Wednesday, July 18, 2018

In The Mind To Suffer

"Paris in the fall, the last months of the year, at the end of the millenium. The city holds many memories for me, of music, of cafes, of love, and of death."
"Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars"

As people may have noticed, I'm not a big fan of John Dickson Carr. Not that I dislike his works, but unlike other authors with similar reputations I never really caught the virus. I liked The Judas Window a lot for example, and I think The Hollow Man has some great moments (it's a bit too contrived at times though), but I never felt the urge to read all of Carr (or certain series), while I did have that feeling of wanting to read more and more with Christie's Poirot and Ellery Queen. In fact, I can't even see what people prefer in Carr over early Queen in terms of pure mystery plot (I can see the point if we're talking about story 'fluff', but in terms of the core mystery plot...). I might read some Carr whenever I come across them and most of the books I read have some okayish-to-good ideas and concepts in them, but for some reason I never get that "I need to read more" epiphany. So I usually average out on maybe one Carr review once every two, three years...

After her divorce with cheating and ne'er-do-well Ned Atwood, beautiful Eve Neill got herself engaged with Toby Lawes, of the respectable Lawes family. The Lawes lived right across the street from Eve in the city of Paris, which is also the reason why Eve was scared to death when one night Ned appeared in her bedroom, with the helpf of a spare key he had kept. Unable to give Eve up, Ned pleads with Eve not to marry Toby, and to come back to him, but Eve rejects him vehemently, but with her in-laws right across the street, she's afraid to make a scene, as being seen with her ex-husband in her bedroom late at night probably doesn't look good. Ned refuses to give up however, and even threatens her sexually to prevent her from marrying another, but as he notices that Sir Maurice Lawes, father of Toby, is in the study, he walks over to the windows to draw attention to him and Eve. Eve tries to stop him, but the two see a horrifying scene. Sir Maurice has been bashed on the head, and it's obvious he's not among the living anymore, and Ned even spots someone leaving the room at that very moment, though he's not willing to share the identity of the owner of the brown gloves with Eve. Eve tries to get Ned out of her house as quickly as possible, fearing the police and her in-laws will come as soon as the murder is detected, but pushes Ned off the stairs in her haste. Ned manages to leave the premise with a bloody nose and a bump on the head, but this turns out to be a grave mistake, as Eve is later suspected as the murderer on Sir Maurice, as the police found blood on her clothing (which we know is Ned's), as well as a shard of a snuff-box once owned by Napoleon, which has just been purchased by Sir Maurice that night and which had been smashed into pieces at the crime scene. And to make things even worse: the fall on his head resulted in a concussion for Ned, and he's been unconcious for days, unable to collaborate Eve's story. Luckily for Eve though, a certain doctor is able to find a way out for her.

The Emperor's Stuff-Box (1942) is, as far as I know, widely considered as one of Carr's finest works, and interestingly enough not even a locked room, or impossible mystery. It felt in my eyes a lot like a Christie-esque story in fact, with a focus on psychological misdirection. Which granted, Carr also liked to use, but with a thriller-like set-up, the relatively simple murder (no 'dressing up', but just a corpse lying in the study with quite a few bashes on its head), the members of a single family at the crux of the problem and rather limited setting, The Emperor's Stuff-Box felt surprisingly familiar to me as someone who has read much more Christie than Carr. Christie's 4.50 From Paddington (1952) dates from later than this novel, but uses a similar opening scene by the way, with someone witnessing a murder through the window (in Paddington's case, it's someone seeing a murder happening in a train that's running parallel to the one the witness is riding). The idea of a window literally serving as a window into a world of (possible) murder is probably best known from Hitchcock's Rear Window, my guess would be.

So no over-the-top, mystical magic tricks in The Emperor's Stuff-Box, though obviously, psychological misdirection is part of any good magic trick. And what's done in this novel is quite brilliant. What happened in Sir Maurice's study is essentially really nothing more but one of the most basic of magic tricks, combined with another very common mystery trope, but it is pulled off in a very convicing way here. To be honest, I figured out quite early on what was going on, because once you recognize the pattern, you'll realize you'll have seen dozens of variations of the same idea in other mystery stories, but knowing what was going on made my reading experience an educational one, as I saw more clearly why some things happened. For example, I am normally a bigger fan of the short story format, and at first, I also felt this story might've worked better as a short story (more on that later), but I realized what was going on, I understood why this misdirection worked much better in a full-length novel, as it has more time to settle. The misdirection also works on more levels than just the story-level (in fact, it works outside the book itself!), but it also needs the room a novel offers to fully work. It's interesting that the misdirection starts even before the first page of the story, in a way, but it'll remains quite fair towards the reader. Simpler variations of the same idea can often be found in courtroom drama mystery, now I think about it.

In fact, I am inclined to say that this piece of psychological misdirection is an especially fair one. In general, I think psychological clewing is a hard to do in a truly fair way in mystery fiction. When we get to "He may have felt X, so that's why he believed Y", I feel (hah!) there's too much uncertainty. Sure, the writer can repeatedly say character Z has this or that character trait, so there was no doubt Z would do that, but still, these explanations can feel a bit forceful. The Emperor's Stuff-Box however makes good use of its medium (a book), as well as the fact that part of the misdirection is not only aimed at a certain character in the book, but also at the reader at the same time. The reader who is fooled until the end will thus not feel "cheated" by the explanation about the psychological misdirection in the denouement, as very likely, they'll have been victim of that same idea too.

I am a fan of logic school mystery fiction and there human psychology is usually reduced to one easy-to-remember rule: any character is to act in their own best interest, given the knowledge they have at that moment. That means a murderer might take actions that seem strange, but they make perfect sense considering the knowledge they have at that very moment. There is less uncertaintity about human psychology and the things they might do there, as it's mostly based on self-preservation and knowledge flow.

I do really have to point I really disliked most of the characters in the book. There are very few nice people here. Most of them are actually quite nasty, and to be honest, I found it quite a chore to read the book because each scene was filled with characters who I really didn't like talking in melodramatic ways. And part of that might be design, but man, it's been a while since I read a novel with basically no likeable characters.

