Thursday, December 20, 2012

Calendar of Crime

「いくぞ!!  地上の愛と正義のために!!  命と魂のすべてをそそぎ込んで!!  今こそ燃えろ 黄金の小宇宙よ!!  この暗黒の世界に… 一条の光明を!! 」
『聖闘士星矢』

"Let's go! For love and justice on this earth! Pour in all of our life and souls! Burn now, our golden Cosmo! To bring forth in this world of darkness... a ray of light!!"
"Saint Seiya"

I had mentioned that we sold the Mystery Club's magazine? book? Souanoshiro at the school festival earlier, but for some reason the internal review of the stories published there doesn't happen until after the festival. Yes, there is internal review on the content and a very extensive check on typos and such before the actual printing (naturally!), but there is no big review with members involved until after we actually sell the product. Which is kinda strange, but anyway... I had about the review meetings already, which can be very, very harsh according to Van Madoy. But people really give very good constructive comments on the writers and I can see how writers would benefit from this proces greatly. It's of course a bit like what I try to do at this site, but you usually don't give comments on a story in front of the writer. It was at least an interesting experience.

Over a year ago, I reviewed Norizuki Rintarou's Hanzai Horoscope 1 - Rokunin no Joou no Mondai ("Horoscope of Crime 1 - The Problem of the Six Queens"), a short story collection with a zodiac theme originally released in 2008. Now, five years later, the sequel has finally been released. Hanzai Horoscope 2 - Sannin no Megami no Mondai ("Horoscope of Crime 2 - The Problem of the Three Goddesses") collects the remaining stories where mystery writer Norizuki Rintarou gets involved with cases that are somehow themed after the legends behind the zodiac signs. Note that while this is similar to Poirot's adventure in The Labours of Hercules, Rintarou isn't actively looking for cases that are connected (sometimes in very oblique ways) to the zodiac: it's all just a coincidence.

[Libra] Shukumei no Majiwaru Shiro de ("At the Castle where Fates Cross") starts with the familiar scene of Superintendent Norizuki asking his son for help in an enigmatic case: he has two murders on his hand that might be the work of a serial killer. Or not. The only connection between the two corpses is the fact that at both crime scenes, the Justice tarot card was found. However, the type of tarot cards used were different and it seems like there is nothing else to really connect these murders. Things start to move when Rintarou first suggest the notion of a murder exchange. Which is actually a trope Norizuki (the actual writer) has used several times now in his short stories. And a novel. I haven't read last year's King wo Sagase ("Look for the King!") yet, but it seems that Shukumei no Majiwaru Shiro de shares the same theme and that this story functions as an early, pilot version of King wo Sagase. I liked the theme of tarot cards and things do get a bit complex near the end (in a good way), but after seeing like two or three other murder exchange stories by Norizuki, I can't say I was really surprised by the solution.

In Horoscope 1, the subtitle belonged to arguably the worst story in the collection. Luckily this time, [Scorpio] Sannin no Megami no Mondai ("The Problem of the Three Goddesses") belongs near the top. This time the superintendent wants the help of Rintarou solving the mystery behind the murder on the president of an idol company. His company was on the verge of bankrupcy and his attempt on a revival of the former hit idol-unit Tri-Star also failed earlier this year because he couldn't collect enough funds (though rumor has it he ran away with the money he did collect!). The former president of the Tri-Star fanclub commited suicide, saying he had killed the company president because he had betrayed the fans. What bothers the superintendent is that he called the three idols of Tri-Star just before his death. Almost as if he was hired by one of the idols to kill the president and that he called to say he had accomplished his mission. The deduction Rintarou shows based on just the telephone records is fun and with a classic which-of-the-three pattern and a focus on material evidence and analysis of who-knew-this-at-what-time, this story feels the most classic (Queen) of the stories collected here.

If it's the superintendent, then it's someone from Rintarou's publisher. [Sagitarius] Ocyrhoe no Shi ("The Death of Ocyrhoe") starts with a request by an editor: a stalker of the fiance of Saji Kurumi, a popular writer has been murdered and the police is suspecting the fiance. Kurumi wants Rintarou, famous as a detective and for his connections with the police, to find out who really killed the stalker. An almost surprisingly fun and complex story. At least, I wasn't expecting much of it at the beginning, to be totally honest. It starts with the lovers telling the story about the stalker, and a lot of impossible punning on Sagitarius and such, but when it moves into the actual investigation of the murder and Rintarou starts to check who could have commited the murder, it starts to evolve in something more akin to the stories that rank amongst the best of Norizuki. Akin, I say, because it feels a bit forced at times. But fun.

An editor lost contact with an influential music critic in [Capricorn] Sakuran no Syrinx ("The Confusion of Syrinx"), so she asks Rintarou for advice, not sure whether it involves some kind of criminal activity or not. It does, as they later find the critic locked and tied up in his sound-proof room in his apartment, having died of lack of water/food. The security cameras show nothing decisive and while the police have some ideas about possible motives, fact remains that the only 'real' clue consist of a dying message left by the dead man, made with his feet. And blood. The message? Something that is probably the zodiac sign for Capricorn. A dying message can often be a hit-or-miss and I would say it is closer to the latter. I have to admit that some of the knowledge/hints required to solve the message where well hidden within the story, but still, it requires quite a bit of one's imagination. Yet, Norizuki made sure it wasn't the only way towards the identity of the murderer and I definitely liked that part of the story. Look at the dying message as an extra, and you're left with a story that is not bad at any rate.

[Aquarius] Ganymedes no Mukuro ("The Corpse of Ganymedes") is where Horoscope 2 starts to crumble. Rintarou is asked for advice by a boy who has an interest in dressing as females, who has drifted apart from his mother, a succesful consultant. One day, the boy was asked by his mother to deliver a suspicious package to a man at a station, but he had to be dressed as a female. As (s)he handed over the package, (s)he was told "Not to worry, the consultant's son is unharmed". Considering the consultant only has one son (and that he of all people was actually the one handing over the package), you can understand the boy's confusion. What follows is a story with deductions that seem grounded on nothing and a solution so absurd it's not really worth writing about.

The final story, [Pisces] Hikisakareta Sougyo ("The Torn Apart Fish"), is also a bit strange. It's about a director of a succesful firm being taken in by a spirit medium, as she has been convinced by him that her son who died 25 years ago had reincarnated that same time, meaning that somewhere, a 25-year old person is walking around with her son's spirit. Using her company's connections and the spirit medium's power, she has found three candidates that could be her son. The president's nephew fears his aunt is being deceived by the medium and asks Rintarou to help him. The story doesn't really rely on foolproof deductions and logic, but more on intuition and a surprise ending that I admit is sorta surprising, but it isn't really satisfying as a mystery story.

While never the same quality as Norizuki Rintarou no Bouken and Norizuki Rintarou no Kouseki, Hanzai Horoscope 2 is definitely a decent collection, especially if you like Greek legends. The stories here often mirror events from the legends in surprising ways, and feel less forced than what Poirot did in his Labours. People who like Queen's short stories or Norizuki's previous collections can definitely pick this one up safely.

Original Japanese title(s): 法月綸太郎 『犯罪ホロスコープII 三人の女神の問題』: 《天秤座》 宿命の交わる城で / 《蠍座》 三人の女神の問題 / 《射手座》オーキュロエの死 / 《山羊座》錯乱のシランクス / 《水瓶座》ガニュメデスの骸 / 《魚座》引き裂かれた双魚

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