Monday, June 13, 2011


"Love is a moment of weakness that allows someone to hurt you more than you ever thought possible. Men were given the strength to be brutes to women, and women were given love to wreck their revenge"
"Discworld Noir"

And still the Yokomizo Seishi pile doesn't seem to shrink. It's going a lot slower than I'd expected. Even with a book every week it seems like that pile is still as high as ever.

Jooubachi ("Queen Bee") is another of those high-profile Kindaichi Kousuke novels, that often makes the jump to both the small and the silver screen. With a focus on beautiful women, it's not too surprising maybe. As per the will of her mother, Daidouji Tomoko is to move from the island of Gekkintou to her stepfather in Tokyo after her 18th birthday.. Brought up on Gekkintou by her grandmother and her tutor, Tomoko has turned out to be just like her mother: a beautiful woman who manages to capture the hearts of every man around her. She is not a temptress or something like that though, she just has something that attracts men,without herself being aware of it. However, someone seems to have something against her, as several persons close to her receive threatening letters saying she should never leave Gekkintou. For she, like her mother, is a Queen Bee, and the men who try to get close to her will die.

Kindaichi Kousuke is hired to accompany Tomoko, her grandmother and her tutor on their way to Tokyo, and they meet up halfway with Tomoko's stepfather, his son (no blood-relation to Tomoko) and three suitors for Tomoko he himself has selected. What was said in the threatening letters seems to be true though, because already after the first day one of the suitors is found murdered. And he is not the only one to go. The murders in the present seem to be connected with the death of Tomoko's real father, 19 years ago, a picture of a bat nobody has seen and a certain locked room, but is Kindaichi Kousuke able to solve these interlinked crimes in the past and present?

Of course he solves it. Like so often, Kindaichi only manages to solve the crime after dozens of people have died, true, but he does solve the case. Seriously, Kindaichi Hajime might not be very much like his grandfather, but they both have the knack of not being very useful in preventing serial killings, only in solving them afterwards. Even if they have their suspicions, they never seem to actually act on it and well, maybe try to shorten the list of the dead.

For a Kindaichi Kousuke case though, the setting of Jooubachi is pretty different: most of the novel is set in relatively urban spaces (murders occur in a hotel and theater amongst others) and I have to say I was really surprised when I realized not much was going to happen on the island of Gekkintou. I was expecting murder and mayhem before Tomoko could ever leave the island, but when they left the island in like a two-sentence description, I was both disappointed (no island murders?) and happy (at least I don't know what's going to happen). Despite the urban setting though, this novel does feel like a genuine Kindaichi Kindaichi novel with the serial killings, complex family relations, multiple persons with their own agendas working against each other making the mystery that more hard to understand and a lot of scratching of the head by Kindaichi.

The mystery itself though, is not entirely fair, as even though the red herrings were easy to spot and I had set my sight on the right person, there was actually little proof that definitely indicated the real criminal. You sense who it is quite quickly and then you might come up with indications with hindsight, but it would be harder to build a case beforehand, I think. A lot of the backstory was told (too) late in the game too, which is a shame, because I do think this was a very enjoyable book. But don't expect much of the problem of the locked room. The plot runs at a high speed with things happening all the time and it simply never bores, something Yokomizo excels in. Unlike the last two Yokomizo novels I discussed (Yoru Aruku and Yatsu Haka Mura), this novel is written in a third person narrative, and like I thought, this style is much more suitable for the stories Yokomizo writes.

It's a perfectly enjoyable story at any rate and I'm actually pretty curious to the many movie/drama versions of Jooubachi, if only to see who is selected to play Tomoko. 

Original Japanese title(s): 横溝正史 『女王蜂』

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