So in short, I found The Emperor's Stuff-Box to be an entertaining mystery novel, that manages to take an otherwise a very common, and basic trope from both stage magic and mystery fiction and use it in a very effective manner, with a novel that is clearly built around this certain piece of psychological misdirection. It's an excellent example of using craftmanship to make much more of a simple and common idea. That said, the characters are definitely not the main attraction here.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Moving Target

「警察の正義とは、悪を地獄に落とす事であり、善を地獄より救い出す事である。真実の破片を集め、組み立てるのは天国・地獄行の切符を同時に発行するようなものだ」
「矢島喜八郎」

"The justice of the police is sending the evil to hell, and saving the good from hell. Finding the fragments of truth and putting them back together, is like issuing tickets destined for both heaven and hell."
"Yajima Kihachirou"

I might be wrong, but I have a feeling I am one of the few mystery bloggers who regularly also discusses mystery fiction in the videogame medium. For me, mystery fiction in the form of a videogame is as normal as mystery novels, TV series or audio dramas and there's all kinds of exciting things videogames can do with a mystery plot that are neigh impossible to do in any other medium, so I never really understand why people who like mystery fiction in general, would even want to ignore something as important as mystery videogames. One of the most important systems for mystery gaming was to be the original Nintendo DS line, where a plethora of mystery adventure games were released for. Its success is in hindsight no surprise: its dual screen, touch screen control and portability basically foreshadowed our obsession with smartphones now, making gaming both accessible and easy to take with you and the system also managed to hit an excellent price point for its games, as game cartridges (memory cards) were becoming cheaper, while a DS game in general didn't need as much development costs as games for home consoles like the Wii or PS3. Lots of mystery adventure games were thus released for the DS, as they were relatively cheap to develop, and these kinds of story-based games appealed to a lot of non-traditional gamers.

Nishimura Kyoutarou is an extremely prolific writer who, as of now, has more than 600 books to his name, is not only strongly associated with the travel mystery genre, but also with the numerous TV suspense dramas based on his books or original ideas by him. He was also one of the writers who jumped into gaming early on, with games based on his works released for systems like the Famicom (known as the NES in the West), PC and 3DO. What's unique about these games are that they aren't adaptations of existing novels, like sometimes happen with an author like Agatha Christie. The games featured originals tories, and Nishimura was usually credited with the original plot or at the very least, with his supervision over the project, making him usually at least somewhat connected to these games in terms of contents, instead of just signing off his name.

A while back I reviewed Nishimura Kyoutarou's not-so-good novel Tokkyuu Fuji ni Notteita Onna and a commentator asked about some of these games, and I had to admit I had only played one of them. But it was a long time ago, and I played it when I had just started studying Japanese, so I thought now was as good a time to play the game again. I had to dig around, but I finally found my cartridge of the Nintendo DS game with the overly long title DS Nishimura Kyoutarou Suspense Arata Tantei Series: Kyoto - Atami - Zekkai no Kotou Satsui no Wana ("DS Nishimura Kyoutarou Suspense - The Detective Arata Series: Kyoto - Atami - The Lone Isle In The Deep Sea - A Murderous Trap", 2007). Nishimura Kyoutarou is credited with the original plot and supervision for this game which features a new, original detective character. The 35-year old Arata Isshin is the son of the private detective Arata Kenshin, who was murdered three years ago. Unable to cope with the death of his father, Isshin left Japan to wander around the world for three years. Realizing he can't run forever, Isshin decides to return to Japan and step in his father's footsteps as a private detective. Upon his return to Japan, Isshin finds that his first task is to find his father's disciple Asuka, as he can't possibly run a detective agency without her help, but he finds that she has stopped working as a detective and is now working as a maid in a traditional inn in Kyoto. Isshin runs off to Kyoto to get her back, but he's only just arrived when a murder occurs in the traditional tea room in this faraway inn in the ancient capital of Japan.

I'll just refer to this game as DS Nishimura Kyoutarou Suspense Arata Tantei Series 1, as the full title is way too long. This game, which was followed by a sequel in 2008, is designed to be like the TV dramas based on Nishimura's work, which is also evident by its presentation, with the overly dramatic music and even "eyecatchers" for the "commercial breaks". Storywise too, DS Nishimura Kyoutarou Suspense Arata Tantei Series 1 feels very much like a "stereotypical Nishimura Kyoutarou" story, with a murder happening at popular tourist destinations or other exotic places and an emphasis in the mystery plot on alibis and the use of time-schedules (when you say Nishimura, you say elaborate alibi tricks using train schedules). This game consists of three stories, each set somewhere else: the opening story A Maze Four-and-a-half Tatami Mats Wide is set in the ancient capital Kyoto, where Isshin tries to convince Asuka to come back to Tokyo to work with him at the detective agency. The second story, A Miniature Garden of Love and Hate, starts Isshin and Asuka returning to Tokyo by Shinkansen, when their train is stopped in popular sea resort Atami because of a bomb threat. The final story, Broken Similarities, has Isshin and Asuka being kidnapped to a solitary island, where he's forced to prove that the current defendant for his father's murder is actually innocent.

As a game, DS Nishimura Kyoutarou Suspense Arata Tantei Series 1 is extremely beginner-friendly. It follows the standard adventure format: you wander around various locations as you interview people and gather evidence or testimony. The evidence and testimony you have gathered allow you to answer the quiz-like questions asked in dialogue confrontations with allies or suspects, which will further develop the plot and eventually allow you to solve the case. DS Nishimura Kyoutarou Suspense Arata Tantei Series 1 is very easy to pick up for non-gamers, as there's no penalty for giving wrong answers (it asks you to reconsider your answer), and the game also makes it clear to the player where you should go next or who to interview next, making it impossible like in older games to wander around for hours as you don't know who you should talk to about what in order to advance in the game. The downside of this accessibility is of course that this game is almost ridiculously easy, as you can't possibly stray from the correct path. So you're really here just to enjoy the story.

