Book review: 『大金塊|怪人二十面相』by Edogawa Rampo

Introduction

Title: 『大金塊|怪人二十面相』(だいきんかい|かいじんにじゅうめんそう)
Author: Edogawa Rampo (江戸川乱歩)
集英社文庫
431 pages

This book is the ninth title in the Kogoro Akechi collection published by Shueisha. The book contains two short novels that both belong to the Boy Detectives Club, a sub-series targeting young readers. It features Kogoro Akechi, but the main protagonist is Yoshio Kobayashi, Akechi’s young assistant.

怪人二十面相 is the first book of the Boy Detective Club series if we look at publishing date. The club itself is created at the end of this story. However, the Shueisha collection has classified the stories in order of occurrence in the fictional world, rather than publication date, and even though it was published later, there is no doubt that 大金塊 occurs before 怪人二十面相 (for example, there is no mention of the Club in 大金塊.)

Review

さすがは明智探偵の名助手といわれるだけあって、小林君の大胆不敵には感心のほかありません。p.158

Given that these two novels are books for children, I cannot really say that I enjoyed them as much as the ones from the regular Kogoro Akechi series. The tricks, the outcome and the plot are all very predictable, and Kogoro Akechi is not very present. As for Fumiyo, who used to be described as a female detective, she is now pushed into a mere Mrs Hudson role.

Nevertheless, I found these stories very pleasant to read, and Yoshio Kobayashi is an exciting hero to follow. He is resourceful, courageous and clever, and entirely devoted to Akechi. Kobayashi was first introduced in 『吸血鬼』and appears again in 『人間豹』. In these two novels, Kobayashi is entrusted with important missions, but he remained a secondary character, and we didn’t even get to learn is first name.

In 大金塊 and 怪人二十面相, Yoshio Kobayashi becomes the main character, he is often praised for his ingenuity and his courage, and his complete devotion to Akechi is made clear several times. He deeply desires to impress Akechi and does not hesitate to jump to the heart of danger.

そして、心のなかで、この先生のためなら、命をすてたってかまわないと思うのでした。p.110

怪人二十面相 seems to be the most famous of the two novels, but I liked 大金塊 more. It is a truly exciting adventure book for children with a treasure hunt and a deserted island. The part where Kobayashi finds himself locked in the villain’s hideout was very immersive and engrossing, even though some devices feel sometimes too good to be true (like the secret key that can open all doors).

怪人二十面相 introduces a recurring villain in the series, and it also sees the creation of the Boy Detectives Club with Kobayashi at his head. The Club is created at the end of the book, and the organisation does not do much in the story, but it is nice to see how it came to life. We see more of Akechi in this novel, but he appears like an all-mighty detective, who has already seen through all the criminal’s plans and found a way to outmanoeuvre him. I guess that if you are the targeted readership, you identify with Kobayashi, so Akechi naturally becomes the master and the mentor, the ideal to look up to. It is then normal that his skills should appear out of reach.

怪人二十面相 introduces the 探偵七つ道具 as well as the pigeon ピッポちゃん who plays a decisive role in the story.

The narrator, who always adresses the readers a lot in all the novels of the Akechi series, is more present than ever in these two novels, telling the young readers when to worry ああ、読者諸君、まだ安心はできません or not to worry いやいや、読者諸君、ご心配にはおよびません. We are even told at strategic moments to put down the book for a second and try to figure out the solution by ourselves.

Overall, these two books share a lot of similarities with the other books, but while certain scenes and tricks started to feel very repetitive in the regular series, the change of protagonist and Kobayashi’s resourceful personality give them a fresh feel, and I am happy to read them.

If you are interested in reading the Kogoro Akechi series, the books belonging to the Boy Detectives Club are easier to read than the regular ones. 大金塊 in particular felt really easy compared to the other ones. There are both available on Aozora if you want to give them a try.