Saturday, February 26, 2011

「弁護士は諦めの悪さが肝心」

「検事として犯罪と戦っていくのか、弁護士として人を助けていくのか。」
『逆転検事2』
"Will you fight crime as a prosecutor, or help people as a defense attorney?"
"Turnabout Prosecutor 2"

One tradition I have is that I play at least one game in the Gyakuten (“Turnabout”) series every year. The quirky detective adventure game series (released in the west as the “Ace Attorney” series) was actually the reason for me to purchase my Nintendo DS and I have not regretted it a bit. And to be honest, the Gyakuten series offer me something few other media can give me. Characterization in novels have never been able to get me as much as visual media and I think some readers might have noticed it already, but I read detective novels mostly as an intellectual challenge. I’ll re-visit this topic in the future, but detective games for me have mostly been very story-heavy, leaving little space for interesting gameplay. The Gyakuten series is one very rare example that managed to combine my love for puzzle-plot detective stories with interesting gameplay and fantastic characters. Murder cases that involve magicians flying away after they committed a murder, the actor of The Evil Magistrate in a children’s show being skewered by the hero of the show, murders seemingly committed by people possessed by spirits and flying angels, it’s really all classic stuff! Add some amazing music and you have one very happy fanboy.


While all games in this series are split up in several criminal cases, like a short story collection, one staple of this series has always been that series creator, scenario writer and director Takumi Shuu managed to link those stories together with one clear storyline in a very satisfying way. While solving several cases, you slowly learn more about the characters and small events, which always culminate in a Grand Finale. Gyakuten Saiban (“Turnabout Trial”) (GS) introduced us to Naruhodou Ryuuichi (“Phoenix Wright”), a rookie attorney and to the question of what makes a good defense attorney. GS2 showed us a fundamental gap in Naruhodou’s beliefs, while GS3 gave us the past and present of Naruhodou and one of the most rewarding storylines I ever encountered in fiction. GS4 then gave us the fall of Naruhodou as a defense attorney, a new protagonist in rookie attorney Odoroki Housuke (“Apollo Justice”) and the limitations of the judicial system.

Gyakuten Kenji (GK) (“Turnabout Prosecutor”), a spin-off not created by Takumi, made recurring antagonist prosecutor Mitsurugi Reiji (“Miles Edgeworth”) the protagonist, focusing on his fight against an international smuggling ring. As the protagonist is a prosecutor and not a defense attorney, the game moved from its court-based story setting (as that’s where the defense attorney defends his client), to a crime-scene-setting, as the prosecutor, together with the police, looks for the culprit to prosecute. While I liked the game, one problem I had was that the overall storyline wasn’t as involving as the previous storylines. Previous storylines had been quite personal and thus much more rewarding, while a fight against a smuggling ring is more like ‘part of the job’ (yes, there was something personal about it, but not as big as in previous games).

Aaaaaaand that’s why I really loved Gyakuten Kenji 2. The newest game in the series was released early February and something I had been looking forward to for quite some time now. This time, the overall story line was great. As you can guess from the introducing quote, protagonist Mitsurugi is posed with the question how he wants to proceed. As a prosecutor. Or like his father, like a defense attorney. For people who have played the games until now (especially GS), this must surely be an interesting theme! New characters are actually memorable this time (compared to the first game), with a quirky defense attorney Shigaraki and the "first" rate prosecutor Ichiyanagi ("...'first'?!") as my favourites.

I plan to write something about gameplay mechanics in video games in the near future, so I won’t go into the gameplay mechanics in this post at all. It'll suffice to say that the game is built around contradictions between evidence and testimonies. As for the stories, they are once again full of contradictions to find. The second case, Gokuchuu no Gyakuten (“Turnabout in Prison”) is a wonderful Queen-ish story, with a prison-setting (yes, a man is murdered in prison!) and a grand search for the murder weapon. The third case is a great piece of story-telling, as it features two parallel storylines, one in the present, one in 17 years ago. You switch between the two and slowly unravel the (connected) truth in both cases. The final cases should be played back-to-back, as it all builds up to a grand finale. I don’t want to spoil too much, but memorable scenes in this game include a man seemingly killed by a…. gigantic Gojira-esque monster, a girl being attacked by a man who can apparently walk in the air and a murder during a dessert-baking contest.

While I usually go deeper in the stories in these reviews, it’s harder for me to do so for two reasons. As the overall storyline in these games is essential, I don’t want to spoil too much. And secondly, for some reason, it seems etiquette doesn’t allow me to spoil as much about video games plots in reviews than for books. Or other media. Don’t ask me why.