Mystery-plot wise, the game is never really surprising (again, the difficulty is fairly low), but the core ideas are usually okay, though one can question where they wouldn't have worked even better in a different format. A Maze Four-and-a-half Tatami Mats Wide has some nice ideas in terms of clews in relation to the crime scene (a small room for the traditional tea ceremony) and it really fits the Kyoto vibe. A Miniature Garden of Love and Hate is pretty ambitious and is perhaps the most "Nishimura Kyoutarou"-esque, with its focus on the Shinkansen bullet train and multiple crime scenes in both Tokyo and Atami. There's a pretty daring plot going too, but the step-by-step presentation that doesn't allow the player much freedom does prevent this story from becoming truly surprising. Interesting is the guest mention of Nishimura's most famous creation, Inspector Totsugawa and his subordinate Kamei, who are helping the Atami Police in this case. The final story, Broken Similarities, is set in a 1:1 replica of the building where Isshin's father was murdered. Isshin is first forced to prove that the current defendant is innocent, even though it was Isshin himself who first discovered his father's body three years ago, with the defendant standing near the body with a gun in his hand. During this new investigation however, a new murder happens in the exact same way his father's was murdered, and this time, it's his father's best friend Agata who's found holding the gun. While the "strange building on an island" reminds more of Ayatsuji Yukito than Nishimura Kyoutarou, the mystery is actually very Nishimura-like, with an emphasis on alibis and character movement. The trick behind the seemingly impossible murder is actually very clever, and there's a brilliant clew staring in you in the eyes that only becomes obvious in hindsight, but I can't deny that this final chapter is also a bit draggin, and it's a bit obvious who the murderer is as they have the widest variety in character animations prepared for them compared to the other characters!


This game also has a mode called West Village (literal meaning of Nishimura), with 50 short mystery quizzes and riddles. In some of them you have pick out a contradicting line in a story to solve the mystery, in others you have to figure out an alibi trick with a train schedule by moving trains around to arrive at a certain spot by a certain time. These are usually fairly entertaining short quizzes that serve as a break for the main game, and the latter quizzes are easily the more challenging part of this game, surpassing the main story!

DS Nishimura Kyoutarou Suspense Arata Tantei Series: Kyoto - Atami - Zekkai no Kotou Satsui no Wana is overall never an exceptional game, though it's never a bad game either. It's obviously created in a way so non-gamers can also enjoy this game and in that sense, this game is a pretty good introduction for people to see how a mystery story can translate to a game. There's little challenge here, and the mystery plots do suffer a bit from this streamlining, but overall, I have to say I did have fun with this second playthrough of the game. I never got around to playing the second game in this series actually, and I might pick it up, as it's cheaper than lunch nowadays.

Original Japanese title(s): 『DS西村京太郎サスペンス 新探偵シリーズ「京都・熱海・絶海の孤島 殺意の罠』

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Knight Time Terror

まだ痛む右腕愛しいあなたを
思い出せと巡るから
剣を求め彷徨う
「Marionette Fantasia」(Garnet Crow)

I meander in hopes of remembering you,
my beloved with your wounded right arm,
Wandering around in search for your sword
"Marionette Fantasia" (Garnet Crow)

I've seen a couple of those small free libraries pop up in the neighborhood, where you can exchange novels and books for free: you can simply leave a book you'd like someone else to read behind, and readers can take a book with them for free. I got today's book from such a library.

Every year on the third Tuesday of September, the Speech of the Throne is held by the monarch of the Netherlands in the Hall of Knights, informing both the members of the Senate and the House of Representatives on the outlines of government policy for the coming year. The speech always starts with the sentence "Members of the States-General...," but this year, it is all the monarch managed to say, as at that exact moment, one of the chandelier light fixtures in the Hall dropped down, killing several members of both the Senate and the House, as well as the head security of the parliament. With the several members of the States-General deceased and the Speech of the Throne interrupted, the country is facing a constitutional dilemma, as a lot of procedures that should've been finished now haven't yet. Police Inspector Hendrix is put on the case to investigate whether this was an accident, an act of terrorism or something else, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives decides to have Elizabeth Brederode, the Head Clerk, appointed to the investigation too as Hendrix' partner considering her knowledge about the procedures and on-goings in the political world. As Hendrix and Brederode dig into the curious incident, they slowly realize that there was malice hiding behind it all in Theo Joekes' Moord in de Ridderzaal ("Murder in the Hall of Knights", 1980).

Theo Joekes was a Dutch journalist, writer and member of the House of Representatives during his life and Moord in de Ridderzaal, his very first detective novel, was written during the period he was still an active member of the House of Representatives. The subject matter of this novel was thus more than familiar to him, and while the book opens with a note that the various political functions that appear throughout the book are not based entirely on reality (the political parties mentioned for example are fictional), one can feel that the writer had quite some affinity with the stage of this tale, where various political games, but also the personal lifes of politicans play an important role.

The most singular characteristic of this novel is perhaps the detective role: while Police Inspector Hendrix is obviously a very obvious choice for a detective-character, having the Head Clerk of the House of Representatives act as a detective is quite surprising. Joekes did a good job at utilizing the device of having two detectives: early on in the novel, the two each act according to their own hypotheses, with Brederode of the opinion the incident was a planned murder, while Hendrix following the idea that it might just have been an unfortunate accident. Later on, when the clues gathered seem to suggest murder, the two bounce ideas of each other, with Hendrix obviously having more experience as in criminal investigation, while Brederode shines a light from surprising angles because of her experience in the political world. The Speaker of the House is also added to the mix, as he acts as a 'judge' between the two detectives, weighing their hypotheses and evidences against each other. The result is a fairly chatty detective novel, with two detectives working with each other despite different ideas, and that's something I quite like actually, as it gives a mystery novel a certain dynamic that's sometimes absent in stories focusing on one single detective who only acts on their own ideas.

As for the mystery plot... I did not like it that much. I think my main gripe is that it feels very contrived. The initial incident, of the falling chandelier, serves as an impressive, graphic story opener, but what follows is a plot that hinges on a lot of coincidences or unlikely events. For example, witnesses who just happen to see, and remember, some incredibly minor event that turns out to be important even though nobody would've had any reason to pay attention to that. But then the opposite happens too, with obviously suspect incidents being brushed off as having nothing to do with the case until several pages later, the surprising reveal is made that that suspicious scene was indeed *gasp* important. The scheme uncovered at the end that explains the titular Murder in the Hall of Knights is almost insanely contrived, asking for way too many steps and opportunities for it to fail. if it was only once or twice, okay, I could live with that, but that is not the case here: everything feels artificially conceived, and not in the 'fiction is good because it's artificial' kind of way. Interestingly enough, the plot seems like it'd have fitted perfectly with Higashino's Galileo short stories (not the novels, mind you), even though this book is like two decades older. And while politics do play a role in the plot, you don't need to be afraid for complex political schemes that endanger the whole country or something like that. At the core, The Murder in the Hall of Knights is a fairly standard mystery story.

To illustrate how unimpressed I was with the story: I only remembered halfway through the story that I already knew the thing! Some years ago, I listened to an old Dutch radio play based on this book (which was quite faithful to the original book, I know realize), but I had completely forgotten about it. You'd think that a setting like the Hall of Knights and the Speech of the Throne would make a better impression with me, but no. The radio play was originally broadcast in 1982 by the way, so two years after the book's original release.

