"Despite that, this shabby apartment was called the White Wave mansion. These kinds of unbalances happen because even though buildings get older, names don't."
"Lending the Key to the Locked Room"
For those interested, the new look is
And now on to the main course, which is Higashigawa Tokuya's Misshitsu no Kagi Kashimasu ("Lending the Key to the Locked Room"). This is Higashigawa's first full-length novel, as well as the first novel in his Ikagawashi series, a set of orthodox detective stories set in the fictional town of Ikagawashi. In fact, the first Higashigawa story I read, the short story A Locked Room at 40 KM/H, is also part of the same Ikagawashi series. There is no real main detective for this series (changing from book to book), though the private detective Ukai Morio and police inspector Sunagawa appear the most prominent in the Ikagawashi novels. The other characteristic of this series is the humorous tone of the stories, with almost slapstick-esque situations and witty conversations. But like Arisugawa Alice says in the commentary to Misshitsu no Kagi Kashimasu: the books are funny, but this humorous tone might also be a trap...
Because beneath the humor and all, there is a 'normal' detective plot. Misshitsu no Kagi Kashimasu starts with an interesting problem for the young student Ryuuhei. Things have not been easy for him, having to give up his dream as a film director and settling with a naitei (a pre-approval for a job) for a company that makes documentaries. Which in turn led into him being dumped by his girlfriend. Which is bad enough, but not as bad as that night. The night his ex-girlfriend was stabbed and pushed from her balcony. Which isn't even the worst part. Not even the fact that some time earlier, Ryuuhei, in a rather drunken state (he doesn't remember anything of it though), had yelled he would kill her in front of a lot of witnesses. No, the worst part is that the only person who can prove Ryuuhei's alibi, his university senior, was also stabbed to death. In his bathroom. In a locked apartment. And the only other person inside the apartment at that time was... Ryuuhei. Because he lost conciousness when he found the dead body of his senior and didn't wake up until the morning, Ryuuhei panicks. No way the police is going to believe he has nothing to do with either case. So Ryuuhei flees the crime scene and asks for help to his ex-brother-in-law, the private detective Ukai Morio. Who is nice enough to help him.
The novel is told from both Ryuuhei's perspective as well as that of the police, which makes for a very entertaining story. Ryuuhei is of course on the run, while the police is looking for him, so the points where these storylines intersect are really funny to read, as you see the same situation from two different perspectives (at one points, Ryuuhei is nearly run over by the police). But that is just one aspect of the humor, as Higashigawa is quite a funny writer, coming up with funny conversations and witty remarks. At times, the novel feels like a parody of the genre, but whatever it is, it's funny.
But like Arisugawa said, don't underestimate the book just because it's funny. For this is a genuine detective and quite an entertaining one too. The problem of the locked room is done quite good, even if the fundamental trick is quite basic. It is however very well adapted for the modern, urban setting of this novel. In fact, the urban setting and the humor reminds me a lot of Arisugawa Alice's Writer Alice series. Which is hardly a bad thing. I like Nikaidou Reito's novels, but his books are so often set in castles and old mansions, which feels a bit artificial. Given the choice, I do prefer the more urban settings found in Arisugawa Alice and Norizuki Rintarou novels.
Misshitsu no Kagi Kashimasu, as a locked room mystery, is not surprising like a Nikaidou Reito mystery, but it is constructed quite good and Higashigawa's writing style really adds something to the story. Misshitsu no Kagi Kashimasu is a detective novel that anyone could enjoy, I think. Like the books by Higashino Keigo, it's one of those books that are a lot easier to recommend to people who usually don't read the genre. A funny novel with a satisfying plot-structure that is sure to entertain the reader.
Original Japanese title(s): 東川篤哉 『密室の鍵貸します』