Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Private Eyes' Requiem


I want to embrace one thing I can keep counting on
Even if everybody laughed at that
"One Unwavering Thing"

Man, I don't even look for them, but I'm pretty sure I read at least one Holmes pastische every year. Oh well, this is technically a Lupin pastiche... Oh, and I didn't manage to add even a fair amount of the tags at the end of the post, because of limitations on the number of characters. Please use the links in the body of the text if necessary.

Shinsetsu Lupin tai Holmes ("The True Tale: Lupin VS Holmes", 2000) is a short story collection by Ashibe Taku, crammed full with pastiches featuring famous detectives from both East and West. It's the first volume in a series dubbed The Exhibition of Great Detectives, and I already reviewed the second volume last November. This first volume is, in the essence, the same as its sequel. The stories often feature several famous literary characters together (like the titular Lupin and Holmes) in a story that is expertly written in the style of the original works. Most of these stories also feature an impossible crime. The opening story for example, Shinsetsu Lupin tai Holmes ("The True Tale: Lupin VS Holmes"), has gentleman-thief Lupin revealing the true story of his meeting with Sherlock Holmes. In the prologue, Lupin reveals that the adventures as written in 1908's Arsène Lupin contre Herlock Sholmès were made-up, as shown by the fake Holmes name. The true meeting between the French thief and the English detective happened in 1900 during the Paris World Fair, when Lupin had only started making a name for himself. Lupin succeeds with a daring theft of a necklace from a Japanese theater troupe, but then a priceless Buddha statue is stolen from the Maison du Japon under impossible circumstances, followed by disappearing film reels with footage made in Japan. Lupin is accused of anti-Japanese sentiments and Holmes is hired by the Lumière brothers to retrieve the films. And so both Holmes and Lupin try to figure out the truth behind the disappearing Buddha statue and the true culprit behind this series of thefts.

This opening story does really read like a Lupin serial, with a dynamic story and a focus on adventure. The impossible disappearance of the Buddha statue is not incredibly surprising, but it does impress as it's firmly set in "reality", with a basis in actual history. This holds for all these pastiches actually, but especially this story is great in mixing fiction with real history. The Paris World Fair and the Lumière brothers are just some of the real world elements mixed with the Lupin-Holmes narrative, and the way it's used is actually fairly natural. There's even a guest appearance of that one Japanese author who ALWAYS gets to meet Holmes in pastiches like these. Unlike Arsène Lupin contre Herlock Sholmès, the confrontation between the two giants feels a bit more fair too. The motive behind the crimes is rather surprising though.

Taikun Satsujin Jiken ("The Tycoon Murder Case"), which also carries the subtitle The Polish Paste Mystery, is the second story in the volume, and as "Tycoon" has six letters in it, and it's followed by "Murder Case", you can safely guess it's a Philo Vance story. Prosecutor Markham asks dilettante detective Vance and his attorney Van Dine to accompany him to the murder scene of a publisher of pulp magazines. He's been offed of, as they say, in the apartment of his star writer Ramon F. Kimmel. The victim left a dying message fingering Kimmel, but the problem is that there are three Kimmels: three ghost writers published under the pen name of Ramon F. Kimmel under the guidance of the victim. The testimony of a neighbor based on a radio performance appears to be decisive clue for this mystery, but probably not in the way Markham had expected. This story reminds of me of the episode The Adventure of the Comic Book Crusader from the Ellery Queen TV show, in the sense that it deals with pulp publishers and the men behind a collective name. The solution to the mystery is good, with a clever, hard-to-notice clue and a lot of focus on material evidence. The writing style of this pastiche is also very reminiscent of Van Dine (including the end notes!) and the story also features multiple guest appearances of other famous detectives (one of them is rather obvious based on the subtitle, I think). 

Hotel Mikado no Satsujin ("The Hotel Mikado Murder") is set in San Francisco. Hawaiian police detective Charlie Chan's stay in Hotel Mikado, a Japanese-run hotel, ends up in murder when a gunshot rings through the hotel.  A highly ranked military official staying secretly at the hotel is discovered inside his room, apparently having committed ritual suicide with a sword. Inside his room is also the corpse of a mysterious woman. Private eye Sam Spade also arrives at the scene, as he had been hired by the first victim for a certain job. But the case is revealed to be very different from what it appears to be by a mysterious Japanese boy working at the hotel. The motive behind this crime has similarities with that one featured in the first story. The mystery itself is okay, but the real 'surprise' is the other detective who makes a surprise appearance. At least, I think a lot of readers familiar with Japanese mystery fiction will correctly guess who that is, as the reference is rather obvious, but I did like how the story built towards revealing the fact.

