Monday, February 25, 2013

Haunted House Hang-Up

 「恋人同士だったわけであるまいし、いい加減、ふっきらなければ。いつでも学生時代の思い出を引きずるなて、女々しすぎる ―われながら、そう思う」
『真かまいたちの夜 11人目の訪問者(サスペクト)』

"It wasn't like we were dating. I have to stop thinking about my student days and get over it like a man, I thought"
"True Night of the Kamaitachi - The Eleventh Suspect"

March will probably be a bit light on review posts, because I'll be moving back to the Netherlands in a few weeks, meaning my reading schedule will suffer a bit. Then again, I haven't been posting in a regular schedule since... quite some time anyway. It wouldn't be much different from previous months, if I were to post four or five reviews in the last week of March, I guess..

Readers of this blog might remember that I absolutely love the Kamaitachi no Yoru ("Night of the Kamaitachi") games. The first game introduced us to the duo of Tooru and Mari, who find themselves trapped with a brutal murderer in a pension cut off from the outside world because of a snowstorm. Tooru and Mari returned also for the second and third game, but with the story of this duo (and the accompanying cast) finished in the third entry, Chunsoft was free to create a new cast and setting for the latest Kamaitachi no Yoru.

Shin Kamaitachi no Yoru 11 Ninme no Suspect ("True Night of the Kamaitachi - The Eleventh Suspect") starts with aspiring young writer Sakamaki Kaito traveling to the prefecture of Iwate to gather information for his newest book. He's booked for a stay at the pension Brownie, which lies somewhere far away in the snowy mountains (of course). At Brownie, Kaito is reunited with Tachibana Kyouka, the girl whom he has been in love with since college and who (secretly) serves as his writing muse (in fact, Kaito only came to Iwate, because Kyouka's parental home is here). Kyouko in return is here in her function as the editor (and aspiring reporter) for a travel magazine. Kaito sees this as a chance to rekindle his friendship with Kyouka, but this wouldn't be a Kamaitachi no Yoru game if something didn't prevent the couple from getting closer: a dead body is found in the bathing area. And disappears. Only to reappear again. With the roads blocked because of the snow and the strange phenomenon of Brownie having eleven guests, even though only ten guests made reservations, a night of fright starts for Kaito and Kyouka.

Kamaitachi no Yoru X3 introduced a complex storyline zapping system, but Shin Kamaitachi no Yoru is in many ways back to the basics. We're back to the simple sound-novel system of having text on the screen (accompanied by backgrounds and silhouettes as the only visuals) and the player is presented with choices at several points, which determine how the story develops. Make the right choices and you unravel the mystery, make the bad choices and you end up dead. Probably. This was done expertly in the first Kamaitachi no Yoru, where it starts out as a 'normal' detective game, but make the wrong deductions and the wrong choices, and everyone starts suspecting each other, usually resulting in splatter-horror. Yet these bad endings don't come out of nowhere and they usually contain small hints that lead you to the real ending.


Which is maybe why I didn't really like Shin Kamaitachi no Yoru. It is the only sound-novel I've played until now where I actually got the real ending in one go. Without seeing one bad end. Normally, you'd be happy with such results, but seeing bad endings is one of the more amusing points of the Kamaitachi no Yoru games. You could make an argument then for me to purposely aiming for bad endings, but that isn't fun either. I want to get fooled, to be tricked into a bad ending. Not trying to die on purpose. This point is also related to how easy this time the story was: I had actually already solved the case before we even found the body (can you call it solving then?), because of the all-too obvious hint that pointed at the murderer. I kept hoping that it wouldn't end up the way I suspected it would, but no such luck.
 
