Monday, February 4, 2013

Raindrop in Twilight

「前々から思っていたんだが、お前を含めた本格ミステリマニアと呼ばれる連中は、 生粋のマルクス主義者とそっくりだな。排他的で、視野が狭くて、言ってることは百年前から変わっていない」
(中略)
「まあ聞け。本格推理小説と社会主義の、現代における共通点は何だか知ってるか?」
(中略)
「本気でそんなものと取り組んでる連中は、救いようのない馬鹿ばかりってことだ」

"I've been thinking this for a long time, but these mystery maniacs, including you, are just like those Marxists. Exclusionists, small views on the world and saying the same things for over 100 years"
(...)
You know what what orthodox detectives and socialism have in common in today's world? The only people serious about them, are fools nobody can save anymore"
"Twilight"

From a story that touches upon old religions, to a story that touches upon new religions. But they are both new orthodox novels. Which also sounds religious. It (religion or the mystery genre) is the opium of the people? That quote above almost starts to look logical.... (or: I need more sleep)

Before I actually start the review, a little bit of linguistics. Like most languages, the Japanese language started out as an exclusively oral language, after which they adopted the Chinese script for their own language. In the modern Japanese language, you have 'pure' Japanese words, and words of Chinese origin. 'Pure' Japanese words originally don't have a script, but with the introduction of the Chinese script, the practice of ateji was born: a word which written with Chinese characters, but pronounced as the Japanese word to which it corresponded to. Anyway, to come to the point, the word tasogare, dusk or twilight, is nowadays written with the Chinese characters meaning 'the setting of the gold (sun)' (nothing to do with the pronuncation), but etymologically, the word derives from the 'pure' Japanese taso-gare, or who-there, as in the time of the day where you can't see clearly anymore, thus having to ask who is walking there. And so, we have the modern way of writing this word, tasogare, which have to do with the actual meaning of the word, but also an older version, which is etymologically more logical, which is written with the Chinese characters for who and he.

And the title of Norizuki Rintarou's Tasogare ("Twilight") is actually more strongly connected with the etymological origin of this word, than just the meaning 'twilight'. Who-is-he would seem to be more appropiate, because that is the main problem of the novel. Kai Tatsurou, the head of the new religion Pan-Ether Order, has been receiving several threatening letters and there are clues that indicate that the writer is someone close to the top of the order. Weary of the police, Tatsurou asks mystery writer (and amateur detective) Norizuki Rintarou to investigate who the writer is. Rintarou however isn't able to prevent that, precisely as predicted in the letters, Tatsurou vanishes from a locked and observed room at the top of an eighty-meter high tower.  At the same time, superintendent Norizuki has been working on the case of a headless stiff, supposedly the man who was having a double life in the apartment the body was found in, but a big surpise awaits father and son when the Norizukis discover that their two cases are actually connected. Who was the corpse, and why was he decapitated?

And it's actually not a locked room mystery, because that little problem gets solved almost the instant Rintarou finds out Tatsurou vanished from the room.

But that doesn't mean that Tasogare isn't awesome! In fact, it's the best novel by Norizuki I've read until now, as all the things he likes to insert in his novel seem to work the best here. Norizuki is strongly influenced by Queen and it's clear from the numerous themes and motives that run through his work, but it is implemented all very well here and Tasogare offers both the stranger settings of Norizuki's short stories, as well as the broader scale and thematic problems that are so typical of his longer works.

Norizuki and Queen practically always add up to the so-called Late Period Queen Problems and because I seemed to have worded it somewhat coherently in my review of Norizuki's Yoriko no Tame, a quote:

Norizuki is also a Queen-reseacher who specializes in what he calls 'the Late Period Queen problems': meta-problems concerning the role of the detective in fiction, as addressed by Queen himself in many of his later novels. To reduce it to two main points: the detective (and the reader) can never say with absolutely certainty that he has access to all of the hints and clues that lead to the truth. Except for the (meta) explanation that the writer at one points abritrary decides that the story should end and thus isn't going to offer any new hints. So the solution the detective offers at the end of a story can never be guaranteed to be correct. The second point is that the detective himself is not a omnipotient figure with no relation to the murder drama: his presence alone already has presence on the actions of the other players of the tragedy and who is to say that the real murderer hasn't calculated for the interference of a detective through the use of false hints?
 
