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review 2018-01-01 04:31
The Ginza Ghost by Keikichi Osaka, translated by Ho-Ling Wong
The Ginza Ghost: and other stories - Ho-Ling Wong,Keikichi Ōsaka

Have I mentioned that I hate reviewing anthologies? Collections of stories by the same author are easier to review than ones with stories by many authors, but I’d still rather review individual novels, novellas, and short stories.

Anyway, this made it onto my TBR after I finished Soji Shimada’s The Tokyo Zodiac Murders and went hunting for similar books. The Ginza Ghost starts with an introduction about Osaka and his stories. Like Shimada, Osaka was an author of honkaku (orthodox) mysteries. He was born in 1912 and began prolifically publishing mystery stories starting in 1932. Unfortunately, this was a time when honkaku mysteries were looked at unfavorably in Japan, and so he eventually had to switch to comedy and spy stories. In 1943 he was drafted, and he died of disease sometime in 1945.

The collection includes twelve stories organized semi-chronologically by publication date. I’m not sure why there were a few exceptions mixed in. Perhaps to make sure the volume ended as strongly as possible? “The Phantom Wife” wouldn’t have made for as good a stopping point as “The Ginza Ghost.”

I’d highly advise skipping the portion of the introduction that discusses the individual stories. I made the mistake of reading the first few and, although they didn’t quite include spoilers, they contained enough information to affect the way I interpreted the stories and the evidence.

The first story was a fairly basic mystery. It wasn’t until later in the collection that one of Osaka’s signature elements, the possibility of supernatural involvement, came into play. Although none of his stories contained true supernatural elements, many of them were designed to look like they might. In “The Phantom Wife,” it appeared that a man was killed by his vengeful dead wife. The murder in “The Monster of the Lighthouse” seemed to have been committed by an enormously strong red octopus-like monster. In “The Ginza Ghost,” a young woman seemed to have been murdered by the ghost of a jealous wife. In “The Cold Night’s Clearing,” the murderer looked to be none other than Santa Claus himself.

Another thing that came up a lot in Osaka’s stories was optical illusions. While the way these illusions were uncovered didn’t always work for me, they were certainly interesting. One part, in particular, brought to mind 2015’s “The Dress,” the one that either looked blue and black or white and gold depending on who you asked.

I liked but didn’t necessarily love most of the collection. My particular favorites were “The Mourning Locomotive” (even though it relied heavily on information found in a letter after everything was all over), “The Ginza Ghost,” “The Guardian of the Lighthouse” (tragic and horrific), and “The Demon in the Mine" (wonderful incorporation of the setting). “The Cold Night’s Clearing” was also quite good, as long as you’re okay with your Christmas stories being very depressing. And “The Hungry Letter-Box” was a nice change of pace, the only mystery that didn’t involve a death of some kind. I later learned, after reading the bit about this story in the introduction, that this was the one story in the collection written after Osaka switched to spy stories and comedies.

There were other stories I didn't like quite as much. “The Phantasm of the Stone Wall” was a little boring, and the deductions in “The Mesmerising Light” were largely unnecessary and could have been done away with if one of the characters had come up with better questions. “The Three Madmen” and “The Hangman of the Department Store” were both nice enough mysteries, but not the best or most intriguing mysteries in the collection. “The Monster of the Lighthouse” started off okay but became, for me, the worst story in the collection by the end. Its placement right after “The Mourning Locomotive” probably didn’t help.

Ah, and I feel I should mention really quick that some of the stories have very gory and descriptive crime scenes. The ones that made me cringe the most were “The Mourning Locomotive” and “The Three Madmen.” The first had many grisly deaths by train, including the aftermath of trying to clean up, and the second included a victim whose brain had been removed.

Those with more of a taste for short stories might like this collection more than I did, but it wasn’t bad. “The Demon in the Mine,” the longest story in the book, made me wish that Osaka’s one novel, Yacht of Death, had been translated. The story’s greater number of pages gave him more time to really set up the situation (although the characters still weren’t fleshed out at all), and I loved the way he incorporated the specifics of the mine into the mystery.

The book included a publisher’s note on Japanese weights and measures, as well as a few translator’s notes. I wouldn’t have minded if there had been a few more translator’s notes - there were at least a couple things I was curious about that didn’t get notes.


