Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Antiquity Tree

「ブラッディローズ!! 敵に向かって放たれたが最後まっすぐに敵の心臓を射抜く白薔薇。その白薔薇の花弁が真紅に染まったその時、お前の部下は死ぬ」
『聖闘士星矢 THE LOST CANVAS 冥王神話』

"Bloody Rose!! All is over once the white rose is thrown and flies straight into the heart of my enemy. When the petals of the white rose have turned crimson, your underling will die."
"Saint Seiya THE LOST CANVAS The Legend of Hades"

I already mentioned it in my review of Detective Conan 87, but ever since the start of Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo R ("The Young Kindaichi Case Files R"), I had been reviewing Conan and Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo R together in short shorts because their release dates were practically always on or about the same day. A visit to the hospital of Conan artist Conan upset the schedule however, which is why I reviewed Conan 87 on its own, and today, I review two volumes of the Kindaichi Shounen manga as a standalone review, which is the first time in more than two years.  

Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo R 6 (released in July of this year) is mostly filled with The Antlion Trench Murder Case, which started in the previous volume. Hajime, Miyuki and reporter Itsuki are participating in a psychological experiment held in a building in the middle of a field of quicksand that used to be a bunker.  The professor heading the experiment is doing research on fears and traumas and has the participants dressed in clothes in colors they don't like, and uses special wristbands to monitor the heartbeat of each participant. As expected from the series, other participants in the experiment are getting murdered one after another. The problem is that the murders happen in locked rooms and with no way of communicating with the outside world, it's up to Hajime to find out the identity of the murdering Antlion.

As I already noted in the previous reviewThe Antlion Trench Murder Case features the most ridiculously designed bulding in more twenty years of Kindaichi Shounen history. And this is a series that has featured a bunch of strangely designed buildings. To be honest, I actually found it hard to follow, as all the rooms have generic names like "West-4" or "East-6" and doors that can be locked from both sides and more. The story reminds of early Kindaichi Shounen stories with an emphasis on (possible) movements of characters in the building, but it doesn't help if all the rooms look exactly the same, with vague nomers like West-4. I wonder if this story looks better animated: it's a lot easier to visualize where everybody is when in motion. But I know I will forever remember this story as The One With The Silly Layout.

The story itself is okay. It has some interesting points, with fear and trauma playing a role in the story, but the main tricks are borrowed from earlier Kindaichi Shounen stories. In fact, now I think about it, it resembles one story in particular in more than one way, and it's almost like a remake of that story. Only not as good. Also, once the hint appears, it's amazingly easy to figure out who the murderer is.

The Blood Drinking Cherry Blossom Murder Case takes up the rest of volume 6 and the whole of volume 7 (released in September). As part of a school Mystery Club activity, Hajime, Miyuki and Saki (no. 2) go to a hotel in the outskirts of Tokyo, that used to be a sanatorium. Many years ago, a doctor there killed his patients to feed the bodies to the cherry blossom trees in the garden.  The doctor escaped and nobody knows where he went. Now the sanatorium's a hotel, but every year the cherry blossom trees still bloom red, as if they sucked the blood out of the victims. At the hotel, the gangs gets to know a group of three young professionals, who've been coming every year to enjoy the cherry blossoms. And of course, on the first night, one of them is murdered. But not only was the man found inside a locked room, a piece of one of the Blood Cherry Blossoms was also stuck into his chest, as if feeding on the man. And of course, he was just the first...

The scale of The Blood Drinking Cherry Blossom Murder Case is relatively small: with a limited cast and mostly set inside the hotel. The murders and the problem of the locked rooms are also fairly simple and to be honest, the way Hajime solves the case is not exactly fair to the reader. In fact, in terms of Kindaichi Shounen, I'd say the clueing was a bit weak in this story. We've seen much better and conclusive ways to arrive at the murderer in this series, so that was a bit disappointing to be honest.

But still, I can't help but like this story. It features something that is not particularly rare in mystery fiction, but seldom seen in Kindaichi Shounen and it really works here. Obviously, I can't talk about it in details because it'd spoil the whole story, but I think long-time readers of Kindaichi Shounen will find this story surprisingly refreshing. Feeling-wise, it's similar to an earlier story, The Yukikage Village Murder Case, with a 'cozy' story. Also, the setting of a small pension with a past and a cast of regular guests reminds of the Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo GameBoy Color game. A classic,  The Blood Drinking Cherry Blossom Murder Case certainly isn't, but I definitely find it more entertaining than the more classically-constructed The Antlion Trench Murder Case.

