Monday, February 4, 2013

「Why Why どうしよう 嫌われそうなこのいとしさ」

「気に入った相手を見つけるのは、得意だった。相手に気に入ってもらうのが不得意だった」
『0の殺人』

"It wasn't hard finding someone he liked. It was harder to be liked by someone"

 Animal Crossing... eating... my...time. Must...resist...

Shiroi Ie no Satsujin ("The White House Murders") is the second book by Utano Shougo, one of the first writers of the new orthodox movement. It is also the second book in the three-part House series, which feature the detective Shinano George solving mysteries involving, well, houses. So in that sense, you'd expect it to be a bit like Ayatsuji Yukito's Yakata (mansion) series, but as I have only read this novel by Utano, I can't comment too much on that yet (yes, Utano is like a gigantic black hole in my reading, especially as I focus on early new orthodox!). But in contrast to the Yakata series, the murders in the book aren't even really connected to the titular white house strangely enough. In the mountains of Yatsugatake lies the villa of the wealthy Ikari family. Next to it, the titular white house, home to Tatsuya, eldest son of the current head of the family and also a believer in Zoroastrianism. As always, the family is gathered here for Christmas. This year the tutor of Shizuka, daughter of the current head of the family, is also present, as Shizuka has to prepare for the entry exams for university. Things go their way, until one night Shizuka is found strangled. And not only strangled, but also hung upside down from the ceiling, inside her own, locked, bedroom. The Ikari family however has very bad experiences with the police and media and hope to hush up Shizuka's murder, as well as find/punush the murderer themselves. Shizuka's tutor suggest hiring Shinano George, a personal friend who happens to be a private detective, who is promptly called for.

The set-up feels strangely close to Natsuki Shizuko's W no Higeki, but quickly goes a different direction, by the way.

What to say about Shiroi Ie no Satsujin. I won't outright say it is a bad novel, but... there were too many times I had to say "close.... but not enough". For starters, we have the locked room murder of Shizuka, but there was actually no coherent reason for the murderer to go through all that trouble. Sure, it is an interesting trick (I have seen it elsewhere before, though I don't know where the original trick first came from), but it seemed more like the murderer (= author) just wanted to use the trick, without coming up with a good reason for actually employing it. And technically, the trick wouldn't even work the way it is described in the book (as you can see from the actual maps included in the book!).

The same with the final murder (yes, there are multiple murders in this novel), which involves a body lying in a snowfield with no footprints nearing it. Once again, a trick that can work in the right circumstances (and once again, a variation on something I have seen often), but Utano can't convince me that employing this trick was necessary, or even beneficary to the cause of the murderer. Especially as the trick itself only works if you can guarantee nobody is going to enter the snowfield, leaving footprints. And considering that these two murders/tricks are actually also the clues to point to who the murderer is... It's really as if the murderer was just saying, yes, it was me all along!

The whole novel feels like a collection of ideas with good intention, but bad execution. The book starts with a map of the mansion? Too bad you don't actually need them. The same with the amount of effort that went into the maps of the locked room (which was cute, but again, not needed at all). A character practicing Zoroastrianism? Not bad on its own, but again, it has so little influence on the whole story, that I have to ask the question, was this needed? Why tell me about Zoroastrianism if it matters so little to the overall plot? Why is the title "The White House Murders", if two of the murders happen inside the main villa, while the other takes places just outside the white house? Why set the story in a mountain villa at all, if they keep going up and down in their cars there? Why does it take ages for characters to realize the flaws in their own deductions, even though it's a flaw at the most fundamental level?! And after a while, you just stop caring.

New orthodox novels / writers tend to be very aware of the tropes of classic detective fiction, using them like they did back then, but they are also aware of their flaws, thus also repositioning / adjusting them for use in modern days. In Shiroi Ie no Satsujin, I can see that Utano knows his grammar, he knows the tropes of the genre, but the implementation of it is... not quite right. It's like hearing someone speaking a foreign language imperfectly, the individual parts are grammatically correct, but somewhere, it feels wrong because of the intonation or a particular word order which isn't wrong per se, but not natural.

So no, I wouldn't recommend this novel. Not sure how Utano's other novels are, but I have to say that he has dropped quite hard on the priority list.

Original Japanese title(s): 歌野昌午 『白い家の殺人』

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