Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Food for Thought

「あなたにとって、ラーメンとは何ですか?」
「ラーメンは人生だよ」
「あなたにとって、麺とは?」
「麺は魂だよ」
「あなたにとって、スープとは?」
「スープは命だよ」
「あなたにとって、チャーシューとは?」
「もうねえよ。肉だよ、肉」 
『グルメレポーター』(サンドウィッチマンコント)

"What is ramen to you?"
"Ramen is my life"
"What is men to you?"
"Men is my spirit"
"What is soup to you?"
"Soup is my lifeline"
"What is chaashuu to you?"
"I don't have anything left! It's meat, just meat!"
"Gourmet Reporter" (Sandwichman sketch)

Oh, how I long for a good bowl of tonkotsu ramen (katamen!), topped off with some benishouga, three slices of chashuu...

Kamoshida Tekki runs a ramen yatai stand in the Nagahama district of Fukuoka. Negishi Kyuuta is an investigatons operative of a dating agency. The two have been in a lot of trouble and adventures ever since they met in high school, and that is still true even now they are both responsible (?) adults. Tekki has made a name for himself as a rather sharp person during his wild days and that is why he is occasionally hired to help solve 'problems', often as either a detective or bodyguard. Kyuuta on the other hand has a natural knack for getting into trouble and the two are considered a formidable hardboiled duo in the dangerous streets of Fukuoka. Kitamori Kou's Oyafukoudoori Detective ("Oyafukou Street Detective") is the first short story collection featuring Tekki and Kyuuta in a series of six adventures set around Fukuoka and the island of Kyushu.

And yes, there is some sort of Fukuoka-quotum at this blog: I try to read at least one mystery novel set in Fukuoka a year (last year was the excellent Jikan no Shuuzoku). Preferably a good one too. To be honest, I was only moderately positive about Kitamori Kou's Shina Soba Kan no Nazo, but I just could't resist trying out Oyafukoudoori Detective, which oozed Fukuoka-atmosphere with its cover, the summary of the story and of course the title: Oyafukoudoori is a very well-known street in Fukuoka by the way, with lots of bars and nightclubs.

Seventh Heaven introduces us to Tekki and Kyuuta, and gives us a look into Kyuuta's work at the dating agency. Kyuuta's work brings him to a couple that married thanks to the efforts at the agency and the agency wants to use them for promotions. Kyuuta however discovers the couple in a rather dead and murdered state and instead of calling the police, he flees from the apartment building. Tekki naturally calls him a fool, but a look at some pictures of the couple reminds him that he has seen them at his ramen stand a couple of times and he remembers a strange happening during one of their visits. There is some interesting plotting and hinting going in this story, and it serves as a good introduction to the two detectives, but coincidences also play a big part in the plot.

In Chikagai no Robinson ("The Robinson of the Underground"), Tekki is hired by the "Singing Princess", a local bar owner once world famous for her singing, to track down a girl who has gone missing the last few days. Kyuuta helps along, but as they continue their search, they find out that their target's boyfriend might be caught up with something rather illegal and dangerous, making their own hunt for the girl also one not without danger. Like Seventh Heaven, this story has some good ideas, but the overall plot feels a bit dragged out and once again there are some jumps in the plot/logic that feel a bit forced. This was also the case in Shina Soba Kan no Nazo, which often had stories with good basic plots, but with weaker surrounding padding.

Natsu no Odekake ("A Summer Outing") has Kyuuta (succesfully) hitting on one of Tekki's customers during Tekki's annual hiatus. During one of his dates with the girl, he stumbles upon Tekki, who is pretending to be the son of an elderly lady. What is Tekki 's motive for doing that? I can't tell more about the story, as it would spoil the whole picture, but I think that plotwise, this is the weakest story of the collection: once again one that asks the reader to believe in coincidences a lot, but unlike the previous stories, there is little that redeems the plot, as at least the previous stories had some good ideas in them.