I do like this big storylines in short story collection format though. Like Christie’s The Big Four. But actually executed well. For me, it combines the best of both worlds and even offers something more. The interconnections between the cases in the Gyakuten cases, be it actually connections between characters and the like, or just thematic connections, really made the series stand out from the rest and offer a detective story with characters I actually care for.

But by now, I really won’t mind if Takumi Shuu would come back as scenario writer/director of the series to continue with the Gyakuten Saiban series.

Original Japanese title(s): 『逆転裁判』、『逆転検事2』

Oh, awesome orchestral music: 岩垂徳行 - 御剣怜侍 ~異議あり!2011 (Iwadare Noriyuki - Mitsurugi Reiji ~Objection! 2011)

Thursday, February 24, 2011

『日本扇の謎』

"Magic? For old hands, gentlemen, that's naive. The ancient formula: pick out the facts and put them together. Mix thorougly with plenty of logic. Add a dash of imagination. Presto!"
"Halfway House"

My fairly, maybe very irritating habit of using quotes as both post titles and introductions, I stole from Ellery Queen. Many of his novels have themed chapter names and introducing quotes. And apparently this attention to detail made so much impression on me that I too name my posts thematically. Even though I often can't find good quotes to go with my posts. You'll notice the relation of the quotes to the contents are somewhat farfetched. But I just compulsively name them like this. Imagine my shock when I found I had accidentally saved over the file where I wrote down usable quotes. I was not pleased. Just as I'm not pleased I have to work on a netbook because my normal laptop (with a normal size monitor and keyboard) won't connect to the Internet. I'm pretty sure this post has a lot more typos/weird sentences than usual, as I really hate writing on this small thing.

But coming back to Queen, I hadn't read novels by him for some time now. Two years maybe. Which wasn't because I had already read all the books (far from it!). But as can be deduced from this blog, I mostly read Japanese detective fiction lately. So reading Halfway House felt sorta like coming back home. Ellery is asked for help by his friend Bill, when he finds his brother-in-law Joe Wilson murdered in a shack near the Delaware rivier. And that's about all I can tell you about the story. Because one of the major plot-twists follows immediately and it would be a shame to spoil it. Like the text on the cover of my copy did.

But I quite like this novel. While this novel technically isn't one of Ellery Queen's The [Country] [Noun] Mystery novels, it is certainly written as one. Thematically titled chapter names, introducing quotes and the last Challenge to the Reader (until a much later published The Finishing Stroke) are the aesthetical proofs of this, while the incredible deductions Ellery makes serve as the spritual proof. Ellery's deductions (like in The Greek Coffin Mystery, The Tragedy of X, The Tragedy of Z etc.) are still among the most impressive feats of detective fiction, I think. From all the evidence available, Ellery makes a list of attributes of the murderer and then examines every suspect to see whether they fit or don't the profile. And finds the murderer. Q.E.D. It's as easy as 1 + 1 = 2.

But on the other hand, Halfway House is truly halfway. With few suspects, Queen spouting less quotes and a rather clumsily inserted clue that explains everything, it's certainly not as complex as earlier novels. With the Hollywood and Wrightville novels following, this is truly a bit of both worlds of the Queen canon spectrum.

And to continue in the Queen tradition, I might as well discuss Arisugawa Alice's Burajiru Chou no Nazo ("The Brazilian Butterfly Mystery") now. Because this review has been waiting for almost a month now. Yes, backlog. But this is the last one left. Burajiru Chou no Nazo is the sequel to Russia Koucha no Nazo ("The Russian Tea Mystery") and is the same in set-up. Himura, the "Clinical Criminologist" (as dubbed by Alice) and Alice, a mystery writer and long-time friend, assist the police in five short stories.

The titular Burajiru Chou no Nazo ("The Brazilian Butterfly Mystery") start Queen-ish with a rather bizarre murder scene. A man, who had been living alone on an island for ten years, has come back to get his inheritance from his deceased brother, but he is found murdered himself in a room with dead butterflies pinned to the ceiling. With his sister-in-law, her brother and a lawyer as suspects, Himura solves this rather disappointing case easily. I really wanted to like this story, as it began so good, but the solution was just too simple in my eyes. For some reason or another though, this story is going to be adapted for the theaters, with a planned release for the winter this year.

Mousou Nikki ("Diary of Fantasies") is also very simplistic in design, but I sorta liked. Himura and Alice investigate a diary of a man who had been burned to death. The man had gone mad after losing his wife and child and was living with his parent-in-laws. But the problem is that the man, having gone mad, had also lost the ability to write words. Himura and Alice stand for the problem of reading a diary of a man who couldn't write.

