Saturday, February 5, 2011

"Let the Reader Beware!"

「俺たちは立ち止まらない、そして全力で生きて、戦い抜いて、最後に死ぬときが来たらこう言うんだ 「生きててよかった」ってな」、桐生一馬、『龍が如くOF THE END』

"We won't stop. We will live and fight throught it with everything we have and in the end, when the time to die has come, we'll say: 'We're glad to have lived'", Kiryuu Kazuma, "Ryuu ga Gotoku OF THE END"

Back to reviews.

I usually find it hard to find new authors to read. Well, no, that's not the problem, the problem is actually reading a book by someone I don't know yet. I see countless of names and titles, which all seem interesting, but as my funds aren't limitless, I usually end up with the safe and sound purchases of authors I know are good.

One way to work around this, is an anthology. I have a couple of anthologies of Japanese authors, which I only buy if I see at least one familiar name. Reasoning that at least one story (probably) won't disappoint me. And I hope for the best with the rest. Which ties in with a common problem in anthologies: for every good story collected, it seems a bad story has to be included too. I love my Mammoth Book of Perfect Crimes and Impossible Mysteries, but I have to wonder why crap stories likes Murder in Monkeyland were included. It is like it's mandatory to wade through a stream of bad stories before you can reach the safe shores of a good story.

So I started with caution with Anata ga Meitantei ("You are the great detective"), an anthology of seven authors with seven stories. I've had this book in my possession for more than a year now, actually. But it was here, while I was in Japan, so that's allowed. The premise is nice though: all stories are divided in a 'problem chapter' and a 'solution chapter', collected in the end. You are supposed to read the problems first and then check with the solution whether you were right. A Challenge to the Reader.

First up is Awasaka Tsumao's Katoriko satsujin jiken ("The Katori Lake murder case"), a murder case in a ski resort surrounding the Katori lake. A very dry story involving people on skis, bandages, people found strangled with said bandages in the middle of the lake and not really good or bad. It seems this story is also the main story of the same-named short story collection by Awasaka and if so, I am not too impressed with his writings.

Nishizawa Yasuhiko's Obentou guruguru ("A lunch box, around and around") is another of these not-impressive stories. A man is killed in his home and according to his wife, old art objects were stolen from their storage room. Was it theft? Were there really art objects there? What about the insurance saleswoman who discovered the corpse? In the end, I didn't care.

Kobayashi Yasumi's Ookina mori no chiisana misshitsu ("A small locked room in een big forest") involves what it says in the title. A man involved with some shady business is found murdered in his mountain house, with several of his business victims around. While the mystery itself, while better than the previous one, was once again not special (I was getting real depressed by now), I at least liked the detective: an old man called Toku, who lives in the mountain selling computer parts. It seems Kobayashi used him in several other mystery stories of his, so I might try some more.

What saved this anthology was Maya Yutaka's Helios no Shinzou ("The Idol of Helios"). A locked room mystery in the tradition of Queen, somewhat reminiscent to The Chinese Orange Mystery in idea (luckily not in execution!) and an excellent story in general. Seeing his story in Trick X Logic was one of the better ones too (and actually somewhat similar to Helios no Shinzou in how the crime is solved by a elimination deduction chain), it seems I am obliged to read more of this writer. Luckily, I have another of his stories lying around here. In another anthology.

Norizuki Rintarou was the only name I knew when I bought this anthology. In Zeus no Kodomotachi ("The Children of Zeus"), the writer Norizuki is in a kantsume situation in a hotel faraway from Tokyo. Kantsume refers to canned food, but in the literary world, this refers to the action of the editor/publisher confining a writer to his room, to make sure the author finishes his work before the deadline. But a great detective wouldn't be a great detective if he didn't encounter a murder anyway.  The theme of the Dioskuri, twin brothers Kastor and Polydeuces and the twin sisters Clytemnestra and Helena, plays a big role in the story, as the owners of the hotel are actually two sets of married twins, of which one couple has died some years ago. But it seems there might be an imposter involved. Or not? In the end, Norizuki's story is mostly meant to fool the reader, which isn't something I am too keen with, but I forgive him, as it was an interesting story. And there are few good stories here to begin with.

Ashibe Taku's story, Dokusha yo Azamukarete okure ("Reader, Be Fooled"), is also a story meant to fool the reader. Ashibe goes the length to come up with a meta-introduction to warn the reader (and to set it up), but it...doesn't work. At all. Maybe it was  because I'm not a native reader and I just missed the hints meant to fool me or something, but the trick Ashibe wanted to use to fool the reader just didn't work. And that breaks up the whole story.

Finally, Kasumi Ryuuichi's Hidarite de Barbeque ("A Barbeque with the left hand") was another of these meh stories, with a man murdered, a cut off left hand and me not caring that much. Once again, it was not a bad story per se, but nothing worth writing about either.

It was all in all, a normal anthology experience. A lots of meh and a one or two good ones. Ah well, this one at least didn't had a really awful story. 

Original Japanese title(s): 『あなたが名探偵』 泡坂妻夫 「蚊取湖殺人事件」/ 西澤保彦  「お弁当ぐるぐる」/小林泰三 「大きな森の小さな密室」/麻耶雄嵩 「ヘリオスの神像」/法月綸太郎 「ゼウスの息子たち」/ 芦辺拓 「読者よ欺かれておくれ」/ 霞流一 「左手でバーベキュー]

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