It's about time I get started on the review backlog. Today, a book I read probably over a month, maybe even two months ago.
On their way back to the station after a trip, the members of the theater troupe Dark Tent get lost in a sudden snow storm. As they try to find their way back in the forest, they arrive at a big mansion facing a lake. As it's already dark, they decide to ask for shelter, which they get, albeit somewhat reluctantly. The mansion, the Kirigoe Mansion, is inhabitated by a group of people who have strange ways of making their guest feel 'welcome'. The guests are each given a room and a great dinner, but the master of the mansion absolutely refuses to appear in front of his guests, and his servants are also doing the mere minimum. And the guests are repeatedly reminded of the fact that the Kirigoe Mansion isn't a hotel, so they shouldn't wander around. Which may also be for their own sake, because the mansion seems to have a strange power of 'foretelling' the future of those inside its walls. And considering the title Kirigoetei Satsujin Jiken ("The Kirigoe Mansion Murder Case"), it shouldn't be a surprise that the Kirigoe Mansion is also the setting of a mysterious chain of murders. The twist: the victims are all people of the theater troupe, so the master of the mansion figures that it's their problem: the murderer is logically also one of them, so they have to find out who did it themselves.
Kirigoetei Satsujin Jiken is a pretty well-received novel by Ayatsuji Yukito. It's the third novel by Ayatsuji that made it into the Touzai Mystery Best 100 and often hear positive things about it and... yes, it is actually an excellent mystery novel, but I for some reason didn't enjoy it as much as I did other novels by Ayatsuji. And I have no idea why.
For this is really a very competent mystery novel. It is quickly revealed that the murders in the mansion are actually following a pattern (i.e. nursery rhyme murders) and the way the members of the theater troupe deal with the closed circle situation, as well as the mystery behind their host and the mansion make the 600~700 pages fly by (the start is a bit slow though, but it has a killer tempo afterwards). The truth behind the nursery rhyme murders is logical and totally solvable and it is absolutely clear that Ayatsuji is very familiar, and skilled in using tropes like the closed circle, mitate murders, the 'mountain villa in the snow storm', the mysterious host and servants and Western mansions as a setting, as these are also the building blocks for his Yakata series. In fact, this novel was written for a different publisher than th one for the Yakata series, but one could see Kirigoetei Satsujin Jiken as a spin-off title.
But a slightly weaker spin-off. Maybe the novel doesn't really appeal to me, because it's a bit too classic. Which might sound strange, considering my preferences in the genre, but in the Yakata series, Ayatsuji seems to do more surprising with the tropes. From examination, reconstruction and deconstruction, to simply coming up with grand tricks that work on a totally different scale than you'd usually see. Kirigoetei Satsujin Jiken is a lot safer in that respect, and slightly disappointing. Every time I recognized a trope here, I was expecting Ayatsuji to play around with it, but alas it's mostly just using the tropes as is. In a good way, and many writers would dream of writing something like Kirigoetei Satsujin Jiken, but to me, it's a bit underwhelming. But like I said, this is overall a very well received novel, so I am the minority here.
The best part of the novel is the setting of Kirigoe Mansion. Western mansions are of course Ayatsuji's thing, considering his Yakata series, but this has to be the scariest one, mainly because this house actually seems to have magical powers (that don't have actual influence on the mystery part of the story: you can solve the whole thing through logic). It reminded me a bit of the 1977 horror fantasy (comedy?) movie Hausu, with a building that seems to be keeping its inhabitants inside to have some bloody pleasure. No human-eating piano here though. Ayatsuji Yukito has a strong reputation in novels with a strong and memorable settings, but Kirigoetei Satsujin Jiken is certainly among the best of those works. Like I wrote in my review of Ellery Queen's There Was An Old Woman, you have to have certain setting for a nursery rhyme murder to work, a slightly deranged plae where anything can happen. Well, Kirigoe Mansion is that place.
Overall, this is a strong, classical work of mystery fiction. Some consider it among the best of Ayatsuji's works, I find it a bit too predictable, but it's definitely a good mystery that's worth a read.
Original Japanese title(s): 綾辻行人 『霧越邸殺人事件』