One thing I realize now as I write this is that I think the setting is pretty good. If you say "political center of the Netherlands", one might think of some faraway place only accesible for those in the world, but I think most Dutch readers will be quite familiar with the Binnenhof, which houses the Senate, House and the Prime Minister. I don't know how it is in other countries, but the Binnenhof (Inner Court) is easily accessible for everyone and most people actually simply use it as a short-cut to head for the shopping center of The Hague. In every-day use, it's more like a street than "the political center," so it's a place many people will be familiar with even if they have no affinity with politics.
 
So I am not overly enthusastic about Moord in the Ridderzaal. While I think the story does have some interesting features in the form of its detectives and its location, I think the overall plot is strained with most of the plot-driving developments feeling rather unnatural and manufactured. Joekes did write more detective novels after this first one, but I doubt I'll be going after them actively (then again, I got my copy of this book for free too, though I may just place it back for someone else to read).

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Monsters Unleashed

"How many times do I have to tell you? There is no such thing as ghouls, ghosts, goblins or monsters! Listen up, there is absolutely absolutely no such thing as.... MONSTER?!!!!" 
"Scooby-Doo"

Today, a book I really didn't want to read. I think I bought it used when I was in Kyoto, but the things I heard about it were so discouraging I left it unread for almost six, seven years. But I guess I had to read it some day.

Nikaidou Ranko series  
Jigoku no Kijutsushi ("The Magician from Hell") (1992)  
Kyuuketsu no Ie ("House of Bloodsuckers") (1992)  
Sei Ursula Shuudouin no Sangeki ("The Tragedy at the Saint Ursula Convent") (1993)  
Akuryou no Yakata ("Palace of Evil Spirits") (1994)  
Yuri Meikyuu ("Labyrinth of Lillies") (1995)  
Bara Meikyuu ("Labyrinth of Roses") (1997) 
Jinroujou no Kyoufu - Deutsch Hen ("The Terror of Werewolf Castle - Germany") (1996) 
Jinroujou no Kyoufu - France Hen ("The Terror of Werewolf Castle - France") (1997)  
Jinroujou no Kyoufu - Tantei Hen ("The Terror of Werewolf Castle - Detective") (1998) 
Jinroujou no Kyoufu - Kanketsu Hen ("The Terror of Werewolf Castle - Conclusion") (1998)  
Akuma no Labyrinth ("The Devil Labyrinth") (2001) 
Majutsuou Jiken ("The Case of the Sorcery King") (2004) 
Soumenjuu Jiken ("The Case of the Double-Faced Beasts") (2007)  
Haou no Shi ("Death of the Ruler") (2012)  
Ran Meikyuu ("Labyrinth of Orchids") (2014) 
Kyodai Yuurei Mammoth Jiken ("The Case of the Giant Ghost Mammoth", 2017)

The celebrated detective Nikaidou Ranko and her brother Reito first learned of the horrible murders and other crimes committed by the super criminal Labyrinth in the adventures chronicled in Akuma no Labyrinth. Nobody knew who or what Labyrinth was, but he, or she, was able to commit the most horrifying murders and other mystifying crimes, and was also very eager to challenge Ranko in public to try and solve their 'exploits'. During the events of Akuma no Labyrinth, Ranko and Reito came across an old abandoned house that Labyrinth had used for some reason, and they discovered that Labyrinth had some of the old furniture there shipped off elsewhere. Soumenjuu Jiken ("The Case of the Double-Faced Beasts", 2007) starts with Ranko, Reito and the police hot on the trail of that set of furniture, and their journey brings them to the southern island of Kyushu. There they learn that two grotesque and blood-curling serial murders happened there the last few days: a whole hospital was completely destroyed from within, with the victims horribly mutilated with limbs torn off and worse, while elsewhere, the inhabitants of a whole village were also similarly killed as if they were mere broken toys. The only clue for Ranko are the testimonies of some survivors, which seem to point to the existence of genetically-engineered two-faced monsters created during World War II, who are being used by Labyrinth to... do what actually?

A few weeks back, I reviewed Nikaidou Reito's short story collection Ran Meikyuu, which also marked my return to the Nikaidou Ranko series after quite some years. The reason I hadn't touched this series for so long was basically this novel. I had already read most of the series, and I actually quite like it: I love post-war 70s atmosphere, the locked room murders and other impossibilities are often grand, over the top and always sure to leave an impression and the distinct occult/horror tone that pervades throughout the series is something perhaps not all can appreciate, but most of the time, I think it works out quite good. That is, the above holds mostly for the series until the mammoth work Jinroujou no Kyoufu (which is probably the longest locked room mystery ever, spanning four pockets of over 700 pages each).

The Nikaidou Ranko books written after Jinroujou no Kyoufu introduced a new storyline (though chronologically set before Jinroujou no Kyoufu), and a nemesis for Ranko: the enigmatic super criminal Labyrinth. These novels also meant a shift in tone: whereas the earlier novels were like Carr on crack, the Labyrinth novels were styled more closely to the henkaku horror mystery stories by Edogawa Rampo, which were lighter on the mystery, and much heavier on adventure, horror and grotesque story elements, reminiscent of the 20s-50s pulp science-fiction novels with evil scientists and things like that. The first novel in this mini-series, Akuma no Labyrinth was not that bad, but the fourth novel and ending to the Labyrinth series (Haou no Shi) was at best mediocre, with a disappointing mystery plot and an over-emphasis on horror and science-fiction elements. I had also heard that the two novels in the middle, Majutsuou Jiken and Soumenjuu Jiken were far worse, with especially Soumenjuu Jiken often panned as horrible, so I wasn't too eager to read them. But like I mentioned in the introduction, I only learned of Soumenjuu Jiken's reputation after I had picked it up, so it remained unread in my collection for a long time. I haven't read Majutsuou, nor do I have a copy at the moment, but the events in Majutsuou Jiken and Soumenjuu Jiken happen almost simultaneously: while Ranko is investigating the case of the double-faced beasts in the south of Japan, she learns of a horrible murder that occured during the show of an illusionist in the north and realizes Labyrinth is also behind that case.

