So we’re perfectly clear on my intentions, this is not a speculative “Hot damn, how amazing would it be if we found an unknown manuscript by —————–!?” list (a few of us did that already). These are all authors who have books in existence which are unavailable to me, purely because the manuscripts are yet to leap the language barrier. Or because I am unable to leap it, I suppose; depends on your perspective.
I have deliberately gone for authors with only a single novel-length English translation to their name (so Rintaro Norizuki — hugely curious though I remain — is not here), and those who we can’t be certain will ever see the inside of an English bookshop ever again (it’s always possible more Noel Vindry is on the way from Locked Room International, right? Right?!? Hence his exclusion). And so, once more alphabetically by surname, I give you…
1. Alice Arisugawa
So far in English-language circles, the sole experience we have of Alice Arisugawa is The Moai Island Puzzle (1989), available thanks to the efforts of John Pugmire and Ho-Ling Wong under the auspices of Locked Room International. I think it’s a masterpiece, not just for the extended ratiocination drawn out of a single piece of paper come the end, but also the steady layering of plot, the invention in its dual treasure hunt plots, and the way it keeps a large cast distinct, interesting, and clutter-free while the gleeful murder puzzle unfolds. In a poll on this very site it scored extremely well for fair-play clewing, too, making Arisugawa something like a quadruple threat where the writing of detective fiction is concerned. I wouldn’t necessarily expect a follow-up to contain any impossibility — though, as Brad recently noted, that begs the question of who would publish it — I just want to revel more in the creativity and excellence of the man’s plotting and observation of genre fundamentals.
2. Pierre Boileau
Okay, sure, this is something of a cheat: technically there are two books Boileau had a hand in writing currently available in English. But since he wrote them with Thomas Narcejac I’m going to claim each one counts half for Boileau and therefore makes up a single book. I also didn’t especially love the one Boileau-Narcejac title I have read, so shouldn’t be that eager for further translations, but Boileau is widely regarded to have written some GAD-era locked room masterpieces and I’m more than willing to assume Narcejac was the one who dragged the narrative down if it will buy me the opportunity to read Le Repos de Bacchus (1938) or Six Crimes sans Assassin (1939). I’m aware Narcejac also wrote solo impossible crime novels; for some reason — possibly just because they are less discussed and so I know less about them — I do not have quite the same enthusiasm for them just yet…but I’m willing to renege on that if anyone wants to publish a belter.
3. Szu-Yen Lin
It’s sill early days, of course — Death in the House of Rain (2006) was only published in English towards the end of 2017 — and so there’s nothing to say we won’t be getting another Lin in English…but we’ve not heard anything either way (right?) and I’m just eager to see it happen. Not only has Lin shown himself to have a superbly proficient imagination where long-form and short-form impossibilities are concerned, he also constructs his plots with a watch-maker’s precision and enriches some lovely filigree’d touches that really compel themselves to the mind (that triangle of shuttlecocks in ‘The Ghost of the Badminton Court’ is…inspired, and each of the impossible locked-room deaths in House of Rain are brilliantly baffling and originally framed). And if all that weren’t enough, some of his other books sound superb and I’ll snap up anything else that comes my way. And he’s alive andnot ancient, so we could have a long career of his brilliance ahead of us…
4. Rob Reef
Reef’s debut novel Stableford on Golf (2010) And-Then-There-Were-Nones its cast on a long-abandoned golf course and takes great delight in killing them whilst a tournament of sorts is played. Not only is it a nifty and spry homage to the GAD traditional mystery that stops a loooong way short of being lazily hustled into a “cozy” pigeon-holing, it does a great job of making the golf a central part of the plot that unfolds, which too many “specialist context” mysteries fail to do, becoming instruction manuals in which, oh yeah, there’s like a crime or something. The series is now six-strong, and while I have zero interest in golf I can believe Reef will have found a way to work it into the later books with an inventiveness that warrants more attention. On top of that, he does suspects and clues well, and I’d jump at the chance to read anything else in this series because of how clearly Reef loves and wishes to pay homage to the GAD staples.
5. Soji Shimada
For someone who has exerted the influence he has over the re-rise of the puzzle plot, essentially kicking off the wholesale resurgence of the Western-style mystery in Japan and surrounds, it staggers me that Shimada has to date merely one novel and a handful of short stories in English. No, I did not unabashedly love The Tokyo Zodiac Murders (1981), but that’s at least partly due to the awkward translation, however the grand guignol elements of the plot mix effortlessly with a solution that, personally, floored me. ‘The Locked House of Pythagoras’ (2013) is all manner of insane, but wonderfully inventive with it, and ‘The Running Dead’ (1985) comes from the earlier stage of Shimada’s career and hints at much in the way of imaginative impossible wonders. All we can do is wait, cross our fingers, and hope, but it’s a Carr-size scandal that someone with this much prestige, influence, and quality is as untranslated as Shimada is.
How about you, dear reader? You don’t get to pick which book, but are there any authors who you’ve enjoyed so much that you’re desperate to see simply anything else they’ve written made available? I’ve stuck with translations because it helps narrow the list down, but you should not feel obliged to stick to my criteria — pick your own and go for it…