Thursday, April 5, 2012

『帰ってこさせられた33分探偵』

「えー、『あの泥棒が羨ましい』 二人のあいだにこんな言葉がかわせるほど、そのころはーって渋いね、菜緒ちゃん、こんなの読んでるんだ」
鞄の中に江戸川乱歩の『二銭銅貨』を忍ばせている女子高生。どうやら僕は高林奈緒子という同級生に対する認識を改めなければならないようだ。この娘、只者ではないのかも。 
「霧ヶ峰涼と見えない毒」

"Hmm, 'That's one lucky thief'. During the time these words which passed between those two.... Hey, that's sneaky, Nao! You read this too!"
A female high school student who hides a copy of Edogawa Rampo's The Two-Sen Copper Coin in her bag. It seems like I will have to revise my image of my classmate Takabayashi Naoko. This girl, she might not be just an ordinary person.
"Kirigamine Ryou and the Invisible Poison"

Still alive! I think. Reporting live from Japan. Have I ever mentioned how I always suffer quite a lot of jetlag? The last time I had it this bad... I made my first translation for this blog. It's not that bad this time, but I'm still 'off' a couple of hours from my usual schedule. Anyway, it's been a long time tradition that first days back in Japan include a search for (preferably second hand) book stores in the neighborhood. The closest one I've found at the moment is five minutes away with the bike, so I'll be swinging by often. Unless a storm suddenly decides to visit Kyoto, like two hours ago.

And the first book I bought here... is a familiar one. By now, we've seen Houkago wa Mystery to Tomo ni pass by at this blog as a radio drama, a CD drama and two translations (based on the radio plays). Which is quite often, considering the original work is just a single volume (and not that big either). But yes, the reason why it is featured here so often is because I absolutely love this short story collection starring the tomboy Kirigamine Ryou, the vice-president of the Koigakubo Academy Detective Club who despite being the protagonist of the stories, never seems to be able to solve a case on her own. I am not going to review all the stories again, as I already did that in my review of the radio drama, but I did mention there that the radio drama had left out two short stories from the book. Which is just enough material for a short review.

Kirigamine Ryou to Mienai Doku ("Kirigamine Ryou and the Invisible Poison") has Ryou and her friend Naoko trying to figure out whether somebody is trying to kill old man Kadokura. Kadokura is a distant (and rich) relative of Naoko and she lives with him (and his family) because it is closer to school. Some days ago, a roof tile just barely missed falling on Kadokura's head and Naoko suspects that someone in Kadokura's family, consisting of his son, daughter-in-law and his grandson, doesn't have the patience to wait for the old man to die a natural death. Just as Ryou and Naoko are investigating the case, the old man is poisoned (though he survives!) as he was drinking his coffee. His last words before he passed out were 'poison in the coffee', but forensics show that the coffee wasn't poisoned at all. So how did the would-be murderer introduce the poison to Kadokura's body and who is (s)he?

Like many of the stories in Nazotoki wa Dinner no Ato de, this story hinges on customs, movements and other little things that are part of what we call 'common sense'. In Higashigawa's stories, the clues often hinge on either a situation that doesn't seem to comply to 'common sense', or even erratic situations that become perfectly understandable if you just apply common sense to it. The same holds for this story, though I have to admit that the story doesn't feel as satisfying as some of the Nazotoki stories.

I had high expectations for Kirigamine Ryou to Ekkusu no Higeki ("Kirigamine Ryou and the Tragedy of Ekkusu"). Why? Higashigawa himself said that it took him ten years to write the short story, as he just couldn't find a way to make his initial trick work. Anyway, the final version starts with a meteor shower party at school, organized by the geography teacher Ikegami. The party is not really a succes, but Ikegami and Ryou suddenly spot a strange flying object that emits a greenish light and flies in an erratic pattern. Ikegami immediately decides that it is an UFO (the alien kind, not the literal definition) and starts chasing it (taking Ryou along with her). The UFO disappears though and in the middle of the field where they last saw it, the duo spot the body of a unconscious woman. The woman presumably lost her conciousness because she was strangled by someone (as seen by the marks on the neck), but the only footsteps on the wet field are those of the woman. The only logical explanation? The UFO dropped the woman off in the middle of the field!

Well, there is another explanation too, of course. I have no experience in writing stories and plotting, but I have to admit that my reaction was 'did this really take ten years to write?'. Which doesn't mean that this is a bad story. Actually, it is a very good impossible crime story that is quite dense for the short page count and the atmosphere of the story is also entertaining. Strictly speaking, the solution is a (much altered) version of a well-known impossible situation, but it's done so well and originally that it really doesn't matter. A very cool story, but it doesn't need the 'ten years' story. I am sorry I brought it up.

I'm still not sure how things will work out with the blog as I'm in Japan now. There is certainly no lack of material unlike the last three months (hoho, books of 800 pages, double columns for 200 yen?), but I need time/intention to read and write. Which might be the bottleneck this time.

Original Japanese title(s): 東川篤哉 『放課後はミステリーとともに』:  「霧ヶ峰涼と見えない毒」 / 「霧ヶ峰涼とエックスの悲劇」

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