"Stand up !! Don'cha see the sakura mark on your police notebook is cryin'?!"
Again a book with a mask in its title? It's really just a coincidence...
Kindaichi Kousuke no Shin Bouken, Nanatsu no Kamen ("The Seven Masks") is a short story collection by Yokomizo Seishi, featuring his series detective Kindaichi Kousuke. I wasn't impressed at all by the stories in Kindaichi Kousuke no Shin Bouken. Most of them had promising premises, but were executed very poorly. But those stories were indeed rewritten at a later stage in (presumably) a better form. No such excuses for the stories in Nanatsu no Kamen. What you see is really what you get. This makes the stories sound really, really horrible, which is not completely true. They are just... very disappointing for someone who loves Yokomizo Seishi's longer novels. Almost like somebody else wrote the Kindaichi Kousuke short stories.
The Kindaichi Kousuke stories in this collection pretty much all share the same problem: Kindaichi hardly appears in the stories and that's also because it always takes an awfully lot of time for either a) an actual crime to happen or b) enough information to become available for a detective to start deducing. One story has the first (contemporary) murder about two pages before the end and on the same page the murderer commits suicide and leaves a confession note. What were the other 38 pages before the murder about then?! Yokomizo comes with relatively interesting premises for his stories (a murder in a house full of cats; a dead body hidden in the pilar of a sun dial, a murder commited by what seems a Bat Man), but somehow manages to forget to insert a puzzle plot in his stories until the last 2~3 pages. For every story. Pretty much all important clues are to be found there. It makes for very tedious reading.
Nanatsu no Kamen ("The Seven Masks") is written from the perspective of Misa. She tells how she was once known as a saint on her (Catholic girls') school, but once she crossed the line by sharing her bed with her senior Rinko and became aware of her physical beauty, Misa started to become much crueler. She leaves Rinko and starts to seduce men at the cafe she works at for fun. To the outside world though, she is still the saint Misa. One day, her schemings fall apart though and one of her lovers is found dead. Was it murder or suicide? This story is more crime-thriller than a puzzler, but Yokomizo put in a simple locked room murder near the end for... some reason or another.
In Neko Yakata ("Cat Mansion"), a bunch of kids find the dead body of a fortune teller. She was killed in her home, which was dubbed 'the cat mansion' as she picked up street cats and let them walk free in her house. And they were indeed walking around the crime scene. A simple, short story with a conclusion no one would really care about.
Mehiru ("Female Leech") is probably the best story here, though that's not saying much. Kindaichi Kousuke gets a very strange request: whether he would retrieve a handbag left in an apartment. The client says she'll leave the key on top of the phone box she's calling from and asks Kindaichi to be discrete above all. Kindaichi takes the cases and actually disguises himself (in 'western' clothes, as his hakama appearance is known to all), but when he enters the apartment, he finds the bag in the sleeping room. On the bed he also finds two dead bodies, with their faces burnt away with acid. Who are these people and who is his client?
In Hidokei no Naka no Onna ("The Woman in the Sundial"), the new owners of a mansion find the mummified body of a woman inside the pillar of the sundial when they tried to move it. But the identity of the woman isn't really a mystery. Oh, and a murder like two pages before the ending. Once again, premise is promising, but bad execution. By the way, Yokomizo Seishi has written a whole series of OOO no Naka no Onna ("The Woman in the OOO") short stories.
In Ryouki no Shimatsusho ("The Bizarre Explanation"), Kindaichi Kousuke is invited to visit his old senior (at school) at his mansion near the sea. He and other guests discover the dead body of a woman on a boat in the small cave in the sea across the mansion. The victim died because of an arrow in her breast, but was it the arrow Kindaichi's host shot earlier towards the cave, meant to scare the people there? Here we see a Kindaichi Kousuke who is awfully like his grandson, because they both seem to drive murderers into total despair and finally suicide. Of course, most clues of this story were only given in the final 3~4 pages of the story. Again.
Koumori Otoko ("Bat Man") starts with the scene of young Yukiko cramming for the university entrance exams. One day, late at night, she sees how a figure resembling a human bat kills a woman in a room in the big apartment across her room. The next day, the dead body of the woman is found inside a trunk sent to her work. Kindaichi happened to be visiting the police, and quickly solves this case that is sorta competent, but like all these stories feel imcomplete. Most stories feel too short and that's not only because of the page count, but mainly because Yokomizo doesn't make optimal use of said page count.
Bara no Bessou ("The Villa of Roses") also spends too much pages to not very interesting dialogues and descriptions, leaving less room for the (very simple) locked room murder of an old lady who had invited all of her relatives, as well as her solicitor and Kindaichi Kousuke, to her mansion for a mysterious announcement. Despite its length, this story has an unbelievable amount of characters. I guess that's where all the pages went to.
So by now I know that Yokomizo Seishi can pretty much only write superspecialawesome novels, and that short stories are not his forte. With short stories, he uses too much pages for creating atmosphere, leaving like two or three pages for puzzle + clues + conclusion. It's almost painful to see Kindaichi Kousuke appear in these stories. He should stand proud, not be burdened by these half-complete stories. Boy, do I feel stupid for getting so much Kindaichi Kousuke short story collections! Another three to go. Sigh.
Original Japanese title(s): 横溝正史 『七つの仮面』 / 「七つの仮面」 / 「猫館」 / 「雌蛭」 / 「日時計の中の女」 / 「猟奇の始末書」 / 「蝙蝠男」 / 「薔薇の別荘」