Monday, May 16, 2011

Who's afraid of the Big Bad Werewolf?

「悪しき過去を埋葬し、よき未来を生み出すのが探偵の仕事よ」
 『人狼城の恐怖 第四部=完結編』

"To bury the evil past and bring forth a bright future, that's the work of a detective",
"The Terror of Werewolf Castle Part Four: Conclusion

The complete Jinroujou no Kyoufu ("The Terror of Werewolf Castle") review series:
1. What a Night for a Knight (Part One: Germany)
2. Hassle in the Castle (Part Two: France)
3. Nowhere to Hyde (Part Three: Detective)
4. Who's afraid of the Big Bad Werewolf? (Part Four: Conclusion)

It has been a long month, but I've finished Jinroujou no Kyoufu ("The Terror of The Werewolf Castle"). Realizing I've finally conquered this giant in Japanese detective fiction feels kinda weird. To crank up the sentimental tone: it actually took me quite some trouble to find all four volumes in Japan as they were out of print and so my quest for the books brought me from the good old Hakata Book Off all the way to a random Book Off in Osaka (other side of Japan...) where I completed my set. Which was over a year ago. I have never invested so much time, energy and effort in finding and reading a book. And now it's done! 達成感満々!


This review will be both on the final volume as well as the complete story, but it's highly recommended to read the previous reviews before proceeding with this one, just to see the whole picture.

Great Detective Nikaidou Ranko had been leaking out information on the case to the media in the previous volume, saying that the Werewolf Castle had been the scene of two series of horrible murders (see Germany and France) and also suggesting some sort of connection with a certain count Ribbentrop, head of a pharmaceutical company and current castle lord of.... the Werewolf Castle (both The Silver Wolf Castle and the Blue Wolf Castle). In Conclusion (the cover says: La Terreur Château du Loup-garou La Quatrième Partie Accomplissement), Nikaidou Ranko, together with brother Reito, their old teacher (whose name I can't spell) and inspector Rudendolf have been kidnapped ('invited') to the Blue Wolf Castle by Ribbentrop's solicitors, challenging the group to find evidence that any such murder occured in the twin castles. Whereas in many novels, a conclusion of 20-50 pages can be considered long, Ranko indeed uses almost all of this volume (650 pages) to reveal the whole truth behind the murders in the Silver Wolf and the Blue Wolf Castle, the many mysterious locked room murders and the horrible, hidden motive behind the slayings. And it's awesome.

Well, mostly. I'll start with the negative point first, that way I can end on a positive tone. The motive to the murders makes no sense at all. At least not to me, a mere mortal. I do like how Nikaidou Reito (the writer, not the character) strings together little threads of historic esoctoric subplots and underlying themes to an, admittedly, very interesting plot twist. I personally really like these kinds of stories. Only it doesn't really work in a detective novel. It makes no sense, nobody is convinced by it and it therefore makes the whole series of murders seem rather meaningless. And I doubt that was Nikaidou's intention. There are so many other, far more easier ways to accomplish the goal of the murderer(s). Now all the murders just seems like the work of a madman. And I know, Nikaidou has kinda created a way to talk himself out of it, but it isn't convincing. Oh, and the final part of the book was totally unnecessary and indeed left a bitter aftertaste. I can choose to ignore it, as it doesn't influence the story, but I'm kinda disappointed Nikaidou threw this in.

And now back to the good! Because it's good! Very good! People who have read the reviews on Germany and France already know that many people die in the respective castles in awesome locked rooms (though some of them are very similar) and the solutions Ranko proposes to them are as ingenious as shocking. I personally liked the Madame Charisse locked room the best (also selected by Arisugawa Alice for his illustrated guide to locked room mysteries), truly a trick worthy for a book called The Terror of Werewolf Castle. That is not too say that the other locked rooms are bad or anything, in fact, the whole level is quite high and many of them could have been used as the main trick for a normal length novel.

I was actually surprised that Nikaidou didn't include a Challenge to the Reader here actually, which almost seems mandatory nowadays, but in fact most of the riddles can be solved by a close reading of the accounts written in Germany and France, which is of course how Ranko came up with the solutions to the murders in the first place. Those two volumes are very much like the game Trick X Logic: everything written there is in fact true (ignoring mistaken assumptions by the narrator himself); it's up to the detective to carefully pick out the little contradictions and come up with the solution.

But the most impressive of the story is how Nikaidou Reito (again, the writer) managed to bring all of these mysteries together to create one gigantic mystery. Many writers of course do this, for example Rim of the Pit,  but the difference in scale and detail is immense. With some cryptic hints by Ranko, I managed to (partially) solve some of the murders, but certainly not everything. I do think it's perfectly solvable though, hints are spread abundantly throughout the first two books and Ranko makes several very meaningful comments in Detective too. Jinroujou no Kyoufu is not just a long book, it really makes optimal use of its page count and indeed brings a certain scale to the detective story I had never seen before. The katharsis you experience when everything is solved is also multiplied by many factors. The length of the book was needed to create the effect Nikaidou was aiming for and I say he succeeded.

The book does has some references to other Nikaidou Ranko adventures (most specifically Akuryou no Yakata ("Mansion of Evil Spirits") and Sei Ausura Shuudouin no Zangeki ("The Tragedy of Saint Ausura Monestery")), that might make this book somewhat hard to translate on its own. I myself haven't read Akurei no Yakata yet, but it does seem better read everything in order in the Ranko series. Still, if I had to name one book that has enough credits for it to deserve to be translated ('world record', new orthodox masterpiece, a very European/Western setting), it's this, I guess.

It's been an awesome ride, but I really long for a good short story collection now! 

Original Japanese title(s): 二階堂黎人 『人狼城の恐怖 第四部=完結編』

1 comment :

  1. The only problem I have with most of your reviews is that I never have anything substantial to throw at you in the comment section. :/

    Oh well, I can always do my routinely wailing on how unfair everything is and continue laboring on my blackmail scheme.

    ReplyDelete