Home, sweet home
On the topic of things left by previous tenants: I lived in a dorm when I was studying in Japan, and I remember the first time other people from the dorm came to my room, they were all surprised at the TV stand I had in my room. It was only then that I found out that thing wasn't part of the standard room furniture set! I was grateful for that thing though, as it was a great place to store my videogame consoles.
Yamada Fuutarou was a prolific writer in the post-war period, nowadays best known for his many historical fantasy novels on ninja like Kouga Ninpou Chou ("The Kouga Ninja Scrolls"). In fact, his ninja stories have had a huge influence on the popular image of the ninja, and in extension on the whole genre of battle manga aimed a boy audience, like Saint Seiya, Naruto and Bleach. One might even say series like that might not even exist if not for Yamada Fuutarou. But Yamada started out as a mystery writer, and has written some of the finest post-war Japanese mystery novels available. In the past, I have reviewed works like Meiji Dantoudai ("The Meiji Guillotine"), Youi Kinpeibai ("The Bewitching Plum in the Vase") and Taiyou Kokuten ("Sunspot"), which were all great. Only the last of those novels was set in the post-war period by the way, like Dare Ni Mo Dekiru Satsujin, the topic of today's post.
The set-up of consecutive tenants of Room 12 writing down their own, mysterious experiences with interacting with the other tenants in The People's Villa is truly fantastic. Each 'chapter' (entry by another inhabitant of Room 12), is, at the core, a standalone mystery story that involves the other tenants. In some entries, the Room 12 tenant is a direct part of the story, for example in the entry by someone who confesses how they plotted the death of another tenant, while in other entries the Room 12 tenant is merely an observer of the curious events. The link between these various stories is the setting of The People's Villa and its inhabitants, and it is really fun to see characters mentioned in one entry, appearing in later entries in very different roles. As each entry is written by someone else, their views on their fellow tenants obviously also differ, and this ever-changing portrayal of an otherwise 'familiar' cast is what makes each consecutive entry a blast to read. Some tenants are only mentioned briefly in some entries, but become fullfledged characters in other entries, which again strengtens the notion of different perspectives. It's also a bit funny to see how The People's Villa becomes emptier and emptier as everyone keeps on dying. It is also interesting to see how later narrators comment on entries by previous inhabitants of Room 12. Armed with the Power of Hindsight, these entries sometimes shine a surprising light on events that happened earlier in The People's Villa.
You know what, I could just explain the whole book in one sentence. This novel is simply Yamada Fuutarou's take on Maison Ikkoku. Completely different genres, but seeing all these different tenants of a boarding house interact really reminds of me Takahashi's romcom classic. There's just more death here.
As for the mystery plots, they are, at the core, fairly simple. In fact, many of the entries are more straight-up crime stories than really about solving a mystery. The strength of Yamada's writing keeps things captivating though. What should be mentioned is that Dare Ni Mo Dekiru Satsujin does fit perfectly with a theme I have seen in all of the Yamada novels I've read until now. I can't actually *name* it, because it would be kinda spoilery, but Yamada really loves writing about a certain theme, and it works great here. In fact, I think the structure of having various narrators only strengthens the execution of Yamada's theme here and really enjoyed it. If you're familiar with his works, you'll probably see the theme coming, and even if not, I think that Dare Ni Mo Dekiru Satsujin was one work where it's easy to identify Yamada's pet theme, but I still enjoyed seeing how he slowly, but surely, set the stage for the reveal. By the way, in general, a lot of Yamada's mystery plots are very much about interpretation of events, similar to Christie and Chesterton. Add in a bit of post-war pessimism concerning social (economic) conditions, but also a good heap of romanticism, and you have an idea of how Yamada's novels are.
My version of Dare Ni Mo Dekiru Satsujin was included in Yamada Fuutarou Mystery Kessakusen 1: Ganchuu no Akuma ("Yamada Fuutarou Mystery Masterpieces Selection 1: The Demon in Her Eyes"). This book also contains a wide selection of Yamada's early short stories, but most of them are also included in the short story collection Kyozou Inraku, which I already reviewed in the past.
I didn't manage to write anything substantial about Dare Ni Mo Dekiru Satsujin, but that's because giving away too much would really spoil the fun. I think that if you liked Yamada's Taiyou Kokuten, you'd also like this book, as they have similar atmospheres. The concept behind the story structure is really what makes this book a memorable one, and Yamada manages to execute the idea very admirably.
Original Japanese title(s): 山田風太郎 『誰にも出来る殺人』