Thursday, February 11, 2016

The House of Mystery

「XYZだ・・・香!!年も離れててろくでもない男で・・・国籍なくて正式に結婚できなくて・・・だからこんな事言う資格ないかもしれんが・・・」
「ごちゃごちゃうるさい!」
「一緒になってくれ、香」
 『Angel Heart』

"XYZ! Kaori! I might be older than you and just a worthless bum...I don't have any nationality so I can't even marry you officially... perhaps I don't even have the right to ask you, but..."
"Stop talking around it!"
"Kaori. Let's be together."
"Angel Heart"

Part two of the Drury Lane review series!

Drury Lane series
The Tragedy of X (1932)
The Tragedy of Y (1932)
The Tragedy of Z (1933) 
Drury Lane's Last Case (1933)

The Mad Hatters, the newspapers called them, and mad, the Hatters were. Perhaps you could say they had a lot of "character". And even York Hatter, husband of family matriarch Emily Hatter couldn't cope any longer with his wife and his children and grandchildren and decided to take early leave from life. In retrospect. York's death was just the prologue to the tragedy which would happen in the Hatter house. The first act was an attempt at poisoning Louisa's egg-nogg, Emily's first daughter from a prior marriage who was blind, deaf and dumb. Luckily (?), one of Emily's naughty grandchildren had gulped down the egg-nogg before Louisa could and he was saved thanks to Emily's quick reaction. The other children from the Hatter marriage are not very fond of Louisa (who hogged all of mother Emily's attention because of her condition), but would any of them have stooped to poisoning their half-sister? But the mystery really starts to deepen when some months later, Emily Hatter is found murdered in her bedroom (which she shared with Louisa after the poisoning attempt), having been bashed on the head with a mandolin!  Was there someone trying to kill all the Hatters? The problem is one which troubled both Inspector Thumm and District Attorney Bruno, and the two once again ask Drury Lane, professional Shakespeare intepreter and amateur detective to help solve Ellery Queen's The Tragedy of Y (1932).

This is the second adventure of Drury Lane and like The Tragedy of X, this too is a very highly regarded mystery novel. In fact, in the most recent Tozai Mystery Best 100 ranking (of non-Japanese titles), the book ranked second place, behind Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None. This was the second Drury Lane book I read by the way, after Drury Lane's Last Case (which again shows I never read things in the right order). It's probably my favorite Drury Lane novel too, even though I think that in general, The Tragedy of X is regarded better than this one.

Like I pointed out in my review of The Tragedy of X, that book is very obviously a book written by Ellery Queen. The Tragedy of Y on the other hand, not that obvious. At least, not in terms of tropes and setting. In fact, if there's one thing the book reminds me of, it's S.S. Van Dine's The Greene Murder Case (1929), which was no doubt a source of some inspiration for the Queen cousins for The Tragedy of Y. The book is mostly confined to one setting (the Hatter home) and revolves about the fate of a family with a fair number of not-so-nice members, which are probably the defining characteristics of The Greene Murder Case. As I already indicated in my review of The Greene Murder Case, the book has been an influence on Japanese detective fiction, but that's definitely in conjunction with The Tragedy of Y. The two of them are probably the most famous books in their specific type of setting (family murders in a mansion), and were major infuences on Oguri Mushitarou's infamous anti-mystery Kokushikan Satsujin Jiken (1934). Following this line further, we also have Yokomizo Seishi: many of his Kindaichi Kousuke novels revolve around family feuds in mansions. In a sort of branch-line we have Ayatsuji Yukito in more recent years, who focuses more on the buildings (mansions) themselves. While the setting is not typical Queen, we'd sometimes see it in some of his works, like The Siamese Twin Mystery (1933, an isolated mansion in the mountains, with fairly strange inhabitants) and The Player on the Other Side (1963, ghostwritten).

By the way, at a certain point in the story the will of Emily Hatter is presented, and the complexity of it (with all sort of clauses to protect one certain person) reminded me a lot of Yokomizo Seishi: especially The Inugami Clan, which had one of the most convoluted last wills ever (which was definitely a reason why all those murders were commited in that book). In general, complex wills usually result in murders in mystery fiction.

The story is mostly confined to the house, and with the attempted poisoning of Louisa and the bizarre murder on Emily Hatter  (a mandoline as weapon) hapening in quick succession (in terms of pages), The Tragedy of Y has a strange, pressing and somewhat creepy atmosphere. The Hatter home has quite the number of strange secrets and weird revelations hidden for the reader, one of them for example York Hatter's laboratory inside the house, which will prove to be of importance to the case in more ways than one. Now I think about it, a lot of the clues in this book are used in multiple ways (and not just "This points to X, and now you can throw this hint away"). Heh. Clue recycling. Anyway, The Tragedy of Y feels unreal, like a play, and that's why Drury Lane fits wonderfully in this story, because the whole case is just nuts. And that's why I like about it. For a very long time, nothing makes sense in this novel. And it's unsettling.

Louisa, as a blind, deaf and dumb person, is a very interesting character in this story. She is actually witness to the murder of her mother, but because of her special condition, her testimony has to rely on very different senses than the ones we usually associate with "witness". It's again an element that makes The Tragedy of Y feel bizarre and it is very effective.

In terms of mystery plot, The Tragedy of Y covers familiar ground: as in most Queen novels, figuring out the murderer is very well possible by applying logical reasoning based on the clues provided. As often in Queen novels, clues take the form of physical objects, though the deduction based on them can be about all kinds of things (for example, 'the state of an object', or 'who could've used the object' etc.). The Tragedy of Y can be a bit trickier than The Tragedy of X though; The Tragedy of X is fairly straightforward in its reasoning, but The Tragedy of Y is, as I said earlier, a bit nuts, and it is a lot more difficult to reconstruct the whole chain fo reasoning Drury Lane presents by yourself. In fact, there is one point in the chain that asks of some inspiration if you want to figure it out yourself, and that is not usually the case in Queen-like deductions. Also, at a certain point "a significant clue" is discovered by Drury Lane, which basically explains all, even though the story continues for a little while, as if it's still a mystery. It's a bit of a shame, because while the solution is shocking, it's as if the story forget they just showed you a clue that basically told you everything. That said though, the initial chain of reasoning that led Drury Lane to the murderer is still good, and The Tragedy of Y also has one of my favorite clues of all time (people who have read the book, can probably guess what it is).

And this is another thing for those who have read the book: I actually have a Korean version of The Tragedy of Y. The cover of it is almost too brilliant, as it....err, makes one certain character very very suspicious. I recommend you to only click this link if you already read The Tragedy of Y, but I think most will agree this cover might not've been the best choice.

As an experiment in deduction, The Tragedy of Y is not as neat as The Tragedy of X, even if it's still amazing for most standards. But it's the wacky and bizarre setting and characters that make this a favorite of mine and definitely the first Drury Lane novel I'd recommend anyone to read.

3 comments :

  1. what do you think of Gravity Falls ?

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    Replies
    1. Nothing in particular. I don't watch it.

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  2. Forget suspicious, that cover is just creepy. Which was probably the intent, and I can't deny the joy I'd get from making it very visible on my bookshelf so I can watch people's reaction, but still.

    --The Dark One

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