Japanese Tales of Mystery and Imagination by Edogawa Rampo, translated by James B. Harris
If you enjoy the horror works by the legendary Edgar Allan Poe, this collection featuring nine of Edogawa Rampo’s best short stories, described as the author’s homage to Poe, may well give you your horror fix.
The stories are not as macabre as some of Poe’s works, so those with a weak stomach, take heart. They are mostly short, which makes them great entertaining little stories even for those who lack the time and focus to read. The stories are creepy and nicely crafted, with a few that stand out. “The Human Chair” in particular, has received plenty of praise from fans, and readers in their chairs might feel goose bumps all over while reading. “The Caterpillar” is unique in the sense that it differs from your typical horror story. It is about a war veteran who has lost his limbs, become severely disfigured, deaf, mute and dumb, and has to rely on his increasingly resentful wife for his daily needs. Aside from the horrific twist at the end, the main horror depicted in this short story is the helplessness and lack of independence that many handicapped people still experience today, especially in countries with less developed technologies.
The shock factors aren’t there just to shock. The stories are also meaningful in focusing on the duplicity and complex psychology of human nature. Overlooking the incredibility of some of the plots, the situations explored are realistic possibilities, stark reminders of elements of horror that still exist in the real world, which is what makes a horror story truly frightening.
This dark collection of stories makes an entertaining read that can be finished in a few nights. The only complaints are that the stories are fairly simplistic, lacking technical complexity and some of the endings are too convenient.
Despite being a translation, the stories read smoothly, and display good narrative craftsmanship. This is explained in the introduction, which describes how the author and translator met up once a week over a period of five years to work on getting every line right. Harris recalls perspiring over his type-writer, experimenting with sentence after sentence until Edogawa was satisfied that the translation was true to what he wanted to portray in meaning and nuance.
– These book reviews first appeared in a lifestyle magazine.