Kanojo ka Kare ka ("Her or him") is somewhat fitting to go with Halfway House, as the story is about an investigation of a transvestite (no, there is no transvestite in Halfway House). The victim was a man, but would at times dress up as a woman. Just as he inherited from his father a small fortune that would have allowed him a sex-change operation, he is found murdered. The investigation in his private life is quite interesting and the hint pointing to the solution was quite interesting, from a personal point of view. Yes, this a rather vague, but you'll understand if you read it.

Hitokui no Taki ("The Man Eating Waterfall") is the longest story in the collection and the most interesting. With a legend of a man-eating waterfall that calls for victims, a movie being filmed there and the footsteps of a man walking into the waterfall, we have the ingredients for a nice story with a supernatural tone. 

Chouchou ga habataku ("Butterflies flying away") is another of the simple stories, where Alice talks with a man in the train and hears the strange story of how he had just seen two people on the platform across the train, who had disappeared many, many years ago. The man had gone on a holiday with those two and other friends, but one day they had just vanished from their inn. They couldn't have gone out through the locked doors and windows, while the back of the inn looked out on a beach and they wouldn't have able to go there without leaving any footprints. Just as Alice wants to ask more about it, the man leaves the train though, and Alice is left with a problem without solution. It's up to Himura to solve this problem

All in all a decent, if slightly simple short story collection. This time, the stories are less urban (mostly Kare ka, kanojo ka) and the stories and solutions very much depend on interpretation, rather the dying clues or mechanical solutions of the previous story collection. While it's good Arisugawa is writing more types of stories, I have to say the first was a better. I only have one short story collection left by Arisugawa, so I hopes the next combines the best of both.

And Edogawa Rampo month taught me not to be as foolish as to actually announce it, but I will suggest, hint and imply that March might be rather more video game orientated than other months. Maybe.

Original Japanese title(s): 有栖川有栖 『ブラジル蝶の謎』/「ブラジル蝶の謎」/「妄想日記」/「彼か彼女か」/「人食いの滝」/「蝶々がはばたく」 

Saturday, February 19, 2011

"Why not avoid the danger of a personality that is ever the same?”

"'The fox changes his skin,' quoth Ellery, 'but not his habits. or would you prefer it in Latin. My classics used to irritate you.'"
"Halfway House"
 
And with most of the backlog gone, I'll go back to one-post-a-week.

I have read Maurice LeBlanc's Arsène Lupin novels in English, German and Japanese now. And not one in the original French language. It's a bit creepy realizing, I have forgotten a language I have studied for several years at school. I do seem to have done bits and pieces of a bit too many languages, resulting in me being a jack of all trades, but master of none.

Like with La Demoiselle aux yeux vert, La Demeure mystérieuse isn't available in English as far as I know. So I had to settle with Kaiki na Ie ("The Strange House"), another re-release of the Minami Youichirou translations by Popular. The novel starts with the kidnapping of a young singer, Régine. She is taken by her two kidnappers to a mysterious mansion, where she is robbed of her diamonds, lent to her by Van Houben. A similar incident happens a bit later with a model called Arlette . The police, with the help of  the baron Jean d'Enneris (Yes. In fact Lupin) manage to identify the mansion the girls were taken to. The Valamare mansion, inhabited by the count Valamare and his sister. While evidence of their guilt is everywhere, the diamonds are nowhere to be found. The police is convinced the Valamares are guilty, as all the clues point to them, but d'Enneris seems not so sure. Convinced someone is trying to set up the Valamare's, he starts another investigation, with a certain Antoine Fagueraul, fiance of Arlette, as his main suspect. But it's all just to get his hands on the Van Houben diamonds.

At this point, I wonder why Leblanc even bothers to give Lupin a different name, as anybody knows who Lupin is, the moment he enters stage. It is difficult not to recognize his raw power and charisma. But still , LeBlanc keeps trying. One of the later chapters even "tries" to create confusion by suggesting Fagueraul might be Lupin. As if.

What's even more confusing is that the cop Bechoux knows that d'Enneris is in fact... the private detective Jim Barnett (from the short story collection L'Agence Barnett et Cie). Who in fact is Arsène Lupin.

The story is pretty fun though. The main trick is reminiscent of a famous Ellery Queen short story, which was released several years after this novel. Somewhat rare in a Lupin novel, the novel ends in a Classic Gathering In the Saloon where d'Enneris (Lupin) explains how the set-up was managed and how he deduced it from the clues. If I didn't knew Lupin was doing all of this just to get hold of Van Houben's diamonds, I'd almost believe him as an instrument of pure good (well, the exploits in The Eight Strokes of The Clock were for a kiss, which is less criminal... but still).And totally unrelated to this story, but I never did understand why people consider Le Bouchon de cristal (The Crystal Stopper) as one of the better Lupin stories.

