If I had to choose between the sun and the moon,
I'd be the moon
I only shine if you are next to me
'When you are here' (Iori)
Finally a review of a Japanese novel again! But first, something completely different.
Or not completely different maybe. As I've mentioned in a couple of posts before, I am studying for a year in Japan at the moment. And I happen to be doing that at Kyoto University, which in turn happens to be the host of one of the best known / respected mystery clubs in Japan. Activities of the club include organizing little deduce-who-the-murderer-is quizes, book discussions and a yearly big publication featuring original stories and commentaries and the club has been around since 1974. Writers like Ayatsuji Yukito, Abiko Takemaru and Norizuki Rintarou actually originate this club, which explains why it is so well known to those into new orthodox detective novels.
And I think I am a member of the club now. At least, like Rouletabille said, '"I have eaten all your caviar. I am your guest. I am your friend'. Well, they didn't buy me caviar, but like most clubs the Kyoto University Mystery Club did take potential new members out for dinner, trying to convince them to join their club. Which I wanted to do anyway, so I got a free dinner and I got into a club I wanted to enter in the firt place. And I had a nice chat with people about Japanese detective novels. Which is actually really awesome. Really, really awesome. I don't think I've ever had an oral discussion where I could say that I like Queen-school writers, and having everyone nodding at that. People who have read mystery novels featuring mystery clubs might have an idea of how those conversations go (probably mostly Japanese novels), but it was really like in those novels. I will probably write more about the club later, when I've actually attended to more meetings.
Arisugawa Alice. Last week I picked up his debut work, Gekkou Game - Y no Higeki '88 ("Moonlight Game - Tragedy of Y '88"). It is the first volume in the Student Alice series, featuring Arisugawa Alice as a young student at Eito University as the fourth and newest member of the Eito University Mystery Club (EMC). The head of the club is the enigmatic student Egami, who serves as the main detective of the series. In this first story, the EMC heads out to camp on Mount Yabuki during their summer holiday, where they meet three other groups of students (of various universities and clubs) who had the same idea. The 17 people have a great time at the camp site, until Mount Yabuki, which is actually an dormant volcano, has the fun idea of erupting for the first time in 200 years. And that is not all, because with the eruption, people start to disappear at night and they have the nasty habit of being dead, murdered when they re-appear. And what is that dying message "Y" that keeps popping up? How is the EMC going to get out of this mess?
Obviously through pure Queenian logic. Arisugawa's debut work simply screams Queen. It naturally starts with the pen-name Arisugawa Alice, which is also also the name of the protagonist of the story, but the Queenian influence is also obvious from the dying message that seemingly defies interpretation and the closed circle situation mirroring The Siamese Twin Mystery with the forces of nature forcing the groups of students to hide in the forest every once in a while. There are even several scenes where the group decides to search through each others possessions, in the hopes of finding proof of who the murderer is, mirrorring the classic big searches often seen in early Queen novels. And besides these tropes, we have the actual logical method employed by detective Egami, whose explanation of who the murderer is and how he deduced that fact could have fitted neatly in any Queen novel.
What was interesting was that the cover of the edition I own really emphasized the "Y" dying message (as does the subtitle of the novel, by the way), but the dying message definitely fails to carry the whole plot. It is a cool dying message though, reminiscent of one of Queen's more famous dying message short stories, but quite hard to translate to English I think. Arisugawa uses a neat little trick to keep the reader in the dark regarding the meaning of the message (or at least: I was definitely in a blind spot that was a result of that 'trick'/way of writing) and that was really well done. But it is hard to center a novel-length story around one dying message, which explains why the students also have to deal with a lot more mysterious events (and the vulcano eruptions). As a result though, the importance of the dying message weakens. In fact, it is not even the decisive clue that points to the murderer. Which was kinda surprising. It is more a clue that works in hindsight. I can almost see Arisugawa coming with this cool dying message, only to be forced to diminish its role in the story in order to make it work.
This novel actually does feel a bit unpolished, or maybe I should refer to it as signs that this really is a debut work (something a member of the Kyoto University Mystery Club also mentioned to me). First of all, you really, really don't need 17 students in a closed circle situation. That is overdoing it. Especially as they are all students. Yes, Arisugawa tries to keep them apart by giving them nicknames and placing them in different faculties and stuff, but seventeen is really overdoing it. Arisugawa might have fun writing them and it might have reminded him of his own experiences as a student, but it does not really work on paper (I was glad someone told me that even Japanese readers have trouble keeping all those students apart). I also had a bit of problems with the pacing. The story does start with an in media res prologue, but it takes long before things actually start, and the whole middle part is kinda slow and not very convincing (yes, it might be dangerous to move on an active vulcano, but it is probably more dangerous to stay on an active vulcano with a murderer. It doesn't take days to figure that out). Finally, there were several subplots and theories refered to which.... didn't go anywhere. Some of them might be considered red herrings, but others might have been addressed in more detail to actually strengthen the atmosphere of the story (the occult moon theories for example).
Anyway, as a debut work, Gekkou Game is not without its flaws, but it is definitely an amusing story written in the Queen-school. It's the second Student Alice novel I read and while not nearly as cool as Soutou no Akuma, I think Gekkou Game is decent enough to start with if you are into that whole reading-in-chronological-order thing.
Original Japanese title(s): 有栖川有栖『月光ゲーム Ｙの悲劇 '88』