Beginning in 1967, the best-selling period-fiction author Shōtarō Ikenami (1923?90) created the tremendously popular Onihei hankachō (Onihei’s Crime Stories) series featuring Hasegawa Heizō (1745?95), a real-life crime fighter in the city of Edo?today’s Tokyo?during the rule of the Tokugawa shogunate. In homage to Ikenami, author Gō Ōsaka began a new series of short stories featuring the indefatigable Heizō, the first volume of which appeared in 2012 as Heizō no kubi (Heizō’s Head). This second volume contains six stories in which the hardboiled flavor is even more pronounced.
The title story is set in 1792, with Heizō in his mid-forties. It is five years since he was appointed head of the Arson and Burglary Department, and he is in his element, enjoying high levels of approval from the public for his timely investigations, apt punishment of evildoers, and periodic displays of heart. Ōsaka’s twist on the character of Heizō is to have him take a behind-the-scenes role, directing investigations like an armchair detective, out of public view. It is a conceit that works to particularly good effect in the title story.
The story begins with 18-year-old Ise, an aspiring painter, traveling from Kyoto to Edo. Her mother Shima, who raised Ise singlehandedly while running a general store, had told her on her deathbed six months earlier about the man from Edo she had slept with just one night when she was 30, resulting in Ise’s birth the following year. When they parted, he had told Shima that if she ever needed anything, she should come to Edo and ask for “Heizō from Honjo”; he had also left her with a tidy sum of money?enough to start up her store. Ise has now come to Edo in search of her father.
With the help of several people, Ise succeeds in obtaining an audience with law officer Hasegawa Heizō. Not only does he live in Honjo, but he has his base of operations as a crime fighter there, and due to his father’s work, he spent time in Kyoto some 18 to 19 years earlier. Shima had also noted, however, that the man she was with had a round, dark-brown birthmark above his right nipple. Heizō bares his chest to show that he has no such birthmark: he is not Ise’s father.
Offering to help Ise with her search, Heizō orders all men who go by that name in the Honjo area to come forward. Of the 50 who appear, 19 are deemed to be of the right age. In the meantime, Ise is approached by the leader of a band of thieves, who, knowing of her artistic skills, tries to dupe her into providing him with an identifying portrait of Heizō, the elusive lawman, by promising to take her to Heizō, her true father. But the ever-cautious Heizō has actually had one of his underlings stand in for him at the audience with Ise as part of a plan to verify that she is really his daughter. The upshot is that he not only succeeds in confirming Ise’s identity, but nabs the outlaw as well, and reveals himself to indeed be Ise’s father.
Though the story is set centuries ago, the “body double” device, as well as revelations that repeatedly upend readers’ assumptions about the truth through carefully doled out information, show the hand of a modern master of detective fiction at work.