And that's it for now! While the series is still running, volume 8 has no formal release date as of now, so I'm not sure whether I'll be able to discuss it together with Conan 88 (which is scheduled for December). Also, because Kindaichi Shounen stories are basically always longer than one volume, I think I might actually skip volume 8 and do a double review with volume 9, because I very much doubt volume 8 will contain a complete story. 

Original Japanese title(s): 天樹征丸(原)、さとうふみや(画) 『金田一少年の事件簿R』第6&7巻

Friday, October 9, 2015

Ashes to Ashes

いつでも捜しているよ どっかに君の姿を
交差点でも 夢の中でも 
「One More Time, One More Chance」(山崎まさよし)

I'm always looking for a sign of you
Even at the intersection, even in my dreams
Even though you couldn't possibly be there
"One More Time, One More Chance" (Yamazaki Masayoshi) 

While I understand it's to protect the smaller novelists and publishers, I do always lament the fact the Netherlands has a rather rigid law for book prices. It's definitely a reason why I seldom buy Dutch books (and thus the law has the opposite effect in my case).

M.P.O. Books' De Laatste Kans ("The Last Chance", 2011) starts with the discovery of the body of Jacques Vermin, covered by his paternal ashes once held in the urn that killed him. The grotesque murder gives rise to several questions with Inspector Petersen and his team at the District Heuvelrug in central Netherlands. The obvious question is of course who did it, but other questions also keep the inspector busy: why was Jacques so determined to keep his residence in nature-filled Leersum a secret to practically everyone? How did he make his money? Is there a connection between his death and a lost child who was left somewhere down Jacques' street the night of his murder? Petersen leads his team of detectives in search for answers, but is not only having trouble with witnesses and other interested parties, his own team also serves as a hurdle to be taken as personal problems start to influence the effectiveness of the team and the investigation itself.

De Laatste Kans is the fifth novel in the District Heuvelrug series by Dutch writer M.P.O. Books. My colleague over at Beneath The Stains Of Time has written very often and praisingly on his blog about M.P.O. Books' series as a good, recent Dutch police procedural that actually invokes the spirit of the puzzle plots we so love, and I had been saying for years I would try reading one of the books. This is the first time I read something by Books by the way, but De Laatste Kans can be read without any knowledge of prior entries in the series.

The most memorable feature of the De Laatste Kans is the structure: the story constantly jumps between a very varied cast of characters, both the police and the suspects, giving you a glimpse in each of their minds. In videogames, this is usually referred to as a "zapping system", i.e. the reader is zapping between "channels" that each focus on a different character (games I discussed with a zapping system are: Machi, 428, Detective Conan: Marionette Symphony and Detective Conan: Phantom Rhapsody). The result is that De Laatste Kans seldom bores, as it keeps on giving the reader something different, without feeling chaotic or padded out. While there are more books that feature jumping between points of view, the fact it's all neatly organized through time-stamps really reminds me of the zapping systems of videogames.

The plot of De Laatste Kans was also surprisingly well-constructed. The book had a bit of bad luck: I was juggling between De Laatste Kans and another book that just happened to do something similar, so I realized who Jacques Vermin's murderer probably was very early on, but that didn't make De Laatste Kans any bit less fun: it is still a well-written detective story. One hint in particular was wonderfully done. A minor gripe I had was with some coincidences that led to the murder, but nothing game-breaking.

As I said, this is the fifth book in a running series and features a fairly wide cast starring Inspector Peterson and his team of detectives. It appears that these characters have been developed quite a lot in the run of the series, and the dynamics within the team is also a crucial part of De Laatste Kans. It never interferes with the puzzle plot and we're not talking about oh-woe-is-me-life-of-a-police-officer, but there is a good part of the novel about the people investigating the case. I guess that people who have been reading from the start will be more emotionally invested in the caracters, but even without really knowing these characters, De Laatste Kans strikes a good balance between the plot and its characters (and luckily in favor of the plot).

But for the Dutch readers here, De Laatste Kans is a recommended read as a fun detective novel that actually delivers. For the non Dutch-readers, alas, I don't think M.P.O. Books are available in English yet. Then again, most of the books I discuss are not available in English...