The first point is a major factor in the structure of Tasogare, because like many of the Queen novels, the story revolves around a lot of false solutions. Similar to Queen's The Greek Coffin Mystery, Rintarou comes up with great deductions based on the information available to him, only to find out he is wrong because he simply wasn't aware of certain facts. This issue does have interesting results: it makes the infallible great detective a lot more human, as he actually makes mistakes, but this happens not at the cost of the character, nor at the cost of the reader. The reader isn't forced to weed through passages about the detective's private life, he doesn't have to read about his inner turmoils or what he ate that morning, but the detective himself is also made human, without removing that Great Detective (TM) glamour: sure, he made mistakes, but the deductions he did show at the moment were nonetheless absolutely brilliant, and it wasn't completely his fault, because the information that was needed for the actual, right solution wasn't available to him yet (because of reasons X in-universe, and because the writer didn't offer it to him, as a meta-explanation).

Tasogare is a fairly lengthy novel, but you'll speed through it because the plot has momentum. Rintarou (and other characters too) keeps coming up with new deductions based on what is available to him and while most often they are proven wrong to him, none of the deductions are completely useless as they often form the basis for the next deduction. It might seem like random trial and error, but it is more like scientific research, where researches that prove a hypothesis to be wrong in themselves are worthwhile because the fact that a hypothesis is wrong, is in itself an useful fact. A lot of great detectives never seem to explain anything until the very last moment, and Ellery himself said that was because he wished to avoid coming up with wrong deductions like in The Greek Coffin Mystery again, but a structure where the detective does say what he thinks and acts on it, offers a much more dynamic reading experience to the reader.

Of course, the first Late Period Queen Problem does pose the question of how do you know that the final solution the detective arrives at, is actually the truth? Well, you don't, unless the writer himself chooses to do something about that and that is precisely what Norizuki did (by inserting neutrally narrated passages, which are thus 'truth'). Seems articifial, but it actually works in the context of the story and in fact, it is done in such a way that really complements this theme of uncertainty. In fact, one of the major factors in this story isn't even known to Rintarou throughout most of the story, but made clear to the reader in the prologue, yet it does not interfere with the theme, nor with the internal logic of the story.

Queen fans will also recognize other familiar themes, like the double life (as in Halfway House) and a bit about religions (And On the Eight Day), but the other major Queen influence on Norizuki, and Tasogare is logic. Pure reasoning. Like mentioned above, there is a large amount of deducing done in this novel, but it also the quality of the deductions that is important. It is hard to really gauge the quality of a deduction string (this deserves an A and this a B?), but logic is something Norizuki specializes in, and the problem of the decapitated body is certainly something to behold. Rintarou might be making faulty deductions, but the way they are constructed is something a lot of writer could learn from.

Norizuki's logic, like Arisugawa's logic by the way, is a variation of the typical Queen logic. A typical Queen murder scene would be one where something is wrong, be it a missing hat, or a naked man, or a room where everything has been turned backwards. Deduction would start from the question, why the murder scene was left the way it was. Norizuki (and Arisagawa)'s murder scenes are often less enigmatic (well, I guess that Tasogare's headless corpse does count as a strange murder scene...), but likewise their deduction style often revolves the question of why a certain action was taken by the murder, which in turn oftens is based the flow of knowledge (who knew what when) which compelled the killer to his enigmatic action.

I am more of a fan of Norizuki's short stories (Bouken, Shinbouken and Kouseki are must-reads!) and I've had bumpy experiences with his novels, but everything works in Tasogare, as a standalone detective novel, as well as a piece of meta-fiction that deals with thematic problems from Queen. It might be a bit easy to see through a certain trick near the end, because the concept is a familiar one (and the reader actually has an advantage over Rintarou most of the time), but in Tasogare, the destination is just part of the fun, the journey is at least as important.

Original Japanese title(s): 法月綸太郎 『誰彼』

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