Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Premature Book Review: Japanese Tales of Mystery & Imagination (Edogawa Rampo)

I came across Edogawa Rampo while searching for weird Japanese movies. His pen name is a play on the Japanese pronunciation of "Edgar Allan Poe" and he is considered the father of modern Japanese mystery fiction.

The first story, The Human Chair, is in many ways similar to Poe or Lovecraft, but is also a bit like Gogol. It is about a poor, physically unattractive man who desires to be part of a grander society. He is a chair maker, by trade, and is commissioned to build a large easy chair for a hotel that caters to Americans and Europeans. The chair is so large, and his skill so great, that he design it so that he may hide inside the chair. He plans to steal from the hotel, initially, but later finds there is more to his plan than he expects.

Next comes The Psychological Test, a story that is similar to Crime and Punishment, even referring to it. A young intellectual decides he is going to commit the perfect crime; the killing of an elderly pawnbroker and theft of her money. He has everyone fooled for a while, but as they say, there is always someone smarter than yourself.

Third is The Caterpillar, a story that begins like Lady Chatterley's Lover, but takes an odd turn. It is a rather gruesome story; not at all erotic. Very much in the Poe vein, if medicine had been as advanced at the time.

While each of the stories I have read do hearken back to works by other authors, Edogawa Rampo makes them his own; lifting only a style or premise and turning it into something different. He wrote between (approximately) 1925 and 1955, so much ground had been covered already, but perhaps not so much for Japanese audiences. I would imagine he would acknowledge the homage to other authors, particularly since his pen name is taken directly from one. These are good, interesting stories of the pulp variety that you do not have to invest much in. They are for your pleasure rather than any enlightenment. I am sure scholars can find deeper meaning, but like Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep, you can take it at face value and it is still wonderful.

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