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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Fiend with Twenty Faces

Edogawa Rampo

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Title: The Fiend with Twenty Faces
Author: Edogawa Rampo
Genre: Novel
Written: 1936 (Eng. 2012)
Length: 181 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: The Fiend with Twenty Faces - US
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The Fiend with Twenty Faces - India
  • Japanese title: 怪人二十面相
  • Translated by Dan Luffey
  • With a Preface by Ho-ling Wong
  • With illustrations by Tim Smith 3

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Our Assessment:

B : crime fiction for the younger set, but has some decent twists

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       The Fiend with Twenty Faces is the first in a 'Boy Detectives'-series, and is certainly aimed at a younger readership. An intrepid young would-be detective does figure in the story, the boy Kobayashi Yoshio. He is the assistant to master detective Akechi Kogorō -- but, conveniently, Akechi is out of the country for much of the novel, so Kobayashi even has to try to help thwart the fiendish master-thief, 'Twenty Faces', by himself for a while.
       It is Twenty Faces that is the dominant figure here, and he does make for a good villain. As someone (well ...) notes early on:

His weapon isn't strength; it's intelligence. And if intelligence is used cleverly, the impossible is possible.
       The real trick isn't up Twenty Faces sleeve, but rather in his ability to change his appearance -- and with it his (apparent) identity. Sure, not everyone is fooled -- Akechi Kogorō, for one, sees right through him when the master detective is back in town -- but most fall for Twenty Faces' act hook, line, and sinker. But then it is always a pretty good act.
       This makes for some entertaining crimes, because Twenty Faces also likes to announce him crimes, kindly sending his targets letters letting them know exactly what he'll be taking with him, and when he's going to pick up the loot -- meaning he winds up committing his crimes pretty much literally under the noses of his victims. In one of the escalating series of crimes, Twenty Faces takes on one household -- feebly protected by a moat -- where he sets his sights on the owner's fabulous art collection, which includes: "masterpieces on the order of national treasures, rumored to be worth billions of yen". The grand finale ? The national museum -- with Twenty Faces announcing in the newspaper, for all to read, exactly on what day and at what time he will be cleaning the place out.
       Twenty Faces' disguise-act would seem to be a routine that could only be repeated so often, and certainly readers quickly suspect exactly what is going on in each case, but Edogawa manages to add some twists that keep everyone guessing just enough. With first Kobayashi and then Akechi falling into the clutches of Twenty Faces -- or at least seeming to ? -- the sense of menace escalates, too. And Edogawa finishes it all off very nicely, with Akechi turning the tables on Twenty Faces in a clever twist -- proving he is, indeed, "the perfect match for Twenty Faces".
       This is light, adolescent entertainment, and very much escapist crime fiction, but it has some charm and is quite well done. Hardly realistic, Twenty Faces' crimes nevertheless are appealingly conceived and presented, and certainly amuse in their audacity, and The Fiend with Twenty Faces is good fun for what it is.

- M.A.Orthofer, 22 April 2012

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The Fiend with Twenty Faces: Reviews: Other books by Edogawa Rampo under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Japanese author Edogawa Rampo (江戸川 乱歩; actually Hirai Tarō (平井 太郎)) lived 1894 to 1965.

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