But to get back to Soumenjuu Jiken: I have to agree with the general consensus that this was not a very entertaining novel. Most importantly, it's not really a mystery novel. It is pre-World War II science-fiction horror. Unno Juuza is quoted in the book, and yeah, that's certainly a name that'll pop up while you read this novel, as well as things like Conan Doyle's The Creeping Man, Rampo's Kotou no Oni or Wells' The Island of Doctor Moreau. For the double-faced beasts that feature in the title? Yeah, they exist. The novel opens with an account by a woman who, as a girl, had miraculously survived the extermination of her village by the titular double-faced beasts. She lived on Skull Isle, an island housing a secret laboratory of the Japanese Imperial Army during World War II, with her village serving as camouflage. Strange experiments went on in that laboratory, all in the hope to win the war. The double-faced beasts were one of the weapons produced by these experiments: the gorilla-like animals had four arms, stremendous strength and stamina, possessed poison breath and could burn people with rays from their eyes. The beasts were taken away at the end of the war, their existence kept top secret by the extinction of the village on Skull Isle. We also learn that Labyrinth too was o a product of genetic engineering by the Imperial Army during the war: Labyrinth is a ruthless superhuman with extraordinary mental and physical traits originally designed as a super-soldier until they escaped the clutches of their creators, so Labyrinth gaining possession of these double-faced beasts is not good news.

The bulk of Soumenjuu Jiken consists of accounts by various people who had encounters with either the double-faced beasts or Labyrinth, both during the war or now, twenty years later, when Labyrinth and the double-faced beasts are leaving a bloody trail throughout Kyushu. Ranko learns about all these accounts as she's chasing after Labyrinth, slowly puzzling the tale of the double-faced beasts and the origin of Labyrinth together. These accounts are very grotesque and basically horror-stories, as we learn about the horrifying acts of these genetically engineered creations, with every single detail about how limbs were torn off and things like that explained. There's no mystery to be solved here, just sheer horror. At the end of the novel, Ranko does make a few deductions that show that not all events were as they seemed at first, but the things she figures out are poorly clewed and rather unimpressive. Soumenjuu Jiken reminded me of Shimada Souji's Nejishiki Zazetsuki, as that novel too revolved around an account of something that seems incredibly fantastical, and which invites to an alternate interpretation that is a bit closer to reality, but the 'alternative' interpretation by Ranko of the events and the existence of the double-faced beasts in Soumenjuu Jiken only involves small parts of the story: most of the monsters-are-loose story is true, and with genetically-altered monsters from World War II wiping whole villages out and things like that, it's kinda hard to care about what Ranko has to say about things that ultimately make no difference at all to the problem they're facing. (that is: that they have to fight genetically-altered monsters from World War II).

And what really kills this novel is the length. It's incredibly long. The version I have is about 750 pages long in double columns: the paperback pocket release consists of two volumes, each nearly 600 pages long. The thing is: it really doesn't need to be this long. The novel consists of accounts by various people on the double-faced beasts, and the story of Ranko and Reito piecing the whole thing together using these accounts, but I think almost half of the book is repeating itself. For example: there's an extended account by a teacher who discovers how a hospital was raided by the double-faced beasts, with everyone inside horribly ripped apart. This is followed by the Ranko narrrative, where she learns about the hospital case and then gets a report from the police. The problem: there is a lot of overlap. All the important facts we learn from the accounts, is always also repeated again in the Ranko narrative, so you're almost always told something twice. Obviously, something good could be done with a dual narrative structure: the discrepency between the eyewitness account and what Ranko learns from the police might for example be connected to some mystery. This however never happens in this novel. It's always a horror account, followed by a more business-like account of the same facts. This repeats itself over and over again, which explains why this book is so ridiculously long even though very little happens here. So even read as a science-fiction horror novel, I can't say Soumenjuu Jiken is good: it's a very repetitive novel and the horror-side of the story doesn't really work towards a (worthwile) climax anyway, so you'd better have no expectations there either.

So no, I can't say I can recommend Soumenjuu Jiken, not even if you like the Nikaidou Ranko series. It's completely different from the earlier novels, and while the other two Labyrinth novels I'd read where also a bit more focused on horror, they at least featured stories one could recognize as a mystery plot, with locked room murders or other impossible crimes. Soumenjuu Jiken on the other hand is all about monsters causing bloody havoc, which at the end is followed by a flimsy attempt at turning it into a mystery story by having Ranko making insignificant deductions, considering they do nothing at help solving the problem that they are facing double-faced four-armed monster gorillas. I remember that Haou no Shi (the last of the Labyrinth novels) kinda revealed the plot and outcome of this novel, so for those who have emotionally invested in this series, I can say you can just skip this novel and skip to Haou no Shi if you really want to see how the Labyrinth saga ends (even if that novel isn't that great either).

Original Japanese title(s): 二階堂黎人 『双面獣事件』

Sunday, July 1, 2018

The Quest of the Missing Map

Convenient for reading this post: a post on glasses in mystery fiction.

Don't you just get excited when you open a mystery novel and you discover there are floorplans or other diagrams inside? There's just something romantic about a visual depiction of the setting of a story. In some stories, having a clearly drawn map might be necessary in order for you to solve the mystery, while in other stories, the map is merely there to assist the text, just to make things a bit more clear and perhaps to add a bit of flavor. And as I've also mentioned in my reviews of novels like Kokushikan Satsujin Jiken and Murder Among the Angells, settings like houses, mansions or castles can also act as a character on their own in mystery stories, and floorplans really help giving life to these sinister settings.

For this short post, I wanted to show a couple of floorplans that made an impression on me. I won't be talking about them too much, as in some cases one can even figure out something important by looking at these diagrams if you know what to look for, but I think that no matter what, these floorplans just look impressive.

Ayatsuji Yukito - Meirokan no Satsujin ("The Labyrinth House Murders", 1988)


The title basically says it all. After his debut novel The Decagon House Murders, Ayatsuji continued with this series featuring the creations of the architect Nakamura Seiji and this third novel features an underground 'house' designed after the Labyrinth of the Minotaur, and the building is absolutely insane.

Shimada Souji - Naname Yashiki no Hanzai ("The Crime at the Slanted Mansion", 1982)


The second novel in Shimada's Mitarai Kiyoshi series has an interesting diagram, as it's drawn with depth. Floorplans with perspective aren't really common actually, and I really like how this house looks with the tower.

Nakai Hideo - Kyomu he no Kumotsu ("Offerings to Nothingness", 1964)



These floorplans are a bit smaller in scale compared to the previous ones, but I love the hand-drawn feeling of these plans. Kyomu he no Kumotsu is an infamous anti-mystery novel where the protagonist detectives try to figure out how a murder was committed even though there's no proof it's a murder and they just want it to be a murder because it's more fun and they hope more murders happen. These plans of course help them with their deductions.

