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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Early Cases of Akechi Kogorō

Edogawa Rampo

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Title: The Early Cases of Akechi Kogorō
Author: Edogawa Rampo
Genre: Fiction
Written: 1925/6 (Eng. 2014)
Length: 205 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: The Early Cases of Akechi Kogorō - US
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  • Translated and with an Introduction by William Varteresian

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Our Assessment:

B : tends towards the almost ridiculously elaborate, but enjoyable entertainments

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       The Early Cases of Akechi Kogorō collects three stories and a novel which are among the first works in which Rampo's famous character appeared; Rampo would go on to write many more and enjoy great success with the (first amateur then private) detective's further adventures, including with The Fiend with Twenty Faces.
       Akechi first appears in 'The Case of the Murder on D. Hill' (D坂の殺人事件), as the friend of the narrator. He is a young man in his mid-twenties, living in a small room that is filled to overflowing with books -- "I let out a gasp of astonishment. The state of the room was simply too bizarre", the narrator says, upon first setting foot in it -- and a reputation as something of an eccentric. Unsurprisingly, given all the books, he's read widely -- pulling out a volume on the unreliability of eye-witness recollections, for example, to make a point. The story itself is bookish, too, involving a murder at a bookshop, having Akechi and the narrator discuss (still relatively new author) Tanizaki, and, eventually, noting comparisons to a Sherlock Holmes tale and Poe; another famous author also figures prominently in the explanation of the unusual crime.
       Here, as in the other stories, the facts and observations long seem perplexing -- and only Akechi is able to disentangle them. Elements of the unusual -- including the perverse and unnatural -- are also recurring ones, and the narrator's reaction to this particular case applies just as well to the others:

     Hearing Akechi's bizarre conclusion, I shuddered reflexively. What a case this was !
       That's what appeals to Akechi: he is -- or quickly becomes -- a character who, as he explains in 'The Ghost' (幽霊), goes about:
seeking problems like this. Seeking out and solving secret happenings and mysterious cases from the far corners of the world is my pastime.
       The second story, 'The Black Hand Gang' (黒手組), recounted by the same narrator, is interesting because it centers around a cryptogram -- an obvious challenge in translation, though certainly adequately presented here (though without any chance that the reader could decode it for themselves: it hinges upon the Japanese writing system, as is later explained and shown ...). The case involves a relative of the narrator's, Fumiko -- "nineteen at the time and an extraordinary beauty" -- and her disappearance. A ransom is paid, but the girl remains missing -- but Akechi quite quickly gets to the bottom of things. Not before we learn how thorough he is, however:
     There are at least six possibilities that might explain it.
       'The Ghost' is the most obvious of the stories, the secret behind the way in which Mr.Hirata finds himself haunted by his former self-appointed rival, Tsujidō -- a man: "whose favorite phrase had been: 'I can't die until I stick this dagger into his guts'". Apparently failing with that particular ambition, Tsujidō does manage to unsettle Mr.Hirata from the afterlife -- until, of course, Akechi clears things up.
       It is with the novel, 'The Dwarf' (一寸法師) -- by itself almost twice as long as the three stories that make up the rest of this volume combined -- that Akechi, and Rampo's storytelling, really come into their own. Like 'The Dwarf', this is told in the third person, allowing for a slightly more removed perspective -- and one that can survey a much broader set of characters and actions. The story again involves the disappearance of a nineteen-year-old woman, Michiko Yamano -- though it begins with something entirely different, culminating in the discovery of a severed leg.
       Severed limbs continue to figure in the story, finding their way onto display mannequins as well as a package sent to the Yamano household. As to Michiko's disappearance, it is baffling: there seems to be no way that she could have left the house, or her body been removed from it, what with the many servants and tight security there. Michiko's stepmother hires Akechi -- recently returned from Shanghai, and now: "something of a fop" --, and he slowly pieces together this many-faceted puzzle - beginning with finding an explanation for how Michiko was removed from the house (though it remains unclear, at that point, whether she was alive or dead at the time).
       The story does not focus solely on Akechi's investigative work, instead following some of the other characters on their various undertakings -- criminal, coerced, and also investigative. The figure of the dreadful dwarf is prominent throughout, a diminutive man of pure evil, but the exact connections remain unclear.
       Michiko, too, turns out to be a more complex figure than initially thought -- as the discovery of her having: "exchanged love letters with seven men in just two years" suggests. The number of people who might have a motive for wanting to do her harm, and the secrets they keep, seem to be constantly increasing -- though Akechi also continues to find reasons and explanations why many of them can't have been involved in the crime. Still, clues and facts don't immediately add up neatly:
The mysterious thing was that the truth of the case did not become clearer each time a new piece of evidence appeared. On the contrary, it seemed to grow more tangled and obscure.
       As Akechi warned already at the early stages of this complicated set of crimes:
This is a most absurd fantasy. But its absurdity makes it all the more likely to be true. There are sme extraordinary points about this case. There are points which cannot be considered with common sense.
       So also near the final explanation one of those who worked along with Akechi finds:
Because the story was so strange, so seemingly ridiculous, he even wondered if Akechi might be playing a trick on him.
       The trick -- or rather tricks -- are all the author's, making for a ridiculously but enjoyably twisted tale, taking several very unexpected turns before coming to the (final) resolution. It's not the kind of mystery any reader would have any hope of figuring out for themselves beforehand, but then that's not Rampo's style. Instead, he offers some rather fantastical and outlandish invention, and a nice mix of depravity and decent suspense. Particularly enjoyable here is how many people seem to possibly be culpable -- for something, at least -- especially then in light of the ultimate resolution.
       While Akechi is still a developing character in these pieces -- though Rampo seems to be settling on a more fully developed version by 'The Dwarf' --, he's already an appealing character, cleverly deducing and determining what might have happened. Wisely, Rampo does not present the stories, or the novel, entirely focused around Akechi; indeed, especially in 'The Dwarf' other characters dominate for long stretches. Beyond the mysteries, some of the observation is good too -- such as that introducing a chief detective from the Metropolitan Police Department: "In spite of his advanced position, the chief had not yet grown fat".
       There's a very vivid imagination on display in Rampo's early Akechi-stories, and some creative criminal ideas. These do veer towards the absurd, but with enough charm to continue to exert considerable fascination; if some of the twists (upon twists ...) come to seem a bit silly, they are still fun. It's fascinating to watch Rampo begin to develop his own style, clearly modeled on the stories of Arthur Conan Doyle and Edgar Allan Poe, and they are already solid little works.

- M.A.Orthofer, 2 June 2018

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The Early Cases of Akechi Kogorō: 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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© 2018-2021 the complete review

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