Tasogare no Kaijintachi ("The Fiends of Twilight") is a straightforward Edogawa Rampo pastiche, where the Fiend with Twenty Faces is accuses of murder after the theft of a sword. Akechi Kogorou however beliefs the Fiend when he swears he does not take lives and the detective agrees to find out who else could've committed the murder inside a closed-off part of town, where only the victim and the Fiend were found. There are some interesting Rampo cameos here, but the solution behind the impossible crime (a murder in a place where only the victim and the Fiend were) is a bit childish. Though I guess it works for this pastiche, because it's based on a series for children.

Tadokoro Keibu ni Hanataba wo ("A Bouquet for Chief Inspector Tadokoro") puts Chief Inspector Tadokoro in the spotlight. Chief Inspector Tadoroko is a character who connects the worlds of Chief Inspector Onitsura and amateur detective Hoshikage Ryuuzou, both creations by Ayukawa Tetsuya. Tadokoro is the one character who has worked with both these men, and he tells his public an amusing tale about how the two detectives both had trouble solving a crime: Chief Inspector Onitsura had no idea what to make of a locked room murder (the specialty of Hoshikage), while Hoshikage Ryuuzou was paining his head about an alibi trick using the railway (the specialty of Onitsura). The solution to both problems is a bit simple, but as a story that gives a minor character a moment to shine, I'd say this story is one of the best in the volume. I really enjoyed this one.

The following two stories I didn't find particularly interesting. Nanatsu no Kokoro wo Motsu Tantei ("The Detective With Seven Minds") is not a pastiche of any characer in particular, but one of styles. The narrator is called to come over to a crime scene, and then the narration style changes constantly, from 'hardboiled detective narration' to 'dilettante amateur detective narration' and 'experienced cop narration' etcetera. The story is simple, and mostly serves as a theme for this showcase of styles, and it basically is all written to prepare for the punchline. Kidan Kuuchuu no Zoku ("A Detective Story: The Thief in the Sky") is a detective story written in the style of Kuroiwa Ruikou. The writing style is really old, which makes it hard to read (pre-war Japanese) spelling and the whole story is presented as an adaptation/translation of an existing, Western story (most of Kuroiwa's works are 'free' adaptations of Western crime fiction).

Hyakurokujuunen no Misshitsu - Shin Morgue Gai no Satsujin (The 160 year Old Locked Room - New Murders in the Rue Morgue") finally features Ashibe's own series detective Morie Shunsaku, who is asked by a mysterious figure to solve a locked room murder involving a mother and her daughter who were killed in the most brutal way. And yes, we're talking about Edgar Allan Poe's The Murders in the Rue Morgue. Whereas previous stories mimicked the style of the original works, this story is more like meta-mystery, as Morie examines the original text and arrives at a new solution to the classic tale. The biggest surprise however is the identity of his client though.

Shinsetsu Lupin tai Holmes is on the whole an entertaining collection of pastiches. Ashibe is usually at his best when he can let his bibliophilic urges go free. He mixes real history with fictional history in an engaging way, and showcases great knowledge about the subject matter, as he manages to mix in all kinds of little trivia about the characters in his stories which are all written in distinctive, recognizable styles. The stories can sometimes feel a bit gimmicky though, because a lot of the charm of these stories basically comes down to 'fanboying'. I'd say the opening story, the Philo Vance and the Ayukawa Tetsuya stories were the highlights of this collection.

Original Japanese title(s): 芦辺拓 『真説ルパン対ホームズ』: 「真説ルパン対ホームズ」 / 「大君殺人事件 またはポーランド鉛硝子の謎」 / 「《ホテル・ミカド》の殺人」 / 「黄昏の怪人たち」 / 「田所警部に花束を」 / 「七つの心を持つ探偵」 / 「探偵奇談 空中の賊」 / 「百六十年の密室 新・モルグ街の殺人」


  1. what is inside miss kaya kyoko's(female inspector in kindaichi case files) box?

    1. In that one short story, there was another box inside, but that was to hide the true contents. It was never revealed as far as I know.

  2. was gentleman thief's true face ever revealed in kindaichi case files?


    1. I doubt even the creators of the series themselves know...