Hard Luck Night reunites Tekki and Kyuuta with an old classmate of theirs. Natsumi was Tekki's old girlfriend for a while, but after high school everyone kinda lost contact with each other and before you know it, you have lost a husband and moved back to Fukuoka. That same night, the murdered body of a high school girl is discovered near Tekki's stand. Despite the crowds celebrating a victory of the local baseball team roaming the streets though, it seems few people saw the girl and there are no traces of the murderer. Tekki is asked by a police detective acquaintance to keep his eyes open, in exchange for the information that the girl was actually part of a prostitution ring made up by high school students, with links to a local crime syndicate. Overall, Hard Luck Night does not really satsify in the puzzle plot department, but it's quite enjoyable as a hardboiled mystery story, that also delves a little in the background of Tekki and Kyuuta.

Oyafukoudoori Detective ("Oyakukou Street Detective") lends it title to the story collection and has Tekki tell one of Kyuuta's girlfriends about an old friend of theirs: Hide was a homeles person who earned money by pulling yatai stands to their places (yatai stands have set locations, but are only pulled out there just before night). One day, Hide was arrested on suspicion of being the arsonist who had been making the area around Oyafukou Street unsafe, yet Tekki and Kyuuta are sure he is innocent. Again, as a puzzle plot story, Oyafukoudoori Detective is not particularly satisfying, even if it is an entertaining story with some interesting deductions surrounding the reason why Hide was arrested. There are still the usual jumps-in-logic-and-plot-for-the-sake-of-the-story though.

Sentimental Driver forms a conclusion to the collection and deals with an old enemy of Kyuuta and Tekki: the two once stopped an old classmate from raping their teacher and the twarted rapist naturally had to switch schools and go away after that, but now he has returned to Fukuoka using a false name. The story takes a different turn from the rest of the collection (being much more like a traditional hardboiled detective story, rather than one with a puzzle plot approach) and includes a rather surprising ending and it works quite well as a conclusion to the volume.

A hardboiled detective set in Fukuoka with ramen as a motif? Sounds a lot like Nishimura Ken's Hakata Detective Case Files right? They do feel very similar. In terms of plot, I think that Hakata Detective Case Files reaches higher when it succeeds with its plot: the problem is that in general, it reaches lower lows, for much longer periods. Oyafukoudoori Detective is a lot more consistent in that respect. Also, the conversations between Tekki & Kyuuta are also more fun to read, compared to Yuge's monologues in Hakata Detective Case Files.

Overall, I thought Oyafukoudoori Detective was reasonably entertaining. Compared to Shina Soba Kan no Nazo, this book has a more distinct hardboiled taste, dealing with crime syndicates and the underworld of Fukuoka. And while I prefer puzzle plot mysteries (as you probably understand from this review), I have to admit that in general, I think I enjoyed this volume a lot better than Shina Soba Kan no Nazo, because at least this book was clearly meant as a hardboiled-flavored detective, which makes less demands about tightly plotted stories. Shina Soba Kan no Nazo felt like a partly-failed effort, while Oyafukoudoori Detective probably did precisely what it was supposed to do. I'll probably read the sequel too someday, as the series is just two volumes long at the moment.

Original Japanese title(s): 北森鴻 『親不孝通りディテクティブ』: 「セヴンス・ヘヴン」 / 「地下街のロビンソン」 / 「夏のおでかけ」 / 「ハードラック・ナイト」 / 「親不孝通りディテクティブ」 / 「センチメンタル・ドライバー」

8 comments :

  1. do you know who Doc Savage is ?

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    Replies
    1. I know of the character, though I've never read any of the stories. Fail to see the connection to the review though?

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    2. I was just asking, since he's a detective too (he is said to be as brilliant as Sherlock Holmes)

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  2. hello, I saw you translated "The Moai Island Puzzle" on amazon, however it is out of print ?? how come ??

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    Replies
    1. The book is definitely coming, but it appearing this early on Amazon was probably a little mistake of the publisher, because it should still take a little while before it's actually released! (Which is why the page now says it's OOP) But it's really coming, so look forward to it :) I'll make a proper post about it when I too have more detailed information about the real release date. Sorry for the confusion!

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    2. ok, thanks :) I hope it will be available in e-book format too

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  3. Hello,
    I wanted to talk to you about a kickstarter project I think might interest you, since it's a detective visual novel
    here's the kickstarter link with information and pictures: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/igrasilstudio/bloody-chronicles-visual-novel

    there's even a playable demo: http://bloodychronicles.com/project-status/

    so if you want to support it, here you go ^^

    PS: I don't mean to make publicity or whatever, I just thought it would interest you

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for the link, I'll take a look.

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