One of my favourite blog spots provides a lengthy and very thoughtful review of Keikichi Osaka’s short story collection The Ginza Ghost. The comparison to the turn-of-the-century works by Meade and Eustace is very apt and one that frankly hadn’t occurred to me.
Noel Vindry’s masterpiece (and I do not use the term lightly: one of the greatest locked rooms ever written, with an increasingly excruciating build-up and an impossible murder that even eye-witnesses cannot explain or even believe) The Howling Beast is now available on Kindle.
This is possible because the French publisher Gallimard no longer has the rights and a diligent search has failed to locate a rights owner. If there is one, he or she is invited to come forward.
This is the title of an article in issue 75 of the influential CADS (Crime and Detective Stories) magazine, with a highly knowledgeable readership. It can be found here: CADS75p41-44
It points out that the French novel Maximilien Heller, which preceded the first appearance of Sherlock Holmes by 16 years, featured a drug-taking private detective with acute analytic and deductive powers, a profound knowledge of the forensic science of the day, and a facility for disguise. He was frequently consulted by the police and his audacious exploits were recorded by his friend and confidant, a doctor. Sound vaguely familiar?
Doyle himself claimed he based the character of Sherlock Holmes on Dr. Joseph Bell, his professor at medical school. Better that than admit he lifted the character lock, stock and barrel from a foreign author. But that should not detract from the fact that Doyle was a far, far better writer than Cauvain and one of the world’s great storytellers who deserved every bit of his fame.
The article makes specific reference to LRI’s The Killing Needle–published in 2014 and based on an alternative version of Maximilien Heller, L’Aiguille Qui Tue —and urges people to buy it. Far be it from me to disagree…
LRI’s third honkaku offering is now out and I guarantee it will not disappoint. Our first two offerings in this fascinating genre (The Decagon House Murders and The Moai Island Puzzle) were, strictly speaking, shinhonkaku (“new orthodox”) because they belonged to the honkaku renaissance of the 1980s. And they were novels.
The Ginza Ghost, on the other hand, is a collection of short stories written between 1932 and 1947, when the original honkaku first made its appearance. The times may have been different–it was a period when Japan started to industrialise and then became embroiled in the Sino-Japenese war, during which the author, Keikichi Osaka, died–but the ingenuity was still there.
Osaka’s trade mark is extraordinary events occurring in banal surroundings. No Gothic castles or haunted mansions: just retail stores, lighthouses, mines, even brothels. Although the solutions are always strictly fair-play, there is an unreal, almost hallucinatory quality to the tales. And, recently, the current masters of shinhonkaku have rediscovered these masterful stories. One of them, Taku Ashibe (whose masterful Murder in the Red Chamber is available in English: https://www.amazon.com/Murder-Red-Chamber-Taku-Ashibe/dp/4902075385) has been gracious enough to write a fascinating introduction.
The British Library Crime Classics have acquired an excellent reputation in the last couple of years with a beautifully produced series of Golden Age novels and anthologies, for which the indefatigable Martin Edwards (the current President of the U.K.’s Detection Club) is the principal consultant/editor. Their latest publication is Miraculous Mysteries, an anthology of sixteen impossible crime/locked room short stories by such luminaries as Arthur Conan Doyle, G.K. Chesterton, Dorothy L. Sayers and Margery Allingham alongside hidden gems by less familiar writers, spanning over half a century. There couldn’t be a better introduction to the genre.
I owe my own debt of gratitude to Martin (a top-rate mystery writer himself and the author of the multiple award-winning The Golden Age of Murder about the aforementioned Detective Club). When he learned that I had unearthed the rights to Death in the Dark, the rarest locked room mystery of them all, he graciously agreed to write the Introduction and gave his enthusiastic support during its turbulent publication (more of that another time). He is indeed a gentleman and a scholar.
Washington Post had a great review April 27 (see Reviews page)
The Ginza Ghost is a collection of 12 short stories by the first major figure in the original honkaku movement in the 1940s, Keikichi Osaka. (the later renaissance in 1980s is technically called shin-honkaku = new-orthodox). All but 2 of the stories are impossible mysteries with rational solutions. Osaka’s work is characterised by a hauntingly eerie atmosphere and masterful illusions. He is currently enjoying a renaissance in his own country. (Available late May or early June). http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-1-543057-42-3
The Oops refers to the file labelled 2017_4_25 DID EQMM (Review of Death in the Dark) mistakenly containing a review for Paul Halter’s The Vampire Tree, which has now been corrected.
Mystery Scene magazine, which rarely reviews locked room novels, published a thoughtful review of Death in the Dark.
And EQMM published not one but two reviews, one of Death in the Dark (3 stars) and on of The Vampire Tree (4 stars)
For all three, see the Reviews and Accolades page. And thanks to Brian Skupin of MS and Steve Steinbock of EQMM. I look forward to seeing both of them at Malice Domestic in Washington, D.C. this weekend.
The scarcest detective novel ever? See my post of Jan 19. Trade paperback only and a bargain at $24.99
Death in the Dark, by Stacey Bishop (George Antheil) has been, up until now, the Moby Dick of detective fiction: spotted briefly in London in 1930 and almost impossible to find in the 86 years thereafter. Collectors have spend large sums (GBP 1800 in 2006) to buy this rarity, which LRI will be offering for $24.99 in March. Is it worth it? In his Introduction, Martin Edwards, winner of multiple awards for his instant classic The Golden Age of Murder and President of the Detection Club, says: “The reappearance of Death in the Dark, truly a one-of-a-kind detective novel, is long overdue and will be widely welcomed.” Martin quotes Julian Symons, in Bloody Murder, calling it “an extraordinary performance,” and Bob Adey, in Locked Room Murders, declaring it to be “an extraordinarily complex work.”
This first U.S. edition also includes a fascinating Afterword by Mauro Piccinini, an expert on Antheil, explaining how the book was actually an act of revenge. Antheil, an American who knew Ezra Pound, Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein and a host of other expatriates, had been the darling of avant-garde Europe and brought his best-known work Ballet Mechanique–which featured 16 pianos, an electric buzzer and an aircraft propeller–to Carnegie Hall for a concert which was a disaster. Ruined, he retreated to Italy, where he wrote Death in the Dark, in which he figuratively murdered the concert’s organiser and his entire family. He was helped in this endeavour by no less than three, repeat three, winners of the Nobel Prize in Literature! There is more: Hedy Lamarr, the famous Hollywood actress, makes a (fully clothed) appearance in another astonishing episode. I won’t spoil it, but suffice to say you can’t make this stuff up…
I’m pleased and flattered that Publishers Weekly not only gave it a starred review, 2016-1-2 PW Starred Review, but recognised that it was a sufficiently important literary event to warrant an interview: 2016-1-9 PW Interview