Tozai Mystery Best 100
July 18, 2014 1:41 PM   Subscribe

In 1985, the Mystery Writers of Japan (plus "508 people who love mystery novels") assembled two separate lists of the 100 best mystery novels: one each for the books of the East and West. A revised list came out in 2012. Both Western lists are remarkable for their comparative lack of overlap with the "100 best" lists produced by the American and British mystery writers associations. The Eastern lists are remarkable for the fact that fewer than a quarter of their entries have been translated into English.

A few notes on the more obscure, surprising, and/or public domain items:

-The Tragedy of Y (#1 on the Western list in 1985, #2 in 2012) was written by Frederic Dannay and Manfred Lee, who dropped their usual collective pseudonym of "Ellery Queen" in favor of "Barnaby Ross." Y was the second of four Ross novels about a Shakespearean actor/amateur detective called Drury Lane; all four are now profoundly out of print.

-The "William Irish" credited as the author of The Phantom Lady (#2 in '85) is a pseudonym of Cornell Woolrich, prolific author of crime, noir, and suspense stories. Wikipedia claims that "more film noir screenplays were adapted from works by Woolrich than any other crime novelist." The Phantom Lady itself received a jagged Expressionist adaptation from Robert Siodmak in 1944. Here are a further 22 radio dramas adapted from Woolrich's stories.

-Freeman Wills Crofts is a mostly forgotten contemporary of Christie and Sayers. The Cask (#7 in '85), his first novel, can be procured as a free epub from the Internet Archive.

-Gaston Leroux is best remembered today for The Phantom of the Opera, but The Yellow Room (#16 in '85), prototype for the "Locked Room" mystery subgenre, was arguably more influential.

-The Red Redmaynes (#18 in '85), by Eden Phillpotts, was one of Jorge Luis Borges' picks for the ideal personal library.

("I'm somewhat less qualified to comment on the Eastern lists," murmured Iridic, preparing to comment on the Eastern lists:)

-Pretty Sinister Books has written up Seishi Yokomizo and Shizuku Natsuki.

-Dogura Magura, by Yumeno Kyūsaku, is infamous for its lack of an English translation: it shows up not once, but twice, on the Quarterly Conversations's Translate This Book! rolls.

-Edogawa Ranpo's "The Two-Sen Copper Coin" is remarkable as the first modern Japanese mystery story, fusing the cryptographic gymnastic from Edgar Allen Poe's "The Gold-Bug" with Buddhist prayer and Japanese braille. Among other exploits, Ranpo went on to found the Mystery Writers of Japan; the eccentricity of their selections may derive, in part, from his influence.
posted by Iridic (14 comments total) 40 users marked this as a favorite
Unfortunately Rex Stout is woefully underrepresented in all three lists.
posted by pseudonick at 2:17 PM on July 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

I am more impressed by this list than by the American Mystery Writers or the British Mystery Writers. Three by Ellroy. George Pelecanos.

Missing The Friends of Eddie Coyle (for all I know, never translated). Heavy on Ellery Queen but, otherwise, classics.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 2:22 PM on July 18, 2014

all four are now profoundly out of print.

Although it looks like The Tragedy of Y is available up on Sadly the OCR looks very automated and error-laden, so much less frustrating to read in .pdf or another image-scan format than as an ebook.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 2:48 PM on July 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

oh man, I thought I was the only person who remembered A cool breeze on the underground. Don Winslow used to be such a sweet boy.
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 3:08 PM on July 18, 2014

I was not expecting A. A. Milne.
posted by bq at 3:30 PM on July 18, 2014

This is an interesting post. Thanks. The only thing that made me really scratch my head on the Western list was the fact that the Maltese Falcon was way down the list (at 19) and that it was tied with a Dick Francis novel. Mr. Francis's novels must read a lot better in Japanese than they do in English.
posted by dortmunder at 3:55 PM on July 18, 2014

And I just realized that Falcon is 36 on the 2012 list. Yeesh.
posted by dortmunder at 3:57 PM on July 18, 2014

AMAZING post. Thanks so much!
posted by Sangermaine at 4:18 PM on July 18, 2014

I'm a big fan of Natsuhiko Kyogoku, whose novels appear in the list for 2012. I never thought this series would (could?) be translated into English so I was surprised to see that an English version of Ubume no Natsu has been published. I don't envy the translators at all... his books are notorious for their length (lovingly called "renga-bon" or "brick books" by his fans). Delicious, delicious length, if you love his writing, but so hard on the arms. All the books that made the 2012 list are of the same series featuring the same main characters who become involved in different cases.

Keigo Higashino's novels are bestsellers here. The Devotion of Suspect X is a great read and the major motion picture it's based on is pretty faithful to the book, so I recommend it too if you can get a chance to see it.

Looking at the other selections on the 2012 list, I'm surprised more books by Miyuki Miyabe hasn't been translated into English. She's a prolific writer whose books are consistently good, and although I haven't read the English version of Kasha, I can't see how any decent translator could screw it up.
posted by misozaki at 4:27 PM on July 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

I was about to complain about the lack of Keigo Higashino when I realized I was looking at the 1985 list. I would love it if they translated the Galileo short stories and while I'm making a wishlist, Meitantei no Okite (which is ridiculous) as well.
posted by betweenthebars at 4:47 PM on July 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

S.S. Van Dine! wooooooooooo!
posted by facetious at 5:15 PM on July 18, 2014

Kasha is a really good book (translated into English as All She Was Worth) - a good mystery and good insight into the consumer credit industry in Japan and its victims.
posted by Jeanne at 6:38 PM on July 18, 2014

Stunned to see James P. Hogan's "Inherit the Stars". Was a favorite of mine in high school, but it's a relatively obscure science fiction novel.
posted by neuron at 10:47 AM on July 19, 2014

I'm a huge Dick Francis fan, read all the books many times over, but his placement on this list really did seem a bit anomalous. He doesn't usually make those kinds of lists. The weird thing to me was that the one they picked was For Kicks, which is only his third novel and in my estimation not even one of his top ten. I wonder if there was an especially good translation, or if it was published at a time when there was a lot of buzz around horse racing in Japan (the book is about doping racehorses), so that it hit a cultural moment, or something.
posted by Daily Alice at 4:13 PM on July 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

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