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translated by James B Harris
Japanese Tales of Mystery and Imagination

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Charles E Tuttle, Tokyo, 1972
first published 1956
(price: ?; 228 pages)

The blurb on the back:

Here at last from the mystic isles of Japan are these blood-curdling, soul-chilling Japanese Tales of Mystery & Imagination. Rich with the phantasy of the Orient, written with the quick tempo of the West, here in English translation for the first time are some of the best mystery shorts by Edogawa Rampo, Japan's foremost mystery author. The original Japanese mystery writer to write in the fast-moving style of the modern Western mystery, Rampo, with his suspense-packed stories of weird and intriguing imagination, has enthralled Japanese mystery enthusiasts for over thirty years.
Collected here are nine of the most outstanding examples of his short mysteries; the chilling story of the quadruple amputee and his perverse and lustful wife, the weird record of a man who creates a mysterious chamber of mirrors and discovers hidden pleasures, the morbid confession of the maniac who envisioned a career of foolproof 'psychological' murders, the bizarre tale of the chairmaker who buried himself inside an armchair and enjoyed a promiscuous career of sordid 'loves' with the women who sat on the 'chair'; and others.

opening lines:
One of the queerest friends I ever had was Kan Tanuma. From the very start I suspected that he was mentally unbalanced.

Largely unsung abroad, Hirai Taro (1894-1965) was a hugely influential writer at home, credited with introducing the Western tradition of the detective story into Japanese culture. He started writing in the 1920s and adopted the pseudonym Edogawa Rampo, in honour of his major influence, Edgar Allan Poe (try saying it quickly with a Japanese accent), hence the title of this volume which is - as far as I know - the only volume of his work in English.

Mostly these are macabre murder tales, with the grotesque elements dominating over the detection. But there are also touches of Dostoyevsky and a few oddities that leaven the mix nicely: best of all is 'The Hell of Mirrors' in which an eccentric scientist constructs a vast hollow sphere covered with mirrors on the inside - it's the kind of thing that might have been intrigued Fitz-James O'Brien.

I have no idea whether this selection is truly representative of Rampo's work, but I'd strongly recommend it to any fan of weird fiction.


alternative editions:
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