Ayatsuji Yukito - Kirigoetei Satsujin Jiken ("The Kirigoe Mansion Murder Case", 1990)


Another novel by Ayatsuji. Technically, Kirigoetei Satsujin Jiken isn't part of Ayatsuji's House series, though the connection is heavily hinted at and the floorplan certainly seems similar in its complexity. This one is remarkable because of its sheer size, and this is just the ground floor!

Nikaidou Reito -  Jinroujou no Kyoufu - France (" La Terreur Château du Loup-garou La Second Partie: France, 1997)









Jinroujou no Kyoufu is a mammoth of an impossible crime mystery, consisting of four volumes of 600~800 pages each. These 8(!) floorplans are of the Blue Wolf Castle, which lies in France. A serises of horrible murders and other gruesome crimes happen in this gigantic castle, but what makes this a true terrifying experience is that this just half of the mystery: the Blue Wolf Castle is just one half of a set of twin castles, and another series of murders happen in the Silver Wolf Castle, just across the border in Germany. The Silver Wolf Castle has the exact same layout as the Blue Wolf Castle, but the happenings that occur in these two castles is just amazing, and one can sense the scale of this story just by looking at these castle plans.

Chisun Inn


 Oh, wait, this isn't from a mystery novel. This is in fact a floorplan of the Chisun Inn, a hotel located in Nagoya, Japan. Which also happens to look exactly like something from a mystery story. The hotel is designed in a spiral form, with a lot of rooms in a fan form, but one can easily imagine this to be the setting of a series of murders, right? I for one would make sure my door was locked and double locked if I were to stay here, as there's bound to be someone who's planning some kind of ingenious alibi trick or an impossible murder!

Anyway, these were a few floorplans from mystery novels that made an impression on me because of how they were designed, the scale of the setting or simply how they were drawn. Feel free to leave a comment with the floorplans from mystery novels (or TV series/manga/games) that made an impression on you.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Eye on Crime

Objects are often important to a mystery story. If a murder is committed, the culprit is likely to utilize an object, that is, a murder weapon, to accomplish their goal. A button left at the crime scene could prove as evidence to the identity of the murderer. Or perhaps the disappearance of an object that should be there will become the focus of an investigation, leading the question of why a certain object was so important it had to be removed. An object is thus usually a clue, something that links it to the solution of the mystery (which could be a murder, but it could be any enigmatic happening).  An object might tell you who committed a certain crime, or how it was done, or perhaps why it was done.


Today I'd like to take a short look at a very specific type of object that you might sometimes see as a physical clue in mystery fiction: glasses. Glasses are objects many of us use daily (I do too), and both due to the properties of these personal items, you see them utilized in various ways in mystery fiction. I'll take a look at some of the applications of glasses, and contact lenses, in mystery fiction as a little case study to see how objects can be used in mystery fiction (and I'll of course stay away from specific story spoilers).

The first application that comes to mind is perhaps the least interesting one, as it's not really convincing in any way. Glasses often feature as part of a disguise, because for some reason, some people are suddenly unable to recognize someone if they wear glasses. The most infamous example of this is not from a mystery story of course, but from the world of comics: for some reason people are unable to recognize that Clark Kent looks awfully a lot like Superman without his glasses. Glasses (frames) can of course change the impression of a face somewhat, but to the point of no recognition?  For some reason, Conan is also able to fool the people around him with glasses in Detective Conan. After a run-in with a mysterious criminal organization, high school student detective Shinichi's body was shrunken to that of a six-year old, but he manages to fool his childhood friend Ran (and her father) by taking on the fake name of Edogawa Conan, and by wearing a pair of his father's old glasses. Ran sorta notices the similarities between Conan and the face of her best friend she has known since kindergarten, but for some reason the glasses still manage to fool her. It might be interesting to note that Conan's glasses were upgraded by Dr. Agasa with all kinds of technological gadgets, allowing him to trace a set of markers with the built-in radar in the original comics, while the movies even have Conan wearing bulletproof glasses or glasses with an infrared binocular function. Another example of a detective using glasses to change her look is Houshou Reiko from Higashigawa Tokuya's Nazotoki wa Dinner no Ato de series: Reiko is not only a rookie police detective, but unknown to her colleagues, she's also the insanely rich heiress of the Houshou Group, an economic superforce. She too wears non-prescribed glasses when she's working, as a semi-disguise, but also because she thinks it makes her look intelligent.


Contact lenses are of course more interesting as a disguise, as color contacts allow people to change the color of their eyes. The plot twist that someone was hiding their blood relation to someone else using color contacts is actually relatively common and also more believable than simply the notion of glasses changing someone's face that dramatically.

Glasses and lenses are also usable as murder weapons, though I have to admit I haven't seen much of these stories. I imagine there's a locked room murder mystery out there somewhere where a fire was mysteriously started in a locked room killing someone inside, where at the end it is revealed the sun started the fire through a pair of farsighted glasses. Glasses are also something that are handled often by their wearers, so a bit of poison smeared on the arms of a frame seems like a likely idea for a story. Lenses are of course a bit easier to imagine as murder weapons, as it's an object you stick in your eye: I have seen stories where the culprit tampered with the contact lens solution so the victim would cause a traffic accident.

Now I come to glasses and lenses as physical clues, and it is in this role you usually see these items appear in mystery stories. To start with the simplest example: leaving your reading glasses behind at the crime scene is probably something you want to avoid as a murderer. This can of course also be extended into a deeper clue by turning the notion around: the simple version is saying the murderer was at the crime scene because their reading glasses were found there. Say the murderer did retrieve their reading glasses later, one could build a story that revolves around proving the reading glasses were at the crime scene, and thus proving the murderer was there. I can think of an episode of a certain mystery show for example that used this idea. In this case, the clue is rather direct, as it revolves around the physical presence of personal glasses. Lenses are the same story of course: a struggle might lead to a fallen lens, which can be traced directly to the wearer because of the prescription and other forensic clues. I'd say that fingerprints of the victim left on the glasses of the culprit, or the other way around, would also fall under this first category.

Another simple application is the absence of glasses/lenses: if the culprit lost their glasses or lenses during the crime, it could render them unable to perform certain actions, say for example driving a car or reading the small print. This too is a basic clue based on glasses/lenses, and one you see often.