It's of course somewhat of a contradiction, like Takumi Shuu noted: with mysteries, you want to solve the case yourself at one hand, but you want to get baffled by the case too. You want to be able solve it, and also not. It is hard to really solve this conundrum: Takumi Shuu tried to solve it by constantly presenting the player with new, contradicting situations, allowing you to solve, get baffled and solve again. Novels usually only have one solution, giving them only one chance to baffle the reader, which is also the one chance of giving the reader the pleasure of solving case (if they managed it). And I think that Kamaitachi no Yoru coped well with the conundrum by constantly trying to lead you to bad endings (thus baffling / surprising the reader several times), but you do get that triumphant feeling readers also seek when you finally reach that good ending. With Shin Kamaitachi no Yoru, I feel like I missed out on a big part of what makes the series so good.

The things I did like? The original Kamaitachi no Yoru had a slight supernatural tone to it, with people suggesting that 'sickle weasles',  youkai, might have commited the murder. The second game also had this supernatural tone to the story, but the third game got rid of that. This time, we're presented with the legends surrounding good and evil zashiki warashi, which is a really fun theme and actually weaven quite good in the story. Also, I liked the new heroine Kyouka a lot more than old protagonist Mari. Kaito on the other hand is even worse with interacting with his love-interest than old protagonist Tooru, which can be a bit tiring.

Shin Kamaitachi no Yoru is released on both the PlayStation 3 and the PlayStation Vita (I borrowed a Vita), which actually shouldn't really matter for a game that is mostly text. But however Chunsoft felt a need to modernize things. In a bad way. First up is the 3D search mode, that forces players out of the text and has them looking for suspicious spots in a location. This is a first in the series and implemented in quite a bad way (let's ignore the fact that the Vita version is set default at a 3D search mode that uses the gyroscope!): you have no idea what you're supposed to look for and you only get one chance to investigate something. You're just out of luck if you chose to look at the table instead of the chair, even though there is absolutely nothing that would indicate why one item would be more worthy of some attention than the other.


Second problem is the use of voice actors to voice some lines of the characters. The text in Kamaitachi no Yoru is divided in dialogue lines spoken by the characters and the narration, and dialogue lines are often voiced, but not always. Which is really distracting. I'd rather they'd not use voice actors, as I've always felt Kamaitachi no Yoru was closer to a book than to any voiced medium, but if you do choose to use voice actors, voice all lines instead of 70%.

And to make it a real product of its time, Chunsoft also decided that you can download extra content for some extra money. The term DLC (downloadable contents) might not be as familiar to mystery readers as to gamers, but it is ridiculous I'd have to pay extra for scenarios which in previous entries were simply part of the whole package!

Overall a disappointing Kamaitachi no Yoru. This is not the way the series should go, and I hope Chunsoft takes a good look at what they want to do with this series.

Original Japanese title(s): 『真かまいたちの夜 11人目の訪問者(サスペクト)』

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Trouble is my Business

「昨日までなら喜んでたさ。こんな単純な事件でもないよりましだしな。どうせならもっと早く死んでくれれば良かったんだ」
高松の遺体にぺっと唾を吐き掛ける。
「明日はどうしても外せない用があるというのに」
「化粧した男の冒険」 

"If it had been yesterday, I would've been glad. Even a case as easy as this is better than nothing. If only he had died earlier". He spitted at the dead body of Takamatsu.
"But I have an important appointment tomorrow"
"The Adventure of the Man with Make Up"
  
I often take a walk around the neighborhood if it's good weather and I was quite surprised about two weeks ago when a man walked past me whose face was very familiar. It took quite some while for me to arrive at the name of Maya Yutaka, a writer I've haven't spoken to, but seen on several occasions. But I'm pretty bad with faces, so it might also have been a mistake on my part. And then, the same day, I came across the same man again at the local supermarket. And I still think it's Maya. And that was my not-very-interesting story that acts as a bridge to today's book.

