Thursday, February 16, 2012
The Kindly Blackmailer - Kyotaro Nishimura
Theme: Murder in the Most Unlikely Places
Name of the story: The Kindly Blackmailer
Author: Kyotaro Nishimura
Source: Ellery Queen’s Japanese Golden Dozen
Story Number: 47
Most of the events in this story take place in a barber shop – reminiscent of one other classic story with the same setting. I’ll shamelessly borrow EQ’s introduction to this story here as it’s gone save me invaluable amount of time to figure one out myself: ‘A good short story should create a uniform impression throughout, and it should gradually build into breathless suspense and then settle in a satisfactory epilogue. Nishimura’s “The Kindly Blackmailer” not only does this but also manages to outwit the reader with an unexpected turn. A barber shop is the locale – an interesting place for intrigue and an unlikely background for crime …’
The story begins with Shinkinchi, a barber getting a new customer who is very reticent about himself. But he is not so tightlipped when it comes to talking about his knowledge of the barber – he tells him that he was a witness when the barber driving a little truck had run down a little kindergarten girl! And the blackmailing starts from there. Every week, this man returns to sit in the barber’s chair for a shave and at the end of it doubles his request (from the previous week) for the money. At one point, Shinkinchi hires a private detective to trace this man and provide him with any material which he himself could use to counter blackmail him but the man who is named Saburo turns out be clean without any skeletons in his closet.
The barber decides to close his shop and move to a new location. But it takes very less time for the blackmailer to catch up with him. The blackmailing continues and Shinkinchi has reached the end of his savings, he is in a bitter predicament and decides to do something the next time Saburo turns up. Interestingly he doesn’t turn up the next week as expected. One day, he reads in a newspaper that Saburo was hurt when he attempted to rescue a girl from meeting with an accident. Shinkinchi thinks that his troubles are over at last but he is in for a surprise when Saburo turns up in his shop for a shave the next week!
Why is Saburo taking such a big risk of allowing him to shave when he knows that the barber can kill him so easily with the knife? What will the barber do? Will he finally get the courage to kill his blackmailer? Well, the suspense mounts till we reach the conclusion – which has two great surprises which the reader wouldn’t have bargained for!