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  • THE BASEBALL CLUB MURDER: A Masterwork of Contemporary Taiwanese Crime Fiction (II)
    Mar 31, 2021 / By Sean Hsu ∥ Translated by Joshua Dyer

    Read Previous Part: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/latest_info.php?id=120

     

    Mystery writer Shimada Soji burst onto the scene in 1981 with the release of The Tokyo Zodiac Murders, a novel brimming with chilling perversions and the pure pleasures of deduction. The novel set Japanese mystery writers on the path of the Third Wave of Orthodox Writing (also known as New Mystery), venerating early mystery writers like Edogawa Ranpo and Yokomizo Seishi. By the ’90’s, the works of New Mystery writers were slowly being translated and published in Taiwan in Mystery magazine. Followed in the 2000’s by the systematic translation and publication of American and British Golden Age mystery writers by publishers like Yuan-Liou and Faces, a new generation of Taiwanese writers in their twenties and thirties were itching to try their hand at constructing detective stories that revolved around a central ruse. Crown Publishing jumped on the bandwagon with a smorgasbord of projects: the JOY Series, which focused on contemporary American and European crime fiction; a selection of Shimada Soji’s works; the collected works of Ayatsuji Yukito; and the Mystery Fan series, which published other Japanese authors. In 2008, seven years after discontinuing the Crown Award for Popular Fiction, the publisher established the annual Soji Shimada Mystery Award with the inaugural prize going to Mr Pets’ Virtua Street in 2009.

    Virtua Street

    One of the great contributions of the Soji Shimada Award is that it brings together authors and readers: in recent years the award has helped smooth the way for the sale of overseas publishing rights for recipients. In addition, the award has facilitated interactions between Taiwanese and Japanese crime fiction. The short story submission prize established by the Mystery Writers of Taiwan has also played a significant role in raising the profile of Taiwanese crime fiction authors, acting as a much-needed proving ground for aspiring novelists after the closure of Mystery magazine left a dearth of publication opportunities. Without these developments, the market for original crime stories might have sunk to a far lower nadir than seen today.

    The Borrowed

    Meanwhile, genre literature in general has provided an injection of energy into the field of Taiwanese story-telling. In recent years, Taiwan’s cultural and entertainment sector, with its emphasis on exporting soft power, has begun to attract international attention. Book rights have led the way with the sales of overseas translation rights for The Borrowed by Chan Ho-Kei and The Stir-Fry Sniper by Chang Kuo-Li. The television series The Victim’s Game, adapted from a novel by Tien Ti Wu Hsien, was recently acquired by Netflix. The success of manga/video game crossover The Agnostic Detective, co-created by Xerses and Yingwu Chou, is yet another example. All of this has raised the visibility of Taiwanese creators, and expanded their vision as well, challenging them to create works of increasing breadth, depth, and maturity, characteristics prominently on display in The Baseball Club Murder. Whether it is the clever fusion of Taiwan’s social history into the narrative framework of the Golden Era detective novel, the evocative imagery, or the deft handling of subtle emotional currents, Tang Chia-Bang’s The Baseball Club Murder is never short on charms to court the admiration of readers from around the world.

    The Stir-Fry Sniper

  • THE BASEBALL CLUB MURDER: A Masterwork of Contemporary Taiwanese Crime Fiction (I)
    Mar 31, 2021 / By Sean Hsu ∥ Translated by Joshua Dyer

    The Baseball Club Murder is one of three TAICCA Select titles in Books from Taiwan Issue 13 and the recipient of the 2019 King Car Soji Shimada Mystery Award.

    On the evening of October 31st, 1938, a body is found on a train travelling the Shinten railway line. The deceased, Chen Chin-Shui, a businessman from Banka, died clutching a bottle of Hakutsuru sake. Early the following morning a train out of Taipei pulls into Kaohsiung, the final stop of the West Coast Line. On board is the lifeless body of Fujishima Keizaburo, president of a Japanese trading company, a knife protruding from his chest. A baseball fan club, the Ballgame Association, where both men were members, is the only link between two cases from opposite corners of Taiwan. The victims met there through their mutual interest in baseball, but repeatedly clashed over their differing views and social backgrounds. While investigating the death of Cheng Chin-Shui, detective Li Shan-Hai of the Taipei South Police Department’s Criminal Investigation Department begins to suspect that the murder of Keisaburo Fujishima some 400 kilometers away may be the key to cracking his own case. As the investigation deepens, this case that hinges on the complex relations between Japanese and Taiwanese people in colonial Taiwan leads Detective Li all the way back to the Tapani Incident of 1915, an armed uprising of Taiwanese locals against Japanese imperial rule.

