Edogawa Rampo (1894 – 1965)

1087Edogawa Rampo, also romanized as Edogawa Ranpo, (pseudonym of Hirai Tarō, 1894–1965) is the acknowledged grand master of Japan’s golden age of crime and mystery fiction. In the early part of his career, he created the Japanese gothic mystery, developing the work of Edgar Allan Poe and related nineteenth century writers in a distinctly Japanese form. This part of his career coincided with a great flowering in Japanese literature and culture, a relatively free and uninhibited popular press being a defining feature of the times. In this context, Rampo’s dark vision and extravagant grotesquery found an avid readership, and had a profound influence on other writers. Public morals tightened in the years leading up to Japan’s Asian and Pacific wars, and censorship was tight in the war years. Rampo’s early work fell out of favor, and he turned to adventure stories with detective characters in leading roles. After the war, he concentrated on stories for young readers, and on developing the Japan Association of Mystery Writers. The Edogawa Rampo Prize, originally endowed by Rampo himself, is awarded annually to the finest work of the year in the mystery genre. It is the most important prize of its type in Japan. (Source: Kurodahan Press)

Kurodahan Press books by this author:

  • Edogawa Rampo: The Early Cases of Akechi Kogorō (translated by William Varteresian) 
  • The Black Lizard and Beast in the Shadows (translated by Ian Hughes), with an introduction by Mark Schreiber
  • Edogawa Rampo’s The Fiend with Twenty Faces —A Tale of the Boy Detectives Club (translated by Dan Luffey )
  • The Edogawa Rampo Reader, (translated by Seth Jacobowitz), with an introduction by Tatsumi Takayuki

Further reading:

196151The Black Lizard (Kurotokage) first appeared as a magazine serial, published in twelve monthly instalments between January and December, 1934. It features Rampo’s main detective character, Akechi Kogorō: a figure who combines elements of Poe’s Auguste Dupin with the gentleman adventurers of British golden age detective literature. The Black Lizard herself is a master criminal and femme fatale, whose charged relationship with detective Akechi and unconcealed sadism have inspired shuddering admiration in generations of readers. The story has been adapted for film and television several times, most notably in a 1968 feature film that included a cameo by Mishima Yukio, and a title song with lyrics by the celebrated novelist. Mishima was also involved in the stage adaptation the same year conceived and directed by Miwa Akihiro, in which Miwa himself played the part of the Black Lizard. It is largely thanks to this classic of 1960s Japanese theatre that the story remains associated with sexual transgression and blurred boundaries between male and female, hunter and hunted, detective and criminal.

Themes of deviance and sado-masochism are central to Beast in the Shadows (Inju), a tale from the height of Rampo’s grotesque period, which appeared in serial form between August and October, 1928. This tale of secret identities, violent sexuality, and dark crimes stands in stark contrast to the genteel detective stories then popular in English literature. It bears comparison with the American pulp fiction serial, the genre that led to the classic modern American crime novel, and with the more extravagant moments of film noir. Beast in the Shadows, however, recalls classic themes in Japanese popular fiction, with origins in the illustrated novels and mass market shockers of the Edo period (1600-1868). Rampo’s special contribution was to combine this strain in Japanese literature with styles and atmospheres imported from Europe: from Oscar Wilde and Maurice Maeterlinck, to Rampo’s own contemporaries in the American pulps and English novels.

Introduction by Mark Schreiber
In March, 1984, a team of criminals abducted Ezaki Katsuhisa, president of confectioner Ezaki-Glico, from his home in the Osaka suburb of Nishinomiya. After Ezaki escaped his captors unharmed, the gang embarked on a string of audacious blackmail attempts against food manufacturers in the Kansai region. In a stream of sarcastic letters to local newspaper bureaus, the criminals taunted the police. Their typewritten notes were signed Kaijin Nijūichi Mensō (The Mystery Man of Twenty-one Faces) – an unmistakable allusion to Edogawa Rampo’s fictitious criminal mastermind, Kaijin Nijū Mensō (The Mystery Man of Twenty Faces), nemesis of detective Akechi Kogorō, whose exploits first appeared in an eponymous 1936 magazine serial. read the complete introduction.

The Black Lizard and Beast in the Shadows has been reviewed, among others, at Crime Fiction Lover.

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