"Mankind can't say no to riddles. That's why detective novels are livening things up in shop windows and I'm making a living"
"The English Garden Mystery"
"The English Garden Mystery"
Hmmm, I seem to update this blog quite often lately. Too often maybe. I can at least garantee that I won't update tomorrow. And because I don't like making editorial announcements in seperate posts, I'll do it here: 1) I've generously been asked for a guest post at Detection by Moonlight, a blog you should have been reading anyway if you're interested in Golden Age detective fiction. Frequent updating with critical reviews make Detection by Moonlight a delight to read, so please take a look. 2) I had already added a link to the side-bar earlier this month, but you'll also find me blogging about twice a month on Japanese detective fiction at Criminal Element. And now on with today's topic.
Russia Koucha no Nazo and Brazil Chou no Nazo), the stories take their cues from Ellery Queen-style short stories. "Clinical Criminologist" Himura Hideo and detective writer Arisugawa Alice once again join forces to assist the police with tough-to-crack cases, all in the name of science and fieldwork. Himura's tongue is still so sharp as ever in his discussions with Alice (Alice: 'Thanks for trusting me with this'. Himura: 'I'd have asked a dog if he happened to be here'), resulting in manzai-esque conversations. It's actually quite refreshing to have someone from Osaka as the protagonist, or more specifically, Kansai as a the main stage for the stories, because most modern Japanese crime stories take place there. Still waiting for a great detective's rise in Fukuoka.
The opening story Uten Kekkou ("No Postponement Even In Rainy Weather") is a decent short story, that reminds of Queen with its long deduction-chain based on a single item (or in this case; the fact that an item isn't there) as well as a dying message-like discussion on the interpretation on what the deceased had said shortly before her death. It's so specifically Japanese though that it's nigh impossible to translate in a way that makes sense to people without knowledge of the language.
Rindou Kouichi no Giwaku ("Rindou Kouichi's Suspicion") is a rather disappointing story, which any reader would solve the moment the culprit appears in the story. Rindou Kouichi is a writer who for the last couple of years is suffering from a writer's block. Rindou suspects that his family is trying to get rid of him. It isn't likely Rindou is going to write something new, and they might as well kill him to get the royalties from his (still very popular) older books themselves directly. A very simple story that ends almost the moment it begins and the only saving grace is an interesting motive, but not something I hadn't seen before. In a totally different genre, strangely enough.
Mitsu no Hitsuke ("The Three Dates") is a bit like a lot of Arisugawa's lesser stories, in the sense that it is too ingeneous for its own good. Here Arisugawa Alice himself is questioned by the police, asking him whether he can confirm that three years ago he was with a person in a cafe. This person is the suspect in a murder case, but he claims that at the time, he was in that cafe and had his picture taken with Arisugawa. The final problem is solved by some very specific knowledge, which us mere mortals usually don't have readily in our head. It reminds a bit of Queen's The Glass-Domed Clock, which was perfectly solvable though, but that story too hinged on something that required some specific knowledge. With these stories, it really differs per reader I think whether they feel satisfied with the story or not.
Kanpeki na Isho ("The Perfect Suicide Note") for example, is another of these deviously set-up stories, but one I feel more positive about. Here a man has killed a woman who had rejected his advances for the xth time now. Not planning to get arrested, he decides to make it seem like suicide, by using a note she had sent him earlier. It was meant to reject his advances ('it's all over' etc.), but by adding two pages (lamenting over the world etc.), he makes it seem like a suicide note. Yet, it seems that his suicide note wasn't perfect enough, for writer Arisugawa holds the key to the mistake our murderer made when making the fake note. Once again a story that hinges on specific knowledge, but it's something I have, something I come across every single day and then I admit it makes sense and that I should have been able to solve it myself.
Jabberwocky though, is the other side of this story. A madman, who was caught in the past by Himura and Alice, is free again and calls the duo, suggesting something (bad) will happen in the near future. He has the tendency to play the Riddler, i.e. there is a lot hidden within his seemingly mad sayings. The solution is once again so specific that you might get a kick out of it if you know it, but I can't really praise the story. Except for the fact that it has been an interesting read and I learned something out of it.
I had high expectations for Eikoku Teien no Nazo ("The English Garden Mystery"), it being the titular story and a Queen reference and all. Wealthy man gets killed during a treasure hunt he had organized for some friends and family in his English garden. The police, and Himura and Alice, suspect that it has something to do with the treasure hunt. The guests hadn't expected a treasure hunt actually and were quite surprised they got a coded message that morning. The solution is a interesting one, but I don't think it would be possible to do it as well in English, or at least, I'm afraid the solution wouldn't be camouflaged as well compared to the Japanese version. It's a decent story, but way too long considering the contents. Learned a lot about English gardens though.
Arisugawa Alice is a very prolific writer and he had written at least one book a year ever since he began the Writer Alice series (this selection dating from 1997), but it seems that was a bit too much for him; the quality starts to suffer. He's sometimes too ingeneous, he uses knowledge that is just out of reach for normal people, and that makes his stories feel a bit unfair at times. I know he can write gems, so it makes this short story collection a bit of a disappointment. The book's not totally bad and I know Queen can be just as esoteric as Arisugawa at times, but this particular collection has so many of these stories that it's kinda hard to ignore.
Original Japanese title(s): 有栖川有栖 『英国庭園の謎』「雨天決行」/「竜胆紅一の疑惑」/「三つの日付」/「完璧な遺書」/「ジャバウォッキー」/「英国庭園の謎」