"That is very much possible. I don't know about that maid, but there is not a single person here who hasn't read that famous novel by Queen"
"The Labyrinth House Murders"
Spending an entire night (and the morning) casting current members of the Mystery Club in the roles of the characters in Jukkakukan no Satsujin. Weird, but fun. Oh, and I can't divulge too much about this as this is something private of the Club, but do people really think that there are actual great detectives here when they see Kyouto Daigaku Suiri Shousetsu Kenkyuu Kai ("Kyoto University Detective Fiction Research Club", the official name of the Mystery Club)? Hey, this isn't the Koigakugo Academy Detective Club!
But now for something completely different. Or not completely. I mean, in the end it's all detective-fiction-related...
Ayatsuji Yukito's Yakata series, which features amateur detective Shimada Kiyoshi and the mysterious buildings built by architect Nakamura Seiji. The titular Labyrinth House is an underground mansion, inspired by the myth of the Minotaur. And by inspired, I mean that the mansion is actually a labyrinth. The owner of the mansion, mystery writer Miyagaki Youtarou invited his four disciples, his editor (and wife), a critic and mystery fan Shimada Kiyoshi to his mansion for a special event, but he is found dead when they arrive. A recorded tape however tells them that he hopes that his disciples will improve their works and challenges them in writing a detective story within five days after his death, under the condition that nobody leaves the mansion until then. Their stories have to be set in the Labyrinth Mansion and they themselves have to appear as victims within their stories. The winner, determined by the editor and critic, is to inherit the whole fortune of Miyagaki. However, the four disciples are killed one after another and what's more surprising, they are all killed according to their own stories!
One year later, a novel is written based on the murders that happened in the Labyrinth House and a copy is delivered to Shimada. One of the persons connected to the case wrote the novel, but who? And why did he/she write down the horrible events that happened in the Labyrinth?
People who have been following this blog for some time, might know that I have a weakness for 1) Greek mythology and 2) meta-mystery, especially featuring writers, editors and fans. You might infer my reaction to Meirokan no Satsujin based on the summary above. Writers get a free bonus point with me whenever they employ any of these tropes, but Ayatsuji's third novel is also very good even without those bonus points.
First of all, the story-within-a-story framework is excellent. The story starts with Shimada receiving the book based on the murders in which he acknowledges that one of the persons involved wrote the novel, followed by the novel itself. Shimada thus challenges the reader (us), to not only solve the murders that happen within the story-within-a-story, but also to find out which of the characters that appear in the micro-narrative is in fact the writer. The two-dimensional narrative is something Ayatsuji likes a lot (c.f. island-mainland in Jukkakukan no Satsujin and past-present in Suishakan no Satsujin), but I think it works the best here; the integration within the whole narrative feels the most natural, compared to how it appears in the previous two novels.
Spoilers for Jukkakukan no Satsujin and Suishakan no Satsujin (select to read):
It was obvious from the start with the previous novels that Ayatsuji intended to fool the reader by using the two narratives, i.e. implying existing relations between the narratives or denying them. Which made solving them rather easy. By starting with saying that there is something fishy to the document in Meirokan no Satsujin, we at least know that Ayatsuji is going for something slightly different here.End Spoilers
Four disciples who are murdered according to their own stories and a labyrinth as the location for those murders. Yes, this novel is packed with thrilling events. It is a really exciting read, especially as any detective story gets more exciting when it is a genuine closed circle situation. Which this is, as the keys to get out of the Labyrinth House disappear early on in the story. The closed circle is once again a much-used trope of Ayatsuji, although this time it is not as natural as in Jukkakukan no Satsujin. But the setting! Just imagine being locked up in a labyrinth with a murderer on the loose! Ayatsuji is quite good at writing easy-to-read, but very exciting stories and this is no exception. I have to admit though, that at times it almost feels too much is going on. A locked room murder, a dying message, the labyrinth, the murders made to resemble the stories the disciples were writing... It almost feels like overkill, especially near the last half of the story-within-the-story, as events follow each other rather rapidly.
The murders made to resemble the scripts, as a plot-device, is fun to read though. One day, I will come up with a better English term for the Japanese mitate-satsujin than 'resembling' murder, but until that day, I will always refer to this older post. The previous two novels, despite obvious differences in characters and setting, were actually very similar in an abstract way, also looking tropes in use. The 'resembling' murder trope here thus feels quite 'fresh', even though it is an often employed trope within Japanese detective fiction. The motive for the resembling murders here is a lot more amusing than the motives you usually in detective fiction though and what is even more interesting is that Ayatsuji actually plays with the common motives, acknowledging them as legit, but also going one level deeper with the trope.
I also liked how the mansion built by Nakamura Seiji actually appeared to be a really menacing location within the story. In Jukkakukan no Satsujin, Nakamura Seiji as a person seemed of more importance than the titular Decagon House, while the Water Mill House of Suishakan no Satsujin, admittedly worked as a creepy setting (and it gave us a creepy discovery-of-the-corpse-scene!), but it never felt threatening as an object on its own. The claustrophobic Labyrinth House with an actual labyrinth inside it and references to Greek mythology however is really impressive as a location and much more fitting to be mentioned in the title.
And of course, the genre-savviness! I still like the meta-conciousness of Jukkakukan no Satsujin more than this novel, as the discussions there feel a lot more natural / realistic to me. This time, most of the genre-savviness and meta-talk derives from Shimada himself. The contents themselves might be as entertaining as always, but these kind of things just feel more natural when spoken by a member of a Mystery Club. Yes, this is a totally personal feeling, but hey, opinions on novels are based personal experiences.
So short story, I like this novel. A lot. Which makes it very alluring to move up the other books in the series up in my reading pile...
Original Japanese title(s): 綾辻行人 『迷路館の殺人』