Monday, May 28, 2012

番外編: うぁぁー

I usually have some requirements for my posts. They usually have to be of at least a certain length. But this is special.

So Ayatsuji Yukito, Abiko Takemaru, Maya Yutaka and Madoi Ban (Van Madoy) walk into a bar... The beginning of a bad joke? No, it is an accurate description of the welcome party for the new members of the Kyoto University Mystery Circle held last Friday. Apparently, these insanely famous OBs occasionally drop by at parties of the Mystery Club. Or they come to play mahjong. Especially mahjong, it seems. Anyhow, the moment Abiko Takemaru and Maya Yutaka entered the room was just fantastic, with every discussion stopping abruptly. The same of course when Ayatsuji Yukito entered, who came a bit later. Words can not even begin to describe the aura of the table of these OBs in the restaurant. Just sitting in the same room was awesome. Even though we all tried to avert our eyes in fear of blinding ourselves of the light radiating from that table.

And I even had a short chat with Ayatsuji-sensei as he signed my copy of Ningyoukan no Satsujin ("The Puppet House Murders") I luckily had with me (some other members ran out to buy books to get them signed). And there is no greater motivation, nor greater pressure for writing a thesis on New Orthodox detective fiction, than being told by the person who started the New Orthodox movement that he wants to read your thesis when it is finished. Especially if he even mentions you on his twitter-feed.

I guess I have to write a good thesis now, right?

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

「真相にタッチ、犯人をアウト」

「ぼくは傍観者ではなく、敗北者だったのかもしれない」
『クビシメロマンチスト』

"Maybe I wasn't just an onlooker, but the loser here"
"Strangling Romanticist"

*looks at last sentence of last post*

I guess I should be happy it only took me three days to read my next book. Huh. And I think I should also be happy that I am up to date with Higashigawa Tokuya's Koigakubo Academy Detective Club series now. This series starrring the titular Detective Club is hilarious and while I have to admit that the first novel in the series, Manabanai Tanteitachi no Gakuen, was not without its flaws, I liked it for the humor and the way Higashigawa managed to blend that humor perfectly with a detective plot, even employing humor to mask hints. There is just something charming to the poor members of the club, who try to be detectives but somehow never seem to succeed.

Anyway, so I finished the second novel in the series, Satsui wa Kanarazu Sando Aru ("Murderous Intent Always Comes Three Times"). Akasaka Tooru, who was tricked into joining the club in the previous novel, is still a member of the detective club, naturally accompanied by club president Tamagawa and the Kansai-dialect using Yatsuhashi. It's almost summer and summer + high school means the Summer Koushien baseball tournament in Japan! The Koigakubo Academy Baseball Club is pathetically weak though, and their Koushien Summer is usually over after just one single match. Of course, everybody hopes this changes every year and this time, the Koigakubo team is having a training match with its rival, Hiryuu High School. And yes, with rival, I mean that both clubs are pathetically weak and that they basically fight to not be the worst team. During the match though, held at Hiryuu High's new baseball field, the dead body of the Koigakubo Academy's baseball match is found behind the back screen of the center field! It's up to the Koigakubo Academy Detective Club to solve this murder! Or is it?

Like its predecessor, I feel that this is a funny, yet flawed novel. The biggest flaw: the main puzzle is better suited for a short story. Too much time is spent on investigating the main problem: the coach was murdered the night before the match, but during his estimated time of death, the field was observed from several angles (and naturally nobody saw something suspicious). The solution is admittedly good one (though I think I have seen it in a different form somewhere else before), but it really didn't need that much pages to work as a detective story. In fact, so much attention was spent on it that it became too clear what the solution was! Near the end, a couple of more murders were thrown at the reader, but the pages alloted to them made it very clear that these later murders were not as important as the first.

I do have to admit that Higashigawa threw in a wonderful misdirection trick in the story and that's certainly his specialty: creating gaps between the observations of his characters that result in a misunderstanding on the part of the reader (and the characters). Higashigawa uses this for his comedy (with conversations that don't mesh right), but also to fool the reader and I always enjoy seeing this in his stories. I wonder whether it is easier to make these kind of tricks in Japanese, compared to English for example. There are also some great ones in the Zaregoto series. It is more common to drop implicitly understood parts of sentences in Japanese (i.e. grammatical subjects, objects that have been mentioned before), which makes these kinds of tricks possible, but I don't think they would feel as natural in English.

