THE STRAW SANDAL OR THE SCROLL OF THE HUNDRED CRABS by Santo Kyoden, translated by Carmen Blacker, introduction by P.F. Kornicki. Global Oriental, 2008, 116 pp., 28 b/w illustrations by Utagawa Toyokuni, £35 (cloth)

Santo Kyoden (pen name Iwase Samuru, 1761-1816) was among the most popular authors of his day and one of his best-sellers was "Mukashi-gatari Inazuma-byoshi," published in 1806 and here translated as "The Straw Sandal."

W.G. Aston, in his 1899 history of Japanese literature, said the plot of "The Straw Sandal" was so complicated that "it is impossible to give an adequate summary." But that the reader might look forward to several murders, a harakiri and other suicides, lots of combats and hairbreadth escapes, some strange meetings and surprising recognitions, as well as witchcraft, terror, and ghosts that rove by night.

Cramming all of these popular ingredients into a coherent narrative was indeed a challenge. One that the present edition attempts to meet with a three-page dramatis personae (there are 55 personages to be kept distinct). Such complication did nothing to lessen the narrative's early appeal.