Sunday, April 29, 2012

東野 圭吾's tribute to 江戸川 乱歩 and 松本 清張

It may be coincidence, but a district and a park on the first page of Keigo Higashino's The Devotion of Suspect X bear the names of two pioneering Japanese crime writers.

The page takes a character on a walk to Seicho Garden Park that passes a road leading to Edogawa. Edogawa is one of Tokyo's twenty-three special wards. More to the point, Seicho Matsumoto (1909-1992) and Edogawa Rampo (1894-1965) were two of the most popular and influential crime writers in twentieth-century Japan. Edogawa Rampo (it's a pen name, and yes, it really is a Japanese rendering of Edgar Allan Poe) promoted Japanese crime fiction tirelessly and founded the group that later became Mystery Writers of Japan.  He admired Arthur Conan Doyle in addition to Poe, and his fiction, criticism, and organizing "played a major role in the development of Japanese mystery fiction," according to Wikipedia.

Seicho Matsumoto was a kind of Jean-Patrick Manchette, a writer of spare, bleak, socially acute narratives credited with breaking new ground in narrative technique:
"Dispensing with formulaic plot devices such as puzzles," Wikipedia says, "Seichō incorporated elements of human psychology and ordinary life. In particular, his works often reflect a wider social context and postwar nihilism that expanded the scope and further darkened the atmosphere of the genre. His exposé of corruption among police officials as well as criminals was a new addition to the field."
Seichō Matsumoto memorial museum,
Fukuoka Prefecture, Japan
The solitary walker of Higashino's opening chapter is a mathematics teacher who engages in amateur sleuthing that will remind readers of Edogawa Rampo's man Sherlock Holmes. And his profession just might mark another point of affinity with Matsumoto, who wrote a novel called in English Points and Lines. (How much more mathematical can one get?) Higashino's emphasis on geography may also bring Matsumoto to mind.

If all this is mere coincidence, the coincidence is suggestive. Let's assume it's deliberate and once again ask this diverting question: How have crime writers paid tribute in their stories to predecessors and colleagues?
***
The Devotion of Suspect X was shortlisted for best novel at this week's Edgar Awards from the Mystery Writers of America, one of four books by a non-American author on the five-book shortlist and one of two translated novels. The winner was Gone by Mo Hayder.

(Here's an old post about Seicho Matsumoto, my reading of whom predates this blog. Rereading the post reminds me of what a bracing writer Matsumoto was.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2012

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18 Comments:

Blogger seana said...

I've started the Higashino and like it so far, but have been pulled away from it for the time being.

I read Inspector Imanishi Investigates many years ago, and liked it a lot, although at the moment I don't remember much about the plot.

April 29, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

"Inspector Imanishi Investigates" was one of the first books I read when I started reading crime fiction from abroad. That led me to "Points and Lines," which I also quite liked, and to a book of stories that I liked less. This post might send me back to those books.

April 29, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I remember more about the atmosphere than about the plots of the books.

April 29, 2012  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

I liked The Devotion of Suspect X. It's unusual for a crime fiction novel, exploring a level of alienation and detachment not seen much in Western societies.

I won't say it's particular to Japan, but I wonder what it is there that leads so many writers to focus on that alienation and detachment from other people.

April 29, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That sounds a bit like Seicho Matsumoto's books. Maybe that alienation has something to do with Japan's forced postwar adjustment to a new position in the world.

April 29, 2012  
Anonymous solo said...

How have crime writers paid tribute in their stories to predecessors and colleagues?

If I'm not mistaken you described McKinty's Falling Glass as having

A series of homages to Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, the Coen brothers, Ken Bruen, Ernest Hemingway, The Godfather, Sergio Leone, and Warren Zevon.

I'll take your word for it.

Matsumoto has a memorial museum devoted to him? That's pretty cool. They do things better in Japan. What would be the western equivalent of that? Is there a memorial museum to Chandler somewhere? Or Hammett?

Not that I'd want to visit it
or anything. Just curious.

April 29, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Solo, McKinty's tributes are both obvious and unobtrusive. He renders them in the form of chapter titles, and he does not attribute the titles. Ken Bruen's tributes, in the form of attributed epigraphs he uses as chapoter headings, can be obtrusive, signposts that one is about to read something important. That's a bit like Stieg Larsson prefacing chapters of one of his books with grim statistics about violence against women. If an author has to shout that loud that he has an important point to make, he ought to consider another profession.

Writer's museums are odd things (what is there to see in them that one could not read elsewhere?), though I bought a book of Flann O'Brien's at the Writers' Museum in Dublin.