And I still enjoy the school-setting of these stories. This time, the focus is more on the extra-curricular clubs of the school (there are very few scenes actually set at school), but the characters and the relations between them are all very recognizable (though it's been quite some while since my high-school years) and suit Higashigawa's style perfectly. I do have to admit that I am not interested in baseball at all, so I had some troubles getting into the right atmosphere. I am hardly a fan of football, but I at least have a slight interest in it, which why I did enjoy the setting of Detective Conan: The Eleventh Striker. I guess that Higashigawa Tokuya is a big baseball fan though, as the protagonist of Houkago Wa Mystery To Tomo Ni is also a big baseball fan.

Like I mentioned in the introduction, the Detective Club members try to be detectives, but never seem to succeed. In fact, this is a pretty interesting point, as this also holds for the supplement volume to the series (Houkago wa Mystery to Tomo ni), which stars the club's vice-president: the various club members are certainly the protagonists of the stories, but the actual (correct) puzzle-solving is usually reserved for someone else. And I don't mean in a Watson-Holmes way: practically anyone besides the members of the club can turn out to be the detective! The Detective Club certainly does its best and it is not like they are completely useless, but yes, most of the time they are not vital to solving the case. It was Ishizaki, the club's supervising teacher who acted as the detective in the first novel and most of the stories collected in Houkago wa Mystery to Tomo ni, but he is certainly not the only one in the series. The role of main detective in Satsui wa Kanarazu Sando Aru is reserved for a very surprising person and in the end Tamagawa, the detective club's president, makes a sad, yet correct observation that the members of the club were nothing more than onlookers on the match between the detective and the murderer. A very unique position for the series protagonists!

Anyway, once again a funny novel by Higashigawa that blends humor with an orthodox plot, but this story might have worked better as a short(er) story.

Original Japanese title(s): 東川篤哉 『殺意は必ず三度ある』

Monday, May 21, 2012

「この世にもしも傘がたった一つだとしても探してキミに渡すよ」

「密室の結論が自殺だそうだ。おれが読者なら本は二つになってるぞ」
幸いなことに、砂川警部は読者ではなく登場人物である。
『密室に向かって撃て!』
"So your conclusion to the locked room is suicide. If I were a reader, the book would have been ripped in two"
Inspector Sunagawa is luckily not a reader, but a character within the story
"Shoot Towards the Locked Room!"

I had originally planned to post this review after Kanou Tomoko's Nanatsu no Ko. The sudden insertion of the Short Short yesterday however, rendered the introduction I had written initially totally unusable. Why change the order? Because I didn't want to stop the posting cycle with a Short Short. Why I don't spread the few posts I do write a month more evenly instead of focusing it all on a couple of days? Because that would make sense.

Misshitsu ni Mukatte Ute! ("Shoot Towards the Locked Room!") is the second volume in Higashigawa Tokuya's Ikagawashi series, a set of stories set in the fictional town of Ikagawashi. It is a direct sequel to the first volume, with all the major characters appearing again. We are first re-introduced to the (mostly) bumbling police inspectors Sunagawa and Shiki, who surprisingly, or as expected, make a big mistake during an attempt to arrest a wanted man. The result: a dead suspect and someone making off with an illegally manufactured pistol loaded with an unknown amount of bullets. A couple of weeks after the incident, the body of a homeless man is found shot through the chest, followed by another big incident at the mansion of the wealthy Juujouji family, with two injured men, one death and the recovery of the pistol. But where did the mysterious assailant disappear to? The only access (and escape route) to the murder scene, a mansion annex built on top of a cliff overlooking the sea, was observed by several witnesses, so the only conclusion is that the murderer must have thrown himself off the cliff into the sea. Or did he? 'Great detective' Ukai and his 'disciple' Ryuuhei have a personal stake in this case and are determined to find out the truth behind the disappearing murderer.

