Visit from a Maestro

It was a privilege and a pleasure last month to receive a visit from the great Soji Shimada and his lovely wife and daughter. (I had previously met Yuko, the daughter, several times after we collaborated on an adaption of one of his stories: The Locked House of Pythagoras (EQMM August 2103); she continues to act as the patient translator-go-between while she completes her studies at Columbia University, just up the road.) Shimada-san, as explained elsewhere on this site, is the father of the Shinhonkaku (new authentic) literary movement which has seen the resurgence of classical detective fiction with fair-play plots and clues and an emphasis on impossible crime. The popularity of Honkaku is immense: there are hundreds of books published every year, schoolchildren and young adults lap it up in mangaform and thousands of people turn out when Soji has a public appearance:

Contrast that with the US today: the editrix of EQMM complained to me that she had a hard time finding ‘whodunit’ stories because there was no interest among most American writers.

Despite his fame and recognition, Soji is charming and approachable, with a good sense of humour. I learnt over dinner that he is an ardent Anglophile: he played rugby at school (right wing) and drove sports cars such as MGA and MGB. When I recounted a near-death experience in a TR4, he joked that God saved me for a purpose: to popularize Honkaku in the United States. He loves Sherlock Holmes, of course, but also the work of more ironic and humorous writers such as Saki and Jerome K. Jerome. Like the other great contemporary impossible crime writer, Paul Halter, he is fascinated by Jack the Ripper and has written a novel about him. (More of that another time.)  

Over coffee two days later, we signed a contact for LRI to reprint his masterpiece The Tokyo Zodiac Murders and discussed numerous projects, including one especially dear to his heart: an English-language anthology of famous Japanese locked room/impossible crime mysteries. If we can overcome numerous obstacles, the foremost of which being rights issues, he will have accomplished something that the doyen of Japanese mystery literature Edogawa Rampo, failed to achieve. I pledged to do whatever it took.

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