Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Triple Mystery

Something old, 
something new, 
something borrowed, 
something blue, 
and a silver sixpence in her shoe

Welcome to another Short Shorts post, where I throw a couple short reviews in a mixer and serve it in one meal-size post. Because they wouldn't be enough seperately. Today, a new Kindaichi Shounen comic, the new Poirot novel and an old DS game.

Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo R 3 ("The Young Kindaichi Case Files R 3") was released last month and contains the rest of The Murder in the Phantom School Building (which started in volume 2). Set within the ruins of a school on an island, Hajime and Super-Intendent Akechi are up against the murdering Ghostly Teacher, the newest creation of crime producer Takatoo. I was quite charmed by the start of the story, as it gave us some familiar series tropes like the island, the importance of location and maps and a treasure hunt and having read the complete story, I can safely count this as one of my favorite stories of the last few years. The story makes great use of its unique setting, and while some murders are a bit easy to solve, the biggest trick the murderer pulled off invokes the likes of Shimada Souji.

Well, there's of course that story that actually plagiarized a Shimada Souji novel in the past...

The grand trick does feel a bit artificial though, but there seems to be a reason given for that and it appears that Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo R, as a series, will continue with the questions raised at the end of the 20th Anniversary series last year and focus on Hajime's nemesis Takatoo. With some hints of Ayatsuji Yukito's Yakata series and Amagi and Satou's own Tantei Gakuen Q, I am looking forward to further developments in R.

And from something new, to something borrowed.

I can't say I was looking forward to Sophie Hannah's The Monogram Murders (2014), a new Poirot mystery authorized by the Christie estate. Curious yes, but I think Poirot would have understood that the psychology behind my curiosity was not brought forth by positive expectations, but more by the urge one has to stand and stare at bizarre incidents and painful accidents. One should start with a book with an open mind, going in with obviousy negative expectations is not fair, some people might say. But then again, I don't think using the name of one of the greatest mystery writers of all time, as well as arguably her most famous creation, is really fair towards the reader. It invokes reactions, feelings, questions. Positive thinkers may think 'yay a new Poirot', while more cynical thinkers probably turn their eyes to the commercial motives behind this release. Both sides are valid reactions of course, and while I was in the latter group, somewhere I still hoped to be surprised, to be served a real, all new Poirot mystery in 2014.

But The Monogram Murders was not a Poirot mystery. It was not even a good mystery. This is a story with a man who kinda resembles Poirot because he mentions his little grey cells and occasionally uses la langue français. And also stars policeman-narrator Catchpool who is so dull and incompetent he makes Hastings seem like a nation's leading think tank. The Monogram Murders is a mystery novel, as it features murders of a mysterious character (three persons dead on three different floors of a hotel). But when I think of Christie mysteries, I think of brilliantly concise solutions that bring light to otherwise complex puzzles. A single sentence, a single word that can turn the situation around. The Monogram Murders is nothing but a convoluted mess which needs a whole group of people doing the most ridiculous things for just as ridiculous reasons just so the premise of the book (the three dead people) can come true. It is boring chaos that goes on and on.

The writing occasionally invokes Christie's style, but when the name Agatha Christie is on the cover and it claims to be a new genuine Poirot, I think I should be able to hope for not occasionally, but consistently Christie's style, or else I might as well read any other author inspired by Christie. But I think it just as bad that the mystery itself is just so bad. This wouldn't even have been a good mystery without the Poirot name.

And to end this post with something old. For those familiar with tropes of Japanese suspense/mystery TV shows, the surprisingly long title of DS Yukemuri Suspense Mystery - Free Writer Tachibana Maki - Touyako / Nanatsu no Yu / Okuyu no Sato Shuzai Techou ("A Steamy DS Suspense Mystery - The Data Files of Freelance Writer Tachibana Maki - Toyako / The Seven Spas / Okuyu no Sato") is probably not really that surprising. Free Writer Tachibana Maki is a 2008 Nintendo DS game and basically the Stereotypical Two Hour Suspense Drama in a game form: it is a (very, very simplistic) mystery plot combined with elements of.... the tourism sector. The freelance writer Maki, her camerawoman Satomi and model Yuri travel to Kinosaki, Toyako and Yufuin for articles on these onsen (hot spring) towns. And each time, the trio gets involved with some sort of crime. And of course, these unlikely detectives manage to solve the crime every time, after some humorous scenes, some thrilling scenes, some touristic scenes and strangely enough very few scenes of the women in a hot spring.

Free Writer Tachibana Maki is really a set-your-mind-off adventure, as it's basically one straight road to the end. You just click through the dialogue, choose the next location, click through the new dialogue, go to the next location etcetera. And before you know, you have solved a case. As a game, Free Writer Tachibana Maki is pretty awful. As for the story, well, the mystery plots are all really easy and light-hearted and you don't even need to think to solve these cases. Add in some cheesy acting and bland music and you have a game that in a way is a good representation of the Stereotypical Two Hour Suspense Drama: that is, not a very good production.

Is it all bad? Well, I have to admit that the writing and the characters can sometimes be funny in a I-Want-Dumb-Entertainment way. And to be honest, I sorta find the effort behind this game interesting. Because this game wasn't developed by a game company, but the major map publisher Zenrin. Which explains why the game features fairly detailed maps of Kinosaki, Toyako and Yufuin, why the game features so many photographs of the touristic attractions of these towns and why there's actually an actual travel guide to these towns included in the game. The information is probably outdated now (the game was released in 2008), but you can find hot springs, hotels, hostels, restaurants and more, all complete with prices, photographs, location (on the map) for all three towns. Heck, I can even look up which train I need to take to get to any of these locations. The whole concept of a game/travel guide developed by a map publisher is just so bizarre, it earns some bonus points for that. Too bad, it's so bad as a mystery game. There were some moments where you could see they really tried, for example when the detailed maps turn out to be crucial to solving a mystery (locations of certain places, possible routes, the layout of the roads etcetera), but these moments are very rare and usually not complex enough to really entertain. In the end, Free Writer Tachibana Maki is just a quirky, but not a good game.

And this ends this Short Short post! And no, I don't have anything blue, nor a sixpence.

Original Japanese title(s): 天城征丸(原)、さとうふみや(画)『金田一少年の事件簿R』第3巻, 『DS湯けむりサスペンスシリーズ フリーライター 橘 真希 「洞爺湖・七つの湯・奥湯の郷」取材手帳』

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