Sunday, July 31, 2011

Captured in Her Eyes

"ἐμὲ δὲ χλωρὸν δέος ᾕρει,μή μοι Γοργείην κεφαλὴν δεινοῖο πελώρουἐξ Ἀίδεω πέμψειεν ἀγαυὴ Περσεφόνεια."

"And pale fear grabbed me lest wondrous Persephone would send forth from Hades the head of the terrible monster Gorgon"

Following an Ancient Greek course in Japan was kinda weird, but I did really enjoy reading stuff like Perseus again after so many years. Especially as Ancient Greek is not a language I read often. Which is a shame. The only use Ancient Greek nowadays has is when I am asked to fill in languages I know on forms and such (which did result in a funny scene when a friend and I had to register for a Chinese course in Japan). Or when I need introducing quotes.

Norizuki Rintarou's Nakakubi ni Kiite Miro - The Gorgon's Look ("Ask the Decapitated Head - The Gorgon's Look") (2005) is the most recent novel-length entry in the writer Norizuki Rintarou series. And it was received quite well in Japan actually: taking the first place at both the 2005 kono mystery ga sugoi! ("This mystery is great!") rankings and the honkaku mystery taishou ("The orthodox mystery price") rankings. Which raises expectations, right? Actually, I knew nothing about this novel except that it won those prices when I started with this novel. I didn't even bother to read the description on the back of the book. I just started knowing only that 1) it shouldn't be bad as it won some influential prices and 2) the cover was really creeping me out. Seriously, like she's looking into the depths of my souuuuuuul~

The contents are less creepy though. One day, when Rintarou is visiting a photo gallery held by his kouhai, he meets Kawashima Echika, a young smart girl who is the daughter of the famous sculpter Kawashima Isaku. He was once a big name in the art world, shocking the world with his daring Mother-Daughter Statue, a statue made by plaster-casting on his wife, at the time pregnant with Echika. He went into a slump several years ago though, but as he feels that his health will not keep up any longer, he decides to make his final work of art: a new plaster cast statue, this time using Echika as his model. Quickly after Echika and Rintarou's meeting however, Isaku dies of heart failure. The family then discovers something horrible: someone has entered the locked atelier and cut off the head of the statue of Echika. Fearing this might be some kind of warning, the family asks Rintarou to investigate.

And then people lie to Rintarou, Rintarou keeps falling for those lies, keep this up for 250 pages and then finally the cut-off head of a real person appears. And then another 200 pages of lies which Rintarou keeps believing for some reason, and then the conclusion.

The first 250 pages were really, really hard to go through. In the beginning, Rintarou is just investigating the disappeared head of the statue, going around following his leads. But pretty much everyone lies to him, and what's worse, he keeps believing those lies. Most of the book, it's: A lies to Rintarou -> Rintarou believes A -> discovers at a later stage that he had been lied to -> A tells truth (?) -> B lies to Rintarou -> etc.  You would think that a writer detective with quite some adventures on his resume would be a little less naive. Rintarou really keeps bumbling around and in fact could have solved the case much faster if he wasn't so gullible. I know Norizuki went for a Wrightsville-Queen, the imperfect great detective, when he created his character, but the Rintarou here does feel different from the Rintarou from the short stories. And it doesn't help that the murder in the book doesn't occur until halfway through, as all those people lying about a statue's head seems a bit silly.

The lies of course all tie in to the murder, eventually, but by then I was really bored by the novel. It does pick up after the murder, with little pieces slowly falling into place and I have to admit, the solution was pretty good. It reminds of the previous novel in the series, Ni no Higeki ("The Tragedy of Two"), but done better here. Whereas Shimada is at his best when he uses a grand trick to fool everybody, Norizuki is at his best when he comes up with a solution that can be solved by pure logic. Just by looking at what people know and looking at the gap between taken actions and actions they should take based on their knowledge, Norizuki arrives at the solution. Rintarou here is clearly following a latish-Queenian approach with his detecting. The solution did save the novel for me, which is saying much as I was really not having fun for most of the book.

I think the biggest problem I had with the beginning of the story is that the quest for the statue's head seems a a bit too open. The head is gone, yes, but it is not clear whether this is connected with any (upcoming) crime or not, or whether it is just a prank or something like that. There is no feeling of urgence to the matter. It feels too much like an aimless investigation in the beginning, which only gets a clear goal when the murder is commited. Which makes for a bit tedious reading. Germany and France (Jinroujou no Kyoufu) were also a bit boring in the beginning, as both books starts with a lengthy introduction of the characters and the history of the castles, with the murders happening in the latter part of the stories. A story which lacks a clear direction, is just hard to get into for me. Compare to Soutou no Akuma ("Double-headed Devil"), where the murder(s) also started rather late in the story, but the beginning was a lot more exciting with an investigation and infiltration of a quant village. For me, the faster a murder, the better.

