"'You mean these Baker Street societies and all that,' said Miss Lemon. 'Grown men being so silly. But there, that's men all over. Like the model railways they go on playing with.'", "Hickory Dickory Dock"
To my own surprise, I'm actually close to finishing a series of detective novel reviews now. I've been enjoying Nishimura Kyoutarou's Meitantei series ("Great Detective") for some time now, starring four famous detectives, Ellery Queen's Ellery Queen, Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot, Simenon's Maigret and Edogawa Rampo's Akechi Kogorou. And no, Nishimura didn't ask for permission to use them. But ignoring the problem of copyright, the previous two works, Meitantei nanka kowakunai and Meitantei ga oosugiru were quite entertaining, pitting the quartet against the infamous 300 Million Yen robbery and two phantom thieves. So my expectations for the third work were quite high.
Meitantei mo raku janai ("Even great detectives don't have it easy") starts with a group called the MMM ("Member of Mistery (sic) Mania") which invites the four detectives. MMM is a group for people with mystery mania, very fanatic fans of the detective genre. With a critically acclaimed magazine published by them and a rich hotel owner backing them up, MMM is a well known club in the Japanese detective novel world. However, in modern times, the quality of detective novels seem to have fallen and in their desparation, MMM urges detective writers everywhere to come up with a new, modern great detective. And that is why they invited the four great detectives of a time long gone, to promote this event.
It doesn't take long before a young man named Samonji barged in on the meeting between MMM and the four detectives, claiming to be the modern great detective. At which, the head and financial backbone of MMM, Okabe falls dead, poisoned. Thus starts a chain of serial murders, with members of MMM being killed one after another. The four detectives however, do not act. They express their interest for Samonji, saying he might indeed have the skills to be the modern great detective and that they want to see how Samonji handles this case. Which lieutenant Yoshimuda just can't accept, so a battle of wits begins between Yoshimuda and Samonji to solve the MMM serial murder case.
I was actually very excited after the first chapters or so, because a group of detective novel fanatics always make a nice background for a detective. It should also push the writer, as such characters are usually a lot more imaginative and experienced when coming up with deductions and thus the writer needs to come up with something that is truly brilliant (or else a in-story character could have solved it, and there would be no use for a detective).
But there is big however, as the novel was just so badly written, I lost interest halfway. Because of Samonji, the four detectives pretty much do nothing and in fact, they weren't needed in the story at all. In the end, this was just a story of Samonji versus Yoshimuda in a horrible serial murder case. I can understand why you'd confine the suspects to one hallway of a hotel, while you're conducting your investigation. In theory, you can keep your eyes on them much easier. But you'd think you'd at least let one guard guard the hallway. Because you know, you might not want to let the murderer go running from one victim to another, killing them in their rooms. Which he indeed did. Several times. The police placed someone in the hallway only after the fourth or fifth murder.
While the ending was sort of interesting, featuring a triple-layered solution, it was too bad the last solution (of course posited by the four) was impossible to deduce for the reader. Furthermore, the book had to end in a certain way from the very start and while I really hoped it wouldn't be that way, it did. Which made the book very boring, because it was more of a waiting game.
What makes the Meitantei series so much fun, is the gathering of the four detectives, doing their own things. However, in this novel, the four have been reduced to one entity, "the old generation" to contrast with Samonji and one single great detective would have done the job. Of course, putting the four detectives in the backseat, while watching Samonji and Yoshimuda's attempts to take control of the car, is bad too; I read this series to see the four detectives in action. And it could have been such a great work which this setting... I hope the final novel in this series places the four detectives back in the spotlight.
Original Japanese title(s): 西村京太郎 『名探偵も楽じゃない』