Original Dutch title(s): M.P.O. Books "De Laatste Kans"

Thursday, October 8, 2015

In The Best Families

Chim Chiminey
Chim Chiminey
Chim Chim Cheree
A sweep is as lucky 
As lucky can be
"Chim Chim Cheree"

You know, I think this is the first time I reviewed something by Agatha Christie on this blog that wasn't an adapation! I had already gone through most of Christie's more interesting books (Poirot, Marple) before I began the blog, and I seldom reread them...

A chance meeting in Africa between Anthony Cade and his friend James McGrath brings Anthony back to England, where he is to deliver a manuscript to a publisher instead of McGrath. The manuscript, a diary, is connected to the national politics of the nation of Herzoslovakia, which after a period of unrest is heading for restoration of the monarchy. Meanwhile, George Lomax (politician) persuades Lord Caterham to hold a weekend party at the lord's home, Chimneys. The goal of the party is to seal a deal between the candidate for the Herzoslovakian crown and the British govenment (political support for oil concessions). But a murder is committed in Chimneys and some escapades revolving around the manuscript also brings Anthony Cade to Chimneys. It is up to him, and Superintendent Battle to solve Agatha Christie's The Secret of Chimneys (1925).

Was I the only person who for the longest time thought the title was The Secret of The Chimneys?

I love The Secret Adversary. I am actually quite fond of The Big Four. So I like to think I have some capacity to appreciate Christie's more chaotic and less polished plots. But I just don't like The Secret of Chimneys. Is it because there are no series characters (except for Superintendent Battle, who is a bit too sobre for the role)? Perhaps. Is it because Anthony Cade is 'just' the typical adventurer/rogue type of protagonist who is not particularly outstanding except for those traits? Maybe. Is it because the international plot of backdoor dealings and people after the McGuffin is actually quite boring? Quite possible.

Reading through some of the old reviews quoted on the Wikipedia page for The Secret of Chimneys, I see a lot of reviews praised the book for being an exciting story with lots of elements and a satisfying, unexpected conclusion. While I agree a lot of things happen in the book, I find it more chaotic than entertaining and while I usually can appreciate a lighthearted touch in a detective story, it doesn't really work for me here. At least in The Secret Adversary, we had two young people who had nothing to lose and were full of energy and guts. But here we start with the setting of a heavy international plot and stolen jewels and murder and I don't know what more, and the lightheartedness doesn't really fit. And the unexpected conclusion is not really unexpected. I don't even think that it's me recognizing Christie patterns here, the conclusion is just rather obvious.

But like always, Christie is a great writer specializing in simple, to-the-point writing. I flew through the book, even though I did not really enjoy the plot. I can also understand if people like the characters of The Secret of Chimneys, because Christie can put characters on a page like no one else, but personally, I think both plot and characters have been done much better by Christie herself in plenty of her other books.

I have to admit though, reading The Secret of Chimneys has made a bit weary of going through those last Christies I haven't read yet. I made my way through all the Ellery Queen novels and that had its ups and downs, but I find it difficult to really enjoy Christie's thrillers. Maybe I'll only go through the remaining Tommy & Tuppence stories...

Anyway, The Secret of Chimneys. Didn't really like it, wouldn't recommend it either. Christie has done much better, much more enjoyable, many more times.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Platinum Rose

薔薇が咲く 薔薇が散る
君の中に 僕がいる
「薔薇が咲く 薔薇が散る」(愛内里菜)

Roses bloom, roses scatter
I'm living inside you
Fly up with pride, beauty and magnificence!

I love Japanese pockets (bunko) both for their (uniform!) size and the price, so I don't have that many Japanese hardcover books: mostly books that were never made available in pocket form for anyway. I understand that Japan is quite unique with uniform pocket book dimensions and all and I don't suffer from an OCD, but I have to admit: I am a bit annoyed that my only two hardcover books from publisher Soronsha, both from the same writer featuring the same translator, are of slightly different dimensions...

