The Ginza Ghost is a collection of short crime and detective stories by the writer Keikichi Osaka who, we learn in the introduction, died young and worked primarily in the period in which the puzzle mystery had largely fallen out of fashion in Japan.
This collection contains a mix of styles and subject matters including a few locked rooms but most can be characterized as strange and perplexing crimes.
One of the best examples of this is the story The Mourning Locomotive in which we hear about a heavy locomotive train which is killing pigs on a regular basis, always at the same section of the tracks. It is a strange problem but the answer is really quite logical and can be deduced by the reader. Not that I did.
Another strong example is The Hangman of the Department Store which is a seemingly impossible crime as it takes place on the roof of a fully locked store. And then there is the strange question of the timing of the killing which makes the events seem even more bizarre.
The final story I would highlight is The Guardian of the Lighthouse in which the characters attempt to locate a missing son who seemed to vanish during a shift several days earlier. I felt that story combined a logical mystery with a solid emotional component to strong effect.
While most of the stories feature a striking or ingenious solution, I did find a few of them to be quite dry in the way they were told. Stories such as The Phantasm of the Stone Wall and The Phantom Wife held little interest for me and I never managed to engage with them while others featured ideas that seemed too intricate to be communicated in so few pages.
It may just be that I am not really drawn to short form crime stories. With the exception of an occasional individual story I have never found a collection I have loved and been truly satisfied with. Knowing the importance of the short story to crime fiction, I feel it is important for me to keep trying.
The Ginza Ghost does at least feature a few stories that I feel will stick with me for a while and I could appreciate Osaka’s skill at inventing interesting puzzles to challenge his readers. Unfortunately I found the weaker stories to be a bit of a chore to work through and so I cannot recommend the collection.
12 thoughts on “The Ginza Ghost and Other Stories by Keikichi Osaka, translated by Ho-Ling Wong”
I second your praise for “The Mourning Locomotive” and “The Guardian of the Lighthouse,” which were definitely two of the more memorable and emotional stories in The Ginza Ghost, but completely disagree with you that the collection, as a whole, is not recommendable. You’ll make people miss out on the other gems like “The Monster of the Lighthouse” and “The Demon in the Mine.” I also liked “The Cold Night’s Clearing” and “The Hungry Letter-Box” was great fun.
So that’s more than enough to warrant a read, if you like these kind of detective stories, even “The Phantasm of the Stone Wall” and “The Phantom Wife” admittedly under perform.
I am glad that you enjoyed this collection and I will say I have heard generally very positive reviews from almost everyone else who has read this so I am clearly an outlier. 🙂
It gives an interesting perspective on people’s different tastes when they really enjoy something others don’t rate — I think Hangman and Mourning are two of the more prosaic stories herein, but completely agree that Guardian is wonderful, as are Cold Night’s Clearing, Monster of the Lighthouse, Hungry Letter-Box, and the title story.
Phantom Wife is an odd one, but the introduction gives a great explanation for the format of the story…there’s clearly a cultural cross-over there which does not translate in the same manner because of the different expectations and tropes of Western stories of this ilk and period.
Mainly, though, I’m now burning with curiosity as to what you’s make of Aruthur Porges’ Cyriack Skinner Grey stories…they’re about the closest approximation to this soert of thing by a Western author that I’m aware of, and there’s enough there to be equally divisive…
Goddamn my lousy typing; that’s Arthur Porges. The other errors don’t matter so much, but that one does…!
I think the problem for me is that lack of an emotional connection in many of the stories. Mourning stood out to me not so much for the puzzle but because it was narrated by a character and it chose to strike some very personal notes at the end.
I really liked the opening of The Phantom Wife for that same reason and it put me in mind of a whole host of Japanese horror stories about wronged women seeking revenge. The ending though and the deductions that are made from there were less appealing to me.
The Hungry Letter Box I also liked a lot but unfortunately I guessed the solution (if not the motive) immediately based on some similarities in several earlier stories. If the order had been different in the collection I would probably have been raving about that one too.
I will have to try the Arthur Porges stories. I would like to see if I can find a short story collection I enjoy as I do feel like I am missing out on something here.
This sounds intriguing – despite the dryness! It’s on my Kindle, so I should get round to reading it.
Good short story collections… Have you read Chesterton’s Father Brown; The Adventures of Ellery Queen; Christie’s Labours of Hercules; or H.C. Bailey’s Mr. Fortune short stories? Oh, and Sherlock Holmes, of course!
I have read Holmes in its entirety but I haven’t read the others (I did read Labours of Hercules but it was so long ago that I remember little about it).
I look forward to seeing what you think of this collection Nick!
Do read Chesterton! The stories are ingenious and imaginative – and beautifully, wittily written, too. And he was John Dickson Card’s favorite writer, and the model for Dr. Fell.
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I will make sure to give him a go then. Thanks for the suggestion!
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I had a similar lack of emotional connection here, despite admiring the invention of the stories. Have not read many collections of shorts but would recommend ‘The Mammoth Book of Great Detective Stories’ edited by Herbert van Thal, as having a good mix of stories, most of which are well worth reading.
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Thanks for the suggestion – I will check it out!