Sunday, August 12, 2012

Make a Beeline Away from That Feline

"With my aversion to this cat, however, its partiality for myself seemed to increase. It followed my footsteps with a pertinacity which it would be difficult to make the reader comprehend. Whenever I sat, it would crouch beneath my chair, or spring upon my knees, covering me with its loathsome caresses. If I arose to walk it would get between my feet and thus nearly throw me down, or, fastening its long and sharp claws in my dress, clamber, in this manner, to my breast. At such times, although I longed to destroy it with a blow, I was yet withheld from so doing, partly by a memory of my former crime, but chiefly - let me confess it at once - by absolute dread of the beast"

I haven't touched an actual game console in a while now and my hands are itching for a controller, but would connecting my PSP to a TV sorta count as playing on a console? -> Random thoughts.

Akagawa Jirou is one of the big names in the Japanese publication world. Famous for his humorous mystery novels and one of the most prolific writers around. I haven't read that much novels written by him, but most of his stories seem to be light mysteries that are easy to read, but with little to offer for those interested in orthodox puzzlers. Which was why I kinda surprised to see his Mikeneko Holmes no Suiri ("Tortoise Shell Cat Holmes' Deduction") taking a rather high spot in a list of best locked room mysteries voted by Japanese mystery writers. So I decided to take a look at it. The murder on a female student seems to be connected to with rumors of a prostitution racket run from a local women's university and police detective Katayama Yoshitarou is ordered to investigate whether the rumors are true, as Katayama's superior was personally asked a favor from the university's faculty director. And Katayama was the obvious choice for such an investigation, as he is absolutely hopeless as a police detective, being afraid of blood and dead bodies (and women among others), so he wouldn't be of much help in investigating the actual murder. Katayama has only just started his investigation though when the faculty director is found murdered in a cafeteria one morning. A locked cafeteria. Has this to do with the prostitution ring, or are there other sinister plots at play at the university? Luckily though, Katayama isn't alone in his investigation, because the faculty director's cat, a tortoise-shell cat called Holmes, seems to be a lot smarter than you'd expect from a cat...

Oh, did I mention that this is the first novel in the highly popular Mikeneko Holmes (Tortoise-shell Cat Holmes) series? The series detective is actually a cat. Katayama and Holmes meet for the first time here, but the pattern is the same in the subsequent novels: Holmes has a knack for deduction it seems, as she gives hints to Katayama (by 'accidently' exposing clues or even arranging items in a way to push Katayama's thoughts in the right direction) and she sometimes even attacks (would-be) murderers. Holmes is like Conan. Only she's a cat. Katayama is the one who in the end 'solves' the locked room murder case, but only because Holmes helped him a lot.

Of course, my personal theory is that Holmes is actually the big bad behind everything: I mean, if I am to expect that Holmes is able to subtly guide the thoughts and actions of Katayama, what withholds me from thinking Holmes might be doing the same with the criminals, subtly tempting them to murder and giving them hints in hiding their deeds? So in my world, Holmes is actually playing around with all humans, tempting them into murder with one paw, while guiding the police with the other. You have to do something with your spare time if you're a genius cat.

But back to the book. Mikeneko Holmes no Suiri is a very easy to read book and I mean that in the linguistic way as well as well as in regards to the plot. Just set your mindset to "what-to-expect-in-a-two-hour-TV-drama" and you're prepared for every plot twist the story tries to throw at you. Which is a lot. But seriously, there is not one single surprising development in this whole novel. Heck, even the way the story is written feels like a standard mystery TV drama, with occasional scene cuts to the murder victims just before... they actually become victims.

Though I was sorta suprised by the theme of a prostition ring run from an university though. The novel was first published in 1978, which means it should predate most discussion regarding enjo kousai, which is admittely not completely the same (age of participants, the actual services rendered and payment methods), but I do wonder how this novel was read within the Japanese society in the late 80's~early 90's. Especially as to me, the description of the students and the university felt kinda vague and at times, I totally forgot it was about an university and not a high school.

