Sunday, February 28, 2010

Japanese Crime Fiction and Edogawa Rampo

The Black Lizard And Beast in the Shadows Edogawa Rampo's 1934 novelette The Black Lizard came bundled with a shorter one: Beast in the Shadows, and also with an introduction about the author and Japanese crime fiction in general. 

Edogawa Rampo (the pen name of Hirai Taro) was instrumental in bringing crime novels to Japan. His name is supposed to sound similar to "Edgar Allen Poe", as a homage to Poe, who Taro adored. 

Rampo's Black Lizard is a peculiar novel. The main purpose of the story is to demonstrate how two rivals, the black lizard (a female thief, as she is described, but I'd rather say a head of a mafia-like organization) and the master detective Akechi Kogoro try to out-whit each other. In complicated sequence of disguise and deception the black lizard manages to kidnap the daughter of a rich man, but Kogoro's foresight made it possible to free the girl in the process. This prompts an even more intricate plan, to not just kidnap the girl, but gain a precious piece of jewelry as well. This time, Kogoro counters with smarter disguise and quasi magical deception, and ultimately defeats her gloriously.

At lot of the peculiarities are probably an artifact of cultural differences, and the translation. For example,  "ha ha ha" accompanies jokes commonly to make sure, the audience understands it.  Also, especially in the beginning, the author explains to the reader complicated sections in the beginning of the following chapter, so that everything is clear. In the last third of the book, the speed of the story picks, the explanations become less obvious (more embedded into the story), and the whole writing becomes more interesting. However, the whole novel to me lacks characterization, and doesn't bring the individual players to life. I am curious, how this beginning of the Japanese section of the genre develops, and it made me interested in scooping out more modern novels. 

This is my first book from Asia for the Global Reading Challenge

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