Edited by the Mystery Writers of Japan (日本推理作家協会）
Published by 講談社文庫
The Mystery Writers of Japan is an association founded by Edogawa Rampo in 1947. It presents two annual awards: the Mystery Writers of Japan Award for long and short fiction and the Edogawa Rampo Award for unpublished fiction.
The association also compiles a collection of the best short stories published each year. The book I am reviewing here is for the year 2017.
The short stories compiled in this edition are:
偽りの春 by Ten Furuta (降田天) (Ten Furuta is the pen name of Ei Hagino 萩野瑛 and So Ayukawa 鮎川颯.
階段室の女王 by Tadanori Masuda (増田忠紀)
火事と標本 by Tomoya Sakurada (櫻田智也)
ただ、運が悪かっただけ by Yo Ashizawa (芦沢央)
理由 by Yoshiki Shibata (柴田よしき)
プロジェクト：シャーロック by Takemaru Abiko (我孫子武丸)
葬儀の裏で by Nanami Wakatake (若竹七海)
虹 by Miyuki Miyabe (宮部みゆき)
Illustration from 火事と標本
Unsurprisingly, all the short stories in this book are excellent, and reading it was a pure delight. Not only this format gives you the assurance that each short story will be very good, but it also allows you to discover new authors and read different styles.
The first short story is the winner of the Mystery Writers of Japan Award, and it was so good! It is the kind of story that makes you want to stop everything you are doing and read the entire bibliography of the author (or in this case, the authors). It is impressive to see how a 50 pages long story can manage to be so suspenseful and to trick the reader as well. The end really surprised me, because I was sure that I was right in my interpretation, but I was wrong.
My favourite story is another one though: 火事と標本. This story had the more interesting characters and it had a very strong impact on me. It is the kind of story that keeps you thinking about the characters and what happened. Again, this is only a 50 pages long story, but it affected me more than many novels have, and the characters are extremely well portrayed and feel very true. The end was also very good, just as I though that this story was not really a mystery, it turned out that it was.
Speaking of impactful characters, the story by Miyuki Miyabe was to me the second best when it comes to characters depiction. The protagonist is a mother who fled her abusive husband and his family and found refuge in a shelter for women. Miyuki Miyabe makes you feel immediately close to the characters, and the story was really good. I just think that it is not really a mystery.
階段室の女王 was very entertaining and very well done I found. It felt very immersive and what started like an unlucky encounter turns into a real nightmare. The way someone who is perfectly innocent starts thinking and acting like a culprit when put in a certain situation was very well described. Overall, this was a fun and entertaining read.
プロジェクト：シャーロットis a SF detective fiction and was also a fun read. Though I prefer more realistic stories, I really liked this one and found the end very good.
理由 is a more classic story, and I found that some points were not convincing enough, but still a very enjoyable story if you like the genre.
ただ、運が悪かっただけ was unfortunately coming just after 火事と標本, and it shares a similar structure where a character shares an episode of his past with someone, which leads to a long flashback. Compared to 火事と標本, which shows us a really gripping tragedy, I fond that ただ、運が悪かっただけ looked pale, and I could not feel involved in the story of what the characters felt.
Finally, I must say that the story I liked the least is 葬儀の裏で by Nanami Wakatake. After reading a whole novel by this author (プレゼント), I came to the conclusion that her writing style was not really for me. I had exactly the same feeling when reading this short story. I still found it good and I enjoyed reading it, but not as much as the other stories. I also have a hard time connecting with the characters.
I will try to get my hands on the other collections of this series. Even though I prefer novels over short stories, this book is one of my favourite reads of the year.