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.

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.