I really dig these old-school covers though! Too bad I already have English translations of the other books Popular released and they seemed to have stopped now. I should do an awesome detective-cover post someday.

Original Japanese title(s): モーリス・ルブラン、南洋一郎  『怪奇な家』

Thursday, February 17, 2011

「・・・そして伝説は、もう一度、逆転する」

「真実なんてものはないんだよ。仮に、もし真実なんてものがあったとしても全て時の流れの向こう側だ。真実は人に記憶された瞬間から変質していく。記憶は年老いて薄れる、死んで消え去る。真実とか記憶とか、くだらないものにこだわるなんて、人間ってバカだよな。」
『SPEC〜警視庁公安部公安第五課 未詳事件特別対策係事件簿〜』 

"There is no such thing as the truth. Even if there is something like the truth, it is all on the other side of the flow of time. Truth changes the moment people store it in their memories. Memories get old, become vague, die and disappear. Mankind is really stupid to be so obsessive about insignificant things like truth or memories."
"SPEC ~ The Case Files of MPD Public Security Department, Public Security Section 5, Special Counter Measures to Unsolved Cases~"

Rewrite after rewrite tell me I am definately not going to say anything new or actually relevant about Ayatsuji Yukito's Jukkakukan no Satsujin ("The Decagon House Murders").  It's like being asked to say something innovative about Christie's The Murder of Roger Akroyd in this time and age. It can be done, but certainly not by me.

So I'll just choose the easy difficulty. Click.

(See also this general post on the Yakata/House series.)


A group of students, all belonging to a local university mystery circle, head out to Tsunojima, an small island off the coast of Kyuushuu. Their goal? The ruins of the Blue Mansion and the only building still left on the island, the Decagon House. Owner of both buildings was the architect Nakamura Seiji, who along with his wife and servants, were killed and burned half a year ago on Tsunojima. The members of the mystery circle have plans to spend a week of leisure at the island, whilst taking a look at a real crime scene. But what begins as a nice holiday, ends in a tragedy, when the students are murdered one by one by an unknown killer. Meanwhile, on the mainland, an ex-member of the mystery circle receives a letter claiming to be from the deceased Nakamura Seiji, hinting something is going on. And so the stories progresses as investigations on both the island and the mainland develop in Jukkakukan no Satsujin ("The Decagon House Murders", 1987)

Jukkakukan no Satsujin is hailed as the first in the wave of new orthodox detective novels in Japan. It is a Giant in the history of Japanese detective fiction. If there is something like a canon to detective fiction history, this would be in it. And I personally thought that fun: I've come to a stage where it is hard to find detective fiction that are historically relevant that I haven't read yet. I have to read The Moonstone yet though. Which I actually have somewhere, I think.

But anyway, this was the start of Japanese new orthodox detective novels. A blast from the past. The description of the story should have tipped you off, as it's all classic stuff, right? The story on the island is a take on Christie's And Then There Were None and is pretty fun, even though the murders don't actually happen till relatively late in the book. The story on the mainland is a more orthodox investigation based on questioning witnesses et al and seems to connect directly to the island narrative only at select times, thus creating a gap between the tension on the island and the more open mainland, but the mainland plotline does give insight in the background of the murders on the island.

Ayatsuji also manages to slip in quite some meta-references in this work. The students are all known by their nicknames (like Agatha, Carr and Ellery) and the discussions the students have when they are trying to find out who is trying to kill them, are not the discussions of people afraid of getting killed, but most definitely of people who are very familiar with the tropes of the genre and think accordingly. Ayatsuji is very concious of the fact he is not one of the Great Ones before him, that he is, in fact, a mystery fan writing a mystery, and that makes this novel really entertaining.

And besides the book being obviously being a homage to And Then There Were None, Ayatsuji also wrote this as sort of a challenge to surprise Christie endings like And Then There Were None and The Murder of Roger Akroyd. I won't go into the trick itself, but the trick is very much like a magic trick. It's a trick that has certain limits (and can be seen through immediately if you just happen to look at from a certain angle) and while I think Ayatsuji plotted this novel very neatly, it left me with some ambiguous feelings. Also because I had seen the trick used somewhere else before, so I saw through it quite quickly. Can't remember where I had seen it though, not even whether it was detective fiction of before or after the release of this book.

But Ayatsuji had succes with this book, with a lot more novels in the Yakata (mansion/house) series published after this one. And of course the whole wave of other new orthodox detective novels. Starting a wave should count as 'succes'.