If one goes one step further however, you arrive at what I find the most interesting application of the object "glasses" in a mystery story. Here it is not clear at first that glasses (or lenses) are in any connected to the crime: in fact these stories are about the culprit actively hiding the fact glasses were involved. An example: the body lies on the rough wooden floor of the room, with all the drinkware and bottles removed from the bar and broken on the carpet. What has happened is that the culprit broke their glasses during their struggle with the victim, with fragments scattered all over the floor. Prescribed glasses are of course very personal items, as one could check out the strength of the glasses, so the culprit wouldn't want to leave the fragments lying around. Because the flooring is so rough, some of the fragments have even fallen between the cracks. Unable to get them, the culprit decided to hide their glass fragments among other glass fragments: hence the broken glassware and bottles. This is just a basic example and a simple variation would be a culprit who decided to use the vacuum cleaner to clean a certain spot in an otherwise dirty room. But this core plot thus invites the reader to 1) pay attention to the oddities of the crime scene (the broken glassware/clean spot), 2) deduce the motive why this action was taken (to hide glass fragments) and 3) connect the glasses to the culprit.

This notion of wanting to hide the glasses making it necessary to take another action is something I often see in glasses/lenses-related mystery story. With lenses, I can think of stories where the culprit had to take certain actions to find the lenses they dropped, which is course easier said than done. Imagine a murder taking place inside a sandbox. If later in the story the reader discovers a strainer was stolen from a nearby home with an open kitchen window, one could come to the conclusion it was used to find the lens. Lenses are perhaps even more difficult to locate than glass fragments,so culprits wanting to hide/find their lenses usually lead to interesting crime scenes, where the action taken to find them usually leads to a very enigmatic crime scene. These kind of stories are the most fun to read/watch, as they go one step further, having you first deduce what the actions were the culprit took, why they were taken, what the implications of those reasons are and finally, to what clue they directly connect.

I have only looked at a few basic applications of glasses and lenses as clues in mystery fiction, but the basic ideas behind these applications also work for other physical clues of course. Glasses and lenses however are items many of us use every single day, without giving them much thought, and that is what makes them interesting props for a mystery story, especially if their role is hidden at first, challenging the reader to first arrive at the idea that that thing on their face might actually be important. I can think of a few other, specific usages of glasses in mystery fiction, but I'll refrain from mentioning them because of spoilers, but it's surprising how many examples of an ordinary object being used in mystery fiction come to mind once you think about it. I doubt this post will turn into a series about all kinds of objects, but I hope this post has given a peek at how physical clues can be developed in mystery fiction.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Night on Haunted Mountain

The bear went over the mountain, 
To see what he could see.
And all that he could see, 
And all that he could see, 
Was the other side of the mountain

I love the covers of this series by the way, the characters look really creepy!

Toujou Genya has not only made a name for himself as a horror/occult novelist who travels across Japan researching local folkore, he also has a knack for running into weird crimes, and solving them. It is for this reason that sometimes letters are delivered at his publisher from people who want his help making sense out of some mysterious experience they may have had. The manuscript from one Gouki Nobuyoshi caught the attention of Genya's editor in particular, as it concerned a little mountain community Genya happened to had visited last year. Gouki Nobuyoshi is the fourth son in a prominent family in Hado, a mountain village in the faraway rural outskirts of Tokyo. Unlike his father and brothers, Nobuyoshi was not made for the rough mountain life, and after he managed to find a job as an English teacher in Tokyo, he decided never to return to Hado, but a few months ago, his grandmother pleaded with him to return to at least conduct the Rite of Adulthood, which is a local custom. The curious incident that happened to Nobuyoshi during the Rite has weighed so heavily on his mind however that he has turned neurotic since then, not able to make any sense out of it all. Genya agrees to look into the matter and find a rational explanation for the baffling and horrifying experience Nobuyoshi had during the Rite of Adulthood in Mitsuda Shinzou's Yamanma no Gotoki Warau Mono ("Those Who Sneer Like The Mountain Fiend", 2008)?

The Rite of Adulthood is conducted by climbing the three interlocked mountains near Hado all by yourself to pray at the three shrines there, and it usually takes the better half of a day for people used to the mountains, but when Nobuyoshi conducted his Rite, he got horribly lost in the mountain woods, leading to frightful encounters that reminded him of the old ghost stories his grandmother used to tell him about the Mountain Fiend, a monstrous being that would lure wary travellers into the depths of the woods by calling out to them pretending to be a human. Eventually Nobuyoshi realized he had gone off-course in the worst way possible, as after the sun set, he found himself on Kanayama, the "forbidden" mountain of the region that is thought to be cursed by the local people and avoided by all. Eerily enough though, he stumbles upon a little cabin on Kanayama in the night, inhabitated by old Tatsuichi and his family: Tatsuichi is the eldest son of the Kasumi family, a once prominent family of the village of Kumado, which lies on the other side of the mountains to Nobuyoshi's own Hado. Tatsuichi had left his village when he was a young man and became basically a nomad, dwelling across the mountains of Japan. A few months back, he and his family too got lost on the mountains, and he found he had returned to his home village for the first time in decades, so he decided to stay for a while before leaving again. Nobuyoshi is offered a bed, and the promise that they'll show him the way down from the mountain the following day, but when Nobuyoshi awakens in the morning, he finds the breakfast table set up completely, but strangely enough nobody else is in the cabin. And what frightens him the most is the fact that the cabin is locked from the inside, meaning that Tatsuichi and his family couldn't have left the cabin in the first place. Nobuyoshi eventually finds his way down the mountain the village of Kumado, where he confides his tale with Kajitori Rikihira, basically the head of Kumado, but also the childhood friend of Tatsuichi who gave him permission to use the cabin for the time being in the first place. Enquiries by Rikihira and Nobuyoshi make it clear that Tatsuichi and his family couldn't have made their way down from the mountain without being seen that morning, as all the paths from the mountain were under observation since the early hours, and when the two return to the cabin, they find that the set breakfast table was also cleaned! Genya thus needs to solve the Mary Celeste-esque disappearance of a whole family in a double-locked situation, but what first appears to be "just" a strange, personal experience changes in something far more sinister as the day after Genya arrives in Kumado, someone is found murdered inside the locked mountain cabin, and it appears the murder is styled after a certain nursery rhyme about Kanayama!