    The Baseball Club Murder

    Author Tang Chia-Bang, a baseball fanatic and former news reporter, says the story was brewing in his mind for many years before he finally took time away from freelance journalism to write this, his first work of fiction. The major awards the book eventually garnered were the furthest thing from his mind when he started. At the banquet for the Soji Shimada Award, Tang said, “My first thought was just to write something to share with a few friends.” Perhaps it is the purity of this original intention that allowed Tang to complete a 100,000 word manuscript that seamlessly integrates baseball, railroads, and Taiwan’s colonial history into the structure of a classic crime novel.

    Of these three elements, history is paramount. Taiwan of 1938 was a colony of Japan – spoils of the First Sino-Japanese War – and would remain so until the end of the Second World War. The evolving relations between colonizer and colonized, initially characterized by armed resistance but later giving way to the détente of mutual prosperity, are distilled within the novel into the murders of two men, the detective investigating the case, and the villain whose identity is obscured within this murky and contentious mix.

    In Taiwan, baseball is a miraculous sport. Now the country’s “national sport”, it was first introduced to Taiwan by the Japanese and gradually took root in the lives of the local people. The sport became a cross-cultural meeting point, a space for interactions on a relatively equal footing, and, for some, an opportunity to completely transform one’s social status. The Kyumikai Club of the novel provides these same functions, but are the conflicts in the club just the usual tussle of competing interests? Or are they a deep running personal vendetta that provides the motive for the crime? The railway setting provides a distant echo of these processes of cultural assimilation (no nation has embraced the subgenre of travel mysteries like Japan), while also being implicated in the novel’s numerous intrigues and puzzles. Like baseball, the development of Taiwan’s railways is intimately linked to Japan, and equally Japanese crime fiction has had a deep impact on Taiwanese readers and writers. That the novel received the Soji Shimada Award may be the greatest acknowledgement of this complex heritage.

     

    Read On: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/latest_info.php?id=121

  • Taiwanese Crime Fiction: Analysing How It’s Read, Written and Published (II)
    Sep 07, 2020 / By Sean Hsu ∥ Translated by Sarah-Jayne Carver

    Read Previous Part: Taiwanese Crime Fiction: Analysing How It’s Read, Written and Published (I)

    In 1988, Lin Fo’er, the publisher of Mystery Magazine and founder of Lin Bai Publishing House (as well as a writer and poet in his own right), launched the Lin Fo’er Mystery Award. Even though it only ran for four years, it was still the first ever Taiwanese literature prize specifically for short stories in crime writing. In the same spirit, the Taiwan Detective Club was founded in 2002 (renamed the Mystery Writers of Taiwan in 2008) and in 2003 launched the Mystery Writers of Taiwan Award, which similarly encourages and nurtures potential in up-and-coming short story writers of crime fiction. Authors who have started their careers here include Mr Pets, Wen Han and Chan Ho-Kei, the latter of whom has gone on to sell international rights in many territories, his full-length novel The Borrowed has sold rights in more countries than any other Chinese-language crime novel to date.  

    The Borrowed

    The Soji Shimada Mystery Award was established in 2008 and is awarded to debut crime writers for full-length novels. The most recent winner was Tang Chia-Bang for The Wild Ball Club Incident in 2019. A penetrating portrayal of Taiwan, it blends history, railways and national baseball and has received interest from publishers in Korea and Japan. Publishers are also committed to developing new talent, for example Apex Press published Chopsticks, a short story collection of suspense crime with a supernatural slant, by five authors from Taiwan, Japan and Hong Kong. Sharp Point Press encourages authors to combine crime and folklore in light novels such as My Sister Is A Teenage Bone Collector 1: Never Say Die, as a reflection of the younger generation’s abundant enthusiasm for diverse works which push boundaries and explore new subject-matters.  

    After absorbing so many creative elements of crime fiction from Japan and the West, Taiwanese authors initially found themselves overemphasising plot twists, or conspicuously playing into detective stereotypes, or over-researching societal issues. This mere imitation of the genre alienated Taiwanese readers. However, during the process of steadily internalising the components of crime fiction, authors began to realise that Taiwan’s distinctive history and geography generated a complexity and inclusivity which resonated with local readers, and gave it a niche in international markets. The latest manifestation of Taiwanese crime fiction today usurps cold-blooded violence with strong emotional ties, it seeks a to portray an honest and original perspective on crime and human nature, thus drawing up its own classification for itself bit by bit.

    In recent years, the Taiwanese government has been collaborating with production studios on developing key cultural projects for film and television, with several crime titles on the list. In addition to these original adaptations (such as the recent Netflix series The Victim’s Game), it will be worth watching to see whether this developmental collaboration between authors, publishers and production studios will bring with it any new impacts or growth for Taiwan’s entire cultural ecosystem.