Saturday, September 25, 2010


"You have to excuse me, but I've seen you play this routine time and time again. The paper shuffling, the distractions, the talk about your wife, or in this case your broken percolator. If you've got me in your cross hairs, you really have to do better than using all that crap.", 'The Gun that Wasn't', " The Columbo Collection"

Desperately trying to shorten the backlog before a ridiculous amount of books is delivered here from Japan. But I don't really think I'll be able to shorten it significantly. Especially not if I forget which books I have read and which not.

The week started with ABC Satsujin Jiken ("The ABC Murders"), an short story anthology named after Agatha Christie's classic. Like with Y no Higeki, a book discussed earlier, stories in this anthology all play with the theme of Christie's The A.B.C. Murders. Both Arisugawa Arisu and Norizuki Rintarou contributed to ABC Satsujin, as well as Onda Riku, Kanou Tomoko and Nukui Tokurou.

And as I was reading this book, I realised I had actually read half of this anthology before, but I couldn't remember what happened in the stories, so I had to re-read them. However, the fact I couldn't remember a single fact of most stories was indeed a sign the stories weren't that interesting. Maybe I had supressed them in my memories.

Which in hindsight seems plausible. Veterans Arisugawa Arisu and Norizuki Rintarou offer slightly entertaining stories with "ABC Killer" and "ABCD Houimou" ("The ABCD Line"). ABC Killer is closest to Christie's ABC, with a string of serial murders of people who are killed in alphabetic order. "The ABCD Line" starts with a man who keeps confessing to murders (and saying he's responsible for accidents), but whom it was impossible to commit those. Why would someone confess to murders he didn't commit?

Howver, the remaining stories are not interesting at all. Onda Riku's Anata to yoru to ongaku to ("You, the night and music") has an interesting setting, at a radio station, but is a mediocre story. And the strangest part is that it is less of a homage to The A.B.C. Murders, than to Ellery Queen's The Mad Tea Party or The Finishing Stroke. Kanou Tomoko's Neko no Ie no Alice ("Alice of the House of Cats") does revolve around a plot of poisoned cats (yes, in alphabetical order), but is full of distracting Alice in Wonderland references. Which again reminds more of Queen than Christie.Nukui Tokurou's Rensa suru Suuji ("Connected Numbers") is actually bad, with bad pacing in story, a bad plot and bad characters. I won't even bother writing about it.

Compared to the very entertaining Y no Higeki, this anthology is mostly disappointing. The A.B.C. Murders is one of the most famous detective stories ever and you'd think writers should be able to do more with the ingenious theme of the book. And not really related to that, but maybe I should finally start reading Alice in Wonderland.

Luckily I read The Columbo Collection afterwards, a new collection of Columbo short stories! Written by series creator William Link and published by Crippen & Landru, this set of 12 stories revive the old show. In a new setting though. It's hard to imagine the lieutenant using a cell phone. But he does. Still, what is there to complain about a continuation of good old Columbo, who'll keep hounding his suspect till he catches them on one small mistake?

Even though the series stopped many years ago, reading these stories will make you realize Columbo is a series that will never age. While these short stories are indeed short (compared to the 60 till 90 minutes episodes), the psychological fencing between murderer and Columbo is still as entertaining as ever. Looking for the one mistake the murderer made is still as exciting as ever. And everyone will read Columbo's lines with Peter Falk's voice in their heads. It's classic Columbo, in 2010. And it's good. 

Original Japanese title(s): 『ABC殺人事件』/有栖川有栖 「ABCキラー」/恩田陸 「あなたと夜と音楽と」/加納朋子 「猫の家のアリス」/貫井徳郎 「連鎖する数字」/法月綸太郎 「ABCD包囲網」

Saturday, September 11, 2010


"But what is often called an intuition is really an impression based on logical deduction or experience. When an expert feels that there is something wrong about a picture or a piece of furniture or the signature on a cheque he is really basing that feeling on a host of small signs and details. He has no need to go into them minutely - his experience obviates that - the net result is the definite impression that something is wrong.But it is not a guess,it is an impression based on experience.", Hercule Poirot, "The ABC Murders"

Upon my return, I discovered I had a bigger gaming and detective fiction backlog than expected, so it was nice (and more efficient) to have something that was both a game and detective fiction. Trick X Logic Season One was a game I bought only days before I left Japan (because I have wa~hay too many point cards), but that doesn't mean it was just chosen on a whim. I had been actually looking forward to this game for some quite time.

This visual novel, developed by veteran Chunsoft, caught my attention because many big-name Japanese detective writers collaborated on it. Seven writers wrote ten scenarios for the game, with the reader being forced to solve the mysteries themselves.

