Japanese Tales of Mystery & Imagination by Edogawa Rampo
I was turned on to this book by a post over at SciFi & Scary: Five Entry-Level Japanese Horror Stories. I’ve read a small amount of modern Japanese horror and have had Lafcadio Hearn’s Kwaidan on my TRB list for long enough that it’s part of my Classics Club list, but I hadn’t read any Japanese mysteries.
Edogawa Rampo is one of the most well-known classical writers of mystery…at least in Japan. Sadly (for non-Japanese readers), only maybe a third of his works have been published in English. His career spans from the 1920s to about 1960, with an understandable lapse during WWII. Rampo was an admirer of Edgar Allan Poe and Arthur Conan Doyle. He has a reoccurring private detective in the form of Kogoro Akechi (“The Psychological Test” being an Akechi mystery included in this anthology), but also dozens of standalone novels and short stories.
This collection was originally published in 1956 while the author was still alive to assist with translation. It mostly collects stories from the 1920s with the exception of “The Cliff” (1950), which does have a very different style—a man and a woman engage in a dialogue at the edge of a cliff until one of them meets their doom.
I’m going recuse myself here: I don’t know much about 1920s’ English-language mysteries. I’ve read a little Agatha Christie and a tiny bit of Dashiell Hammett and Dorothy L. Sayers, but I haven’t really liked any of them. I think perhaps they’re not macabre enough for me and their plots go on too long. So it’s hard for me to contrast Rampo with *them*. But I have read quite a bit of Poe and Doyle. While they were Rampo’s inspiration to write in the mystery genre, he isn’t imitative of them directly. Instead, Rampo’s stories are more grounded in reality than Poe’s Dupin mysteries (I’m thinking about the unlikelyhood of a rampaging orangutan here), but grimmer than Doyle’s Holmes canon.
There is also an eroticism to many of Rampo’s stories that I found surprising for the era, though that might be due to my lack of experience with this time frame in literature. The collection begins with “The Human Chair” from 1925, a yarn about a man who hides himself in a big easy chair and finds that he very much likes being able to feel women sit on him. Nothing is explicitly described, but I wonder is such a story would come out of America, even pre-Hays code. (If I’m wrong, let me know. I have so many holes in my literature education!) A few other stories have similarly “deviant” characters.
Japanese Tales of Mystery & Imagination consists of nine tales, all quick compelling reads. I found the book via hoopla, so if you need a book for an upcoming spooky challenge or readathon, you might be able to check it out through your local library’s online system. Definitely worth some time!