Wednesday, June 29, 2011



"He was terrifying black, as his whole body was painted in ink. Rumors of this Black Demon had already spread throughout Tokyo, but stangely enough nobody had seen him good enough to say what he was. He only appeared in the nights and even if they saw a black shadow moving in the darkness, nobody could really say whether it was a man or woman, adult or child."
"Boys Detective Club"

Sometimes it might seem like there is some pattern in my readings. Usually, there is not. For example, the uncanny amount of Western novels discussed last week was just coincidental, as all those books happened to arrive on the same day, even though I had expected some books a week earlier and other books later. So the fact I'm discussing another debut work today, just like Norizuki Rintarou's Mippei Kyoushitsu, doesn't mean anything. Just a coincidence.

So Nikaidou Reito's Jigoku no Kijutsushi ("The Magician from Hell") is Nikaidou's debut work and also the first big case solved by (here still a) high-school student detective Nikaidou Ranko. Her (and Reito's) friend Kurebayashi Hideki and his family are threatened by the Magician from Hell, a mysterious bandaged man who keeps popping up near the 'Crucifix Mansion', home of the Kurebayashi family. Our Magician has sworn to take revenge on Hideki's uncle, and because Evil Men with Aliases don't think single murders are threatening enough, he intends the whole family. The alias isn't just smoke and mirrors though, as a murderer who can appear in a locked room, commit a murder and then disappear, must be a magician (From Hell), right?

The first time I read the title, I though this was an Edowaga Rampo novel. Magician from Hell fits easily in with titles like Spider Man, Gold Mask, Magician, Vampire, Clown from Hell and Invisible Man, right? And the whole first part of the book is indeed like an Edogawa Rampo novel. The mysterious appearances of the Magician from Hell near the Crucifix Mansion are very much like Edogawa Rampo's Shounen Tantei Dan ("Boys Detective Club"), while the whole adventure Ranko, Reito and Hideki have while shadowing the Magician is very much like the ones the children have in Edogawa's legendary series. I usually have problem getting started in novels, but I was caught quite fast because of this adventure-like beginning. The second and third part of the novel are rather orthodox, but the Edogawa Rampo-ness comes back in the conclusion, with a rather suspenseful incident that feels a bit out of place, unless you see it as an extension of the first part.

While Jigoku no Kijutsushi is a decent debut work, the main 'problem' I have is that at times, Nikaidou's influences are just too obvious, like with the Edogawa Rampo example above. Ranko and Reito comparing situations to detective novels is something that also appears in later Nikaidou Ranko novels ('oh, this locked room, isn't this like in...'), but this is invoked a bit too often in this novel. For example, a rather dark secret lies hidden at the very end of the novel, but this is clearly influenced by a certain novel by a famous writer, and Ranko does make a comment about that, but that doesn't change the fact that it's really like that novel. This occurs several times. I know Nikaidou gets more subtle in later novels, but in this work Nikaidou tries to appeal to the reader too much, screaming "Look, I'm one of you, really!".

Overall, the novel is not bad though. The story's pretty intense, keeping you on the edge till the end. I do have the bad feeling a lot of readers will home in on the true culprit pretty fast. The locked room murders are pretty basic too, not as eloborate as Nikaidou's later locked rooms.

This book shares some problems with Norizuki Rintarou's debut work, Mippei Kyoushitsu. Both works are clearly written by fans of the genre and because of this, their debut works suffer a bit. I like references to other novels, I really like that, but both writers appeal to their 'fan-creds' a bit too much, and the originality of their own stories is compromised because of that. As a complete story, I like Jigoku no Kijutsushi more than Mippei Kyoushitsu, but I think the latter is more original. Once again, the Power of Hindsight (and the fact I never seem to read anything in the right order) tells me both writers get over this problem in later novels, but it's exactly because their later novels are much better than it is rather obvious now.

Original Japanese title(s): 二階堂黎人 『地獄の奇術師』

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