Saturday, 2 July 2016

The Fall of A Aiichirou

亜愛一郎の転倒 (A Aiichirou no tentou, The Fall of A Aiichirou, 1982) is the second collection of A Aiichirou stories by 泡坂妻夫 (AWASAKA Tsumao). The stories are often compared to Chesterton's Father Brown stories, a comparison Awasaka was probably seeking with his collection titles, which are all of the form "The [abstract noun] of A Aiichirou". A Aiichirou is a photographer, handsome and well dressed, but clumsy and unworldly, with a gift for unusual deduction. As in the first collection, The Confusion of A Aiichirou, which I reviewed back in 2014, the stories are all told from the viewpoint of a third person observer. The narration is leisurely and as wayward as the hero. You never know quite where the stories are going, and what is going to be relevant. Often the solution occurs before the actual mystery has been well defined. Those stories that do have a well defined mystery (particularly the impossible crimes) usually present it more than half way through the story. I'm not sure if this will sound like praise to everyone, but for me the A Aiichirou stories that I've read include some of my favourite Japanese mysteries.

'The Straw Cat'. A and a friend are visiting a retrospective exhibition of the works of a painter famous for obsessive perfectionism, although their interest is actually for the fossils preserved in the gallery wall. While there, A puzzles over the various unexpected 'mistakes' he finds in the paintings. Do these have a connection to the deaths, apparently by suicide, of three people, the artist's most famous model, his wife and himself. And what was the meaning of the straw cat that his wife was clutching at her death? 

gasshouzukuri in Shirakawa village
'The Fall of the House of Sunaga'. A and other travellers are stranded when there train is stopped by a landslide on the tracks. Three of them attempt to reach their destination cross country, encouraged by a salesman, who mistakenly thinks his childhood memories of the countryside will be sufficient. After wandering hopelessly through the woods for several days, they come to the valley where in the nineteenth century the lonely house of the Sunaga family had mysteriously disappeared, leading to a lullaby threatening children with the "creeping monk" who took away the Sunaga family. The occupant of the house that stands there now, with some reservations, lets the travellers in for the night, but nails shut the window to their room. Curious what he is hiding, they pull out the nails and look out on a towering gasshou roofed house (a rustic style with a steep pitched thatched roof that starts at the first floor and contains several floors above that). When they wake in the morning, though, the massive house has disappeared without a trace.

'Suzuko's Disguise'. A fan of a singer who was lost in a plane crash at sea goes to see her last film, accompanied by a competition for a new singer to take her role. This seemed to me the weakest story in the book.

'An Unexpected Corpse". The title (i-ga-i-na-i-ga-i) is a palindrome in Japanese (which has a syllabic alphabet). Awasaka has a fondness for these kinds of games, reflected in his novel Palindrome Syndrome. A different bit of detective story playfulness is at the heart of the puzzle this time, though, the "nursery rhyme murder", in which the disposition of a body is for some reason made to reflect aspects of a children's rhyme.

'The Screwed on Hat' follows A and his current employer (an obsessive busybody), as they attempt to return a hat to a man who abandoned it at a service station parking area when the wind blew it off. But why was he wearing such a large misshapen hat and why did he not wait when A chased after it for him?

'The Four Great Fighting Heads' has a retired policeman looking into the strange behaviour of a young woman's grandfather for her. A slightly jokey story of finding the common element of a variety of odd clues, perhaps a little reminiscent of the lighter Sherlock Holmes stories.

'On the Streets of Saburou Town' is another impossible crime. A taxi driver puts down a passenger, then when the next one flags him down he finds the corpse of the departed passenger somehow still in the taxi, with his head severed.

'A Blade for the Invalid' is also an impossible crime, for me the best in the collection. On a hospital visit, A and his friend, a patient, take a walk on the roof, which has a recreation area for convalescents. Another patient collapses and when they run up to him they find that he has been stabbed. Neither the victim nor the only person close enough to stab him could have been carrying a knife.

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