Book review: 『黄金仮面』 by Edogawa Rampo

Introduction

Title: 『黄金仮面』 (おうごんかめん)
Author: Edogawa Rampo (江戸川乱歩)
Published by 集英社文庫
329 pages

This is the sixth book in the Kogoro Akechi collection published by Shueisha.

Illustration: 飛行機は旋回を終って、徐々に高度を高めながら、北方をさして速力を加えていた。p.300

Review

I did not like this novel at first, and it is one of my least favourites of the series so far. I was tempted to DNF it, but the end turned out to be very good, so I am glad that I did not give up.

This is the 6th title from the Kogoro Akechi collection, and the books get more and more repetitive. Most of the novels share similar scenes, actions and plot twists, so what makes a book stands out is not as much the structure and plot of the novel than the overall atmosphere, and how scary or striking the individual scenes can be. I found that this novel did not bring much in terms of creativity and I had a feeling of déjà-vu all along.

First, the novel starts by telling you that our villain is the worst criminal of all time, which, after 6 books making a similar statement, starts feeling less credible and impressive. Then I felt that the first half of the novel was a collection of scenes I had already read in the previous books. The action scenes where the culprit is chased by several policemen but always manages to escape are interesting to read if you like the genre, but the outcome is so obvious that they always fail to raise my interest.

『黄金仮面』 is heavily based on action, and there is little to no deduction in it. Even though Kogoro Akechi is quicker to see the truth than other characters, he does not apply a particular method to reach his conclusions and I found that the book did not feel like a detective story.

The novel also has a repetitive pattern in its construction with similar events happening several times: the criminal commits his crime, the police tries to arrest him, he escapes, some time later he commits another crime, and so on. We have several cases in one novel, and I found that this structure made the book less engrossing than if it were one big case we were working on.

それもなみなみの国宝ではありません。国宝中の国宝、小学生でも知っているほど有名な国宝です。p.255

Another point that made me feel disappointed is the role of women in this novel. Women only play the role of the victims in the series, they are kidnapped and murdered, they are afraid and defenseless. However, a new strong and interesting character had appeared in the previous novel, 『魔術師』. Fumiyo was a clever and courageous character, she was resourceful and played a major role in the plot. In 『黄金画面』however, the female character is treated purely as an object, a thing that can be owned and stolen, and whose voice and choices are never taken into account. I found the end very unsatisfying from this point of view.

Finally, the book did not manage to trigger any sense of fear or danger in me, contrary to the previous one which I found very exciting. The problem is that Edogawa Rampo kept saying how frightening and terrifying everything was, and the more things were “terrifying” the less I felt terrified. Instead of showing appealing things, the book only tells me that I should feel scared. Everything is 恐ろしい in this novel (恐ろしい事件、恐ろしいこと、恐ろしい犯罪、えたいのしれぬ恐ろしもの), but as a result, nothing really is…

This being said, I found the last third to be much better. Once the identity of the culprit is revealed, things get more interesting and the book really triggered my interest. I should have guessed the truth sooner, because there were enough hints for that, but I was really not expecting such an outcome. The case that occupies the last third of the book was really good and I loved reading it, even though I am not happy with how a certain character is portrayed by Edogawa Rampo. Some passages really made me mad, I wanted to shout that, “No! this character would never act like that!”, and the end of the book turned out to be an exciting read thanks to that. For once, I deeply wished that Akechi would fail and the villain win!