Work Title: Deuce and Trio: The Farther Shores of Crime Fiction
Work Author(s): Peter Skinner
Byline: Peter Skinner
Anyone wanting distinctly different crime fiction will find it in the three widely (in one case, wildly) differing authors considered here. The Curious Casebook of Inspector Hanshichi: Detective Stories of Old Edo, by Okamoto Kido (University of Hawaii Press, 376 pages, hardcover, $50.00, 978-0-8248-3053-3, softcover, $24.00, 978-0-8248-3100-4) presents fourteen of the sixty-nine pioneering crime stories that Kido wrote between 1916 and 1937. The author, a Sherlock Holmes enthusiast and translator, sets his stories in the 1860s, when feudal Edo of the Shogunate became Tokyo during the modernizing Meiji Restoration. He captures life in a period of rapid change as vividly as Conan Doyle caught late Victorian and Edwardian life, and---like the latter---was a remarkable if incidental social historian.
Kido's pipe-smoking, man-of-the-people Inspector Hanshichi's cases, as recounted to a young friend, involve every caste and class. A debt-burdened entertainer kidnaps a younger woman to sell her to a brothel, adding murder when things go awry; a young women unwittingly kills her lover, the theft of the hush-money leads to a greed-murder by an "industrious" ex-prostitute who doubles as a faithful wife; and a dream-haunted young samurai wife prepares to sacrifice all to ensure her son's well-being... The "high city, low city" of Tokyo with its shysters, loose women, ghost-fearers and cool crooks, playhouses, eel-restaurants, and temples come grippingly alive in surprisingly modern characters and language ("the type of guy who messes around with the boss' daughter . . . ," "the pawn-broker's trade, inextricably linked to criminal activity").
An excellent translation by Ian MacDonald and useful notes on historical allusions enhance these powerful stories.
In Sherlock in Shanghai: Stories of Crime and Detection (University of Hawaii Press, 218 pages, hardcover, $55.00, 978-0-8248-3034-2, softcover, $24.00, 978-0-8248-3099-1) Cheng Xiaoqing, a translator of Conan Doyle who wrote in the 1920s and '30s recounts eight cases of Huo Sang and Bao Lang, finely translated by Timothy C. Wong. The violin-playing Chinese Holmes and his admiring, if obtuse, Watson faithfully reflect the dynamic of different temperaments that existed between their prototypes. In "Cat's Eye," in which the South China Swallow, a quixotic master thief, announces...