『Just Before the Sunrise』 (Rhodes)
When asked for your name
I want you to answer just this
Just a traveller
"Just Before the Sunrise" (Rhodes)
This negative relation between the height of my reading pile and the amount of posts I publish is kinda interesting. I think it is about time this absurd daily posting thing should stop though.
The Togakushi Murder Case), also known as the Columbo of Shinano, and curious of his other adventures, I decided on this novel. No, I was not really enthusiastic about this book, but I had to read something.
The Hokkoku Kaidou (normally known as the Hokurikudou) refers to both a geographical area and the main road running through it, at the northwestern edge of Honshu, the main island of Japan. The students Tajiri Fumiko and Nomura Yoshiki are having a road trip alongst this route to gather data for their graduation theses: Fumiko is writing about the monk Ryoukan (1758-1831), while Yoshiki is writing about the poet-priest Issa (1763-1827), who are both strongly related to the Hokkoku Kaidou area. During their trip, Yoshiki's camera is stolen and on that occassion meet Takemura Iwao, the star inspector of the prefectural police, who has been working on the case of the skull-less skeleton of H- University's professor Hatano found at the site of a paleolithic excavation of Lake Nojiri. It's from the two students that Takemura hears that on the same day Hatano's skeleton was found, that another university teacher, and like Hatano a Ryoukan expert, was murdered in Gogouan, the old home of Ryoukan. Not believing in such coincidences, Takemura thinks a connection must exist between the two cases.
The first half of the novel is clearly split between a narrative on Takemura's investigation and a narrative on Fumiko and Yoshiki's adventures. The latter just screams stereotypical two-hour suspense drama, with the classic tropes all making an appearance. A young, beautiful girl on a trip, who happens to see something of importance (without realizing it). The traveling and sight-seeing. The stolen camera because the duo (naturally) took a picture they should not have made. A man in sunglasses following them. The inn. The not-really-a-romance-and-a-bit-of-sexual-tension subplot with Yoshiki. It is a very easy read and you can set your brain to cruise control when reading these parts.
The Takemura narrative is a police procedural, with Takemura trying to solve the murder on Hatano, which is a bit hard because he died two or three years ago. The investigation starts out a bit boring, which is sort of logical because Takemura is in charge of the investigation and therefore has to direct his subordinates, not investigate himself. Though not in the elite track, Takemura managed to make it to this administrative position at a young age through excellent investigative work, but it also forced him out of the scene of the crime itself. However, it does not take long before Takemura is bored and starts to do some old-fashioned investigation on his feet again. This is when the case starts to get interesting, which is reflected in the way the narratives develop. At first, when the police investigation is quite boring, more pages are dedicated to the adventures of Fumiko and Yoshiki, but the moment Takemura starts his own investigation, the balance slowly shifts to him, with Takemura dominating the latter half of the novel.
The mystery behind the dead professors is not very hard to deduce, also because Takemura has a tendency to voice his (usually) correct thoughts the moment new clues arrive at the scene. But the case never reaches points that really invite praise and reading this book almost feels like a zero-sum game. It was entertaining enough for the couple of hours it took to read this, but I am definitely going to forget about it in a couple of days.
Except for maybe the Ryoukan and Issa parts. Uchida really has a knack of presenting history and popular theories about historical persons in a very entertaining way. I knew nothing about those two poets before I read this book, but I like to think that I've learnt something interesting about them, that might come in handy one day in my studies. The focus on popular historic theory is also very entertaining and effectively introduces another -detective- storyline in the plot. Here for example, Fumiko and Yoshiki find it interesting that the two poets, despite living in the same age and geographical area and occupying similar occupations, never met (officially). They both come up with some theories which might be complete nonsense (but which Uchida no dobut based on actual existing research and theories), but amusing for people with an interest in history nonetheless.
I think that this was the first time I really felt engrossed in the sightseeing part of travel mysteries, as you don't just do spatial traveling (in this case, the Hokkoku Kaidou area and Tokyo), but also temporal traveling (the era of Ryouzan and Issa and naturally the time up until the murder in the present time) and in all four dimensions, an investigation of some kind is done. The actual case itself might not be remarkable, but I have to admit that Hokkokukaidou Satsujin Jiken was an entertaining and educating read because of the traveling.
Original Japanese title(s): 内田康夫 『北国街道殺人事件』