Saturday, May 5, 2012

Death on the Moor

「 ありがとう。でも、初めは自分でやってみるわ。ほら、シャーロック・ホームズだって、なんでも自分でやるでしょ。ワトスンはただそばにいて、うろうろするだけだわ」

"I'll help you if it's OK with you"
"Thanks, but I want try it by myself first. You know, Sherlock Holmes also did everything himself. Watson was just hanging around doing nothing"
"High School Murder Case"

I already mentioned it in my review of Matsumoto Seichou's Ten to Sen ("Points and Lines"): I am not particularly a fan of his writings. I love Ten to Sen, but that is sadly enough only one of the few orthodox detectives Matsumoto wrote, as Matsumoto became famous as the pioneer of the shakai-ha (social school) that dominated the Japanese detective novel market until the late 80s. It might be a fantastic movement if you're into police proceduals and (relatively) realistic depictions of post-war Japanese society, but I prefer the locked room murder in the haunted mansion.

So I was not sure what to think about Koukou Satsujin Jiken ("High School Murder Case"). It was recommended by someone at the Mystery Club as an interesting juvenile detective novel. Which in itself was quite surprising, as I didn't even know that Matsumoto Seichou wrote juvenile fiction. Even more surprising was the fact that Koukou Satsujin Jiken was also supposed to be an orthodox detective novel! As such, this novel was very different from most of Matsumoto's works and when I came across the book for a mere 105 yen at my local bookstore, I thought I might as well take the chance. Originally serialized under the title of Akai Tsuki ("Red Moon") between 1959-1960, the story is set at the Musashino plains (Tokyo). We are first introduced to the high school student Konishi, nicknamed Noppo. Noppo would have been simply be characterized as a gothic nowadays, with his love for writing dark and edgy poems that are about despair, death and everything nice. And one day, he is found dead, strangled and thrown into a pond in the forest. Together with another dead body. The narrator Yajima and Noppo's other friends feel compelled to avenge Noppo's death and start an investigation into who killed Noppo and why.

The first thing I thought: wow, the narrator talks in a rather non-juvenile way. No juvenile talks like that nowadays and to be honest, I doubt that high school students in 1959 talked like this. I mean, I am aware that language changes and that especially youth language is very fast with changes, but all of the characteristics of the narrator's speech pattern are what is nowadays considered characteristics of elderly men in fiction. Did it really change this much in 40~60 years? It was really distracting at any rate and it certainly didn't feel like a young narrator telling me the story. The narration is also very dry and it was harder to get through the book than I had expected.

But to get more into the contents: it is very clear that this was a serialized story. Some parts are repeated over and over (explaining what happened earlier in the story), which really should have been edited in the final version. Matsumoto also seems to have written this story without a real outline, as he makes things up just as he goes. The result? A bland adventure story about how a boy goes out suspecting mysterious people who keep popping up for no particular reason until his supersmart cousin comes to solve the case in no time. The reader probably already solved the case 100 pages earlier, as there is absolutely nothing surprising to the plot. Oh, also note that Noppo's other friends have practically no function in the story and are highly inter-changeable. You'd wonder why Matsumoto bothered to give them all names and tried to give them personalities in the first chapter, when they are treated as one single entity (THE FRIENDS) the second chapter on.

Koukou Satsujin Jiken probably kinda worked as a juvenile detective novel when it was published. Kinda. But then you remember that you could also be reading Rampo's Shounen Tantei Dan or something like that and you realise how much Koukou Satsujin Jiken fails. The novel lacks a youthful, a playful heart. It misses the fun the Koigakubo Academy Detective Club novels have for example. Which are incidentally also set in Musashino. This is really Matsumoto Seichou trying to write a juvenile detective novel. Which at least in this time and age does not feel as a juvenile novel.

You know what, I don't even feel like writing more about Koukou Satsujin Jiken. It's really not worth the read. I'll just keep on re-reading Ten to Sen over and over again (oh, and I happened to have finally bought a Japanese copy of Ten to Sen, which features photos of the important locations of the story :3)

Original Japanese title(s): 松本清張 『高校殺人事件』

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