By now I've written quite often about Higashigawa Tokuya's works, so I'll just keep to the short description this time: he writes orthodox comedy detectives. The afterword in my pocket edition written by Sengai Akiyuki describes Higashigawa Tokuya's works as addictive, in the sense that they become funnier/better/harder to resist the more you read them. Which is definitely the case with me. Misshitsu ni Mukatte Ute! works as a comedy detective novel because it builds on the great parts of Misshitsu no Kagi Kashimasu, with great banter between the two duos of Ukai/Ryuuhei and Sunagawa/Shiki and slapstick comedy scenes. The book is probably not nearly as funny without any knowledge of the first novel. That certainly creates a small barrier, but hey, the first novel was fun too, so why wouldn't you read it? In fact, much of the comedy of Higashigawa Tokuya's novels depend on running jokes, so it shouldn't surprise that these jokes also run over several novels.

But Higashigawa would certainly not have been this popular if his only talent would have been to write funny stories. As always, his comedy is partly a devious way to hide his hints to the solution, luring the reader in a false sense of security. Heck, even running jokes are not safe and when you finally realize that a running joke was actually a significant hint thrown at you time after time, well, that hurts. In a good way. This time, Higashigawa also created an interesting non-linear, multi-route deduction map. And I apologize to those who don't understand videogames lingo. Anyway, at the end of the story, we see two different characters following up two different lines of deductions to arrive at the same murderer. While the two deductions are imperfect on their own (so you really need to have read both deductions to understand everything), it is still a refreshing way to look at the case, as both routes do lead to the correct murderer.

An interesting point of this novel was the whole disappearing pistol problem. Higashigawa not only came up with an explanation for the murderer actually having a gun in a country where it is difficult to procure a gun (which is the way it should be anyway...), he also follows up this explanation to its logical consequences. A limited amount of bullets, no use of silencers, experience in handling guns, the fact that the murder weapon is an illegally manufactured gun comes back in several ways in the deductions that lead up to the conclusion and this was really well done by Higashigawa, I think.

Interesting was also the way Higashigawa changed the setting of this novel, compared to Misshitsu no Kagi Kashimasu. The latter was clearly urban, while Misshitsu ni Mukatte Ute! is set in a big Western mansion on top of a cliff. So what did Higashigawa do? He went down the Yokomizo Seishi-route. We don't have ancient spirits of warriors cutting down people, but we do have a trio of wealthy and influential candidate fiances vying for the hand of Juujouji Sakura, the heiress of the Juujouji family (Yes, it's Jououbachi I'm thinking about). Actually, the way Ukai manages to be at the scene during the times the shooting incident happens also seems inspired by Yokomizo Seishi, with Kindaichi Kousuke often coming across murder cases while he is hired for different (less bloody) investigations. It was a funny change of tone, especially as I was so enthusiastic about the urban setting of Misshitsu no Kagi Kashimasu.

And it took me almost a month to finish this book, despite me obviously having fun with it. Why? No idea. I only know it took me two days to read the first 150 pages, afterwards I fell into a slow, slow schedule of reading two or three pages every two days or so for three weeks. And then I decided I really should finish the book last night. I hope my next book won't take this long.

Original Japanese title(s): 東川篤哉 『密室に向かって撃て!』

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Hello Mr. my yesterday

「古来より犯罪者による密室が築かれ、そして探偵により崩されていった」
『名探偵コナン 過去からの前奏曲(プレリュード)』

"Since ancient times locked rooms have been constructed by criminals, and deconstructed by detectives
"Detective Conan: Prelude From the Past"

Welcome to a new entry in Short Shorts, where the topics that don't convert to proper stand-alone posts are banished to. I actually wanted to post this Short Short later, because I usually gather at least three topics per post. But then I noticed I was already nearing the 200 character limit for the labels for this post with just two topics. Darn tags!

I really miss having a television in my room. I love Japanese variety programs (even if they are highly commercial and capable of rendering viewers brainless) and TV dramas. And this season in particular is full with interesting-looking detective series! A series based on Higashigawa Tokuya's Houkago wa Mystery to Tomo ni, a series based on Akagawa Jirou's Mikeneko Holmes no Suiri ("Tortoise-Shell Cat Holmes' Deduction")... and the one I am actually watching at the moment: Kagi no Kakatta Heya ("The Locked Room"), a series based on the three books in Kishi Yuusuke's Security Consultant Detective Enomoto Kei series (The Glass Hammer, Kitsunebi no Ie and Kagi no Kakatta Heya).

