Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A Journey into Lost Memories

『かまいたちの夜2 監獄島のわらべ唄』

'Do you remember?'
The man asked again 
A: I remember
B: I don't remember
"Night of the Kamaitachi 2 - The Warabe Uta of Prison Island"

As the club room of the Mystery Club is located conveniently on the university campus,  I usually spend quite some time a week there between classes and stuff. Because it certainly beats having to cycle back and forth from my room in the heat and / or rain every time. And also because the club room is packed with interesting books and games. And manga. Loads of manga. Not sure what series like Hokuto no Ken and Chuuka Ichiban! are doing in our room, but I sure like it!

And there is a small shelf with non-Japanese novels. By which I mean, books written in languages besides Japanese. Most of them are naturally English, but there are also Italian, German, Korean and Chinese books there. I was pleasantly surprised when I saw the name Patrick Quentin among the English books, as he/they was/were mentioned quite often in the mystery blog-world some time ago and because the title seemed slightly familiar, I decided to read Puzzle for Fiends to kill the time until my next class started. And the amount of dust that flew into the air and the dirty fingers I had by the time I had finished the novel suggested that very few members of the club actually touch the non-Japanese parts of the shelves. And to continue this random selection of observations before I discuss the novel itself: this Penguin paperback was actually bought for almost 800 yen in a secondhand bookstore! Which is, yes, quite expensive.

Especially as I didn't like the novel that much. Anyway, one day a man awakens in a house he doesn't remember, surrounded by people he doesn't remember. And he sure doesn't remember why he's got cast on his arm and leg. Well, to be honest, there is a lot our protagonist doesn't remember, as he is apparently suffering from amnesia after a car accident. He is told that he is Gordy Friend, husband to sensual Serena, brother to beautiful Marny and the son of Mimsey Friend. Oh, and his father died apparently died recently. But that is of no concern. It is probably just a matter of time before he recollects it all, he is told. Of course, the reader is aware that the so-called Gordy Friend is actually series detective Peter Duluth, who for some reason has lost his memory and is now in the care of a strange family who is trying very hard to make him believe he is someone else...

So apparently the writing duo of Patrick Quentin changed their formula for the Peter Duluth (Puzzle for...) series from a Golden Age formula after the war, with this obviously being more of a thriller. In fact, it feels very much like a Hitchcock movie and I'll admit I had fun with this book in the earlier parts, where Peter was struggling with his memory and trying to figure out who he was. It certainly read as a movie and I could easily visualise the whole thing. Though on the other hand, it seems like a waste to have used a series detective for this story: right from the start the reader is aware that the amnesia patient is Peter Duluth (the story starts with a short narrative with Peter and his wife), so that takes a bit of the suspense and tension away as you know that all of Peter/Gordy's suspicions of his 'family' are correct and you can bet that there really is something going on in the Friend mansion.

In the second half of the story, Peter does solve the mystery of his own role in the charade and even manages to solve some murders, but it is also incredibly predictable, which almost took away all pleasure I had with the story. The plot developments in the second half can be guessed even before they happen and you'd probably be right too! I think I might have liked the second half if this really had been a movie, but with some expectations for Patrick Quentin and this actually being a novel, well, I couldn't help but be disappointed.

And yes, I know, I should try the earlier novels in the series, but we sadly don't have them in the club room. Not in English at least. Maybe I should have listened to my gut-feeling instead of to my curiosity, as I could also have read Christianna Brand's Tour de Force today...

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