#319: A Call to Arms – ‘The Running Dead’ (1985) by Soji Shimada [trans. Ho-Ling Wong & John Pugmire 2017]

EQMM Nov Dec 2017

Given that an overwhelming majority of modern crime writing really isn’t my thing, it’s always lovely to see Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine publish some short fiction for me to get excited about, like a new Paul Halter story or, as in the current November/December 2017 issue, something from Japanese master Soji Shimada (I’ll Westernise his name herein, since that’s what I’ve done previously).

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#102: Paul Halter Day – II: The Impossibility of More Impossibilities

Paul Halter Day 2

Declaring that the detective novel was the only form of literature that put the reader to work, [S.S. van Dine] argued that “a deduction game emphasising fair play within a limited setting” would be the story structure with the best potential to result in masterpiece mystery stories […] But when the elements of the game are too severely limited and the building materials are all the same, only the first few builders will get all the glory and there will be an over-abundance of similar novels…

—Soji Shimada, in his introduction to The Moai Island Puzzle

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#59: On Locked Rooms and Impossible Crimes in fiction – something of a ramble

footprints

I was recently reading a book on the promise of it providing a locked room murder, to which I am rather partial.  When said murder arrived, it took on this approximate form: a large indoor hall with a free-standing stone chapel inside it which has one door and no windows or other points of ingress, a crowd witnesses a lady entering said chapel – which is deserted – alone and the doors are shut, only for them to be opened some time later and said lady found beaten, bruised and devoid of life.  It’s moderately classic in its setup and should therefore provide some interest, but once I read the details of the crime I gave up on the book and will not return to it (in fact, it’s already down the charity shop).

This is not due to any squeamishness on my part, or a particular problem I had with the writing or the characters – both were fine, if unexceptional – but rather just because it just wasn’t interesting.  It is hard to put this in words, which is why I imagine this post may run rather longer than usual, but there were simply no features of intrigue to me in that supposedly impossible murder.  And so I got to thinking…forget plot or prose or atmosphere, take away all the context of an impossible crime, particularly forget about the solutions: what makes an interesting fictional impossibility? Continue reading

#30: The Tokyo Zodiac Murders (1981) by Soji Shimada [trans. Ross & Shika Mackenzie 2004]

Tokyo ZodiacSome families have all the luck – take the Khardashians, for example, who are universally blessed with charm, intelligence and talent – whereas some miss out altogether.  Into this second category would definitely fall the Umezawa clan: not only is patriarch Heikichi found battered to death in his locked art studio, his eldest daughter is then found murdered a few months later and, following that, his six other daughters, step-daughters and nieces all disappear simultaneously and their dismembered bodies are discovered at various intervals buried in different locations around Japan.  Then it turns out that Heikichi Umezawa had written a document outlining his intention to do exactly this to these women, with methods of murder and disposal based on their zodiac signs, so the mystery of who could have carried out his nefarious scheme raises its ugly head and remains unsolved for decades…

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