Early this year, I reviewed Kubinashi no Gotoki Tataru Mono, which was not only my first encounter with Mitsuda Shinzou, and his Toujou Genya series: it was also a fantastic mystery novel, easily one of the best I had read in years. So yeah, I was sure to revisit the series about the occult and folklore specialist and writer Toujou Genya. Yamanma no Gotoki Warau Mono is the follow-up novel to Kubinashi no Gotoki Tataru Mono not only in publishing order (this is the fourth novel in the series), it's also slightly connected to the third novel content-wise: Toujou Genya made an early, but short appearance in Kubinashi no Gotoki Tataru Mono, when he's on his way to the village where the murders of that novel occur, when he gets distracted by some stories about the folklore surrounding the Mountain Fiend local to Kumado and Hado. Not able to contain his curiosity, Genya changed his travel plans to head out for Kumado, meaning he wouldn't get involved with the murders of Kubinashi no Gotoki Tataru Mono until much later, which probably also means that that case would've been solved much earlier had he not changed plans at the start of that book! Anyway, during his stay at Kumado, Genya became friends with Kumado's Kajitori Rikihira and learned much about the Mountain Fiend from him, which explains why he became so interested in Gouki Nobuyoshi's story in this novel.

I have to admit that Yamanma no Gotoki Warau Mono started out incredibly slowly for me. The first one-fifth of the book (more than a hundred pages) consists of the manuscript by Gouki Nobuyoshi, where he explains the strange happenings that occured to him during his Rite of Adulthood, from his apparent run-ins with the Mountain Fiend in the mountain forests to the Mary Celeste-inspired disappearance of Tatsuichi and his family from a locked cabin. This part is mostly written as a horror novel, which isn't odd as the Toujou Genya is explicitly marked not only as a mystery series, but also a horror series, and in both novels in this series I've read now, there are also slight elements that are left unexplained and up to the imagination of the reader (though of course, the elements surrounding the core mystery plot are all explained rationally ). While the novel thus starts with an investigation into an impossible disappearance, it changes into a full-fledged serial murder investigation once Genya arrives in Kumado to investigate what happened to Nobuyoshi.

My praise for Kubinashi no Gotoki Tataru Mono was mostly directed at the ingenious use of a certain theme in that novel: while several murders occurred there under very different circumstances, there was a common, underlying theme that connected all these murders, that served as means, opportunity and motive for the execution of all these crimes. The synergy going on in that novel was absolutely crazy, as it managed to do so many different things with one common idea. I was pleased to learn that this concept of synergy is actually also present in Yamanma no Gotoki Warau Mono! For example, the disappearing family from a locked room, a man whose face was burnt off in a stove inside a locked mountain cabin and the naked man killed inside a mountain shrine are all completely different mysteries in this novel: they are committed in different ways and come about in varying ways, but there is still an underlying theme that connects these mysteries, that explains why these events happened and why certain actions were taken by the murderer. It can be debated that in this novel, the two locked room situations (impossible disappearance from the cabin and the murder inside the cabin) are not directly related to this overall theme (i.e the locked rooms were not made possible because of this theme, like it was in Kubinashi no Gotoki Tataru Mono), but still, the reason for these mysteries are still ultimately same. And Mitsuda manages to come up with wildly different applications of this theme: the reason for the Mary Celeste-esque disappearance of Tatsuichi's family from the cabin is absolutely brilliant for example, but that wouldn't work for the reason why the murdered man inside the cabin had his face burnt off, and yet it all comes down to the same theme. Whereas most mystery writers would use various ideas for one novel (a locked room murder, and a dying message, and a... ) to bring diversity, Mitsuda somehow manages to always use one single idea, but then come up with a myriad of applications that still surprise the reader. This meaningful repetition of one single theme in all kinds of different ways really makes his novels a joy to read, as there is plot consistency from start to finish and you never feel any part is unnecessary, as everything is done to strengthen the underlying theme.

While there are two reasonably simple locked room situations in this novel (one of which is solved early on), the main question driving the plot is why, and from there it becomes a who. The why is the underlying theme and I really can't praise that enough. The jump to the question of whodunit is also great. The last two chapters where Genya explains how he solved the crime are extremely long (once again about one-fifth of the fairly long novel) as he also goes into detail in some of his mistaken hypotheses about the identity of the murderer. Genya proposes several fake solutions that are actually all pretty good, but each of them are proven to be wrong by some small clue in the spirit of Queen, for example by proving suspect A knew about a certain fact, so they couldn't have been the murderer etc. These fake solutions however are never discarded completely, but elements of them always make it into the next solution, so it's a great experiment in deduction, as it shows how solution A turns into B, and C and finally, the true solution. To be honest, I had my eyes set on the right person fairly early on because of a certain somewhat obviously described clue, but I had completely missed most of the other clues that would set-up the basis for this conclusion, so I didn't feel very accomplished for figuring out whodunnit, as much as I wanted to hit myself for missing out on all those other, brilliantly placed clues (even if not all of them were directly connected to the real murderer).

The novel is incredibly atmospheric by the way, with stories about local folklore and a distinct, post-war air of rural Japan that one might recognize from Yokomizo Seishi's work. In fact, people who like Yokomizo's work should really check out this series, as there's so much in common. This novel in particular seems to be inspired by one of the better known books in Yokomizo's Kindaichi Kousuke series, though I'll refrain from title-dropping as it could work as a spoiler. A series of murders styled after a nursery rhyme is of course also very Yokomizo-esque by the way. Yamanma no Gotoki Warau Mono actually features a very short Nursery Rhyme Murder Lecture. Though not nearly as extensive as the Decapitation Lecture in Kubinashi no Gotoki Tataru Mono, it's still an interesting thing to read and to see how the nursery rhyme murder is used in this novel.

Yamanma no Gotoki Warau Mono is thus another excellent mystery novel that brings surprising variety by delving deeply in one single, certain theme of mystery fiction. While I'd argue that the previous novel is better, it's the difference between Extremely Good Mystery Novel and Extremely Good Mystery Novel That Is A Bit Better. Readers who like a bit more conventional mystery fiction might perhaps even prefer Yamanma no Gotoki Warau Mono, as at least in this novel, Genya appears throughout the novel and actually does detectivey stuff as opposed to his minimalist appearance in the third novel. I am someone who prefers short stories, but Yamanma no Gotoki Warau Mono is a good example of why some mystery stories can only work in a longer format, as it offers more room to really explore and play with ideas, in a meaningful manner.

Original Japanese title(s):  三津田信三『山魔の如き嗤うもの』