A friend commented that it seemed like new orthodox detective novels have some relation with (odd) architecture, posing that more orthodox novels are more difficult to use. Indeed, Jukkakukan no Satsujin features a decagon house. A slanted mansion features in Shimada's Naname Yashiki no Hanzai ("The Crime at the Slanted Mansion"). Stories in Detective Conan and Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo ("The Case Files of Young Kindaichi"), especially the later, often use this too. But this might be very author-specific, as writers like Arisugawa Alice and Norizuki Rintarou usually use modern urban settings in their stories. Granted, Arisugawa and Norizuki don't write locked room mysteries often, but when they write them, it's in a 'normal' building. Of course, a strange building is a lot easier to manipulate for a locked room murder, but I think (odd) architecture is more a general thing for detective fiction, rather specifically for new orthodox detective fiction.

But yes, Jukkakukan no Satsujin. Important. New Orthodox School. Read It.

Why isn't this translated in English?

Original Japanese title(s): 綾辻行人 『十角館の殺人』

Monday, February 14, 2011

"Willing to do anything, go anywhere. Pay must be good. No unreasonable offer refused."

"On the whole, jolly good! We're very clever, I think."
"You would think so," said Tommy. "You always do. Now I have a secret feeling that once or twice we've been rather lucky."
"Nonsense," said Tuppence. "All done by the little grey cells." 
"The Man Who Was No. 16"

Yes, still trying to get rid of the backlog.

Somehow I've been using the "Agatha Christie" tag quite often. Even though I hardly ever discuss Christie works here. Because what would I have to add to the discussion on books like The Murder on Roger Akryoid, The Murder on the Orient Express and And Then There Were None? By now, everything must have been said, right?

But I still haven't read everything by Christie, so I expect I'll still ocassionally use the tag. Like today! And it isn't a Hercule Poirot story either! And I don't like Mrs. Marple, so she's out too. But I do love Tommy and Tuppence. Two young, married ex-blackmailing detectives. Scoundrels. I like that word. Scoundrels.

Aaaanyway, I recently finished the 1983 TV-serie Agatha Christie's Partners in Crime and it was a blast! The series is obviously based on the Partners in Crime short story collection, but the pilot episode is actually a movie-length version of The Secret Adversary, the very first Tommy & Tuppence novel.

In The Secret Adversary, young Tommy Beresford and Prudence "Tuppence" Cowley meet again after The Great War. Both are smart, but short on cash, so they start Young Adventurers Ltd., advertising with "willing to do anything, go anywhere. Pay must be good. No unreasonable offer refused.". They get hired the same day, which is the start of a long spy story concerning foreign agents, an important document and the secret adversary Mr. Brown, who seems to be around every corner. A lot happens in the novel, and because the pilot movie is a faithful adaption of the story (in my memory), a lot happens in the movie too. As if Christie wrote this without any planning, as if she was just coming up with new plot developments as she wrote. Look away for a second and you've lost the story. But who would look away? James Warwick and Francesca Annis play a fantastic Tommy and Tuppence, getting the feeling between the two just right, the sets are gorgeous and one of the better adaptions of Christie-books.

Warwick and Annis continue their antics in Partners in Crime, which for the most part follows the original short story collection. Here Tommy and Tuppence become the owners of a detective agency. The overall storyline of Russian spies has been removed though, thus removing the actual need for Tommy to call himself Mr. Blunt. And while in the original book, every short story was a parody of another fictional detective, most references have been removed in the TV-series, figuring most people wouldn't get them anyway. Which is probably true. Because the stories are quite short, some are also extended with original scenes, but all in all a faithful version of the original stories. Which remain as fun as ever.

But like with The Secret Adversary, the driving force of the series is the acting of James Warwick and Francesca Annis. It is just fun watching them. While some of the secondary characters are acted rather dubiously, Warwick and Annis got the Tommy & Tuppence magic perfectly! Camp, but not too camp. If David Suchet is Poirot, then Warwick and Annis are Tommy & Tuppence.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Mad Tea Party

「おお、トリックを実行するのにトリックがいるとは、恐ろしい鋭い指摘だ」、有栖川有栖
 "Oh, we would need another trick to pull off such a trick, what a frightenly sharp comment!", Arisugawa Alice
 
Two posts within several days? Yes, I almost seem a prolific blogger. Truth is, I have read quite a lot lately, but I have the bad habit of not writing down my thoughts immediately. And the habit of not writing reviews right away. Which means I have to rely on my memory for writing these posts.

I will tell you this, I don't trust my own memory. That's why I do try to post these things as fast as possible. One problem I have now is that I don't know from which story the introducing quote actually comes from. I am not even sure if it is from this bundle; I have read several other works by Arisugawa in the meantime.

