Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Invisible Man


"It's probably best not to ask about your main occupation?"
"I don't really care"
"If asked, what would you answer?"
"A hacker of reality"
"The Glass Hammer"

Oh, that's what they meant with the master's program takes up your time! While I try to read books in the train, I'm usually too tired to read because it's so early on the way to the university, and I'm just tired from class on the way back. So no, that's not working out really good.

Anyway, I've said it before, but I usually have trouble finding new authors to read. Or to be more precise: it's the not the trouble of finding names, just how to select them. There seems to be a trend in the English-language orthodox mystery blogging sphere of having a profound effect on itself: when one author gets a (very) favorable review on one blog, it usually doesn't take long for that author to also appear on other blogs. Being placed in a somewhat more niche area within this sphere though, the authors enjoying a boom usually don't really fit within my own reading-diet. So how do I choose new authors?

I'm not sure actually. For example, I know I had heard the name Kishi Yuusuke from a friend, but to be honest, I can't really remember in what kind of context. A quick search told me that he was primarily a SF-writer, but that he had also written mystery novels. In the end, I just took a gamble with the friend's recommendation without any real research, so I started pretty clueless with my first Kishi Yuusuke novel.

The Glass Hammer is the first novel in the Security Consultant Detective Enomoto series. Protagonist Enomoto Kei reminds of Bernie Rhodenbarr, with both characters having a rather shady past and both actually being active burglars. But while Rhodenbarr runs a bookstore during the day, Enomoto runs the shop Forewarned & Forearmed, selling anything concerning crime prevention, ranging from locks to security cameras. As a burglar, he is obviously quite an expert in this field. And just to make it clear: he runs the shop honestly, making use of his own knowledge to come up with optimal security solutions for his clients (so he is not making flaws in security plans so he can break and enter himself).

In The Glass Hammer, the president of Bayleaf, a company that offers nursing case solutions, ranging from 'normal' nurses to trained monkeys and nursing robots, is found dead in his office, being knocked on his head rather hard . A security check quickly shows that only one person could have commited the murder. Bayleaf's executive offices are all located on the top floor of a skyscraper and one needs to enter a password for the elevator to move to that floor, so no-one outside the company could have commited the murder. And because the corridor was watched by a camera (with nobody suspicious appearing in the footage) and the window of the president's office can't be opened, the crime was only possible for the senior managing director, as the offices of the director and the president are directly connected (thus it is not necessary to go out to the corridor to go from one office to the other). The director's lawyer Aoto Junko believes in her client's innocence though and hires Enomoto as a security consultant, hoping he can prove that someone could have overcome the obstacles of the code-locked elevator, the infra-red camera and the eyes of the guard and secretaries to murder the president!

But I'm not sure what to think about the novel though. Kishi obviously started out with a brilliant idea for a locked room murder (which I really like) and then came up with the rest of the story. The trick is quite original and makes me curious of Kishi's other novels, as it reminds me a bit of Shimada Souji's large scale mechanical tricks, but set more firmly in contemporary times, with more high-tech obstacles like cameras.

The main problem, for me, is how the book is structured. The book is divided in two parts, the first starting with the discovery of the crime and the subsequent investigation by Aoto and Enomoto. This part is really fun, with both Aoto and Enomoto trying to find a solution to the multi-layered locked room.

The second part however is written from the viewpoint of the murderer, explaining everything from the very beginning, from motive to the planning of the crime to the actual execution. The problem I have with this part is that I really don't care about why the murderer commited the murder. It is not that I don't need motives for murder, but I really don't need 100 pages of character building. The rest (the explanation of the murder) might as well have been included in the first part. While the novel runs at a better pace here compared to the first part, I don't really care about the contents of this second part. It's also in this second part that Kishi comes up with plotpoints that are awfully convenient for the murderer, something that could have been avoided if Kishi had continued with the Enomoto narrative.

Both parts are about the same length (300 pages), but they feel rather disjointed. It's like Kishi wrote two stories based on his locked room trick (one written from the viewpoint of the detective, the other from the criminal's point of view), not sure what would be better story-wise and in the end decided to use them both. But it's not like the story gains anything from that: focusing on one single point of view would have been much more effective, I think.

The trick is really good though and I like the characters Enomoto and Aoto, so I think I'll read more in this series, but I hope the other books are structured better. But despite its faults, I do think this novel is worth a read.

Original Japanese title(s): 貴志祐介 『硝子のハンマー』


  1. You should join us more often and occasionally stuff an English-language mystery in your reading schedule. It'd be interesting to read your thoughts on neo-orthodox writers like William DeAndrea, Herbert Resnicow and Paul Doherty. Not to mention your backlog of John Dickson Carr novels. ;)

  2. I am aware I'm missing out on some interesting stuff, but I have trouble finding time to go through my backlog as is. At least I plan to write my thesis on the neo-orthodox movement, so in the future my homework will consist of reading detectives and maybe I'll sneak in some English-langauge novels too for comparison![/positive view]