Of course, subject matter also plays a role. Jinroujou no Kyoufu may have a slow start, but I did really like the medieval legends and such in the beginning of Germany. While I like the part on Medusa /Gorgons in Nakakubi ni Kiite Miro - The Gorgon's Look, art is really not my thing. Or at least not sculptures. For me, the best mix of an interesting topic and detectives is still Kuitan. Because you can't go wrong with food.

This was the last Norizuki novel I had actually (well, 'cept for Ni no Higeki, but I already know the radio drama, so I know the story already). As I placed a purchase restraint on myself for Japanese novels this summer, I will have to wait at least a month before I will get some new books. Which might or might not include Norizuki. I'm having fun with Queen's Calendar of Crime, so Norizuki's Horoscope of Crime might be interesting...

Original Japanese title(s): 法月綸太郎 『生首に聞いてみろ』


  1. Sometimes the award winners are actually 問題作 and receive very diverging reviews for being so unique and experimental (for the better or the worse). That's why I always look at content descriptions, since books I've really liked a lot that won any award or ranked 1st in one of the mystery rankings are few in number. Many were featured somewhere in the Best 10 or 5 though. And the Mephisto Award Winners don't count as the criteria seem rather arbitrary to me...

    The current novel by Maya Yutaka I'm reading right now won the Japan Mystery Writers Association Award, the Orthodox Mystery Award and ranked 1st in 2011's Orthodox Mystery Best, so I'm curious how this one will turn out in the end since it's also one of those novels where opinions mostly diverge into absolute appraisal or disapproval.

  2. 『生首・・・』は別に問題作やないと思うけどな。後半、特に結末はほんとによかとボクも認める (受賞すべきだったのかはまた別の問題やけど)。 『生首・・・』に問題があるのは多分ボクだけやろ。やっぱ話にホトケさん出ないとあまり盛り上がらんタイプやけん。芸術にもあまり関心持っとらんし。

    I actually practically never look at any rankings at all. I only discovered this novel won a price after I had bought it. Actually, almost 6 months after I purchased it. The only novels I know won a price when I bought them, are the ones in the Mystery Writers of Japan Award series (with the black covers) (and that's more because they have to have won prices to be released in that series).

    Seriously, my purchasing habits in Japan are literally as follows: enter Book-Off, go to the 105 yen corner, look at names I know I have seen somewhere, buy random amount of books w/o even reading what's on the back. It's only when I want to write reviews that I do background research ^_~ (Thus explaining the inconsistent quality of the books I review here, as well as why I seem to stick to a select group of writers)

  3. まっ、法月氏のはあまり問題作とは言えぬが、日本推理作家協会賞受賞作は幾つか話題になったと読んだ覚えはある。今回の麻耶氏の受賞作もそうだ。それにメフィスト賞受賞作は時々問題作ばっかという印象もある(笑)良くもも悪くもな。俺には問題になるのは大体「本格かどうか」という意味に見える。若しくは「登場人物、設定、論理には現実味があるかどうか」ってな。

    The only 2 short times I've been to Japan were when I was not able to read Japanese novels yet... So now I mostly order stuff from amazon, which is so expensive that I always have to be somewhat sure that what I'm spending money on is at least worth it, if not awesome. I do occasionally find novels by e.g. Arisugawa Arisu in the Used section of the main Japanese bookstore in Düsseldorf though, which still isn't as cheap as Book-Off but definitely a lot more affordable than buying new goods.

  4. そう言えば、東野圭吾の「容疑者Xの献身」も所謂問題作の一つ。本格かどうかという問題を巡って、論争というほどまで話題になった。例えば笠井潔は「探偵小説は「セカイ」と遭遇した」の三分の一に「容疑者Xの献身」について評論してる。特に二階堂黎人は東野の作品を強く批判したようだ。其々のランキングに1位を獲得して、第6回本格ミステリ大賞を受けたのに...いや、多分だからこそそうせざるお得なかったのかも。まぁ、俺の雑誌を読んでも二階堂氏はどうせかなり厳しいな方だとは解ってくるけどな(汗)

  5. 『容疑者X』をめぐる争論はよう知っとうよ。それは確かに問題作やったね。ボクは一応本格だとは思うばってん、笠井や二階堂の主張が解らんわけではない。両氏は確かにいい点に付いとう。だが、『容疑者X』は本格かにたいしてYESかNOかと聞かれたら、ボクはやっぱYESで答える。

    購入の話に変わるばってん、確かにネット注文するとき、ボクも(ボクなりに)予習はちょっとやるよ。ネット注文の値段高かし、時間もかかるけん、やっぱいいもん注文したい。まぁ、実は今年ほとんど何も買わんかったばってん。積ん読が多すぎるけん >_>