Anyway, Arisugawa Alice is an often-mentioned writer and editor here on this blog, so a familiar name with familiar themes. 46 Banme no Misshitsu introduced us to the crime-solving duo of Himura Hideo and Arisugawa Alice. Yes, in Queen-tradition, Alice refers to both the writer as the character who also is a writer. Himura, a professor in criminology (nicknamed the Clinical Criminologist by Alice) is often called in to assist in police investigations, something he calls 'fieldwork' for his own studies. Alice, a mystery writer and long-time friend, joins Himura in his investigations as his assistent as a connoisseur of the genre. And to be the victim of Himura's snide remarks. After a very solid debut with 46 Banme no Misshitsu, it was of course time for a short story collection. Because all the cool detectives have short stories.

Russia Koucha no Nazo ("The Russian Tea Mystery") aims high, as can be guessed from the title. Naming your own short story collection after the famous Country series by Ellery Queen means it is going to be scrutinized even more, right? The stories are all written from a first person perspective, with of course mystery writer Alice as our narrator.

Doubutsuen no Angou ("The Zoo Code") and Rune no Michibiki ("Guidance from the Runes") are both dying message stories, a staple of the Ellery Queen series. And after the same Queen tradition, Himura and Alice discusses several options before arriving at the truth. However, the weak point of both these stories are that they hinge on the knowledge of something so specific, few people would be able to deduce the solutions. Which is a shame, as the settings of both stories (a zoo and a cottage with mostly foreigners) are quite interesting and indeed invoke the Queen tradition.

I simply can't remember much of Akai Inazuma ("Red Lightning"), but I am pretty sure I forgot the story for a good reason. Hmm, reading a short impression on another site made me remember it again! One of Himura's students is sure he saw a woman being pushed off her balcony by someone from across the street, but as the room was locked from the inside and no person was found inside the room, this is impossible. The story is pretty good, even though the solution pretty much screams "look at me!", the second the second plotline is introduced.

Yaneura no Sanposha ("The Stroller on the Attic") is named after the same-named short story by Edogawa Rampo and features the same theme. A man has been spying on his tenants through the attic, looking down into their rooms. In the original story, the stroller in the attic commited a murder, but in Arisugawa's version, the stroller is killed, as he had discovered that one of his tenants is a serial killer. The only clue to the killer's identity is left in the victim's diary, that cryptically describes which of the tenant is the killer. It's a simple, yet effective code that connects really well to the original Edogawa Rampo story.

The titular Russia Koucha no Nazo ("The Russan Tea Mystery") is also a good story, involving a poisoning amongst a group of friends after a small karaoke party. Who are of course not that good friends. Friends in a detective story, are seldom friends, it seems. Like many poison stories, this story revolves around finding out how the poison was administered. The solution is a classic one, which is executed well, but still, nothing new here.

The final story is interesting, as it was originally the very first stageplay written by Arisugawa. Hakkakukei no Wana ("The Octagon Shaped Trap") was written for the opening ceremony of the "Archaic Hall Octo" in  Amagasaki and rewritten for this short story collection. As a play and probably hinted by the inclusion of a map of the Archaic Hall Octo, the solution to this story, where a fight between several actors ends in tragedy, is a lot more 'mechanical' compared to the solutions in other stories in the bundle, reminiscent of the ones in 46 Banme no Misshitsu. Which is a good thing.

All in all a solid short story collection. Arisugawa might want to work a bit on his dying messages, but he shows that classic Golden Age short stories can still work in a modern urban setting. While I think Norizuki Rintarou's short stories are superior, the banter between the dry Himura and the comic-relief-sidekick-with-detective-specific-knowledge Alice is really funny to read and give this work a unique flavor.

The one thing that totally perplexes me though, is that while the character Arisugawa Alice speaks Kansai-dialect, he thinks in standard Japanese. It. Is. Really. Distracting. 

Original Japanese title(s): 有栖川有栖 『ロシア紅茶の謎』/「動物園の謎」/「赤い稲妻」/「屋根裏の散歩者」/「ルーンの導き」/「ロシア紅茶の謎」/「八角形の罠」

Friday, February 11, 2011

「マンガというのはそんなに儲かるんですか」

「その人も誰かを殺したの?」
「自分を捨てた恋人を。別荘の地下に閉じ込めて殺害しました」
「古畑さんが逮捕したんですか?」
「彼女、今どうしているんですか?」
「色々ありましたが、アメリカにわたって幸せな結婚生活を送っています」
「意外ね」
「私が言いたかったのは、人は、生まれ変われるということです」
『古畑任三郎:ラストダンス』

"Did that person kill somebody?"
"The lover who threw her away. She locked him up in the cellar of her mountain house and killed him."
"And you arrested her, Mr. Furuhata?"
"So, where is she now?"
"A lot happened, but she has gone to America and has a happily married life now."
"That's suprising"
"What I want to say is: people can start all over again."