Mercator to Minagi no Tame no Satsujin ("Murders for Mercator and Minagi") is the first short story collection starring Mercator Ayu, the great detective who you'll always find wearing a tuxedo and a silk hat (unlike a policeman, a great detective is never on holiday, so he's in that outfit even in the summer). He first appeared in Maya Yutaka's debut novel Tsubasa aru Yami, which features the telling subtitle The Last Case of Mercator Ayu. Yes, Mercator's first appearance was also his last, and this short story collection is thus set before Tsubasa aru Yami. But he is the same great detective. In fact, he is such a great detective that he is actually better suited for short stories according to himself, as his presence is so big that cases are solved the instant he appears, meaning that for novel-length stories, he can't appear until late in the game. Do note that while Mercator is indeed brilliant, he is not a nice person by any means, having such faith in his own talents that he for example willingly allows people to die, just so the case becomes more interesting/impressive to solve. In the end, it's all about how he benefits from a case. Working with (for?) Mercator in this collection is the detective writer Minagi Sanjou, who usually gets involved with Mercator's schemes unwillingly and deep down, Minagi actually wishes Mercator was dead.

Tooku de Rurichou no Naku Koe ga Kikoeru ("Hearing the Cry of a Blue Robin Faraway") has Minagi staying at a mountain villa, where he finds himself to be in a sticky spot because during the night, one of the guests was shot in the room next to his. The door to the hallway was locked from inside, leaving the connecting door that leads into his room as the only way out of the crime scene. Minagi swears nobody went through that door during the night, but this effectively means that if it the shooting wasn't an accident, then Minagi was the only person capable of committing the murder. An interesting start of this short story collection, and I am using 'interesting' as an euphemism for a probably more negative word. I won't say that the story was devoid of proper hints, but it is pretty much impossible to solve for the reader because the solution requires a lot of imagination, which is only backed up by vague evidence. Maya tries something different with a common trope in the genre, but this is going a bit too far, in my opinion. I do like that when the solution is revealed by Mercator, some events and actions early in the story suddenly turn out to be something very different and darker than you'd initially expect.

Kesshou Shita Otoko no Bouken ("The Adventure of the Man with Make Up") has Mercator and Minagi staying at a hotel, where a man in a party of six also staying there is found murdered. With make-up on his face. And not the I-am-a-metro-type-of-man make up. Mercator decides to solve the case because he needs to catch a train (note: that is the sole reason he decides to solve the case). The premise of the story is reminiscent of Queen's short story The Adventure of the Bearded Lady, where the victim left a dying message by adding a beard to a painting of a lady, though the reasons behind the enigmatic actions are quite different. Kesshou Shita Otoko no Bouken is by no means a remarkable story, but it is a fun enough puzzler, which you can solve with a bit of the good old fashioned elimation method.

Shoujin Kankyo Shite Fuzen wo Nasu ("Idleness is the Mother of Evil") starts with Mercator telling Minagi of his recent advertising campaign and precisely as he predicted, an elderly rich man comes to consult him fearing something close to him might kill him. The story takes some hints from Holmes and Poirot with clients coming in and a bit of armchair detecting and the attentive reader will pick up on the hints to arrive at the same conclusion of Mercator. The most interesting part of the story, in my opinion, is the way how Mercator, in the literary role of a detective, is a major influence on crime. Don't they say that Batman is also in a way responsible for creating the weird supercriminals in Gotham City? The same can be said of Mercator, who with his absolute confidence in his role as a detective, actually helps creating crime.

In Suinan ("Flood"), Mercator and Minagi stay at a hotel in the mountains (I'm sensing a pattern!), where they meet with the ghost of the sole victim of a flood 10 years ago whose body wasn't found. And in the process also find two new bodies locked away in a shed with the word death painted on it. The solution is weird: part of the solution requires you to know that in this story supernatural phenomena can happen. Which is something that hasn't been discussed at all in any of the stories before this one. I can definitely live with supernatural elements in my detective fiction, but I need to know in what way they can influence the story, or else it isn't fair! Professor Layton vs Gyakuten Saiban gave us proper rules to what was possible and not regarding witchcraft, and I recently read Nishisawa Yasuhiko's Nenriki Misshitsu! ("Psychokinetic Locked Rooms!"), which indeed features psychokinesis, but you are told beforehand what is possible and it is made a crucial element of the story. In Suinan, the whole supernatural thing however only works as a distraction and I couldn't enjoy this story.