I'll admit right away that part of my enjoyment of the series derives from looking at Toda Erika playing the young attorney Aoto Junko. While there are some minor changes in the setting, the basic formula of this is still the same as the original novel series: attorney Aoto Junko (and her superior Serizawa Gou) come across suspicious suicide and accidental death cases. Their feeling tells them that it must have been murder, but these cases all occur in locked rooms. Enter security consultant Enomoto Kei (played by Arashi leader Ohno Satoshi), who with an expert knowledge concerning locks and other ways to lock rooms for their cases will find a way to open the locked rooms for our laywer duo.


It's pretty very rare for a TV series to focus completely on locked rooms (so it's not 'just' an emphasis on impossible situations), but Kagi no Kakatta Heya pulls it off perfectly. Which is also because of the fantastic source material. Especially awesome are the little models of the rooms Enomoto constructs every episode, which he then examines through a small fiber camera. It really feels like they did their best on this production, as this is an era where we usually go for easy-made CG models for these kind of reconstructions. Anyway, an awesome mystery series that has is a must-see for those people who especially like locked rooms. And Toda Erika.

And to get back to the TV-story: I also want a television to play videogames on. As of now, I just have to be content with my PSP and DS though and the last two weeks of April were mostly dedicated to playing Meitantei Conan: Kako Kara no Prelude ("Detective Conan: Prelude from the Past"), the newest Conan videogame. It's a direct sequel to last year's Detective Conan: Rondo of the Blue Jewel, featuring an almost identical game engine (with a few little new parts). Like the previous game, Prelude From the Past consists of a series of loosely connected cases which the player, assuming the roles of Conan, Shinichi and Hattori, has to solve. This time, the story concerns a case that spans over time (hence the title), Starting with a case Shinichi solved before he turned into Conan, and the culmination of that case in the present. Oh, and Kaitou KID appears fo no reason at all in the story. But he appears, so that justifies having him featuring prominently on the cover, right?


The gameplay is practically the same to Rondo of the Blue Jewel, so I refer to that review for the explanation of the deduction system. And if I concentrate on the story in Prelude From the Past, well.... it's also very similar to last year's game. The plots of the seperate stories range from the mediocre to the average, concerning impossible disappearances (which you will understand instantly) and crafty alibi tricks (which are not that crafty). The biggest problem however, is the slow, slow pacing of the stories. Most of the stories are not that difficult to solve, but it takes ages to go through all the dialogues in order to progress the story. The way the game feeds the player information is highly flawed. Compare to Gyakuten Saiban, where you still have to figure things out even after you formally finish your investigation: even as you are standing in court defending your client / accusing other people, you have to process new information. Plot-twists keep pushing you to the wall, forcing you to come up with new hypotheses and deductions on the spot. Which makes the story-telling of Gyakuten Saiban fast-paced and exciting. In Prelude From the Past, you are just talking, talking and talking, until you get to the point the game decides that is time to stop the investigation, after which it just leads your train of thought by asking questions that obviously point to the murderer.

The two things I did like of this game: the story is actually written in a way that it does not upset Conan-canon (unlike the TV drama) and the introduction of the game is hilarious with an unexpected person being pointed out as the murderer. In all other aspects, it's a clone of the previous game, but I personally liked the overall story of Rondo of the Blue Jewel better than Prelude From the Past.

And yes, Short Shorts are usually less interesting to read. Ah well, at least tomorrow's post is slightly better.

Original Japanese title(s): 貴志祐介(原) 『鍵のかかった部屋』, 『名探偵コナン 過去からの前奏曲(プレリュード)』

「からすなぜなくの」

There simply must be a corpse, and the deader the corpse the better
"Twenty Rules for Writing Detective Stories"

Wow, it's been almost two weeks. Maybe I should update more often. I actually have read and played and seen quite some things the last few weeks, but there is a proble with the conversion of my experiences into written words. As in I have several half-written concept posts and I don't think any of them are going to work the way they are written now. But because I am lazy and really want to get them out of the way, I'll finish them all the way they are. Today. Before noon. Though the posting will be spread. There. I said it. And so it will be.

