Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Egyptian Cross Mystery

stay すべての始まりと終わりの場所に
今も立っているよう 放たれる日を待ち
『Stay』(Garnet Crow)

Stay Like standing even now at the place
where everything begins and ends 
Waiting for the day when all is set loose
"Stay" (Garnet Crow)

I remember we started learning the Greek alphabet in the Ancient Greek course we had at school (first year middle school), but we only got to τ (tau) in that first class. The remaining letters we learned the following week, but up until this day, I can easily say the Greek alphabet from alpha to tau, and then I have to think about what that 'last little bit' of the alphabet is because we learned it separately.

The architecture students Kabeya Megumi, Yamabuki Satsuki and Kurage Kyuusuke are hired by private detective Akayanagi Hatsurou as temporary data entry grunts. The files are stored in a mansion deep in the forests between the Aichi and Gifu prefecture and only accessible by foot. The mansion is inhabited by Kamii, a "psychic" and two of his believers/servants. When the Akayanagi party arrives at the mansion, they discover that another party of journalists is also visiting the mansion for an interview with Kamii. Kamii shows off his powers once to his visitors by entering a room with Megumi and disappearing into "another world", only to reappear again. At night however, the photographer of the journalist party discovers that every exit of the mansion is closed shut (even though those doors have no locks) and when they try to report this to Kamii, they find him murdered in a locked room. The same room that was connected to "another room". With no way to escape the mansion and a dead body, the party start looking for a way to contact the outside world in Mori Hiroshi's τ ni Naru Made Matte, which also bears the English title Please Stay Until τ.

τ ni Naru Made Matte (2005)is the third novel in Mori Hiroshi's G series, a sequel to his more famous S&M series. While the previous two volumes were set in urban areas (a residential area in φ wa Kowareta ne and across town in θ wa Asonde Kureta yo), this time, the setting is eerily classic: a creepy mansion hidden away in the forest, only accessible by foot. With the cast locked up in the mansion and a murder in a locked room on a (self-proclaimed) psychic, you sometimes think you're reading anything but a Mori Hiroshi story. But then again, Subete ga F ni Naru (starting point of Mori Hiroshi's fictional world) might feature high-tech security, VR conference rooms and other technological gadgets; at the core it's still about a locked room murder in a creepy complex on an isolated island, now I think about it.

The lack of windows in the building reminds of other stories with memorable mansions as their setting like Ayatsuji Yukito's Ankokukan no Satsujin or the videogame Kamaitachi no Yoru 2. Interesting is the fact that the protagonists Kabeya, Yamabuki and Kurage are architecture students is actually utilized in a meaningful manner in in τ ni Naru Made Matte, for perhaps the first time in the G series: their insights as 'experts' on architecture help the reader understand the specifics, and the oddities of the mansion. Up until now, the students-setting was only used to have them meet at the university library or at a research lab.

The locked room mystery is actually quite disappointing; it is supposed to be hard to spot the solution because of a blind spot, but that smokescreen doesn't really work as a smokescreen, I think. Also, while one certain aspect of the puzzle I saw through quite easily, another crucial part of the solution is hinted at rather poorly and had me rolling my eyes as I thought: "waaaaait, is that really possible?'.

But the biggest disappointment is that τ ni Naru Made Matte just isn't complete. I ended my review of θ wa Asonde Kureta yo, the previous book in the series, with hoping that this third volume would work better as a standalone mystery: θ wa Asonde Kureta yo left a lot of questions unanswered. However, τ ni Naru Made Matte is even worse. From the identity of the murderer to the motive and other mysterious happenings in the story: you are left with a lot of questions when you close the book.

Usually, I can appreciate minimalistic approaches. I'm more interested in how the crime was committed, or the logic leading to the solution, than in who and why. But that is only with planned minimalism (which you often see in short stories). In the G series however, Mori Hiroshi is obviously working towards a goal. I hadn't really noticed it with the first book in the series, but the cases in the G series are somehow connected. Though that's only a guess, because each time the murderer, as well as the motive, stays vague. The only connection is that Greek letters appear in relation to each case (which is why it is called the G series). But there are parts in each book that hints at something going on and someone trying to find out what is going on. And I like the idea of myth-building across books, but I'd like it if each individual book in the series can be read as a standalone work too. θ wa Asonde Kureta yo and τ ni Naru Made Matte feel as nothing more but a part of a larger narrative and incomplete as standalone books. But considering that the series isn't completed yet and each book still sells at full price, I'm not sure what to think about these books. But as they are now, I just feel like I'm missing a lot that shouldn't be missing. If there is a line between 'keeping things vague to invite you to read the rest' and 'things are so vague it hurts the story', then I'd say book two and three in the G series are leaning towards the latter. And I do like the characters and writing of the G series, so I am really torn about it.

τ ni Naru Made Matte was disappointing. Not only as a mystery plot, but also because it so obviously needs the rest of the series to fill in the gaps of the story. If you're like me and like the writing and characters, then it's an okay and easy read, but I wouldn't recommend τ ni Naru Made Matte as a standalone mystery novel: it was obviously not meant as one. If you want to read τ ni Naru Made Matte, it means you should read the rest of the series too. And that's a large commitment to ask of a reader.

Original Japanese title(s): 森博嗣 『τになるまで待って PLEASE STAY UNTIL τ』

4 comments :

  1. Since the book was written in 2005, I assume that the series is finished by now. How many books remain in the series?

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    1. The series isn't finished yet (Mori writes a lot of series at the same time). It was originally planned to be a 12-part series, and at the moment, 9 volumes have been released.

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  2. I thought this entry was going to be about the Ellery Queen novel xD

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    1. I always play the association game when choosing the titles for my posts. But my review of The Egyptian Cross Mystery can be found here.

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