Ashibe Taku: Murder in the Red Chamber
Murder in the Red Chamber, first published in Japanese by Bungei Shunjū as part of its "Mystery Masters" series, is set in the world of the original Dream of the Red Chamber, the masterwork of eighteenth-century Chinese fiction by Cao Xueqin. Building skillfully on that famous background, Ashibe plays out a most formidable murder mystery set in Peking during the late Qing dynasty. The tale opens with the visitation of Jia Yuan-chun, esteemed daughter of the prosperous Jia family and newly instated concubine to the emperor.
In preparation for her arrival, the Jias have constructed a magnificent homage in land known as Prospect Garden. After an all too brief celebration, as a parting gift to her beloved family Yuan-chun decrees that her sisters and closest female cousins relocate from their homes to the Garden proper, along with her brother Bao-yu.
Little do they know what horrors await them.
During an evening gathering, one of the young maidens of the Garden is brutally murdered in plain sight. This spectacle sets off a series of mysterious deaths. Lai Shang-rong, a local magistrate and Chief Inspector in service to the Jias, is specially commissioned to investigate the goings on and get to the root of the evil that has darkened this otherwise idyllic setting.
Bao-yu, however, has designs of his own. As the only male inhabitant of Prospect Garden, and with the pressure of success breathing down his neck as the next in line to the Jia throne, Bao-yu feels obliged to protect those dearest to him and decides to launch a private investigation. Bao-yu's methods confuse Shang-rong, who is certain that a more orthodox approach will flush out the killer in due course. As luck would have it, Bao-yu is soon assigned as an assistant to Shang-rong, who is content to work alone. In spite of the inconvenience, Shang-rong knows that Bao-yu's status as an insider might prove helpful.
Yet as time goes on and more murders are committed right under his nose, Shang-rong begins to suspect that Bao-yu may in fact be behind them all. Shang-rong is expected to cooperate with Bao-yu all the same, and so he must face a difficult choice: point the finger at his exalted sidekick, or crack the case before imminent dangers destroy him.
Ashibe's tragic conclusion leaves us with a heavy moral question while presenting even the most seasoned mystery fan with a refreshing and innovative take on the detective novel formula.
- Ashibe, a prize-winning novelist and screen-writer, has given us a book that features the characters, world, and even some of the events of "Dream of the Red Chamber," but manages to deploy them in the service of what might be called not a locked-room, but a locked-compound mystery, since the murder alluded to in the title—there's more than one—takes place in the adjoining compounds of two branches of a successful, but declining, aristocratic family. The Qing Dynasty culture in which the book is set will be new to many readers, but they will find their passage into its fascinating foreignness eased by their familiarity with the genre conventions Ashibe employs. ...even those with no interest in entering the original "Dream of the Red Chamber" will relish "Murder in the Red Chamber" for the thrills it offers...
—David Cozy, Japan Times
- Pages: xiii + 253
- Trade paperback 6" x 9" (152mm x 229mm)
- ISBN-13: 978-4-902075-38-0
- ISBN-10: 4-902075-38-5
- Kurodahan Press Book No. FG-JP0032-L39
- List Price: US$16.00
- Cover: Hattori Kōhei
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(芦辺拓) received an honorable mention in the Fantastic Literature New Writer's Award in 1986 with 異類五種 ("The Fifth Degree"), and in 1990 won the Ayukawa Tetsuya Award for 殺人喜劇の13人 (A Murder Comedy with 13 People).
With a broad base in diverse subcultures, he has penned dozens mystery, science fiction and thriller titles, including experimental mysteries revealing a keen critical analysis of modern Japanese literature in the genre. Many of his works, including Murder in the Red Chamber, are highly detailed pastiches featuring famous characters from past masterpieces, such as Sherlock Holmes, Arsène Lupin and Edogawa Rampo's Akechi Gorō.