[addendum] You know what, I am not going to finish them before noon. Mainly because I think I will just throw most of them into a future short short post. That is way more efficient. 

I think I already mentioned we sometimes have reading club-esque sessions at the Kyoto University Mystery Club. It's pretty much what you expect: the leader of the sessions chooses a novel the attending members have to read, the leader presents his opinions about the book and then members can state what they thought about the book and the presentation. The level of discussion is actually quite high, with people coming up with stories on the spot that would have been better than most of the reviews I write.

Last week we discussed Kanou Tomoko's debut work Nanatsu no Ko ("Seven Children"). Within the novel-universe, there is a novel called Seven Children written by Saeki Ayano, which is about the strange events the young boy Hayate encounters. And with strange events I don't mean bloody murders, but just small events that may make you think "?!". One stolen watermelon. Blue crayons being stolen. Little occurences to which most people would shrug. But not for Hayate. And luckily for him, he has a little girl friend, Ayame, who has a wonderful knack for pointing out why or those strange events happened. The university student Irie Komako is a big fan of this novel and lately she has encountered a bunch of little mysteries herself too! As these mysteries remind her of the stories in Saeki's Seven Children, Komako decides to write Saeki a fan-letter, telling her also about her own experiences. But it seems like Saeki is no less a detective than her own creation Ayame, as Saeki's reply letters always explain the strange mysteries Komako encountered!

Nanatsu no Ko is a representative work in the subgenre of 'everyday life mysteries'. I am not really sure whether there is an equivalent English term for this subgenre, but it basically refers to mystery stories.... that you encounter in your daily life. Yes, I just repeated the words in the term. Anyway, the mysteries you find in this short story collection are not murder and other foul crimes, but just odd occurences. 99% of the people would just shrug and forget it. If there was a proper use for the word 'cozy', it would be for this subgenre. Because this is really cozy. Just events that anyone really could encounter. To be honest, I did find it a bit lacking (murder please), but I can definitely understand why people would like this light, almost feel-happy, mystery subgenre.

I usually go with a story-by-story summary/review for short stories, but I am afraid they would tell way too much because of the story-within-a-story setup (which would require me to write a lot). Like I mentioned, while I thought there was definitely a nice feeling to the stories, I found most of them lacking. The problem here is that there is almost no way back once you fall into the trap of becoming one of the 99% of the people who would shrug at the mysteries presented here. Which is what I had somewhere around the fourth story. I thought the best story to be the fifth story, Ichimannisennengo no Vega ("The Vega of 12000 Years Later"), which features a gigantic plastic dinosaurus disappearing from a department store, only to appear at the playground of an elementary school. Which was actually probably the story that seemed the least like a problem you'd encounter in real life.

I did like how this short story collection actually featured a storyline that developed over the course of the seperate stories, which is something I actually like very much. I also liked the rather light-ish approach of the two detectives Ayame (in the novel-within-the-novel) and Saeki. They practically never say it was like this, but they always carefully propose solutions that might be correct. It's just a guess, but I think it might be like this. It fits the light-hearted tone of this volume perfectly and is actually quite refreshing to see, being used to the absolute confidence most great detectives have. Finally, I think this is actually an excellent book for getting people into the mystery genre. Nanatsu no Ko can be read perfectly as a 'normal' book, but it is also constructed very good as a mystery actually. I might not be a fan of the content, but the way the stories are structured, the way Kanou weaves her hints into the plot is really good and it never feels unfair.

In short, not my cup of tea, but certainly a well-constructed light-hearted 'cozy' short story collection.

