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I tried writing an introduction about okonomiyaki, the Kansai region and detective fiction, but then I realized that the only memorable okonomiyaki scenes in Japanese detective fiction I know are from Higashigawa Tokuya's Koigakubo Academy Detective Club series. Why is that a problem? Higashigawa is from Hiroshima, so his characters usually eat a totally different kind of okonomiyaki. Yes, I like to write randomly about food. Experiences have taught me that little okonomiyaki restaurants run by old ladies are the best, so I'm happy to say I found one in the neighborhood a while ago. Getting treated by my partner-in-dine on the other hand made me feel both happy and guilty at the same time. Hmm. Anyway, the moral behind this story is that okonomiyaki is good. Or something like that. But enough about food (gasp!).
Oh, and as some might have noticed from the sidebar, but I sorta started to use Twitter. Sorta. Not sure what to do with it, so we'll see how that works out. Will probably switch back and forth between English and Japanese.
Apparently, I had already started reading Arisugawa Alice's Kotou Puzzle (The Island Puzzle) at least two weeks ago. Thirteen days of those two weeks were spent on the pages before the first murder and then I finished the book within one day, apparently. Heh. Yes, I like my deaths to happen early in a story. Anyway, back to the book. Kotou Puzzle is the second novel in the Student Alice series, starring the student Alice (male), the Eito University Mystery Club (EMC) and the series detective Egami Jirou. The EMC, originally consisting of just four male students, has welcomed its first female member in the form of Arima Maria. Maria has invited Alice and Egami to her uncle's island for the holidays. The island was originally owned by Maria's (now deceased) grandfather, who was a great fan of puzzles. Before his death, Maria's grandfather actually hid a fortune in diamonds on the island, with the island functioning as one giant puzzle and hint that points to the whereabouts of the treasure. Maria, Alice and Egami arrive at the island to challenge this puzzle, while a great number of Maria's relatives are also visiting the island. The EMC's treasure hunt changes in a murderer hunt though when two of the guests are found shot death in a locked room one night. Oh, and this is an island in a detective story, so yes, there is a storm cutting the island off of the mainland and all other means of communcation are also conveniently destroyed!
I had heard people raving about this book, and I can say that I am all too willing to join those masses. Pretty much everyone agrees that the logic behind Kotou Puzzle is excellent and it really should serve as obligatory literature on constructing logic-based 'guess-the-criminal' stories. Arisugawa is definitely inspired by Queen, but it is a bit different here: early Queen logic is usually based around identifying several characteristics of the murderer and then matching them with what the suspects (i.e. the elimination method). Often seen characteristics are for example whether the murderer was left- or righthanded, certain knowledge the murderer must have had, or access to a particular place or item.
In Kotou Puzzle however, Arisugawa bases his complete solution on one single hint, an item (and in particular, the state of that item). He then develops that one single hint into a whole train of deductions that clearly show what the murderer must have done, and finally arrives at the one single person that could have. So instead of deducing characteristics for the murderer, Arisugawa here presents the reader with deductions of the murderer's movements (all starting from one single item), that in the end lead to one single characteristic that points to the murderer. And it's awesome. Of course, Queen might be associated with this kind of logic too (especially as his country novels all include a noun, i.e. shoes and hats), but nowhere do we seen Queen develop this idea as fantastic as Arisugawa does here. Arisugawa already did a little bit of this in Gekkou Game, where a little item also served as a crucial starting point of a chain of deductions, but he really nails it in Kotou Puzzle. This is very cleanly written piece of logic that really should be read by all fans of the genre.
For fans of locked room mysteries, or let's say alibi tricks, it seems easier to show what they exactly like of their favorite trope. An ingenious mechanical trick, or something that surprises because of its simplicity, or the fantastic use of human psychology. I am not sure how to do that with logic though, which is something I really like in detective novels (explaining why I like writers like Queen and Norizuki). It is (naturally) a lot more abstract to explain and it's usually a deduction-chain that impresses, making it the more difficult to explain what was so awesome.
Some other detective tropes also appear in Kotou Puzzle, like a dying message and a locked room, but they are subordinate to the actual pointing out the identity of the murderer. The dying message was nothing special and kinda easy to guess actually, but I did like how the identity of the murderer tied in directly to the special circumstances of the locked room. You wouldn't be able to deduce the identity of the murderer based on the locked room, but you can definitely arrive at a satisfying explanation for the circumstances of the locked room murder were so strange if you know who the murderer is (which is what is actually done in the story).
The way Arisugawa develops his deductions from one single hint is also reflected in the other puzzle of this novel: the puzzle that leads to the diamonds. Abstractly seen, the idea behind the two puzzles (treasure hunt / murder) are the same, namely the natural development of a single thought, but the result is quite different. It might not be as grand as the logic behind the murders, but this is actually an interesting puzzle that might have been perfect on its own too (as a code cracking story of sorts).
Were there also elements I didn't like? Well, yes, actually. I wasn't too big a fan of the characters. There were no 17 almost identical students this time luckily, but still, that Maria has one big and complex family! And I am used to reading Nikaidou Reito's novels! The other problem is that the island itself feels very artificial. Of course, a closed circle setting on an island cut-off by a storm and all kinds of 'complex' means of transportation on the island that clearly define the time you need to get from one place to another is sorta a classic within detective fiction, but yeah, the island really did feel like only like a tool for the story, rather than an actual setting. And like I mentioned, I had severe troubles reading this book up until the first murders. Really, the treasure hunt on the island was quite boring, but there was at least a big award at the end for having to wade through the first hundred or so pages.
(And just to make it clear, I've reviewed the first three of the four Student Alice novels at the moment: Gekkou Game ("Moonlight Game"), Kotou Puzzle ("The Island Puzzle") and Soutou no Akuma ("Double-Headed Devil"))
What to read next, what to read next?, he said, while having at least half-a-dozen of half-read books on his nightstand.
Original Japanese title(s): 有栖川有栖 『孤島パズル』