The premise: after being pushed off of a building, prodigy prosecutor Yoshikawa Itsuki wakes up in Hell. Where the judge of human souls, Yama, asks Yoshikawa for his help with some unsolved cases. Yama usually reads a record of human deeds, the Akasha, to pass judgement on human souls, but in some cases he can't figure out whodunnit just by reading the Akasha. Hence the need for Yoshikawa's mind. He is to read the Akasha and figure out the culprit. If he cooperates, Yama promises to return him to the land of the living.

Cue the scenarios of the detective writers. Season one consists of 5 and a half stories, being 0) Yubisasu Shitai ("The Pointing Corpse", credited to Chunsoft), 1) Nusumerata Figure ("The Stolen Figurine", written by Abiko Takemaru), 2) Akari no Kieta Heya de ("In the dark room", written by Takemoto Kenji), 3) Yuki furu Joshiryou nite ("At a snowing Women's Dormitory", written by Maya Yutaka), 4) Setsudan sareta Itsutsu no Kubi ("Five Necks Cut Off", written by Ooyama Seiichirou) and the story part (no solution chapter) to 5) Bourei Hamlet ("The Ghost Hamlet", written by Kuroda Kenji). The stories all feature classic detective themes like dying messages, impossible disappearences, cut up bodies and alibi tricks.

In practice, you get to read a story (or for the lazy: listen to a reading of the story!), with no conclusion. Then you select keywords from the text ("He can't read" and "He was seen reading a book"), in order to generate mysteries (the previous keywords might lead to "Why was the man reading a book if he can't read?" for example). This mysteries can be combined with other keywords to solve them, thus creating insights ("It was an imposter" or "He actually can read"). Finally, these insights are used to answer the questions of who- and howdunnit.

It's like a more advanced version of Gyakuten Saiban (Ace Attorney); reading the text you'll find suspicious sentences, which you pursue further. The difference being the scale: whereas Gyakuten Saiban usually gives you 5 pieces of testimony a time, Trick X Logic will give you a 200 page story to find all the clues. And the mysteries and insights you find while reading the story? A lot of them are plausible, yet false. This combination-of-hints-to-produce-hypotheses system is kinda reminiscent of the Trick game (not related), only at a much higher level.

Which is also the frustrating part of the game: at times you'll figure out what happened and how, but have severe problems finding the right combination of keywords out of a 200 page story. It's a complaint I hear a lot about Gyakuten Saiban, knowing what happened without knowing how to activate the story flags to actually proceed. I personally never had any problems with that in Gyakuten Saiban, but let's say that a 200 page version of that is indeed very vexing.

I certainly had fun with this game; the stories were fun, production values are quite good for the budget price at which this game is sold and I am looking forward to the second season. However, at times it was kinda frustating to actually find the right keywords and mysteries within the story to complement the (correct) ideas I already had in my head. Still, I guess this is the closest you can get to a one-on-one conversion of a classic detective novel to a game.

Original Japanese title(s): 『TRICK X LOGIC』/チュンソフト 「指さす死体」/我孫子武丸 「盗まれたフィギュア」/竹本健治 「明かりの消えた部屋で」/麻耶雄嵩 「雪降る女子寮にて」/大山誠一郎 「切断された五つの首」/黒田研二 「亡霊ハムレット」

Sunday, September 5, 2010

A Study in Terror

Something old, something new,
Something borrowed, something blue,
And silver sixpence in your shoe
My backlog is horrible. While I have sent quite some reading materials back home, I was (pleasantly?) surprised to find I had left a lot of reading homework before I left. But as I had already started the book at Hong Kong Airport, I figured I might as well finish Agatha Christie's Secret Notebooks by Curran first.

The book contains as the title sorta suggests transcripts of Agatha Christie's notes on the books she wrote, with Curran commenting on them. While not really interesting for the casual reader, the Christie fans will love the book. It's fun to see how awfully clever Christie was, brainstorming on every available piece of paper in random order. Readers will see how some novels evolved into their final form, or how some plot-ideas were incorporated into other novels.

And the main selling point of the book must be the inclusion of two unpublished Poirot stories! The first one, The Capture of Cerberus is actually the first version of the same-named story Christie wrote for The Labours of Hercules short story collection. The contents are totally different from the published version and while Poirot acts somewhat out-of-character at times, the story makes for an amusing read.

The second short story, The Incident of the Dog's Ball, is as the name suggests an alternate version of the novel Dumb Witness. The main ideas are the same, mainly the incident of the dog's ball, and I think the story works better in short story form than in novel-length, though I am kinda biased towards short stories.

The book is a very entertaining read for the Christie fan, but I can hardly recommend it to other people: the notes spoil a lot of books and it's just not as interesting if you don't know anything about the stories, while the new short stories are entertaining, but not among Christie's best.