Original Japanese title(s): 加納朋子 『ななつのこ』: 「スイカジュースの涙」 / 「モヤイの鼠」 / 「一枚の写真」 / 「バス・ストップで」 / 「一万二千年後のヴェガ」 / 「白いタンポポ」 / 「ななつのこ」

Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Adventure of the Comic Book Crusader

"Now, like shonen manga there's only one story that really works for shojo manga"
"ONLY ONE?"
 "That's right"
 "The heroine screams 'I'm late, I'm late,' while running out of her house (because she's clumsy)!! There are no alternatives to this beginning!! Another important detail: she has to be chewing on a piece of toast!!"
"Even a Monkey Can Draw Manga"

Totally grabbing this chance to talk about Thermae Romae. Because this review is related to manga. And Thermae Romae is a manga. About the Roman and Japanese bathing cultures. Which sounds strange. And it is! But it is hilarious! The story follows the Roman bathhouse architect Lucius, who is a bit of a slump. One day, he gets transported to modern-day Japan, where he learns about the Japanese bathing culture (sentou, onsen etc.) and brings back those ideas back to ancient Rome. And now it's a live-action movie too! It's a hilarious movie (also because Abe Hiroshi stars as Lucius) and definitely worth a view. And you even get a bonus-manga with both Lucius and Abe Hiroshi if you go the theaters now. In Japan.

But now back to the review. Which like I said is related to manga. Komori Kentarou's Lowell-jou no Misshitsu ("The Locked Room in the Castle Lowell") starts with the duo of Hori and Megu lost in the woods. They end up in a mysterious house, where an old man sends them into a shoujo manga. Yes, you read that correctly. The two are transported into the world of the comic series The Locked Room in the Castle Lowell, with Meg (Megu) starring as a poor village girl who gets chosen as the new bride of the prince of Castle Lawell (she gets dumped though) and Holy (Hori) being the second prince of Castle Lowell. And then a lot of things happen which you would expect in a shoujo fantasy comic, with magical beings, fights to the death, fights for love, wars between tribes and finally, a locked room murder (ok, the latter is not a staple of the shoujo manga. It should be though). It is up to the King of the Stars, the current head of the Detective Department in the castle, to solve the murder on the replacement bride-to-be in the tower room which was locked and under constant surveillance. And how are Megu and Hori supposed to get back to the real world?

Komori was awarded the Rampo Prize for this novel at the very, very young age of 16. Which is quite an accomplishment. And I admit, the novel is fairly well written, though certainly not without its faults. For example, Komori spends a lot of time creating a background story for the castle and everything that is really interesting, but of absolutely no importance to the locked room murder. Heck, it is not even of importance to most of the story. It therefore feels like a waste of time for this particular novel and as the murder doesn't even happen until the last third of the book, I kinda wonder whether this was really necessary. I would have loved to have seen either those story elements incorporated more strongly with the main mystery, or have seen Komori worked out his background story into a different story.

The locked room murder of this novel is sorta famous if you move in the right circles and is certainly highly original, but definitely unfair if you are expecting a normal mystery. In my mind though, Komori set it up a bit too obvious and I already suspected what was going to happen even before the murder actually happened (hey, if you have to read more than 200 pages to get the murder, you have time to think), but I can totally imagine why someone would overlook this solution. I thought it was an interesting locked room murder, but I definitely this would have worked out much better as a short story (or even as a real comic), rather than a novel.

And as I was writing this, I thought: but who would expect a normal mystery of a story that starts with two people getting sucked into a comic book?  Maybe this is just a fair mystery. Hmm.

And apparently it is obligitory to insert a locked room lecture in a debut novel. Was it really needed here? No. Did it pull me out of the 'manga'-fantasy-world with its references to Carr and Rampo? Yes. I once thought that locked room lectures were super-special-awesome, but everybody has one nowadays (even if the story does not really ask for one) and very few actually add something new to the discussion. It feels like a chore to read them lately, to be honest.

The comic book-angle is pretty hilarious at the beginning of the story, with Meg for example being surpised how much handsomer Hori has become as the comic character Holy, or how everybody's eyes cover one third of their faces. And like I said, the background setting and all are precisely what I expect from a fantasy shoujo manga, though I have to admit that I actually haven't ever read one. Except for Banana Fish. Which is kinda different. But I totally imagine Red River to be something like The Locked Room in the Castle Lowell (Note: I probably have no idea what I'm talking about).

Hmm, I couldn't write as much about this book as I had expected. Though now I think about it, it's not that strange though. Two-third of this novel is just a shoujo manga (but in prose), so not of particular interest here, while the actual murder is interesting and original, but I can't write too much about it without spoiling the surprise. Aaargh.

And I have ABSOLUTELY no idea how the cover is related to the contents. Is that a heart? And... what... Uggh.