About a year ago, I wrote about Kim Nae-seong (1909-1957), commonly seen as the father of the Korean detective story. Despite his status though, he doesn't appear to be available in English (save for this translation I made of his short story Muma), so a short introduction: the Great Korean Empire had been annexed by Japan the year after Kim's birth. He moved to Japan, where he studied at the famous Waseda University in Tokyo. It is during this period he made his debut as a professional detective writer (in Japanese). He moved back to Korea in 1936, where he continued with both writing new stories in Korean, as well as translating some of his older, Japanese stories to Korean. Kim Nae-seong Tantei Shousetsu Sen ("A Selection of Detective Stories by Kim Nae-seong") collects the Japanese writings by Kim Nae-song, both fiction as well as essays, in one neat volume, giving the reader a glimpse into the early makings of Korean detective fiction. In Japanese (for more early Korean detective stories in Japanese, see this review). I'll only be reviewing the fiction part, by the way.

The book opens with Daenkei no Kagami ("An Elliptical Mirror"), Kim Nae-song's debut story, which was published in the magazine Purofiru (Profile) in 1935. The story starts with an advertisement in the magazine Phantom, which challenges its readers to solve the most heinous crime commited in recent Keijou history (Seoul as it was called during the colonization). The "To-yeong Murder Case" happened six years ago: To-yeong, the wife of the writer Mo Hyeon-cheol, was found murdered in her bedroom. The only people in the house were the victim's husband Mo Hyeon-cheol, a young writer whom Mo Hyeon-cheol had taken in the house and the two servant women. Investigation reveals that To-yeong had an affair with the young writer and that they appeared to had a fight, but no decisive evidence could be found. After the case, Mo Hyeon-cheol commited suicide, leaving an atmosphere of suspicion surrounding the young writer. And now six years later, the young writer finally has a chance to clear his name by sending in his solution to the To-yeong Murder Case to the magazine Phantom.

A great story overall. It starts with a great premise (the contest asking readers to solve the case), has thrilling developments (one of the suspects participating in the contest) and a surprising ending. A bit too surprising perhaps, because it was not completely fair to the reader: a vital hint is kept away from the reader until the detective-character suddenly decides to remember it. But the interesting twists and turns lead to a great pay-off and personally, I really like the letter-to-the-editor style of the story that is used until the very end of the story (somewhat similar to that short story collection by Yamada Fuutarou by the way).

Tantei Shousetsuka no Satsujin ("Murder on a Detective Writer") starts with the murder on Park Yeong-min, the head of the theater troupe Poseidon. Suspects include both his wife Lee Mong-nan, as well as one of the troupe's actors, Ra Un-gwi (who is in love with Lee Mong-nan), who were both absent from a little party during the time of the murder. Among the people who luckily do have an alibi is the mystery writer Yu Bu-ran (who also happens to be in love with Yeong-min's wife). Yu Bu-ran tries to save his love from the suspicions of the police writing a play "The Second Shot", based on the actual murder. The solution he proposes clears Lee Mong-nan, and incriminates Ra Un-gwi, but the police isn't completely convinced by Yu Bu-ran's solution.

An appearance by Kim Nae-seong's series detective Yu Bu-ran (who is named after Maurice Leblanc). Like in Main, he appears to have a love for the adulterous affair, as well as being a rather faulty detective. He's almost like Roger Sheringham. The idea of Tantei Shousetsuka no Satsujin is actually quite similar to that of Daienkei no Kagami: a murder case with an adulterous affair at the core, an alternative solution proposed to the police investigation using unconventional means (a solution sent to a magazine VS a theater play), a hint that was hidden from the reader until the plot suddenly calls for it. I'd say that Daienkei no Kagami is the superior story though: the second half of Tantei Shousetsuka no Satsujin suddenly throws a ridiculous secret society subplot at the reader that just feels out of place and the way the solution to the murder is revealed is also not nearly as satisfying.

Kitan Koibumi Ourai ("A Tale: Coming and Going of Love Letters") is a short short in which two people bicker through a series of letters about a mistakenly sent love letter. The ending is rather predictable, but I thought it quite cute. It was also rewritten in Korean to a longer and more detailed version with a slightly different title ("A Tale of Love Letters"). The previous stories were also translated to Korean with new titles by the way, but the stories are the same, as far as I know.

