Songs can cross over borders
And go everywhere
"I'm Here" (Morning Musume)
Trains have always been important as a binding factor for nations (connecting different places), but I wonder if in Japan's example, the nation's love for trains is also related to the fact that the period the train network was laid down, was also the period that the common folk were permitted to freely move around in the country in the first place? I mean, before that, it was basically impossible for the common man to move around not just physically, but also legally. And then the world suddenly opens up, with trains as the perfect symbol for that.
Train-fanatics all over the country rejoiced when it was announced that the Orient Express would make a second trip to Japan. The legendary luxary train would go from France, through Germany and the USSR, and finally be shipped to Japan, where it would make a trip across the country. The Orient Express safely crosses the sea and is sent off for maintenance for a few days (to adjust for the different size of tracks). During the maintenance, a stash of Tokarev pistols is found hidden within one of the carriages, accompanied by a letter that suggest that the recently deceased ex-Secretary of State was connected to the smuggling. In fear of a scandal, police HQ sends Inspector Saeki to Europe to find out when the pistols were hidden in the train and by whom. Saeki however disappears from Berlin during his investigation, and the police have no choice but to send Inspector Totsugawa after him in an undercover operation to find his collegue and personal friend. Inspector Totsugawa goes to Berlin accompanied by his subordinate Kusaka, but discovers that a Berlin right after the fall of the wall isn't always a nice and safe place to be in Nishimura Kyoutarou's Orient Kyuukou wo Oe ("Pursue the Orient Express", 1991).
The names Nishimura Kyoutarou and Inspector Totsugawa are basically synonyms for "travel mysteries", a particular subgenre of mystery fiction that place a focus on traveling, tourism and means of transport and. Trains in particular are very important to the Inspector Totsugawa series, as they feature heavily in the old inspector's adventures, usually as part of some kind of ingenious alibi trick. As the title of this book also featured the Orient Express, I was hoping for an interesting appearance of the (in)famous train in a Totsugawa-setting, but I really should learn to read the cover blurb of books, because this was a very different book from what I had expected.
Orient Kyuukou wo Oe is basically a shakaiha (social school) version of a Inspector Totsugawa adventure. Shakaiha is a style of crime fiction popularized by Matsumoto Seichou, with the dark side of society, with all its big corporate and government organizations, usually providing the motive for crimes. In this book, we already catch an early glimpse of this, when first Inspector Saeki, and then Inspector Totsugawa are sent to Europe to investigate the smuggling in secrecy to protect the reputation of the ex-Secretary of State. Because it's probably not good for a country's 'face' if people hear your Secretary of State deals in guns. The political, and socio-economical situation in East-Berlin are also of importance of the plot, when Totsugawa and Kusaka discover that not all are happy the wall went down.
The mystery plot of the book is fairly boring. The 'investigation' of Totsugawa and Kusaka basically consists of making it rather obvious they're searching for Saeki (which is, I think, probably not the way to go in a secret investigation) and afterwards they're just following directions given by an unknown party that claims they know what happened to Saeki. Back in Japan, Totsugawa's number one subordinate Kamei is investigating the ex-Secretary of State (helped by private detective Hashimoto, an ex-subordinate of Totsugawa). Their investigation is surprisingly useful, but that's mainly because of incredible luck: basically every person they see over the course of the investigation turns out to have something to do with the smuggling. The plot hangs together by threads of coincidence and after a while you just stop caring, because heck, coincidence will solve everything, right?
I do have to say that I'm especially disappointed the Orient Express is only used in the very beginning of the story, as the hiding place for the Tokarevs. The "Pursue" in the title of the book just refers to the route the train took. The story has a interesting international angle to it, something I'm not used to in the Inspector Totsugawa series (which is very oriented on domestic tourism), though I can't say it was really impressive. Actually, most of the time in Berlin, Totsugawa and Kusaka just stay in their hotel room waiting for phone calls, so it barely feels like they're abroad.
Orient Kyuukou wo Oe really isn't an Inspector Totsugawa book I'd recommend. It has nothing of what you'd normally expect from a Totsugawa book, and there's little in here that manages to stand out (and the little that does, only does so because the rest of the book is so bland). This is one train you don't need to get on to.
Original Japanese title(s): 西村京太郎 『オリエント急行を追え』