Thursday, February 24, 2011


"Magic? For old hands, gentlemen, that's naive. The ancient formula: pick out the facts and put them together. Mix thorougly with plenty of logic. Add a dash of imagination. Presto!"
"Halfway House"

My fairly, maybe very irritating habit of using quotes as both post titles and introductions, I stole from Ellery Queen. Many of his novels have themed chapter names and introducing quotes. And apparently this attention to detail made so much impression on me that I too name my posts thematically. Even though I often can't find good quotes to go with my posts. You'll notice the relation of the quotes to the contents are somewhat farfetched. But I just compulsively name them like this. Imagine my shock when I found I had accidentally saved over the file where I wrote down usable quotes. I was not pleased. Just as I'm not pleased I have to work on a netbook because my normal laptop (with a normal size monitor and keyboard) won't connect to the Internet. I'm pretty sure this post has a lot more typos/weird sentences than usual, as I really hate writing on this small thing.

But coming back to Queen, I hadn't read novels by him for some time now. Two years maybe. Which wasn't because I had already read all the books (far from it!). But as can be deduced from this blog, I mostly read Japanese detective fiction lately. So reading Halfway House felt sorta like coming back home. Ellery is asked for help by his friend Bill, when he finds his brother-in-law Joe Wilson murdered in a shack near the Delaware rivier. And that's about all I can tell you about the story. Because one of the major plot-twists follows immediately and it would be a shame to spoil it. Like the text on the cover of my copy did.

But I quite like this novel. While this novel technically isn't one of Ellery Queen's The [Country] [Noun] Mystery novels, it is certainly written as one. Thematically titled chapter names, introducing quotes and the last Challenge to the Reader (until a much later published The Finishing Stroke) are the aesthetical proofs of this, while the incredible deductions Ellery makes serve as the spritual proof. Ellery's deductions (like in The Greek Coffin Mystery, The Tragedy of X, The Tragedy of Z etc.) are still among the most impressive feats of detective fiction, I think. From all the evidence available, Ellery makes a list of attributes of the murderer and then examines every suspect to see whether they fit or don't the profile. And finds the murderer. Q.E.D. It's as easy as 1 + 1 = 2.

But on the other hand, Halfway House is truly halfway. With few suspects, Queen spouting less quotes and a rather clumsily inserted clue that explains everything, it's certainly not as complex as earlier novels. With the Hollywood and Wrightville novels following, this is truly a bit of both worlds of the Queen canon spectrum.

And to continue in the Queen tradition, I might as well discuss Arisugawa Alice's Burajiru Chou no Nazo ("The Brazilian Butterfly Mystery") now. Because this review has been waiting for almost a month now. Yes, backlog. But this is the last one left. Burajiru Chou no Nazo is the sequel to Russia Koucha no Nazo ("The Russian Tea Mystery") and is the same in set-up. Himura, the "Clinical Criminologist" (as dubbed by Alice) and Alice, a mystery writer and long-time friend, assist the police in five short stories.

The titular Burajiru Chou no Nazo ("The Brazilian Butterfly Mystery") start Queen-ish with a rather bizarre murder scene. A man, who had been living alone on an island for ten years, has come back to get his inheritance from his deceased brother, but he is found murdered himself in a room with dead butterflies pinned to the ceiling. With his sister-in-law, her brother and a lawyer as suspects, Himura solves this rather disappointing case easily. I really wanted to like this story, as it began so good, but the solution was just too simple in my eyes. For some reason or another though, this story is going to be adapted for the theaters, with a planned release for the winter this year.

Mousou Nikki ("Diary of Fantasies") is also very simplistic in design, but I sorta liked. Himura and Alice investigate a diary of a man who had been burned to death. The man had gone mad after losing his wife and child and was living with his parent-in-laws. But the problem is that the man, having gone mad, had also lost the ability to write words. Himura and Alice stand for the problem of reading a diary of a man who couldn't write.

Kanojo ka Kare ka ("Her or him") is somewhat fitting to go with Halfway House, as the story is about an investigation of a transvestite (no, there is no transvestite in Halfway House). The victim was a man, but would at times dress up as a woman. Just as he inherited from his father a small fortune that would have allowed him a sex-change operation, he is found murdered. The investigation in his private life is quite interesting and the hint pointing to the solution was quite interesting, from a personal point of view. Yes, this a rather vague, but you'll understand if you read it.

Hitokui no Taki ("The Man Eating Waterfall") is the longest story in the collection and the most interesting. With a legend of a man-eating waterfall that calls for victims, a movie being filmed there and the footsteps of a man walking into the waterfall, we have the ingredients for a nice story with a supernatural tone. 

Chouchou ga habataku ("Butterflies flying away") is another of the simple stories, where Alice talks with a man in the train and hears the strange story of how he had just seen two people on the platform across the train, who had disappeared many, many years ago. The man had gone on a holiday with those two and other friends, but one day they had just vanished from their inn. They couldn't have gone out through the locked doors and windows, while the back of the inn looked out on a beach and they wouldn't have able to go there without leaving any footprints. Just as Alice wants to ask more about it, the man leaves the train though, and Alice is left with a problem without solution. It's up to Himura to solve this problem

All in all a decent, if slightly simple short story collection. This time, the stories are less urban (mostly Kare ka, kanojo ka) and the stories and solutions very much depend on interpretation, rather the dying clues or mechanical solutions of the previous story collection. While it's good Arisugawa is writing more types of stories, I have to say the first was a better. I only have one short story collection left by Arisugawa, so I hopes the next combines the best of both.

And Edogawa Rampo month taught me not to be as foolish as to actually announce it, but I will suggest, hint and imply that March might be rather more video game orientated than other months. Maybe.

Original Japanese title(s): 有栖川有栖 『ブラジル蝶の謎』/「ブラジル蝶の謎」/「妄想日記」/「彼か彼女か」/「人食いの滝」/「蝶々がはばたく」 


  1. thanks to this post I just discovered Langtail Press,which is trying to republish a lot of the older mysteries that you can't find anymore. Thanks a lot!

  2. Their releases are pretty OK as far as printing-on-demand goes. I just don't like how all their covers look the same.

    I take it you know Rue Morgue Press?

  3. I highly recommend the books from the Rue Morgue Press, which are very readable editions and most of their catalogue consists of author's who were nearly forgotten or whose books cost a small fortune on the secondhand book market (e.g. Clyde Clason and Glyn Carr). I'm also eternally grateful to them for introducing me to Kelley Roos, Stuart Palmer and Craig Rice.

    Crippen and Landru is also a great publisher that specializes exclusively to short story collections and have great a Lost Classics series (Palmer's "Uncollected Riddles" and Commings' "Banner Deadlines" are must reads for everyone who loves classic fair-play puzzle plots or bizarre locked rooms situations).

  4. I have disagree about this being a bit of both early Ellery and the late 30s period 2. It came off much like a period 1 novel and the long chain of deductions was one of the best explanations that were done in the entire Queen cannon.

    Solved all the mysteries from Siamese Twin to this book. Including Lamp of God the novella. Period 1 was not perfect but logical puzzles were the cousins forte. It certainly was not comedy or romance.

    1. Oh man, the "romance" angles from the Hollywood novels are really... uuuugh.