Project Bungou Stray Dogs: Japanese Tales of Mystery and Imagination, by Edogawa Rampo

196150Original Title: N/A

Author: Edogawa Rampo (江戸川 乱歩, Edogawa Ranpo*)

Translator: James B. Harris

Genres: Horror, Mystery-Thriller

Rating: ✮✮✮✮


“The living world is a dream. The nocturnal dream is reality.”

— Edogawa Rampo

Project BSD

Stories in this book:

  • The Human Chair
  • The Psychological Test
  • The Caterpillar
  • The Cliff
  • The Hell of Mirrors
  • The Twins
  • The Red Chamber
  • Two Crippled Men
  • The Traveler With The Pasted Rag Picture

Edogawa Rampo is referred to as “Japan’s Edgar Allan Poe”, and to that there are multiple reasons why:

  1. Edgar Allan Poe was Rampo’s mentor; he was an avid reader of both American and European mysteries, and a big fan of Poe’s work. (Eddie’s swelled head would blow up at that.)
  2. Similarly to Poe being the creator of the modern detective story, Rampo created the first original Japanese mystery story.
  3. Edogawa Rampo is the Japanese pronunciation of Edgar Allan Poe. The author’s birth name was Tarō Hirai (平井 太郎, Hirai Tarō).

These stories are more suspense than mystery. At any rate, those that contain murder are not about whodunit, but how they were caught, such as in The Psychological Test and The Twins. Some of them are horrifying and some are grotesque, but all of them are very, very peculiar.

Take The Human Chair, the first and probably the best story in the entire collection. A man that defines himself as “ugly beyond description” writes a letter to an authoress. In the letter, he recounts how he created an armchair that could inhabit a human being, how he holed himself up inside of it, and his experiences with all of the women that have sat in it – all of them unknowing that there is a man underneath them, caressing their body.

Gives you the absolute creeps, doesn’t it?

Then in The Hell of Mirrors, a man obsessed with optics creates a perfect sphere of mirrors and accidentally gets locked inside of it, and the images reflected cause him to go raving mad. In The Twins, one of two identical twin brothers confesses how he murdered his other half and took his place, then proceeded to carry out crimes as his true self while he continued to pose as his brother. In The Red Chamber, a madman recounts how he caused the deaths of ninety-nine individual people without lifting a single finger.

I was disturbed over and over again.

Another great thing about these stories is that they’re written in a way that feels timeless, like they could take place anywhere, anytime. Though the style of these stories is without a doubt Japanese, the translation gives it a Western feel, and this is due partly to Edogawa Rampo’s love of Western mysteries as well as his contribution to the translation. (According to the translator’s preface, Rampo could both read and comprehend English, but was unable to write it or speak it; the translator could speak Japanese but could not read or write it. Thus a painstaking five-year project commenced, with the translator turning out sentence after sentence until Rampo was satisfied with how it was read in English.) So even though Japanese mysteries are largely unknown to English readers, it’s easy to integrate into Edogawa Rampo’s writing, since he knew how Western mystery stories were crafted.

Today there is a Japan Mystery Writer’s Club, which Rampo founded, meaning that there is a whole vein of writers of the genre that have yet to be discovered. Still, there is no better place to get started than the man who started it all.

*Note: 乱歩 has been romanized as both ‘Rampo’ and ‘Ranpo’.


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