Shisou no Bara ("A Rose of Thought") has a interesting history: it was the first novel Kim Nae-song had written, in Japanese, but he never managed to get it published in Japan. He took the story with him back to Korea and translated it to Korean, where it was published with the current title in 1953~1956 (the original title was Chizakuro, "The Blood Pomegranate"). The story is about an recently promoted prosecutor Yu Jun and his writer/loafer friend Baek Su. One night. Baek Su wants to meet wth Yu Jun and there he admits to being the one responsible for the murder on the actress Chu Jang-mi, a case the police is currently investigating. Yu Jun is appaled, not sure what to do with his friend, but later Baek Su denies everything and says it was just a joke. But Yu Jun suspects there was something behind Baek Su's confession and when Yu Jun himself is put on the case, he can't help but suspect his friend, especially after finding some very incriminating facts, one of them being a manuscript called "A Rose of Thought", which details a hidden past between him and Chu Jang-mi. But Yu Jun doesn't give up and through Baek Su, he discovers more facts which also seem to point to other suspects. Should Yu Jun believe in his friend or stick to his professional duty?

I was quite charmed by the short stories in this volume, as well as Main, but Shisou no Bara...no. It is overly melodramatic, with Yu Jun and Baek Su constantly lamenting about what friends are, what love is, what it means to trust your friends... Baek Su's actions throughout the story also make no sense whatsover ("I did it!", "No, I didn't do it!", "He did it!", "I did it!" ad infinitum) and while there's a sorta neat trick that leads the reader and Yu Jun to the real murderer, it's just too little, too late. Shisou no Bara is tiring, as the story constantly stops to lament about everything. Main had a little melodrama too, but was at the heart always a mystery novel with a good sense of speed. Shisou no Bara on the other hand just is a little plot, made into a long novel through characters who really should learn to talk to each other in a more direct way. It's too bad: Shisou no Bara is the main piece of this book, but is easily the most boring and disappointing story.

I've read six stories by Kim Nae-seong now, and it's funny to see how some elements already feel typical "Kim Nae-seong". Take the maps for example. Almost all stories feature figures of the crime scenes, with detailed maps that really draw the reader in. On the other hand, it's seldom that the maps are really vital to the story, even if they really add to the atmosphere. Kim Nae-seong's stories also often feature writers: his series detective Yu Bu-ran is a mystery writer, but the non-series stories like Daenkei no Kagami, Shisou no Bara  and Muma feature writers extensively in the plot. These writers are often not particularly well-off, but manage to live thanks to gifts from family. These writers (including Yu Bu-ran) are also very often involved in adulterous affairs with beautiful young and married women. You'd almost suspect that Kim Nae-seong was drawing from real-life with his playboy-writer-detectives. Also, his stories often have a touch of melodrama, occassionaly more dramatic than others (Shisou no Bara) and lamenting about love and stuff is not rare.

I loved Main last year and while Kim Nae-seong Tantei Shousetu Sen is not as good as that book, it still had its entertaining points. The short stories are definitely more enjoyable than the novel Shisou no Bara, with Daienkata no Kagami standing out as a really a good detective story. The book is not cheap though, so I'd recommend people to start with Main and then see if they want to read more from the father of the Korean detective story. For those who can't read Japanese, try out this translation of mine of one of his short stories.

Original Japanese title(s): 金来成 『金来成探偵小説選』 (創作編):「楕円形の鏡」 / 「探偵小説家の殺人」 / 「思想の薔薇」 / 「綺譚・恋文往来」 / 「恋文綺譚」

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Make Me A Perfect Murder


"My lady, you really are good for nothing if you need to puzzle over a problem of this level."
 "What Was Stolen From The Lady?"

Man, I love these stylized covers.

Nazotoki wa Dinner no Ato de 3 ("Mystery Solving Is After Dinner 3") is the third volume in Higashigawa Tokuya's popular armchair detective series. In the past, I've written about the TV drama adaptation (which was based on the first two volumes) as well as the motion picture, but this is the first time I wrote about the original books, I think (I do have all of them). Anyway, the third volume is at the core precisely the same as the previous two volumes. We follow the adventures of Houshou Reiko, a young police detective who, unknown to her collegues, is actually an insanely wealthy heiress of the gigantic Houshou Group. Every day, after a hard day of work, she enjoys a luxurious banquet, during which she often spews complaints about how difficult her cases are. Luckily for her, her butler Kageyama can usually point out the truth behind each case just by listening to her stories. Unlucky for Reiko however is that Kageyama has no qualms whatsoever about ridiculing and insulting his mistress' intelligence while explaining everything. The bunko (pocket) version of this third volume (released in January 2015) collects six stories, as well as one bonus short short not included in the original release.

