"Maybe I wasn't just an onlooker, but the loser here"
*looks at last sentence of last post*
I guess I should be happy it only took me three days to read my next book. Huh. And I think I should also be happy that I am up to date with Higashigawa Tokuya's Koigakubo Academy Detective Club series now. This series starrring the titular Detective Club is hilarious and while I have to admit that the first novel in the series, Manabanai Tanteitachi no Gakuen, was not without its flaws, I liked it for the humor and the way Higashigawa managed to blend that humor perfectly with a detective plot, even employing humor to mask hints. There is just something charming to the poor members of the club, who try to be detectives but somehow never seem to succeed.
Anyway, so I finished the second novel in the series, Satsui wa Kanarazu Sando Aru ("Murderous Intent Always Comes Three Times"). Akasaka Tooru, who was tricked into joining the club in the previous novel, is still a member of the detective club, naturally accompanied by club president Tamagawa and the Kansai-dialect using Yatsuhashi. It's almost summer and summer + high school means the Summer Koushien baseball tournament in Japan! The Koigakubo Academy Baseball Club is pathetically weak though, and their Koushien Summer is usually over after just one single match. Of course, everybody hopes this changes every year and this time, the Koigakubo team is having a training match with its rival, Hiryuu High School. And yes, with rival, I mean that both clubs are pathetically weak and that they basically fight to not be the worst team. During the match though, held at Hiryuu High's new baseball field, the dead body of the Koigakubo Academy's baseball match is found behind the back screen of the center field! It's up to the Koigakubo Academy Detective Club to solve this murder! Or is it?
Like its predecessor, I feel that this is a funny, yet flawed novel. The biggest flaw: the main puzzle is better suited for a short story. Too much time is spent on investigating the main problem: the coach was murdered the night before the match, but during his estimated time of death, the field was observed from several angles (and naturally nobody saw something suspicious). The solution is admittedly good one (though I think I have seen it in a different form somewhere else before), but it really didn't need that much pages to work as a detective story. In fact, so much attention was spent on it that it became too clear what the solution was! Near the end, a couple of more murders were thrown at the reader, but the pages alloted to them made it very clear that these later murders were not as important as the first.
I do have to admit that Higashigawa threw in a wonderful misdirection trick in the story and that's certainly his specialty: creating gaps between the observations of his characters that result in a misunderstanding on the part of the reader (and the characters). Higashigawa uses this for his comedy (with conversations that don't mesh right), but also to fool the reader and I always enjoy seeing this in his stories. I wonder whether it is easier to make these kind of tricks in Japanese, compared to English for example. There are also some great ones in the Zaregoto series. It is more common to drop implicitly understood parts of sentences in Japanese (i.e. grammatical subjects, objects that have been mentioned before), which makes these kinds of tricks possible, but I don't think they would feel as natural in English.
And I still enjoy the school-setting of these stories. This time, the focus is more on the extra-curricular clubs of the school (there are very few scenes actually set at school), but the characters and the relations between them are all very recognizable (though it's been quite some while since my high-school years) and suit Higashigawa's style perfectly. I do have to admit that I am not interested in baseball at all, so I had some troubles getting into the right atmosphere. I am hardly a fan of football, but I at least have a slight interest in it, which why I did enjoy the setting of Detective Conan: The Eleventh Striker. I guess that Higashigawa Tokuya is a big baseball fan though, as the protagonist of Houkago Wa Mystery To Tomo Ni is also a big baseball fan.
Like I mentioned in the introduction, the Detective Club members try to be detectives, but never seem to succeed. In fact, this is a pretty interesting point, as this also holds for the supplement volume to the series (Houkago wa Mystery to Tomo ni), which stars the club's vice-president: the various club members are certainly the protagonists of the stories, but the actual (correct) puzzle-solving is usually reserved for someone else. And I don't mean in a Watson-Holmes way: practically anyone besides the members of the club can turn out to be the detective! The Detective Club certainly does its best and it is not like they are completely useless, but yes, most of the time they are not vital to solving the case. It was Ishizaki, the club's supervising teacher who acted as the detective in the first novel and most of the stories collected in Houkago wa Mystery to Tomo ni, but he is certainly not the only one in the series. The role of main detective in Satsui wa Kanarazu Sando Aru is reserved for a very surprising person and in the end Tamagawa, the detective club's president, makes a sad, yet correct observation that the members of the club were nothing more than onlookers on the match between the detective and the murderer. A very unique position for the series protagonists!
Anyway, once again a funny novel by Higashigawa that blends humor with an orthodox plot, but this story might have worked better as a short(er) story.
Original Japanese title(s): 東川篤哉 『殺意は必ず三度ある』