Saturday, December 11, 2010

"But now I am very humble and I say like a little child: 'I do not know...'"


"The locked room, it is in its twilight years. The locked room is dying out. Soon, it will only live in the memories of man. Locked rooms often lack a reason to be locked rooms. Such locked rooms can not survive in this day and age." Akechi Kogorou, "Cheers to the great detectives"

And then there were none. Curtain for Nishimura Kyoutarou's Meitantei series. And I will stop with the bad puns now. Ellery Queen's Ellery Queen, Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot, Simenon's Maigret and Edogawa Rampo's Akechi Kogorou have had their share of fun solving crimes together, but there is an end to all good things. The era of great detectives have passed. People don't read detective stories starring great detectives anymore; they long for hardboiled detectives, the normal man as detective! And so the four detectives slowly fade away from existence. And then Poirot demises. Ragnarok for the great detectives.

At the beginning of Meitantei ni kanpai ("Cheers to the great detectives"), Akechi Kogorou hosts a small memorial party on his private island for their recently departed friend. Guests naturally include Ellery Queen and Maigret, as well as Poirot's dear friend Captain Hastings. But un-invited guests also arrive at the island: a small crew of reporters, dragging along a shaman. A young couple happened to have trouble with their boat and somehow managed to swim to Akechi's island. And the most surprising one: a young man who claims his name is Hercule Poirot Junior. A man who claims he is the son of Hercule Poirot and Cynthia Murdoch.

I put the book away at this point. I was hesitating to continue. The chapter preceding Junior's appearance was awkward enough, with everyone debating on whether Poirot had a love life or not. But someone claiming to be the son of Poirot? Who knows what kind of madness Nishimura would come up with in the following chapters?

Junior says he can prove his story with two things. One: he has a manuscript with him written by Poirot, a critical assessment of the detective story. Two: he has inherited his father's little grey cells. Naturally, Hastings doesn't believe a word of Junior's story and in the end, the party decides to communicate with Poirot's ghost through the shaman, to ask him whether he really had a son.

I put the book away for a second time.

During the seance, a murder is commited. Junior comes up with a great deduction, which turns out to be wrong. Akechi, Ellery and Maigret do nothing. A second murder is commited, in a locked room nonetheless. Junior comes up with a great deduction. It turns out to be wrong. Akechi, Ellery and Maigret do nothing. Rince and repeat for several times. And in the end, Akechi solves everything. And an alternate solution for Curtain is proposed.

Yes, Meitantei ni kanpai is a tedious, awful book. Not only was the whole concept of Hercule Poirot Junior ridiculous, it was executed ridiculous too. Why would someone raised by Englishmen in South-America suddenly start using random French vocabulary because he thought his real father was Belgian? Everytime he said mademoiselle, I asked myself why. The rest of the book wasn't any better either. The locked rooms were awful and just like the previous book, the great detectives were reduced to one single entity, The Old Great Detective, who does nothing except for watching other people do stuff. The great detectives really don't show any signs of having a personality at all and it would hardly have mattered whether there were three great detectives present or one.

This is the only book in the Meitantei series that is written in the first person, by Akechi's assistent Kobayashi. Once known as the boy Kobayashi, he has become a middle-aged men with a daughter. Yes, Nishimura tried to draw parallels with Curtain. But the years and especially Nishimura have not been kind to Kobayashi, as he is reduced to an idiot. The boy who once battled The Fiend with Twenty Faces, the Robin to Akechi's Batman, is now a man who is impressed by Hastings' deductions. By Hastings' deductions!  This book is one out-of-character disaster after another.

The series had a good start. Meitantei nanka kowakunai ("Not afraid of great detectives") really was about four great detectives tackling a case togther, each using their own methods. Meitantei ga oosugiru ("Too many great detectives") was kinda busy, with four great detectives and two phantom thieves outsmarting each other, but the story was still focused on them. But Meitantei mo raku janai ("Even great detectives don't have it easy") and this book don't focus on the detectives anymore. Meitantei mo raku janai ("Even great detectives don't have it easy") is a book that laments the disappearance of the great detectives from detective novels, that sacrifices Akechi, Poirot, Ellery and Maigret for the story. And I am not even sure what Meitantei ni kanpai is. It sorta builds on the theme of the previous book, but kinda rejects it through its solution to the locked rooms. Was is it a vehicle to show the alternate solution to Curtain? If so, Nishimura coud have proposed it without imbedding it into a story. But as it is, the Meitantei series has ended in the worst way possible.

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