear on the island. Can Hajime solve the mystery of The Will-o'-the-Wisp Island Murder Case?

The Will-o'-the-Wisp Island Murder Case is the first case in Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo NEO to be spread across multiple episodes, which is why I skipped last week (as I mentioned in the first review of this series, I'll only do reviews on complete stories). The Will-o'-the-Wisp Island Murder Case is also a story I already reviewed in the past: it was originally a novel and while people might know this story from the animated series, people who only read the comics might have missed this story.

As a mystery story, The Will-o'-the-Wisp Island Murder Case isn't very special, I think, as a lot of this story has been done in earlier stories. And I don't just mean the closed circle island setting, and the tragic past-thing. The idea of a hanged body being witnessed by Hajime, which then disappears from a locked room, only to reappear later again was already featured in The Seven School Mysteries Murder Case and the solution is actually quite similar, even if it doesn't appear like that at first glance. But as I mentioned in the review of the original novel; it is a story that actually benefits from a visual format, so it works quite well in the live action series. I do think that two episodes is a bit too much for this story, though I am also aware that one episode (fifty minutes) would be too short. The previous case fitted perfectly in one episode, but the unit of fifty minutes doesn't really work with this story; too long for one episode, too short to fill two episodes without feeling dragging (episode four was actually boring).

And I already mentioned in the previous review that even though I like the direction of Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo NEO and the attempt to present it as a fair-play mystery by bringing special focus on hints / important scenes by showing these scenes in a special 'how done it' frame on screen, it makes absolutely no sense to tell the viewer that a certain scene contains an important hint if at that certain point of the story, the viewer can't possibly see the significance of it. Why already show and say that something is important to the solution of a mystery, before the mystery itself is shown?! Like you would first show a mirror, or the twins, tell the public that this is important, and then show the magic trick of sawing the assistant in half! I think the production team should think a bit more about which scenes they can, and can not emphasize in this format, because this kinda kills the mystery before it even has the chance to shine.

Next week's episode is going to be awesome by the way! It's an adaptation of the final story of the original run of the comic, Young Kindaichi's Road to the Final Battle, a story I've always wanted to discuss. I might go read the comic version again just to get in the mood!

Original Japanese title(s): 『金田一少年の事件簿N』 サブタイトル「鬼火島殺人事件」

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Never Ape an Apeman


"That's a good one, an orangutan as the murderer"
"Hahaha, that would be stupid. That would be just a third-rate mystery. Anyone writing such a story would be the laughing stock of everybody"
"....." Okubo suddenly stopped laughing. "Just asking to be sure, but are you really a member of the detetive fiction research club?"

Now that I think about it, I wrote more reviews of Dutch mystery novels than Japanese ones the last couple of weeks. Wow. To think this would one day happen.

Books by Jan Apon
Raoul Bertin series
Paniek op de Miss Brooklyn ("Panic on the Miss Brooklyn")
Een tip van Brissac ("A tip from Brissac")

Rudolf Temesvary series
Het gorilla-mysterie ("The Gorilla Mystery")

Een zekere Manuel ("A certain Manuel")

Twelve years ago, Dr Cavelli was found guilty for the murder on Mrs Irene Baginsky, who had recently broken off their affair. Cavelli claimed they were attacked on the road, and while Cavelli managed to escape, Irene had less luck. The only witness who could confirm, or deny Cavelli's story was Irene's baby gorilla, but as animals don't talk, the police had to do with evidence like Cavelli's gun and glove lying around the crime scene. The baby gorilla was donated to the Budapest zoo after his mistress' death, and now, twelve years later, the gorilla is once again witness to a murder. This time, the gorilla's caretaker has been killed, and the gorilla taken away by some person or persons unknown. Inspector Rudolf Temesvary of the Budapest police force thinks there's more to this beast than meets the eye in the aptly titled Het gorilla-mysterie ("The Gorilla Mystery") by Jan Apon.

Het gorilla-mysterie was originally published in 1937 and planned to be the first in a series of stories starring inspector Rudolf Temesvary, it says in the foreword. Jan Apon never did write more Temesvary novels however (in fact, he didn't write any novels after World War II), so Het gorilla-mysterie is both the first and last appearance of the Hungarian police detective. Anyway, the biggest differences with Apon's Raoul Bertin series is that Temesvary is an official detective and the story is set in Budapest (instead of... mostly France in the Bertin series).

The mystery of the kidnapped gorilla is quite interesting: why would someone go the trouble of dragging a gorilla out of a zoo and even kill a man for it? The first half of the book, which is about the missing gorilla and two murders, is the best part of the book, with relevant plot developments and some neat deductions pushing the story forward. Especially the puzzle of the gorilla is fun and the somewhat grotesque problem, as well as its neatly hinted solution almost has a Queenian quality to it.

The conclusion has that familiar Apon characteristic to it: the clue that comes out of nowhere (see my review of Paniek op de Miss Brooklyn for more about that). Seriously. If you are going to refer to hints in your conclusion, maybe you should consider actually writing them in the main story. To have a fair story. And beyond the question of fair play or not: it's usually good to have references refer to actual happenings. Apon's strange way of ending his novels each and every time kinda take down his novels. In general, I do like the events and plot of Het gorilla-mysterie, so I think it's really a shame Apon pulled of the same lets-conjure-up-some-evidence ending again.

You'd think that Poe's contribution to the genre (maybe contribution isn't big enough a word) would have resulted in more mystery fiction featuring animals, but that's not really so. I wouldn't say mystery fiction featuring animals are rare, but still... I remember once attending a presentation about cat mysteries (i.e. mystery fiction featuring cats), which was interesting (FYI, cat mysteries reviewed on this blog include Mikeneko Holmes no Suiri, Cat Food and Kanzen Hanzai ni wa Neko Nanbiki ga Hitsuyouka). The titular gorilla of Het gorilla-mysterie makes no real appearances in the story, but the animal is definitely at the heart of the mystery. I think Apon did something really fun with the animal for this story and I am definitely tempted to call this a gorilla mystery. Which is the title. Heh.

Het gorilla-mysterie is a fun mystery with a great premise and first half. While not perfect, definitely among the better of Apon's works I've read.

Original Dutch title(s): Jan Apon "Het gorilla-mysterie"