April 29, 2012  
Blogger seana said...

Personally, I love Ken Bruen's attributed epigraphs, and I don't take them as meaning anything about the importance of his own writing. I often find them tantalizing leads to things I might like to read.

I enjoy Adrian's titles, but I don't always find them as obvious as you do.

I really liked the Writer's Museum in Dublin, and spent a very enjoyable afternoon there. They have a very good bookstore and there is nothing mummified feeling about the place at all.

April 29, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, I liked the Dublin Writers Museum because much of that literary history was new to me. I liked the book shop. I bought a collection of the newspaper colums Flann O'Brien wrote under the name Myles na gCopaleen.

I have mixed feelings about Bruen's spigraphs. The writers he quotes will usually be worth reading, but such epigraphs seem obtrusive in a work of fiction, as if they briefly drag me out of one fictional world for too-brief glimpses of another. One book, I think one that Bruen co-wrote with another author, even included an epigraph from one of that author's books. That I can do without.

April 29, 2012  
Blogger seana said...

My life is maybe more fractured than yours, so I don't mind that kind of taking out of the story. A chapter ending and beginning is already a kind of interruption, isn't it?

One reason I think it works is that Jack Taylor is such a reading sort of guy,and Galway, in my brief experience seems a very reading kind of place.

April 29, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I enjoy Jack Taylor's choices in reading matter, but I might roll my eyes if he read a novel by Ken Bruen. Of course, I smiled when Salvo Montalbano chose a novel by Andrea Camilleri as his reading material in Camilleri's The Potter's Field.

Maybe it rains so much in Galway that people have to stay inside and read.

April 29, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Well, I still say a novel by Ken Bruen and Jason Starr (as much as I enjoyed the book) ought not to have an epigraph from Jason Starr. And I was mildly annoyed when one of the Brant and Robers novels included an epigraph that referred to a mass killing at "Montreal University." In fact, the school's name is the "University of Montreal."

April 29, 2012  
Blogger seana said...

Rain may help, but I think it probably has to do with the fact that they have bunch of really good bookstores. Or did when I was there. I don't know what it's like now, although I do know that Kenny's has hung on.

I imagine that if Bruen referred to his own work, it would probably be in an amusing way.

April 29, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Bruen refers to books in wildly amusing ways in the bodies of his own books. Think of Brant's obsession with Ed McBain in the Brant and Roberts novels or Jack Taylor's reaction to being given a biography of Richard Branson. It's the extra-textual material that I find problematic. I think Bruen may be too friendly a guy, too eager to throw credit to people he likes and admires in the form of chapter-heading epigraphs.

On the other hand, I was startled to find one such epigraph form Karin Fossum.

April 30, 2012  
Blogger seana said...

I think we may simply have a different level of interest in the extra-textual. I find them an enhancement rather than a detraction.

I don't mind being sent to notes or footnotes, either, as long as they have something interesting to say in addition.

April 30, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

We see eye-to-eye on footnotes (and end notes). Stephen Sartarelli's notes to Camilleri's Montalbano novels are a joy, and I've praised translator's Sian Reynolds brief but illuminating note at the end of Fred Vargas' Wash This Blood Clean From My Hand.

April 30, 2012  
Blogger Kevin McCarthy said...

I can't think of any tributes offhand--similar to above, I remember atmosphere, characters and generally whether I liked it or not and rarely anything else in crime novels--but one could say Michael Connolly pays tribute to a certain Dutch painter who, were he to come back for a visit, might recognise some of his best work in the orgyopolis that is LA. (Don't get me wrong, I'm with Randy Newman on this and love LA; one of my brothers lives there...)

I have the Devotion of Suspect X on my shelf and can't wait to read it. I haven't read Matsumoto, to my shame, but one of the things I really like about Japanese crime fiction is that it is as concerned with social realism as it is with plot. Out, by Kirino Natsuo (I think) and Villain by...can't remember, are two brilliant examples of this. They are books which forces one to look at the causes, social/economic/psychological behind the crimes and to sympathise with the perpetrators rather than the all-knowing, all-solving cops. They challenge the reader to examine his/her own morality in a way that few crime novels do these days.

April 30, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I've always thought Michael Connelly risked charges of pretentiousness giving his protagonist a name like that, but the one person I've heard make that complaint likes his books.

Matsumoto is certainly a sharp social observer. Devotion of Suspect X includes a fair bit of self-examination on the parts of several of its characters...all, really.

April 30, 2012  

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