I have written several times about Guess-the-Criminal short stories, one of the fine tradictions of the Kyoto University Mystery Club,  and Nostalgia has Minagi taking on a script written by Mercator himself. I won't go into the details of Mercator's script, though it does feature locked rooms and such, but I do want to mention that the writer (Mercator, and so by proxy the real writer Maya Yutaka), went all out. In the year I've spent here I've read quite some Guess-the-Criminal stories, meaning I've also seen quite some narrative tricks (by which I mean, tricks/tropes used by the writer, not per se tricks using narration). Some are quite popular, but it seems like Maya put pretty much all the tricks he could think of in Nostalgia. Which explains the title, as it almost certainly refers to the custom at the Mystery Club. On the other hand, it also means that if you are familiar with these kind of stories, you'll catch quite a few of them quite easily (I didn't make it all to the final solution though). I enjoyed this story the most.

Samayoeru Minagi ("Wandering Minagi") has Minagi indeed wandering in the mountains, after being kidnapped and finding himself in who-knows-where. He finally makes it to a house, which turns out to be the parental house of his friend Daikoku. According to his brother, Daikoku apparently disappeared, even though his friends from a painting circle all gathered here. Daikoku's brother suspects one of these friends is responsible for the disappearance and wants Minagi to help him find out who did it. Minagi however thinks it might be better to wait a bit, which later on turns out to be not a very wise decision because Daikoku's brother is found dead the following day. Realizing that this is serious business, Minagi asks Mercator for help, who quickly solves the case. The story takes some cues from a Queen radio story and is a well-constructed story that also explores Mercator as a person a bit and in the Mercator-and-Minagi-in-the-mountains series of this volume, it's definitely the story that finds the best balance in complexity and surprise. The main hint is also expertly hidden in the story.

Siberia Kyuukou, Nishi he ("Siberia Express, to the West") isn't set in mountain villa, but in a luxary train in Siberia, thanks to Mercator's probably shady connections. During the trip, the train is brought to a sudden stop due to an accident (which, by the way in the original, unpublished version was a meteorite, I've been told). The train moves on after the stop, but the next day a writer is found dead in his compartment. Mercator solves a case which I personally didn't really like that much, but it is definitely a very well planned story: the hints that lead to the solution are placed with much care for detail within the story and the reader has to be very attentive if he wants to solve the case. Furthermore, Maya makes very good use of the above mentioned train stop, giving him the space to go quite some interesting ways with deductions.

Mercator to Minagi no Tame no Satsujin is a fine collection overall, though there were some stories I didn't really like. Mercator as an almost evil detective is a fun character though, so I'll probably read more of this series.

Original Japanese title(s): 麻耶雄嵩  『メルカトルと美袋のための殺人』:「遠くで瑠璃鳥の鳴く声が聞こえる」 / 「化粧した男の冒険」 / 「小人閒居為不善」 / 「水難」 / 「ノスタルジア」 / 「彷徨える美袋」 / 「シベリア急行西へ」

Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side

「それでは、鏡や鏡。この中で誰がいちばん名探偵か、いっておくれ」
「私です」
『スノーホワイト 名探偵三途川 断りと少女の鏡は千の目を持つ』

"Mirror mirror on the wall, who is the greatest detective of us all?"
"I am"
"Snow White - Great Detective Sanzunokawa Kotowari and The Girl's Mirror Has Thousand Eyes"

Maybe I should review something Western in the hopes of getting comments again. I should ask a mirror whether that would work.