Reiko and her boss Inspector Kazamatsuri investigate the death of an old man in Hannin ni Doku wo Ataenaide Kudasai ("Please Don't Provide Poison To The Murderer"). The man died of some arseneous acid, but it is unclear whether it was murder or suicide. At one hand, the family appears to have enough motive to want the man dead, on the other hand, the victim is also said to have been depressed lately because of the disappearance of the family cat. Kageyama however points out a very neat solution. This story is not brilliant or anything, but is a good showcase of Higashigawa's MO: he is very experienced in leaving little hints in the story (often 'dressed' in a comedic manner) and then connecting everything in good order. These stories are actually quite solvable for the reader if the reader tries a little. In a way, it feels like Higashigawa's writings often reward the reader with the feeling of "I solved it!". They're never too difficult or easy. 

Kono Kawa de Oborenaide Kudasai ("Please Don't Drown In This Rivier") is one of the better stories in the volume and deals with a drowned corpse found...just a little away from the river. Everything points to murder and Reiko and Kazamatsuri manage to discover that the man had lately been living off a distant (and wealthy) relative. The police discovers everyone had a motive to do the man in, but also that the family has an alibi for the time of the murder, as they were holding a party at their home. The solution Kageyama points out to is not particularly surprising, but again, the solution is not screaming-in-your-face obvious and requires a little effort from the reader. The hints are elegantly hidden and overall, this story is a very solidly constructed plot.

Kaitou Kara no Chousenjou de gozaimasu ("Presenting A Challenge by A Phantom Thief") is the only story where Reiko doesn't act in her role as police officer, but as her heiress self. The phantom thief Legend declares he is going to steal the "Golden Pig", a piece of art owned by Reikos father. Her father tells Reiko to call their family detective (something like a family attorney) and they try to prevent the theft... with some success. For Legend doesn't manage to steal the "Golden Pig", but does get away with the "Silver Pig", the counterpart to the "Golden Pig". But why did Legend steal the wrong statue, and more importantly, how did he manage to steal the thing from inside a locked room? A large part of the story is quite obvious, and sadly enough, the solution to the locked room is not really satisfying because it's not really well hinted at. As shown in the other stories of the volume, Higashigawa is quite good at hinting and hiding those hints in plain sight, but it doesn't really work here.

Satsujin ni wa Jitensha wo Goriyou Kudasai ("Please Use A Bicycle For Murder") is my favorite story of the volume, and involves a case where Reiko and Kazamatsuri suspect a man of killing his aunt, but he has an almost perfect alibi. On the night of the murder, two friends visited him, but he was out for 15 minutes for a smoke. And the only way he could've made his way to the murder scene was by bike, but that would mean he would have needed to go a steady 40 KM per hour to pull the thing off. The basic trick of this story is very similar to another story in this volume and I think the solution is also a bit more obvious in this story than the other one, but I like this story better because the narrative is simply more fun to read.

The title of Kanojo wa Nani wo Ubawareta no de Gozaimasu ka ("What Was Stolen From The Lady?") asks the most important question in the newest case Reiko and Kazamatsuri are investigating: a college student has been killed, but for some reason everything she was wearing besides her clothes (belt, shoes, etc) was removed. Reiko soon guesses that the murderer only wanted to take one thing, but took everything as a camouflage, but what was the real object? Kageyama points out a solution that takes a little jumping in logic, but overall a well-constructed mystery that involves logic you actually seldom see in detective stories. At least, it's not something you'd see in Golden Age stories, but it is something we've come to expect from modern, Japanese stories and especially Higashigawa, who is always very modern and his mysteries are often very close to 'everyday life mysteries'.

The title of Sayonara wa Dinner no Ato de  ("The Farewell Is After Dinner") is actually about the epilogue of this story, which deals with a farewell. But the main mystery is about an old man who was beaten to death in his house. It appears to be the work of some burglars who have been making their rounds in the neighbourhood at first, but a chance witness changes the case. Kageyama's solution is really fun, as it really turns all previous ideas around, yet still remains quite plausible. One of the best stories.

