Sunday, June 26, 2011



"It was like Yoshizawa said. I hadn't learned anything. I was just a passerby. Just a spectator without any responsiblity, who puts away his book the momnt the mysteries have been solved. That was who I really was"
"The Locked Classroom"

Oh, wait, I was supposed to read Japanese novels this summer. And oh^2, I won't be posting every day now, as I'm finally through my backlog of posts! Pretty  much all posts this week were written last weekend actually, but as I don't wanna update more than once a day....

Most detective manga/anime/light novels seem to have children ~ students as the protagonists, for obvious reasons. Schools are therefore often the stage for murder and other crimes in manga. But strangely enough, I don't see the school-setting in novels very often, or at least not in Japanese novels.

And that's why I was surprised by Norizuki Rintarou's Mippei Kyoushitsu ("The Locked Classroom"). But that wasn't the only reason. It was also because this is Norizuki Rintarou's very first novel (written at age 23!) and it doesn't even feature his series-detective Rintarou! In fact, as the novel features a high school student called Kudou, who tries to solve a locked room murder in a school, it reminds a bit more of Conan.... But anyway, class 7R is in for a surprise when one morning, the dead body of classmate Nakamachi is found inside their (locked) classroom. Strangely enough though, all the tables and chairs have disappeared from the classroom too! As a suicide note is found besides Nakamachi's body, the teachers quickly decide it's a suicide. Kudou however isn't too sure about this and starts poking around, which is not appreciated much by students and teachers.

Norizuki Rintarou's debut work feels very uneven. We have some early Queen elements with false solutions, the strange circumstances of the locked room and even quotes from Kafka and other writes. But the writing style is fairly different from later Norizuki novels; because of the very short 'chapters' (2~4 pages), the story never seems to rest, there is always something happening. Which is a bit tiring. The (Japanese) school-setting is interesting in theory, but very few characters are developed (mostly one teacher and just a handful of students, despite a class of 48 students, and that's ignoring the other classes!), which is very disappointing. Few characters actually feel and act like high-school students; with late EQ-angsting and at times hard-boiled noir-ish events and dialogue, it's rather hard to believe this is a high school.

Note that I'm totally ignoring issues like the Japanese education system, suicide at schools, school-culture and rules in this review, even though it may seem relevant for some readers. It just seems like a box of Pandora, if I were to begin writing about the subject, I doubt it would ever end.

The main problem, the locked room and the disappeared chairs and tables, is pretty neat though and recalls classic Queenian problems. I liked the protagonist Kudou too,  probably because he's very recognizable as a student who only reads detective novels and thus tries to solve the mystery of the locked room and the death of his classmate. I'm not sure whether Kudou is re-used in other Norizuki novels actually.  It's just that the road to the solution is done very differently from Queen and later Norizuki Rintarou novels. In fact, Norizuki's second novel, Yuki Misshitsu,already is completely different from this novel in structure and writing-style.

So yeah, it feels very much like a debut work of a young writer. But with the Power of Hindsight, we know that Norizuki Rintarou will grow out  to be a great writer. A bumpy ride, but worth the trouble, I think.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I don't see the school setting often either, meaning I seldom read books with that kind of setting, not that they are rare. Because actually there are a lot of mystery writers who set their stories in schools (e.g. 霧舎巧, 辻村深月, ...).

    Settings with academic backgrounds and students as characters might be more prevalent though, which stems from very early examples by Ayukawa Tetsuya which later served as inspirations for most of the neo-orthodox writers like Ayatsuji Yukito, Arisugawa Arisu, Ashibe Taku etc.

    Frankly speaking, many authors actually are (Ph.D.) students when they write their first works as you pointed out, so the academic background should not be that surprising anyway.