Original Japanese title(s): 小森健太郎 『ローウェル城の密室』

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Death on the Moor

 「なんだったら、僕が手伝うよ」
「 ありがとう。でも、初めは自分でやってみるわ。ほら、シャーロック・ホームズだって、なんでも自分でやるでしょ。ワトスンはただそばにいて、うろうろするだけだわ」
『高校殺人事件』

"I'll help you if it's OK with you"
"Thanks, but I want try it by myself first. You know, Sherlock Holmes also did everything himself. Watson was just hanging around doing nothing"
"High School Murder Case"

I already mentioned it in my review of Matsumoto Seichou's Ten to Sen ("Points and Lines"): I am not particularly a fan of his writings. I love Ten to Sen, but that is sadly enough only one of the few orthodox detectives Matsumoto wrote, as Matsumoto became famous as the pioneer of the shakai-ha (social school) that dominated the Japanese detective novel market until the late 80s. It might be a fantastic movement if you're into police proceduals and (relatively) realistic depictions of post-war Japanese society, but I prefer the locked room murder in the haunted mansion.

So I was not sure what to think about Koukou Satsujin Jiken ("High School Murder Case"). It was recommended by someone at the Mystery Club as an interesting juvenile detective novel. Which in itself was quite surprising, as I didn't even know that Matsumoto Seichou wrote juvenile fiction. Even more surprising was the fact that Koukou Satsujin Jiken was also supposed to be an orthodox detective novel! As such, this novel was very different from most of Matsumoto's works and when I came across the book for a mere 105 yen at my local bookstore, I thought I might as well take the chance. Originally serialized under the title of Akai Tsuki ("Red Moon") between 1959-1960, the story is set at the Musashino plains (Tokyo). We are first introduced to the high school student Konishi, nicknamed Noppo. Noppo would have been simply be characterized as a gothic nowadays, with his love for writing dark and edgy poems that are about despair, death and everything nice. And one day, he is found dead, strangled and thrown into a pond in the forest. Together with another dead body. The narrator Yajima and Noppo's other friends feel compelled to avenge Noppo's death and start an investigation into who killed Noppo and why.

The first thing I thought: wow, the narrator talks in a rather non-juvenile way. No juvenile talks like that nowadays and to be honest, I doubt that high school students in 1959 talked like this. I mean, I am aware that language changes and that especially youth language is very fast with changes, but all of the characteristics of the narrator's speech pattern are what is nowadays considered characteristics of elderly men in fiction. Did it really change this much in 40~60 years? It was really distracting at any rate and it certainly didn't feel like a young narrator telling me the story. The narration is also very dry and it was harder to get through the book than I had expected.

But to get more into the contents: it is very clear that this was a serialized story. Some parts are repeated over and over (explaining what happened earlier in the story), which really should have been edited in the final version. Matsumoto also seems to have written this story without a real outline, as he makes things up just as he goes. The result? A bland adventure story about how a boy goes out suspecting mysterious people who keep popping up for no particular reason until his supersmart cousin comes to solve the case in no time. The reader probably already solved the case 100 pages earlier, as there is absolutely nothing surprising to the plot. Oh, also note that Noppo's other friends have practically no function in the story and are highly inter-changeable. You'd wonder why Matsumoto bothered to give them all names and tried to give them personalities in the first chapter, when they are treated as one single entity (THE FRIENDS) the second chapter on.

Koukou Satsujin Jiken probably kinda worked as a juvenile detective novel when it was published. Kinda. But then you remember that you could also be reading Rampo's Shounen Tantei Dan or something like that and you realise how much Koukou Satsujin Jiken fails. The novel lacks a youthful, a playful heart. It misses the fun the Koigakubo Academy Detective Club novels have for example. Which are incidentally also set in Musashino. This is really Matsumoto Seichou trying to write a juvenile detective novel. Which at least in this time and age does not feel as a juvenile novel.

You know what, I don't even feel like writing more about Koukou Satsujin Jiken. It's really not worth the read. I'll just keep on re-reading Ten to Sen over and over again (oh, and I happened to have finally bought a Japanese copy of Ten to Sen, which features photos of the important locations of the story :3)

Original Japanese title(s): 松本清張 『高校殺人事件』