Having read all of the manga of Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo ("The Casefiles of Young Kindaichi"), the only thing left are the novels. Which are quite nice actually. At least a lot better than the Meitantei Conan ("Detective Conan") novels. The novels are all written by Amagi Seimaru, the main writer for the series and thus don't differ too greatly in quality from the main series.

Four Kindaichi Shounen novels are actually available in English, but Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo: Onibijima Satsujin Jiken ("The Casefiles of Young Kindaichi: The Murder Case of Will-'o'-the-Wisp Island") isn't one of them. Is that a shame? Not really, though it isn't really bad either. The story is familiar: because young Kindaichi spent all of his money, he can't finance the vacation he promised Miyuki. That's why the two apply for a part time job on a remote island, to get that vacation feeling in another way. The island is being used by a medical cram school as a training camp for their students and among the students that arrive there, there are of course not very nice people. Because otherwise, nobody would die.

One night, most of the students and Kindaichi and Miyuki participate in a kimodameshi, which involves peeking through a keyhole into a room. But as Kindaichi looks through the keyhole, he sees one of the students being hanged by a shadow. A panicking Kindaichi gets the key to open the room, but it turns out to be empty. All the people think Kindaichi was just trying to prank them, but the next the day the student whom Kindaichi thought was being hanged, has disappeared. And then other hanging bodies are discovered. Because very, very few Kindaichi Shounen stories feature just one murder. And it all ends in a classic Kindaichi Shounen Way of course.

Kindaichi Shounen, originally a manga, in novel form does make you think about the format. I still think the comic form is great for detective fiction, as I do strongly think that images add an useful dimension to the genre. Many great stories from Meitantei Conan, Kindaichi Shounen and Tantei Gakuen Q ("Detective Academy Q") have visual clues, which simply wouldn't work as well in classic proze. Of course, some tricks are harder to pull off in comic-form, but the reverse should hold too, and crime fiction should make more use of the comic format, in my opinion. While there are quite some interesting detective manga available, it seems they don't really seem to be as popular in the English-speaking spheres as in Asia. For example, why hasn't Tantei Gakuen Q, one the best available, been released in the States yet? With sleeper-game-hits-turning-into-big-names like Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, you'd think that at least among fans of modern Japan media, there would be at a sign of people wanting more detective manga released. It might be interesting to see what percentage of the 'orthodox' detective reader knows of gems like Detective Conan too.

So while the Kindaichi Shounen novel series, in general, is quite interesting, I can't help but think I'd rather had read the stories in manga form. 

Original Japanese title(s): 天樹征丸、さとうふみや 『金田一少年の事件簿 鬼火島殺人事件』

Sunday, February 6, 2011

『推理小説の読解における推論 :愛読者・非愛読者の比較』

"A true gentleman leaves no puzzle unsolved!"
"Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box"

Related to the post of a week ago, I came across a nice (short!) paper by a master student at Tokyo Woman's Christian University yesterday, which seemed sort of interesting. The paper itself misses a real conclusion, but I like the set-up; namely a research in the 'deductive capabilities' of regular and non-regular readers of detective fiction. So quite relevant.

So I translated it.

I occasionally take a look at Japanese papers on detective literature anyway and as we can do either a bachelor thesis or a translation of (preferably) an academic paper here at the university, I had searched for appropiate papers, but alas, can't find good ones. All well, this one is fun anyway.

And it is always nice to know I am not the only one trying to use detective fiction with my academic papers. Detective movies, novels, manga. Only games left. And that is actually what I am doing now with my thesis. All bases covered! 
 
大塚友紀子「推理小説の読解における推論 :愛読者・非愛読者の比較」  『Annual convention of the Japanese Association of Educational Psychology』 43, 594

Otsuka Yukiko (2001) 'Suiri shosetsu no dokkai ni okeru suiron: aidokusha hiaidokusha no hikaku' (Reasonings within reading comprehension of detective novels: A comparison of regular and non-regular readers). Annual convention of the Japanese Association of Educational Psychology 43, 594


Saturday, February 5, 2011

"Let the Reader Beware!"

「俺たちは立ち止まらない、そして全力で生きて、戦い抜いて、最後に死ぬときが来たらこう言うんだ 「生きててよかった」ってな」、桐生一馬、『龍が如くOF THE END』

"We won't stop. We will live and fight throught it with everything we have and in the end, when the time to die has come, we'll say: 'We're glad to have lived'", Kiryuu Kazuma, "Ryuu ga Gotoku OF THE END"

Back to reviews.

I usually find it hard to find new authors to read. Well, no, that's not the problem, the problem is actually reading a book by someone I don't know yet. I see countless of names and titles, which all seem interesting, but as my funds aren't limitless, I usually end up with the safe and sound purchases of authors I know are good.