The pocket version of Nazotoki wa Dinner no Ato de 3 adds a "bonus track" in the form of a very special crossover: Tanteitachi no Kyouen ("The Banquet Of The Detectives") brings Reiko and Kageyama together with... Detective Conan! In this short short, Reiko and Kageyama make their acquaintance with Edogawa Conan and Mouri Kogorou at a party held by publisher Shogakukan (the actual publisher behind both Detective Conan and Nazotoki wa Dinner no Ato de). Because Conan is basically a Walking Death God, it doesn't take long for a corpse to appear: a policeman, known by all as the Columbo of Takao, was found stabbed outside on the emergency stairs. But just before he died, he managed to say one thing: Kamsahamnida ("thank you" in Korean). The solution Kageyama and Conan arrive at is...well, you have to read this one for yourself. The story is a short short and really nothing more than a little bonus, but okay.

I'd say that Nazotoki wa Dinner no Ato 3 is more of the same. It differs not at all from the previous volumes, which can be taken as both a good and a bad thing. There's no really excellent or outstanding story in the volume, and nothing that makes it memorable, but on the other hand, it was always an entertaining and well-constructed read. I think any reader will have a good time with this volume, even if it's not especially inspiring.

Original Japanese title(s): 東川篤哉 『謎解きはディナーのあとで3』: 「犯人に毒を与えないでください」 /  「この川で溺れないでください」 / 「怪盗からの挑戦状でございます」 / 「殺人には自転車をご利用ください」 / 「彼女は何を奪われたのでございますか」 / 「さよならはディナーのあとで」 / 「探偵たちの饗宴」

Thursday, September 17, 2015

The Angel Wakes

「君の思い描いた夢 集メルHEAVEN」 (Garnet Crow)

If I can slide into your heart
I'll take away your sad memories
So you can make your way without any hesitation
To the place you dream off
"The Heaven That Gathers The Dreams You Imagine" (Garnet Crow)

I've been holding up writing this review for almost a month! And even now I have trouble writing my thoughts down. Anyway, once again a good lesson I should occasionally learn a little about the books I'm going to read.

A whole new life starts for Sakamoto Yuuko, when she finally enters the Junwa Girl Academy, a prestigeous convent-style boarding school. The absolute queen of her new environment is Asakura Maria, a third-year student who is the head of the student council and the idol for basically all at the school. Yuuko too becomes entranced by Maria, and is thus the more schocked when one day, Maria is found dead in her room. She appeared to have been pregnant and had a miscarriage, the blood loss causing her death, but for some reason the fetus was not found in her room. Meanwhile, Maria's parents hire private detective Rindou "Black Cat" Mineko to investigate Maria's death: Maria's big sister, Yuria, had actually died under the same circumstances, including the missing baby. Both Mineko and Yuuko discover that someone or someone called "Jack" is involved with what happened to Maria and some other mysterious events at the academy and the search for Jack is the main catalyst for the plot of Inui Kurumi's J no Shinwa ("The Myth of J"), also carrying the English title J-Girls Mystery.

Inui Kurumi debuted as a writer with J no Shinwa in 1998, having won the fourth Mephisto Award with the novel. And as always with the Mephisto Award, opinions on the book are quite varied (for more about the Mephisto Award, see this review). The winners are usually mystery novels in a very broad sense of the word, some "normal" detective novels, while others lean more towards horror/entertainment. Of the few Mephisto Award winning books I've read, J no Shinwa is definitely the first one where I really hesitate calling it a detective novel.

The story starts out as a detective story with an okay, be it a bit predictable horror vibe: an all-girls school with mysterious meetings in the night, the nuns walking around, the mystery of "Jack" and all. And Mineko starts off with a fairly normal investigation in the deaths of Maria and Yuria and the disappearances of the fetuses. J no Shinwa is an okay, but not particularly inspiring read in this first quarter of the book.

But then the book very quickly moves to the horror and science-fiction side of things. The solution to the deaths of Maria and Yuria is basically science-fiction, and sadly enough, not in a good way. Science-fiction can work perfectly well with the detective novel, like Asimov proved. But J no Shinwa gives the reader something close to "aliens did it and that explains everything". It is not in the least satisfying. The same goes for the horror aspect. Gothic horror has always been best of friends with the detective novel, but when it goes into Resident Evil-territories, you need to be at your A-game if you want to preserve a good balance between the logic of a detective novel and the insanity of a horror novel. It doesn't work here. The detective plot gets crushed between the horror and the science-fiction. And to finish things off, there's a good dash of the erotic novel to be found in J no Shinwa too.

