"So you also prepared for this? Hmm. I see. But I heard a lot of young men joined the religion after Nosaka Kimiko took over as the representative. Those guys are just into her."
"No way you're goin' to do the same?"
"I wouldn't just join a religion like that. But if they would hand out pamphlets with Nosaka Kimiko's portret on them near Kawaramachi, yeah, I would take them. A title as stiff as 'representative' doesn't fit her. It might be a joke of sorts, but I see why they worship her as the "queen" in the media"
"You're just into her too. What a joke, a queen! The only Queen I worship is Ellery Qu.."
"The Castle of the Queendom"
Everyone been enjoying the last few episodes of Agatha Christie's Poirot? I'll probably write something after the last episode is broadcast, but I have to say that I have been mostly pleased up until now. Just two more weeks!
Student Alice series
Gekkou Game - Y no Higeki '88 ("Moonlight Game - The Tragedy of Y '88")
Kotou Puzzle ("The Island Puzzle")
Soutou no Akuma ("Double-Headed Devil")
Jooukoku no Shiro ("The Castle of the Queendom")
The members of the Eito University Mystery Club (EMC) have been involved in several puzzling murder cases, but they could always rely on their club president Egami Jirou to solve the crime and save them. In Jooukoku no Shiro ("The Castle of the Queendom") however, it's Egami who needs help. Or does he? Egami seems to have suddenly disappeared and the members (Oda, Nobunaga, Maria and Alice) fear something might have happened to him. They find clues that seem to indicate that Egami has gone to the mountain village of Kamikura, the home of the headquarters of the new age religion the Human Species Society. HSS was founded by Nosaka Mikage, who after her encounter with the alien Peripari, started to prepare humankind for the coming of the aliens. The current head of HSS is Nosaka Kimiko, who because of her beauty is refered to as 'the Queen', living in her 'castle' that is HSS HQ. The EMC members eventually find their beloved club president inside the 'castle', but during a tour of HSS headquarters, a guard is found murdered near the 'sacred cave' where Pelipali is to return again. The EMC members naturally want to contact the police, but the brass of the HSS say they want to solve the murder themselves to keep the scandal to a minimum (new religions are always watched with a suspicous eye), and basically hold the EMC members captured inside the 'castle', until the case is solved. Of course, the fact that even more murders happen during their confinement is a bit worrying. It is up to the EMC members to solve the crime and regain their freedom.
Ah, my beloved Student Alice series! Whereas Arisugawa Alice's Writer Alice series can be a hit or a miss series, and is more like his safer, 'steady-income' series, the Student Alice series has always maintained a very high standard as an orthodox detective series. From Gekkou Game on (the first book in the series and also Arisugawa's debut work), the series has been among the best if it comes to being a spiritual successor to the Ellery Queen novels, with beautiful deductive chains leading to the one truth. Jooukoku no Shiro is the last novel of the series for the moment, so I had been kinda 'saving' it, but now I've finally read it. And I was not disappointed.
There are three major characteristics to the novels in Student Alice series; 1) precise deductive reasoning that lead to the identity of the murderer, 2) a closed circle situation and 3) an element of a youth adventure novel brought by the members of the EMC. Let's first look at the mystery of Jooukoku no Shiro. Kotou Puzzle still holds the title of having the most impressive deduction chain of the series (heck, one of the best in the long history of detective fiction, period), but this novel doesn't disappoint either. The process of identifying characteristics of the murderer and see who fits the profile sounds easy, but actually doing it, and doing it in a way that doesn't seem cheap, is another thing and Arisugawa really comes up with a great explanation of how to identify the murderer. It's amazing what one can infer from just one object and it's these kind of novels that really appeal to me in the mystery genre. In Jooukoku no Shiro, the deductions that lead to the murderer are all basically based off one item. This seems similar to Kotou Puzzle, but that had a long, complex single chain of deductions that led to the murderer (X, therefore, Y, therefore Z etc.), while Jooukoku no Shiro has several, shorter deductions that start by looking at the item in question from different angles. Different, but definitely great stuff. And of course, there is a Challenge to the Reader!
The closed circle setting employed here is the most captivating of the whole series, I think. Kotou Puzzle and Soutou no Akuma had closed circle situations because of fairly natural circumstances (geography, weather). The vulcano eruption in Gekkou Game is a natural phenomena, I guess, but it felt so artificial I just couldn't take it all too seriously. Jooukoku no Shiro has the protagonists held prisonor in the Human Species Society HQ, which is actually a lot creepier. It brings elements like questioning whether the HSS has a hidden agenda for holding them captured, and also elements of planning a prison escape. Jooukoku no Shiro is the most dynamic of the series, with the protagonists trying to solve the murder, and trying to regain their freedom. The book is also by far the longest of the whole series, but it never drags.
The setting of a small group confined in a small community with a common religion/belief/goal/characteristic/something to hide is not uncommon (in a variety of genres). I mostly associate it with Yokomizo Seishi and Trick (especially Trick), but who can forget Ellery Queen's little adventure in And On the Eight Day? Original, it isn't, but it can definitely add the right amount of suspense (of us against them) to a genre that can occassonally feel a bit slow.
And the youth novel element comes alive quite good. Because of circumstances, the EMC members were often forced to work seperatedly in the previous novels, so this is the first time we see the whole team (including Maria, who joined in the second novel) acting as a team, reacting to each other and also sharing stories about themselves and their lives as students. In English-language orthodox detective fiction, it seems that (university) students aren't that common a protagonist-type. In Japan however, with the New Orthodox (or New Authentic) school basically starting from university mystery clubs, the student-detective was actually relatively common for a time (just take a look at all the debut novels of the New Authentic school for example). The Student Alice series is the only original New Authentic school series that still has students as its protagonists, but I find it an entertaining setting.
Nothing bad? Well, no. It has the most horrible map of a building I've ever seen. Sure, the precise architecture of the 'castle' isn't needed to solve the crime, but even after finishing the book I still don't know how all the towers and 'flying saucer' buildings are connected...
But in conclusion, a very solid detective novel that should appeal to anyone who likes the genre. There is thrill, shock and suspense, but also a great mystery that shows that pure logic is still the best way to solve a crime. Arisugawa Alice's Student Alice series is definitely one any fan of the genre should try.
Original Japanese title(s): 有栖川有栖 『女王国の城』