"He is the Napoleon of Crime, Watson, the organiser of half that is evil and nearly all that is undetected in this great city...",
"The Final Problem"
"The Final Problem"
While it's always fun to see a master detective solve 'normal' crimes, we all know that things get serious when a master detective is pitted against a master criminal. We all know what happened with Holmes in his battle against Moriarty (but he got better). Or the battles of Holmes (or Sholmes) and Arsene Lupin. In more recent years, Tantei Gakuen ("Detective Academy Q")'s Q Class has been fighting against Pluto, an organisation that sells perfect crimes to would-be murderers. Tantei Gakuen Q's Pluto was a logical evolution of Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo ("The Case Files of Young Kindaichi")'s Puppeteer from Hell, a consulting murderer who came up with perfect crimes for his clients.
Jinroujou no Kyoufu ("The Terror of Werewolf Castle"). But no. Akuma no Labyrinth is the story of the first skirmishes between master detective Nikaidou Ranko and master criminal Demon King Labyrinth. And yes, calling yourself a labyrinth is kinda strange. Calling yourself after a structure. A name like Puppeteer from Hell is scary. A labyrinth is a bit... abstract. And yes, I know that the term meikyuu-iri (lit.: inside a maze) means unsolved cases and that Demon King Labyrinth refers to that, i.e. his crimes can't be solved, but still. It's a really abstract name. Like calling yourself the Demon Archway or something.
But I digress. Set just before the events of Jinroujou no Kyoufu, Akuma no Labyrinth is split in two distinct parts, much like how Arsene Lupin contre Herlock Sholmes was basically two novelettes strung together. In the first story, The Mystery of Sleeping Limited Express Asakaze, a magican called Demon Satan is sent a threatening letter by Demon King Labyrinth, saying he is not worthy to carry the name of Satan. Just to be sure, Demon Satan's agent arranges for a private detective to accompany him on his trip from Tokyo to Fukuoka on the sleeping limited express Asakaze. It was for naught though, as 1) Demon Satan disappears from his room, 2) the dead body of his assistent who had been standing on the platform when they took off is found inside the room, 3) and all that in a triple locked environment; inside a moving train, inside a locked room, right under the nose of the private detective! The police ask Ranko for her help (who had received her own warning letter of Demon King Labyrinth by now), thus beginning the battle between Ranko and Labyrinth. A locked room using a trick I have seen before, but executed well mostly, except on one little point, which was passed over all too easily, in my opinion. I might want to check with a train-expert fan, but it sounded a bit too easy.
The battle continues in The Secret of the Glass House, which was like an Edogawa Rampo story, with too much strange happenings in a short time period. First the search of an abandoned mansion which seems to be an old hide-out of Labyrinth. A couple of Scooby-Doo secret doors and underground hallways lead to something which seems like a clue to Labyrinth's plans. And a lot of dead bodies. And then an intermezzo of a man discovering a cave holding frozen statues of naked dead men (think Kurotokage ("The Black Lizard")). And finally a locked room murder in a house of... well, mainly glass. Which was way too easy to solve. Other aspects of the mystery were impossible to solve on the other hand and Ranko's 'deductions' really came from nowhere. The more I think about it, the more I'm convinced this was intended as an homage to Edogawa Rampo.That is the only explanation for the cannibal appearing.
And then it stops. Without a real conclusion. It seems like Nikaidou intended Akuma no Labyrinth to be a series-opener or something. As of now, we only have vague hints about who/what Labyrinth is and a lot of foreshadowing. As of now, this is really nothing more than just a teaser and we don't even get any real developments in the conclusion of the book. It's entertaining stuff, but it feels a bit incomplete. I guess I'm expected to read the rest in following books.
The introduction of a nemesis to Ranko is kinda... surprising though. I can't remember the last time I saw a master-detective/master-criminal show-off in a novel. Often enough in manga and movies, but in a novel series? On the other hand, seeing how Jinroujou no Kyoufu ended, it was not totally unexpected, I guess. You could say Nikaidou was just building on some themes introduced there. And yes, it's sorta cheap to set this book before the events of Jinroujou no Kyoufu, because it allows Nikaidou to write on with Ranko. No, she doesn't die there, or anything like that at all (so stop the guessing or saying I'm spoiling things), but it's significant that Nikaidou chose to set this book (and I guess subsequent books with Labyrinth) before Jinroujou no Kyoufu.
I'm reading my Nikaidou books in the worst order possible though. I still haven't read the first Nikaidou Ranko novel yet (yes, I have it), but I pretty much have read her greatest cases already and it seems that continuity in this series is actually slightly relevant.
Oh, and the reviews (yes, plural) for the following few days are of gasp! Western books.
Original Japanese title(s): 二階堂黎人 『悪魔のラビリンス』