Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Time-bombed Skyscraper


"Did you forget that I am Kindaichi Kousuke?"
"The Three Head Tower"

Is writing a positive review easier than writing a negative review? Or the other way around? Does it matter at all? After many years of reviewing at several places, I think my answer to the question is that it doesn't matter. What makes it easier is whether I care about the subject matter. If I've read the super-special-awesomest book ever, I'll praise it. If I read an awful book, I'll compare it to better examples in the same field to show how absolutely horrible the book is. But the problem is when I just don't care anymore. Like with this post. With ambiguous feelings about a book, it's hard to predict how this post will turn out, as I always write these things without any planning...

Yokomizo Seishi's Mitsu Kubi Tou ("The Three Head Tower") seemed like a book I should care about though. It was written right after the masterpiece Akuma no Temariuta and took the seventh place in Yokomizo Seishi's personal top ten of his own novels. Anyone would have expectations then, right? Of course, the use of the past tense in these sentences already spoils my feelings about the book. I'm not very positive about it. But Mitsu Kubi Tou does have its merits, so I'm not very negative about it either. But about 100 pages into the novel, I just stopped caring about the story, about what was good and not so good about the book. I just pushed myself through the book. Which makes it sound a lot more boring than it actually is (it's actually quite exciting).

Even for a Yokomizo Seishi novel, Mitsu Kubi Tou seems to feature a rather standard inheritence dispute murder case. Newly graduated Miyamoto Otone is to inherit a fortune from a distant relative on the condition that she marries Takatou Shunsaku, a man she has never heard of. The lawyers haven't located Shunsaku yet, allowing Otone to think about whether she accepts the conditions of the will. One month later after, Takatou Shunsaku is found. Murdered. At the birthday party of Otone's uncle. With Shunsaku dead and thus making it impossible for Otone to marry him, the inheritence is to split amongst all (living) family members. And yes, as always, that means that the potential successors get killed off one by one. 'Cause this is a mystery novel.

Otone is suspected of the murders, but a mysterious man luckily (?) decides to help Otone. After forcing himself on her. Because that is the way to get women to obey you, appearently. After helping her escape from the police, the man tells Otone to look for the titular Three Head Tower, which will somehow help her out of this mess. But Kindaichi Kousuke is on the trail of Otone and her friend...

So apparently forcing yourself on a woman is a sign of affection and makes them trust you unconditionally? I'm pretty sure that is not the way the world works, not even in 1955. The disclaimer does mention does that some of the wording has been changed in my pocket edition from the original script, but even then, this novel is rather very anti-feministic. I'm not interested in gender as a field of research, but I could go on for a day with just this novel.

But setting that topic aside, Mitsu Kubi Tou has some interesing points. The novel is written from Otone's point of view (similar to Yatsu Haka Mura and Yoru Aruku) and is in fact the best compared to an Arsene Lupin novel. A girl, caught up in a mysterious web of murder and deceit, who is helped (and loved) by a mysterious man who seems to have links with the underworld is pretty much Lupin's territory. And yes, like the Lupin novels, Mitsu Kubi Tou is really fun to read, with story development upon development. In fact, the moment you start with the book, it's impossible to place the book away, it's that energetic. Yokomizo Seishi really excels here with his story-telling. And with Otone is on the run from the police, Kindaichi Kousuke is actually described as the antagonist in this novel, which is a fresh way to look at the famous detective.

But the mystery-element really suffers from this approach. Mitsu Kubi Tou was a serialized novel, and it seems like Yokomizo made the story up as he went, without any real planning. When I said that the book was exciting, I mostly meant the enormous amounts of story developments. It's like every five pages something happens. This is why I stopped caring about the novel after a while: I realized it would be almost useless try to deduce anything here, as it was clear that Yokomizo was just improvising the whole story on the go. In fact, the single clue that points to the serial killer is forced upon the reader at the end, just a couple of pages before it is used. Hello, last minute plans. In fact, Yokomizo even threw in a genuine ghost-that-point-to-location-corpses moment near the end of the novel, as he didn't have enough pages left and couldn't think of another way (storywise) to lead the protagonists to the corpses.

Ignoring the fact that I actually wanted a good old fashioned orthodox mystery, Mitsu Kubi Tou is mostly like an exciting adventure of Arsene Lupin, but it also suffers from some bad design problems by Yokomizo Seishi. In the end, this novel was just a zero-sum game for me; it never got really good or bad. Absolutely not recommended as a mystery novel though, 'cause then this novel will be quite depressing.

Original Japanese title(s): 横溝正史 『三つ首塔』

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