Which was not helped by the horrible cover art of my copy. It is part of a special 2010 series of Kadokawa pockets featuring ex-Weekend Heroine ex-Momoiro Clover Z member Hayami Akari on the cover, with absolutely no relation to the contents of the actual novel. Not one single middle school student appears in this novel!

And the locked room, the whole reason I bought this book (for 105 yen, so I shouldn't really complain anyway)? Interesting idea, bad execution. Really, there are tons of viable objections you could raise against how the locked room murder is achieved in this novel. Though you might argue that a victim who is so stupid to actually die because of such a trick had deserved that anyway. The basic idea is really good though, but it just doesn't work like this. Despite Akagawa's pitiful attempt to explain away some of the easier raised objections as his detective(s) explain the murder. No idea why so many authors voted for this locked room trick. And I can't really check it now, as my volume containing the list (+ commentary) is in the Netherlands.

Oh, and I just watched the first episode of the identically titled Mikeneko Holmes no Suiri TV drama, which is based on several of the Mikeneko Holmes novels. The first episode was based on this novel and... yeah, you can pretty much ignore it. A lot of the original story was cut. And a lot of bad elements were introduced to fill the time. A lot.

I don't think Holmes will appear anymore on this blog, though I'm also sorta busy with a sound novel video game produced by Akagawa Jirou, so he might be mentioned again in the future. If I actually manage to finish the game.

Original Japanese title(s): 赤川次郎 『三毛猫ホームズの推理』

2 comments :

  1. Actually Arisugawa himself mostly talks about the situation of detective novels when Akagawa's first novel was published and about the humor which is so characteristic for Akagawa. There's only one little passage about the trick where he says that it was very modern and well-thought-out for its time (instead of recycling established methods, I guess) and it shouldn't be that easy to solve for the reader... which I, even though I only know the TV drama version, can't approve. I found it rather easy. The essential idea might be interesting as you said, but it's too easy to figure out and yet it's totally inconceivable that someone would be so stupid and get murdered like this.

    I also knew that the novel addresses prostitution, which unfortunately was changed into documentary fraud and/or drug dealing (can't really remember) for the recent TV drama despite being produced more than 30 years later...

    I was unable to finish that show, because the whole drama (duh) and supposed "humor" were extremely annoying for me. And it's not like there were any interesting tricks to compensate for that. On top of that the culprits always were SO damn obvious! Annoying and boring is always a deadly combination... But I have to admit that Kagi no kakatta heya was tough to compete with as it had both awesome locked room murders and the kind of humor that actually made me laugh. I guess stuff like this happens when you adapt something for TV that did not age well.

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  2. I have certainly seen enough of the drama with just the first episode. Why did they add a brother to the Katayama family? Why would you have Matsuko Deluxe act as a human representation of Holmes?!!

    Mikeneko is quite horrible even without the comparison with Kagi. Though I have to admit, I can definitely visualize this novel as a cool mid 80's, early 90's TV drama special for some reason.

    And now, extensive spoilers for the locked room trick!!!!!!

    ....

    The basic idea, using the room itself as a murder weapon is really good I think. Akagawa also tries misdirect the reader quite nicely I think, by first posing solutions that explain _how_ the body came into the rome, such as using the crane to remove the roof, or place the room over the body, and afterwards with the false solution (which was slightly better in the novel than in the drama). In this sense, I clearly see similarities with Shimada Souji's big tricks.

    The problem is that the trick, as presented here, is really impossible! Yes, 3AM is early, but it's an university dorm, so there's always the danger of someone seeing the trick being done. Or hearing. And the victim has to be a fool to lock the door himself. And he also has to choose to _not_ slide down to the bottom of the container as it is lifted, but rather hold on to where he is and then to fall down the container. Which is ridiculous. I really regret to have this trick used in this way; it could have been much better. :/

    ...

    End spoilers!!

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