"Ghost don't have school, exams or anything"
"Gegege no Kitarou" (Kumakura Kazuo)
My memories of the school festival at Kyoto University two years ago can be summed up with: sitting in a small room selling club magazines and books, eating fried icecream and crocodile meat. Was probably doing something wrong.
Akagawa Jirou's Shisha no Gakuensai ("School Festival of the Dead").
Akagawa Jirou is an extemely prolific mystery writer, specializing in light-hearted, light mystery novels. His most famous series is the Mikeneko Holmes series (which stars a cat as a detective!) and his work is often translated to small screen adaptations (and other media, including film and videogames). Shisha no Gakuensai is one of his juvenile mysteries: it's a rather straightforward, simple mystery novel more enjoyed as 'a story' rather than 'a mystery'.
I know there's a film adaptation of Shisha no Gakuensai (starring Fukada Kyouko), though I am not sure whether this novel was written for the film or not. Anyway, the book does feel like a film: the story makes quick cuts, the reader is always witness to the final moments of each murder victim, there's a small love story and especially the ending at the school festival feels incredibly made-for-film (you'll have to read it yourself to understand it though). As a mystery novel, there's absolutely nothing clever about it, and as a reader, you're just along for the ride as you follow Machiko's misadventures, as practically nothing is properly clued.
But considering that I saw that one reviewer on Amazon mentioned (s)he already read the novel in elementary school, I guess that that the novel wasn't aimed at me in the first place. If I was a much younger female in elementary / early middle school, I might have loved it. But then again that's a lot of ifs there. As a mystery though, Shisha no Gakuensai isn't really worth mentioning and even if the ending does have a surprise for the reader, it kinda comes out of nowhere and can not be considered really interesting in terms of mystery plotting. For younger readers, this might be fun though as it is sorta thrilling and all...
I don't read a lot of Akagawa Jirou, but it seems like most of his works feature young female protagonists, very often with an older love interest. This book has 17-year old Machiko and her college student boyfriend, Tantei Monogatari too consisted of the odd couple Naomi and Tsuchiyama. Akagawa Jirou's Sanshimai Tanteidan ("Three Sisters Detective Club") naturally also features female protagonists and Mikeneko Holmes's Holmes is also female. Most of Akagawa's books I've read are a bit old too, so his somewhat idealized young female protagonists (who juggle between love and detection) can feel quite outdated at times.
I think Shisha no Gakuensai works okay as a mindless mystery-type of story for children, but it's quite bland for most of the time, with only the titular school festival at the very end to make any impression. I'm obviously not the intended public for this book, but I might have enjoyed it reasonably had I been at elementary school, I think. I don't mean that in an insulting way; the publisher actually states that the book is kinda intended for the upper classes in elementary school, I noticed just as I was writing this last paragraph of the review. Ah well, sometimes it's good to read something meant for young and flexible minds!
Original Japanese title(s): 赤川次郎 『死者の学園祭』