Saturday, January 08, 2011

Still Standing

The Gumshoe Site’s Jiro Kimura. (Photo used with permission.)

Japanese crime-fiction critic and writer Jiro Kimura launched The Gumshoe Site 15 years ago today, before there were many other Web pages devoted to analyzing or championing crime, mystery, and thriller fiction. Heck, in 1996 the term “blog” hadn’t even been invented yet, but that’s exactly what Kimura had created: a blog in which he could impart information about new and intriguing books, genre awards, and the passings of prominent authors in this literary field. That he’s still maintaining his site a decade and a half later, and that--despite its lack of bells and whistles and distracting Twitter feeds--it remains a must-watch Web resource is something of a marvel.

I’ve only had one brief opportunity, I believe, to speak in person with The Gumshoe Site’s creator (during Bouchercon 2008 in Baltimore). But as this 15th anniversary approached, I e-mailed several questions to Kimura, who’s now 61 years old, living in Takarazuka, Japan, and translating mystery fiction from English into Japanese for a living. He was kind enough to recall for me the history of his site, his meetings with some of the genre’s late stars, and his own efforts at crime-fiction writing.

J. Kingston Pierce: When you launched The Gumshoe Site, blogging about books wasn’t as broadly done as it is today. What were your hopes for the site back then? And did you ever imagine that you’d still be updating it a decade and a half later?

Jiro Kimura: In 1996, there were very few mystery-oriented Web sites, such as The Mysterious Homepage and Kate Derie’s ClueLass. I thought it would be fun to write about mystery books and writers I like in English. I didn’t think about what the future would bring. It has been said that launching a Web site is not difficult, but keeping it up-to-date is, and I have realized in a hard way that it is right.

JKP: What’s been the best thing about writing The Gumshoe Site?

Kimura: When I go to some mystery gatherings, several attendants I don’t know recognize me as the Webmaster of The Gumshoe Site, and tell nice things about it.

JKP: Have you been surprised by the remarkable growth, over the last few years, in the number of blogs that also cover crime fiction? And do you read many of those?

Kimura: Honestly, I am not really surprised at the number of too many mystery-oriented blogs around. It is a trend in cyberspace, now that we have the Twitter site and its imitators. I read The Rap Sheet, Sarah Weinman’s Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind, In Reference to Murder, and Janet Rudolph’s Mystery Fanfare, to name a few. Since I mainly use a 10-year-old Mac computer, I don’t (or couldn’t) read heavy blogs.

JKP: I’m often impressed by The Gumshoe Site’s ability to broadcast news about the genre before other blogs have that same information. This is evident both in obituaries associated with crime fiction, and with news of awards presentations. Have you built up a lot of contacts in the field over time, people who feed you such news?

Kimura: I have a couple of friendly contacts who send me info, but I usually go [looking] for news, which is very time-consuming, as you may be well aware.

JKP: Between writing The Gumshoe Site and translating English-language crime fiction into Japanese for 20 years, you’ve had access to many authors. What are your favorite memories of meeting or communicating with crime novelists?

Kimura: I lived in New York in the 1970s, and at many mystery events I met a lot of mystery writers whose fiction I had read. Especially, I was extremely thankful that now-deceased writers (Ed Hoch, Donald Westlake, Stanley Ellin, Henry Slesar, Robert Parker, Thomas Chastain, and Dennis Lynds) invited me to their homes when I asked [to do] interviews.

JKP: There was a time when you were contributing reviews and other pieces to such publications as Hayakawa’s Mystery Magazine and Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. Are you still writing about crime fiction for print periodicals?

Kimura: Sometimes I am asked to write some articles on mystery fiction for Hayakawa’s Mystery Magazine. I also write severe reviews for The Maltese Falcon Flyer, a hard-boiled/private eye fiction fanzine (the newsletter of The Maltese Falcon Society Japan, actually).

JKP: For a while, at least, you were penning crime fiction of your own, stories in English that starred New York City private eye Joe Venice, and others in Japanese starring Sachinosuke Terada. Are you still writing and publishing short stories of your own?

Kimura: Recently I have resumed writing short stories featuring Joe Venice, as well as other stories under secret pseudonyms.

JKP: Over the last 15 years, have there been great changes both in the way English-language crime fiction is accepted and read in Japan, and the availability of Japanese crime fiction? Is the genre more popular there than it was in the mid-1990s?

Kimura: English-language mystery fiction is selling less these days than in the mid-1990s, while Japanese mystery fiction is accepted more than before in the States and in the UK.

JKP: You told me recently that you “have been thinking of folding” your site for some while; that you might be “burned out” on the idea of writing it. There are plenty of people, I know, though, who’d miss The Gumshoe Site if it suddenly disappeared. How serious are you about folding your page?

Kimura: On every New Year’s Day, I think about folding my Web site, but somebody I don’t know sends me an e-mail asking me not to fold it. There are many other good Web sites with a lot of useful news. I am getting old and my eyesight is getting worse and I want to change the course of my life. That’s how serious I am. Surely today’s young bloggers and Webmasters will feel the same way in the future.

JKP: Finally, can you list the five crime novelists whose work you admire most, and any specific books by them that you’d recommend?

Kimura: Yes, these writers are all dead, so that nobody gets offended.
The Maltese Falcon, by Dashiell Hammett
The Big Sleep, by Raymond Chandler
The Hunter, by Richard Stark
Freak, by Michael Collins
The Velvet Touch, by Edward D. Hoch

1 comment:

RJR said...

I met Jiro in the 70's when we both belonged to MWA in NY. You couldn't find a nicer man or a more enthusiastic booster for the mystery. Congrats!