The Phantom Doctor

Ranpo Edogawa

Ranpo Edogawa
Courtesy Nippon

Ranpo Edogawa is the pen name (a pun on the Japanese pronunciation of Edgar Allan Poe) of Taro Hirai (1894–1965).

Edogawa made his literary debut in 1923 with "The Two-Sen Copper Coin," a mystery short story. During the 1930s, he tackled the avant garde in the "ero guro nansensu" genre, an often hedonistic and nihilistic artistic movement that celebrated the "the deviant, the bizarre, and the ridiculous."

But he is best remembered for the Kogoro Akechi and Boy Detectives Club mystery novels, published between 1936 and 1962. The two series regularly cross paths, the Boy Detectives acting as a kind of Baker Street Irregulars in the former and Kogoro Akechi featured as the go-to adult in the latter.

First serialized in the young adult pulps, these early versions of the light novel are highly readable, with an emphasis on action, vivid passages, and clever but not overcomplicated plots.

Reminiscent of the Hardy Boys books, the Boy Detectives Club stories also overlap with Edogawa's Fiend with Twenty Faces series, the Fiend being a master of disguise and Detective Akechi's nemesis. Though comparisons to Moriarty spring to mind, the Fiend is more a high-minded Thomas Crown, committing elaborate crimes for the intellectual challenge and the thrill of the chase.

Lupin III

The relationship between Detective Akechi and the Fiend, one based on a grudging mutual respect, is thus closer to that between Inspector Zenigata and Arsène Lupin III, making these stories less whodunits than howdunits or whydunits.

Edogawa was an admirer of Edgar Allan Poe, Arthur Conan Doyle, and French mystery writer Maurice Leblanc (Arsène Lupin was Leblanc's creation), and integrated themes and characters from their stories into his own novels.

Edogawa's lifelong efforts as a writer and promoter of the western detective novel in Japan have since been well-rewarded. Police procedurals and "cozy" mystery fiction are staples of Japanese television and populate the best-seller lists. The genre is hugely popular in manga and anime.

In Gosho Aoyama's long-running Case Closed series (over 900 episodes to date), the boy detective sports the nom de plume of "Conan Edogawa." Another deserved homage is the Edogawa Rampo Prize, presented by the Mystery Writers of Japan to the year's best new mystery novel.

Nippon published a concise and informative retrospective of Ranpo Edogawa's literary career by Kimie Itakura, featuring an interview with Takumi Ishikawa, professor of modern literature and culture at Rikkyo University. Rikkyo University manages Edogawa's estate as the Edogawa Rampo Memorial Center for Popular Culture Studies.

Copyright by Eugene Woodbury. All rights reserved.