Two's company, three's a crowd
With more and more English-language blogs on detective fiction popping up, I always hope more on Japanese detective fiction appear... but it never happens. I'll just keep waiting.
A classic scene: the detective (most probably Poirot) gathers every suspect in the drawing room and states everyone in the room had the motive for wanting to have killed the victim. It's only after extensive fingerpointing that he moves on to the real suspect. In Furenzoku Satsujin Jiken, this method would have been a bit troublesome because this novel works, and in a way fails, because everyone has a motive for something.
This works at one hand, because the main problem of this novel is the mystery behind the motive(s) behind the many murders. Is it a serial murder case all done by one and the same person? Or a non-serial murder, with multiple murderers working at the same time? Just as you think you found a pattern, another murder pushes your ideas towards a different direction, keeping you on your toes all the way to the conclusion. You can't accuse Furenzoku Satsujin Jiken of being boring, or at least not after the first murder.
But the story also fails on the other hand, because it is too complex at times. By which I mean, what the heck are all these characters doing in this story?! There are way too many characters here, who are all interconnected. A is married to B but in love with C who is love with D who hates B and E but like F etcetera. So A might have motive to kill C and D, but not E and maybe F. And B might want to kill A, C and D but not F, but.... I didn't count them, but according to Wikipedia, 29 persons, including the servants, are running around the Utagawa mansion and that is just... confusing. Especially with the ridiculous relations between them. Even if you consider that fact that people get killed off rather easily and fast in this novel,Furenzoku Satsujin Jiken overdoes it. There is no correlation diagram in this novel, but I advice people who are going to read this to make one yourself: it will save you.
Also, most characters are absolutely horrible and it makes no sense at all for them to all be at one place. When you read a detective, you won't be surprised when it turns out that everybody had a motive to kill the old man, but you might wonder why the old man allowed all those people who hated him to gather at one place, right? Here we have the Utagawa mansion, where everybody is having an illicit relation with somebody else, or at the very least hoping to have one and they are all artists, which is usually used as another word for 'unpredictable', 'crazy' in these kind of books, so of course something is going to happen. But it is a riddle why all these people would gather here on their own free will! Most of the time, I couldn't care less about who died, as nobody appealed to me. Which is rare.
Oh, and for those interested in linguistics and the Japanese language, this is another of those books where the use of words like kichigai (madman) and semushi (hunchback) is still intact: they are not allowed to be used on TV anymore (political correctness and stuff), but you still occassionally come across them in novels.
Overall, Furenzoku Satsujin Jiken is an okay story. I really did like the main problem, but the book does suffer from misuse of characters. In the Touzai Mystery Best, this book ranked 19th. I certainly wouldn't rank it higher, but it indeed has it's good points. Also, for those interested in Sakaguchi Ango, and not-literate in Japanese, the animated series UN-GO (Ango) is based on his mystery works and available for streaming on websites like Crunchy Roll.
Original Japanese title(s): 坂口安吾 『不連続殺人事件』