I know a lot of people describe Inui Kurumi's novels as making them feel uncomfortable (kimochi warui as the Japanese would say) and indeed, the other Inui Kurumi book I read, Shitto Jiken, turned into something unexpectedly dark at the end, leaving a bad aftertaste. In a good sense of the word: a lingering taste of despair obtained from a piece of mass entertainment. I guess that one could say the same for J no Shinwa, but it's a bit more extreme here and I myself did not enjoy it very much.

In short, J no Shinwa is more a horror novel than a detective novel, and read as such, it's okay I guess, though Inui is doing his best at making you feel uncomfortable reading the book. Which I guess is the idea of horror. I myself didn't really like the book, but that's perhaps because I had expected a traditional detective novel from it. Go in with the right expectactions, and J no Shinwa might well be an enjoyable horror novel.

Original Japanese title(s): 乾くるみ 『Jの神話』

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Down the Mountain

flying fall down 
「flying」(Garnet Crow)

flying fall down
Taking flight I come falling down
To your side
"flying" (Garnet Crow)

Man, that's some awesome cover art, I thought as I was pondering about what to write as the introduction of this post.

Dutch lawyer Willy Hendriks is invited by his good friend Geoffrey Gill, the famous English detective, for a walking holiday through the Alps. They are of course not the only people with such plans and during their trip Hendriks and G.G. also meet some fellow mountaineers at the local inns and lodges. One of these mountaineers is found dead one day, having fallen from a cliff and while the deceased was not a particularly nice man during life, Hendriks, G.G. and another man who had spent the last few days traveling with the deceased help the police in arranging the whole business of getting the remains back to his homeland. While G.G. says nothing to the police, he is actually convinced the fall of the man was not just a simple accident and he slowly unravels the mystery that surroundes the death of the mountaineer in Ivans' De medeplichtigen ("The Accomplices", 1918).

Ivans, pen name of Jakob van Schevichaven, is often considered the first Dutch professional mystery writer who started his rather prolific detecting career in 1917 with De man uit Frankrijk ("The Man From France"), which introduced the world to the renounced international detective Geoffrey Gill (G.G. to his friends) and his friend Willy Hendriks, a Dutch lawyer who acts as G.G.'s Watson and the narrator of the stories. The debut book and the second book (Het spook van Vöröshegy or "The Ghost of Vöröshegy", 1918) are quite entertaining to read, as Ivans keeps pushing the plot forward and the reader is kept guessing, but the mystery plots are not very strong: the impossible crime angle of Het spook van Vöröshegy for example is very weak, while the whodunnit plot of De man uit Frankrijk is a bit unbelievable.

De medeplichtigen is the third book in the G.G. series and I enjoyed it a lot more than the first two books. The deductions are actually fairly interesting (and don't feel like they're coming out of nowhere for a change), and while the plot has some similarities with De man uit Frankrijk, I'd say that De medeplichtigen is easily the better version of the same idea. Also, G.G., as the Sherlock Holmes-character, is often in possession of a lot more information than Hendriks in a lot of the novels (he usually drags Hendriks along with one of his investigations, but does not tell him everything), but in De medeplichtigen it's good to see him actually investigating the case and the mystery right from the start, rather than seeing him "Yeah, I already know everything and all, but I can't tell you until the end of the book".

Interesting about the G.G. series is that there's actually a fairly strong focus on character development. Hendriks meets his not-yet wife in the first book, is married by the second, has adopted a daughter by the third. Several friends and acquaintances met in earlier adventures also return in later adventures (which also happens in De medeplichtigen). It's not really neccessary to read previous adventures, but it's funny to see how Ivans slowly fleshed out the world. The G.G. series is also surprisingly internationally oriented. Ivans is a Dutch writer and we have a Dutch lawyer as the narrator, but most of the adventures are set in other countries like France, Hungary and Germany.

De medeplichtigen is the first G.G. novel I really just liked, without any real complaints about the mystery-side of the plot. I have to be honest though and say that of the four, five novels I've read, this was the only one that succeeded in that. The G.G. novels are always fairly entertaining reads (in terms of thrills and little mysteries thrown at the reader), but often the pay-off at the conclusion turns out to be quite disappointing with rather weak explanations for everything. De medeplichtigen however was fun. 'Nuff said.

Original Dutch title(s): Ivans "De medeplichtigen"