Book review: 『少年探偵団|黒蜥蜴』by Edogawa Rampo

Introduction

Title: 『少年探偵団|黒蜥蜴』(しょうねんたんていだん|くろとかげ)
Author: Edogawa Rampo (江戸川乱歩)
集英社文庫
443 pages

This is the tenth book in the Kogoro Akechi collection I am reading this year (published by Shueisha). It contains two novels: The Boy Detectives Club that belongs to the sub-series for children of the same name, and The Black Lizard, which is one of Edogawa Rampo’s most famous works.

Review

I loved the two novels of this book, and it was one of the most entertaining reads of the series.

黒蜥蜴

黒蜥蜴 or The Black Lizard might be Kogoro Akechi’s most famous adventure, but now that I have read it, I really don’t understand why. It is good yes, but it is also very similar to all the other books of the series, and there are other titles that I consider to be better.

The only thing that makes this novel stand out compared to the others is the identity of our criminal: a woman. This is the first time that Kogoro Akechi has to fight against a woman, and the Black Lizard is an interesting character. She sometimes uses the pronoun 僕 when referring to herself and collects beautiful objects: art, precious stones… and humans. In our story, she is after the beautiful Sanae.

この世の美しいものという美しいものを、すっかり集めてみたいのがあたしの念願なのよ。宝石や美術品や美しい人や……

And this is how she addresses Sanae: それに、あんたは、あんまり美し過ぎたのよ。僕は宝石もご執心だけど、宝石よりも、あんたのからだがほしくなった。

The Black Lizard is certainly one of the most intriguing adversaries of the series, but apart from that, the novel had nothing new or unique to justify its being more famous than the others.

I was curious to see what the back cover of the French translation was saying about the novel (translated by Rose-Marie Fayolle, published by Philippe Picquier), and the summary talks about kidnapping and disguise as if it were some unique feature of the story, but there is kidnapping and disguise in almost every single novel of the series. To me, this would hardly be a selling point, rather the opposite.

There is one scene in particular where I thought that there would be some clever explanation to something that seemed impossible. I was sure that I had overseen something and that I would be surprised by the solution, I even paused for a moment and tried to work out how the Black Lizard had done it. But no, in the end, it was the same good old trick that has been used again and again throughout the series.

Similarly, there is another trick that was very exciting and new when it appeared for the first time in the series, but it is used now for the third time. I could see it from miles away, just the mention of a single word and I know what was coming. I could not believe that Edogawa Rampo was really using this same trick for the third time!

Another thing that I find always a bit disappointing is that we never know how Kogoro Akechi arrived to his conclusions. He foresees everything, outmanoeuvres his opponent, is always one step ahead. But how did he know??

Overall, this novel was very entertaining, and I enjoyed reading it. I just did not find it better than the others and it is certainly not my favourite. The fact that it is so famous made me expect more, so I ended up being a little disappointed, but all in all, I would say that this novel belongs to the better ones of the series, though by far not the best.

少年探偵団

On the other hand, 少年探偵団 was truly excellent, and even though it is a book for children, I enjoyed it more than 黒蜥蜴. Again, most of the action, scenes, escapes and tricks have already been used, but somehow I don’t find it annoying at all in a children book. On the contrary, it feels strangely comforting and exciting because you can anticipate what will come next.

There are other things that make the Boy Detectives Club exciting. This is the third book I read from this series, but it is the first one where we see the club really in action with the introduction of several members and an important scene where we see the boys acting as a team. The 七つ道具 of the detective are also an addition proper to the Boy Detectives Club series that does not appear in the regular series. I really loved the scenes where the detective tools were used, it is ingenious and a great addition to the story.

The passage I liked the most in the novel is Akechi’s 四つのなぞ. When our young protagonist Kobayashi exposes the problem to Akechi (who, as often, just came back from abroad), Akechi challenges his young assistant by telling him to solve the 4 problems that would bring light to the whole mystery. This chapter was a real delight to read, even though it was easy to solve all four points for an adult.

I also like how the narrator participates in the tension by addressing the reader or commenting things like: ひょっとすると、まにあわないかもしれません。ああ、早く、早く。おまわりさんたち、早くかけつけてください。

Finally, in the Boy Detectives Club series, Akechi is some kind of super detective who always knows everything and solves the crime before it even happens. But somehow, this is not annoying at all in this series as we identify with Kobayashi and see Akechi as an ideal detective, or even some kind of deity: 小林君は、明智先生を、まるで全能の神さまかなんかのように思っているのです。この世の中に、先生にわからないことなんて、ありえないと信じているのです. It is more annoying when it happens in the regular series like mentionned above where Akechi seemed to know all the Black Lizard’s plans in advance.

Overall, 少年探偵団 has everything to make an excellent adventure/detective book for children, and I start loving the Boy Detectives Club series more than the Kogoro Akechi series.