One way to work around this, is an anthology. I have a couple of anthologies of Japanese authors, which I only buy if I see at least one familiar name. Reasoning that at least one story (probably) won't disappoint me. And I hope for the best with the rest. Which ties in with a common problem in anthologies: for every good story collected, it seems a bad story has to be included too. I love my Mammoth Book of Perfect Crimes and Impossible Mysteries, but I have to wonder why crap stories likes Murder in Monkeyland were included. It is like it's mandatory to wade through a stream of bad stories before you can reach the safe shores of a good story.

So I started with caution with Anata ga Meitantei ("You are the great detective"), an anthology of seven authors with seven stories. I've had this book in my possession for more than a year now, actually. But it was here, while I was in Japan, so that's allowed. The premise is nice though: all stories are divided in a 'problem chapter' and a 'solution chapter', collected in the end. You are supposed to read the problems first and then check with the solution whether you were right. A Challenge to the Reader.

First up is Awasaka Tsumao's Katoriko satsujin jiken ("The Katori Lake murder case"), a murder case in a ski resort surrounding the Katori lake. A very dry story involving people on skis, bandages, people found strangled with said bandages in the middle of the lake and not really good or bad. It seems this story is also the main story of the same-named short story collection by Awasaka and if so, I am not too impressed with his writings.

Nishizawa Yasuhiko's Obentou guruguru ("A lunch box, around and around") is another of these not-impressive stories. A man is killed in his home and according to his wife, old art objects were stolen from their storage room. Was it theft? Were there really art objects there? What about the insurance saleswoman who discovered the corpse? In the end, I didn't care.

Kobayashi Yasumi's Ookina mori no chiisana misshitsu ("A small locked room in een big forest") involves what it says in the title. A man involved with some shady business is found murdered in his mountain house, with several of his business victims around. While the mystery itself, while better than the previous one, was once again not special (I was getting real depressed by now), I at least liked the detective: an old man called Toku, who lives in the mountain selling computer parts. It seems Kobayashi used him in several other mystery stories of his, so I might try some more.

What saved this anthology was Maya Yutaka's Helios no Shinzou ("The Idol of Helios"). A locked room mystery in the tradition of Queen, somewhat reminiscent to The Chinese Orange Mystery in idea (luckily not in execution!) and an excellent story in general. Seeing his story in Trick X Logic was one of the better ones too (and actually somewhat similar to Helios no Shinzou in how the crime is solved by a elimination deduction chain), it seems I am obliged to read more of this writer. Luckily, I have another of his stories lying around here. In another anthology.

Norizuki Rintarou was the only name I knew when I bought this anthology. In Zeus no Kodomotachi ("The Children of Zeus"), the writer Norizuki is in a kantsume situation in a hotel faraway from Tokyo. Kantsume refers to canned food, but in the literary world, this refers to the action of the editor/publisher confining a writer to his room, to make sure the author finishes his work before the deadline. But a great detective wouldn't be a great detective if he didn't encounter a murder anyway.  The theme of the Dioskuri, twin brothers Kastor and Polydeuces and the twin sisters Clytemnestra and Helena, plays a big role in the story, as the owners of the hotel are actually two sets of married twins, of which one couple has died some years ago. But it seems there might be an imposter involved. Or not? In the end, Norizuki's story is mostly meant to fool the reader, which isn't something I am too keen with, but I forgive him, as it was an interesting story. And there are few good stories here to begin with.

Ashibe Taku's story, Dokusha yo Azamukarete okure ("Reader, Be Fooled"), is also a story meant to fool the reader. Ashibe goes the length to come up with a meta-introduction to warn the reader (and to set it up), but it...doesn't work. At all. Maybe it was  because I'm not a native reader and I just missed the hints meant to fool me or something, but the trick Ashibe wanted to use to fool the reader just didn't work. And that breaks up the whole story.

Finally, Kasumi Ryuuichi's Hidarite de Barbeque ("A Barbeque with the left hand") was another of these meh stories, with a man murdered, a cut off left hand and me not caring that much. Once again, it was not a bad story per se, but nothing worth writing about either.

It was all in all, a normal anthology experience. A lots of meh and a one or two good ones. Ah well, this one at least didn't had a really awful story. 

Original Japanese title(s): 『あなたが名探偵』 泡坂妻夫 「蚊取湖殺人事件」/ 西澤保彦  「お弁当ぐるぐる」/小林泰三 「大きな森の小さな密室」/麻耶雄嵩 「ヘリオスの神像」/法月綸太郎 「ゼウスの息子たち」/ 芦辺拓 「読者よ欺かれておくれ」/ 霞流一 「左手でバーベキュー]