For most detectives, finding out the truth behind a case is an important, if not the most important part of their jobs. But what if you'd have a detective who would always know the truth? That is the premise of Morikawa Tomoki's Snow White -  Meitantei Sanzunokawa Kotowari to Shoujo no Kagami wa Sen no Me wo Motsu ("Snow White - Great Detective Sanzunokawa Kotowari and The Girl's Mirror Has A Thousand Eyes"). Our protagonist is Erioto Mamae, a teenage girl who runs her own detective agency. Which would be quite impossible under normal circumstances, but having a magic mirror that can answer any question probably doesn't count as normal circumstances. So while 'normal' detectives would have to listen to testimonies, gather evidence and build up a chain of deduction in order to solve a murder, Mamae just has to ask her mirror who did it. In short, she cheats. Her assistant, the dwarf Grumpy Ingram who came from the same world as the magic mirror, doesn't really like that, for he would rather want Mamae to at least try to deduce a bit herself, but it least keeps the agency running.

And then you ask, how can a detective novel be fun if the detective can always cheat? Well, it's because the author had a lot of fun with his little gadget. For instance, using the mirror means you don't have to deduce, but with Mamae that means she doesn't deduce. She just tells what she saw in the mirror, which often includes more information than the client ever told her. And sometimes, clients do want to hear how she managed to 'deduce' the truth or else they won't be convinced. And because Snow White itself is still a fair-play detective novel, it is indeed possible to deduce the truth based on the information offered. So it is like cheating with a mathematical problem at school: you might know the right answer and write on your testpaper, but the teacher isn't going to be satisfied with just the right answer: you have to show how you arrived at the answer. One could also see some parallels with the inversed detective stories like Columbo, with the 'answer' already known the viewer right from the start. At any rate, it does bring a fresh dynamic to the story-structure.

But the second part is where Snow White really shines, when the Great Detective Sanzunokawa Kotowari, a young unscrupulous, yet brilliant boy, is hired to kill Mamae and gets his hands on his own magic mirror. And Snow White suddenly changes in a grand batte of wits, with two detectives in possession of a magic mirror. Here the focus changes from 'reversed' deducing to how to make full use of the properties of the magic mirror, keeping in mind that the opponent also has a mirror can answer anything from 'who is trying to kill me and why' to 'what is my opponent planning to do next?'. And yes, this second part feels a lot like Death Note: a magic item with a certain set of rules and properties forming the basis of a heated battle between two detectives. I wouldn't say geniuses, because Mamae really isn't highly intelligent like Sanzunokawa, but even Sanzunokawa has to be careful in his attempts to commit murder, knowing his opponent can instantly find out the truth using the mirror the moment something suspicious happens.

The concept of Snow White is interesting on its own, but the story also has a great sense of speed and tempo. It keeps providing the reader with new stimuli: every case Mamae encounters is different from the previous one and I don't mean just regarding the contents: the way the mirror is used, the structure of the story, it is every time something else, from start to finish. What also helps is that Morikawa seems to have a great love for Great Detectives (TM), because we have no less than three (!) detectives running around in Snow White, and they're all great in their own way. The love the author has for this trope can be felt throughout this novel and you can sense the fun he had writing it. It almost feels childish, but in an innocent, pure-hearted way.

A lot of reactions on the novel included wanting to see Snow White adapted as an anime or something of the sorts, and I concur it really feels suitable for it. The slight fantasy-setting, the one-case-a-episode setup at the beginning and the great battle of wits in the second half, greater-than-life characters. It would work perfectly. Maybe in a few years?

Morikawa by the way originates from the Kyoto University Mystery Club and Snow White is the second novel in his Great Detective Sanzunokawa Kotowari series, which is kinda surprising considering Sanzukawa is definitely the antagonist in this story! I really should read Cat Food, the first novel too (and the third novel is already scheduled for this summer).

Original Japanese title(s): 森川智喜 『スノーホワイト 名探偵三途川理と少女の鏡は千の目を持つ』

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』

「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』