(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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text 2017-12-26 17:39
Reading progress update: I've read 203 out of 203 pages.
The Ginza Ghost: and other stories - Ho-Ling Wong,Keikichi Ōsaka

I'm finished! "The Ginza Ghost" was the best of Osaka's

optical illusion

(spoiler show)



It takes place on a narrow street. There's a tobacco shop across from a cafe, and the middle aged female owner of the tobacco shop is known to have a rocky relationship with her current lover, who she's convinced is cheating on her with the shop's young new assistant. One evening, the folks at the cafe hear a horrible scream and see the owner of the tobacco shop briefly come out, brandishing a razor, and then go back in. A short while later the police arrive. The young assistant is found with her throat cut and dies after the police get there - the last thing she says is the shop owner's name. The shop owner is found dead as well, strangled with a towel. It's assumed that she killed the assistant and then killed herself, but 1) it's hard to strangle yourself with a towel and 2) the shop owner died an hour before the assistant. That leaves two likely suspects (and one less likely one, if you believe in vengeful ghosts): the shop owner's lover, who was out drinking at the time of the murder, and the shop owner's daughter.


The solution to the mystery reminded me strongly of

the dress that everyone was talking about a while back ("is it blue and black or white and gold?").

(spoiler show)
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text 2017-12-23 18:24
Reading progress update: I've read 189 out of 203 pages.
The Ginza Ghost: and other stories - Ho-Ling Wong,Keikichi Ōsaka

I've finally made it to the last story in the book, "The Ginza Ghost."


"The Demon in the Mine" - I'm pretty sure this is the longest story in the book, approximately 30 pages. A young husband and wife are working in their part of the coal mine when the wife's lantern accidentally starts a fire. The wife escapes and the tunnel is sealed off for everyone's protection. Unfortunately, the husband was trapped inside. That isn't the end of it, either: one by one, everyone involved in sealing the tunnel is found murdered. The wife, the husband's parents, and the wife's brother are all suspects, but there's no way any of them could have committed more than the first murder. Also, there are signs that the husband might not have been trapped in the tunnel after all...


This one was pretty good. The extra length gave Osaka more time to set up the situation and allow the characters to investigate. For a while there, I thought this was going to be a situation similar to the one in "The Hangman of the Department Store," but that didn't turn out to be the case.


"The Hungry Letter-box" - The only story in the entire collection that doesn't involve a death in any way. An introverted barber finally works up the courage to write a love letter to a beautiful hairdresser. Immediately after putting it in the letter-box, he realizes to his horror that he forgot to put a stamp on it. The woman he loves will have to pay twice what the stamp would have cost. Oh no! He decides to talk to the postman before he comes to take the letters, but when the letter-box is opened up the barber's love letter isn't there. What could have happened?


This one was short, but clever.

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text 2017-12-21 12:54
Reading progress update: I've read 148 out of 203 pages.
The Ginza Ghost: and other stories - Ho-Ling Wong,Keikichi Ōsaka

"The Three Madmen" - This takes place at an insane asylum going through hard financial times. It only has three patients left, nicknamed the Injured (because he'd always swear he was badly injured, even though he wasn't), Diva (because he liked to sing in the morning while wearing a woman's kimono), and Knock Knock (because he'd stand near the window in his room and kick at the floor). One day the doctor is found with a massive hole in his head and his brain gone. The patients are also gone, and it's believed that one or all of them killed the doctor and took his brain because of a regrettable comment he made a short while earlier.


This story is pretty decent, as long as you don't pick at it too much. I figured out what happened and why a beat before the characters explained it.


And boy was Osaka fond of gory corpse descriptions. I'd say this one was second only to "The Mourning Locomotive."


"The Guardian of the Lighthouse" - So far, of all the stories I'd say that this one and "The Mourning Locomotive" are probably the best. In this one, a lighthouse keeper leaves his son to take care of the lighthouse while he goes to the hospital to pick up a colleague. A bad storm comes in, and the lighthouse keeper can't go back right away. He frets about his son, but it seems that his son is able to keep the lighthouse going through the entire storm. But when he does finally get to the lighthouse, his son is gone without a trace. What happened? Did he run off, commit suicide, or something else?


Oh man, this one was tragic. It seems that Osaka was also fond of mysteries solved too late to do anyone any good.

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text 2017-12-17 16:40
Reading progress update: I've read 121 out of 203 pages.
The Ginza Ghost: and other stories - Ho-Ling Wong,Keikichi Ōsaka

"The Cold Night's Clearing" - It's almost Christmas, and a beloved teacher is temporarily working elsewhere while his wife and child are being watched over by his wife's cousin. Unfortunately, the wife and her cousin are brutally murdered just before the husband is supposed to get back, and the child is gone.


This one was actually pretty good, even though it was yet another

"terrible woman"

(spoiler show)

mystery. But wow, pretty depressing.


A quote:


"'...It's Christmas Eve... skis in the snow... going in and out of the window... and returning to the sky...'


Tabei suddenly stopped talking and, gazing into my eyes, asked:


'Who do you think it was...?'


'Hmm,' I groaned. 'Do you mean... are you suggesting it was Santa Claus?'


'Yes. To put it simply, Santa Claus appeared in this room.'


I was very surprised. 'It must have been a very violent Santa Claus.'" (116)

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