Saturday, 22 April 2017

Arisugawa Alice's Honkaku Mystery Library

This is half a review. The book is an anthology of traditional detective stories edited by Japanese detective story writer ARISUGAWA Arisu (or Alice), 有栖川有の本格ミステリー・ライブラリー (Arisugawa Arisu no honkaku misuterī raiburarī , Alice Arisugawa's traditional mystery library, 2001). Four of the ten stories are translated from English. I don't think I've read any of them; and I'd rather read them in English if I get a chance. I don't imagine anyone is going to specially seek out this out of print anthology; but for what it's worth the translated stories are Robert Arthur, "The Fifty first Sealed Room", W. Haidenfeld, "The Unpleasantness at the Stooges Club", Bill Pronzini, "The Arrowmont Prison Riddle" and John Sladek, "By Unknown Hand".

First "Buried Malice" ("もれた悪意 umoreta akui, 1990) by 昌章 (TATSUMI Masaaki, born 1957). A successful businessman looks to find the lost son of an early patron, probably adopted by a local family. When two different claimants appear, a lazy detective story writer is engaged to identify the impostor. Then the midwife from the district called to decide is murdered, and the writer has a more serious problem to solve. This is an effective mystery in a light style, often flippant and with frequent jokes about the genre.

"Car Chase"( 逃げる車, nigeru kuruma, 1979) 白峰良介 (SHIRAMINE Ryousuke, born 1955) starts with a midnight car chase, as police try to catch a speeding sports car on the motorway. It leaves the motorway and races through smaller streets, grazing lampposts on the way. Finally it stops outside a clinic. The police who get there moments later follow the driver in and find a bewildered doctor in the corridor. He tells them that a man had just rushed past him into the pharmacy; and there the police find a dead man, who has swallowed cyanide. An interesting opening, but the "spot the culprit" story suffers from being stripped down too far here.

"The Golden Dog" (金色犬, konjikiinu, 1968) つのだじろう (TSUNODA Jirou, born 1936). One of the oddities of the collection, an early manga detective story. Like many young Kindaichi stories it takes the Conan Doyle "Hound of the Baskervilles" model of a decorative and diversionary ghost story as a background to the mystery. The detective Johnny Hirota is another boy detective, but along with the simplified drawing style of the comic, there's nothing in his behaviour or his treatment by other characters to differentiate him from an adult.

The only translation from the anthology that I read is "Life and Death on the Line" (生死線上, seishisenjou, 1990), whose author is recorded in the anthology as 余心樂 (YU Xinle, the same Chinese characters as in the Chinese Wikipedia, which I can't read) but known to the Japanese Wikipedia as  余心楽 (YO Shinraku, born 1948) and to Switzerland (where one of his books is available in his own translation as Die Mordversionen) as Wen-huei Chu. The author is a Taiwanese resident in Switzerland, who studied tourism and related subjects there. It's perhaps fitting that this is a 'travel mystery' set on the Swiss railways, a long alibi story, with one obvious suspect. For some reason I had more trouble than I normally do focussing on the details (despite provision of a rail map of Switzerland and various timetables) and found more interest in the view of Switzerland from Taiwanese eyes, particularly describing the immediate aftermath of the brutal suppression of the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989.

"Pillar of Water" (水の柱, mizu no hashira, 1980) by 上田廣 (UEDA Hiroshi, born 1905), another travel mystery, this one on Japanese railways. The narration is divided between chapters following the police investigation and letters from a train conductor, who ends up doing most of the police's work for them.

"The Killer is 'Me' ....." (「わたくし」は犯人....., 'watakushi' wa hannin, 1976) by 海渡祐 (KAITO Eisuke, born 1934) starts with the synopsis of a planned inverted mystery. The female "I" character narrates how they plan to kill their lover's evil wife, with a cunning alibi trick. In interspersed chapters, police are investigating the murder of a married woman, who seems to have died in very similar circumstances.

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