Friday, 28 August 2015

The Adventures of Norizuki Rintarou

It's not surprising that the first short story collection by NORIZUKI Rintarou (法月綸太郎) is called 法月綸太郎の冒険 (Norizuki Rintarou no bouken, The Adventures of Norizuki Rinatarou, 1992). Admirers of Ellery Queen, who is a constant presence in Norizuki's books, will recognise the title of the first Ellery Queen short story collection, The Adventures of Ellery Queen (1932). Norizuki's collection is made up of one novella and six short stories, some of them reworkings of stories he wrote as an university student for amateur club magazines.

The novella, 'The Death Penalty Puzzle', is set in the execution room of a prison. Japan is one of the two prosperous democratic countries that still have the death penalty, although it is mostly reserved for multiple murders: there are typically two or three executions in a year. In the story, moments before being hanged, a prisoner is poisoned. The prison governor worries about the public reaction to the crime and asks Superintendant Norizuki and his son, detective story writer and amateur detective Rintarou to quickly identify the culprit. Obviously the motive is the biggest puzzle here, since the victim was about to die anyway; but Rintarou focuses more on opportunity. The story is a strong example of the kind of deduction by elimination familiar from early Ellery Queen. A slight oddity is that the elements on which the deduction are based are not really hidden. Similarly the surprise revelation of the murderer is prepared by hints that are hardly disguised. Even so, I hadn't worked out the answer myself.

I won't describe all the other stories in detail, as working out just what kind of a story it is is part of the interest. Like the short story collections from Doyle through to the golden age, they have a great deal of variety. Some are murder mysteries, and these may be whodunnits, howdunits or something completely different. Others feature minor crimes, "puzzles of everyday life", although the fact that they are not announced as such in advance means that they do not fit so simply into the genre. This is perhaps one of the strengths of the "it doesn't have to be murder" freedom of the short story world. Not every story has to establish a well defined problem near the beginning. Some of them can leave you wondering "just where is this heading?" and the answer can be horror, tragedy or comedy.

One story that does have a clearly defined problem is "The Green Door is Danger", a locked room mystery. The victim was an apparent suicide; but Rintarou becomes suspicious of the widow and tries to find out how the murderer could have got out of a bolted room whose only other exit, the green door of the title, has been sealed fast for many years. I had the right background to make the solution very obvious to me; but I thought it was a very satisfactory version of the locked room genre. It isn't one of the most baffling examples, since, although there is clearly a right answer, the set up would have allowed the murderer a variety of possibilities to create much the same effect. But this is one story where you can decide for yourself, even if you don't read Japanese, as there is a translation by Ho-Ling Wong in the November 2014 issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine.

Of the other stories in the collection my favourite was "The Slasher" (切り裂き鬼). I wish English speaking fans of the classical detective story had a chance to read it.

3 comments:

  1. I had a translation of "The Slasher" on my blog for some years, but I removed when I started to get involved with official translations ^_^' (Doubt that many people read it, but still...) Great story indeed.

    I think this was one of the earliest books I read in Japanese and I still think it's a great collection. Absolutely love the libriarian detective mini-series it has (sadly enough, Norizuki never returned to it, AFAIK).

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    1. Sorry to be late in replying to this. I missed your translation, I think (in general I haven't read your translations where I expected I might read the book in the original). Perhaps one day you'll have a chance to revise it for publication.

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  2. I was asked by John Pugmire of Locked Room International to relay the message he'd like you to contact him at pugmire1@yahoo.com .

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