Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Oracle of the Dog

「たしかに、 遺体の第一発見者を疑えというのは、殺人事件の鉄則である。あまりそんな話が広まると、誰も遺体の発見を届け出てくれなくなるので、警察も、おおっぴらには言わないが」
『犬のみぞ知る DOG KNOWS』

"Suspect the one who found the dead body, that's a fundamental rule in murder cases. But nobody would come report finding dead bodies if everybody knew this, so the police does not say this out loud"

Kishi Yuusuke's The Glass Hammer was one of my favorite novels of 2011. While the story certainly suffered because of the two-part structure, the solution to the triple-layered locked room murder was simply incredible, which was made all the more impressive because I knew nothing about the book or Kishi. It was just a blind purchase based on a single mention of Kishi by a friend. In retrospect, I don't even think my friend recommended Kishi as a mystery writer, but she probabl just said she liked his novels. Luckily, The Glass Hammer really made an impression.

Security consultant (and probably burglar-in-his-free-time) Enomoto Kei and attorney Aoto Junko return for more impossible crimes and locked room mysteries in Kitsunebi no Ie ("House of the Will o' the Wisp"), a short story collection and second in the series. This collection once again shows what was so fun to The Glass Hammer:  Kishi's creativity. While there is no triple-layered locked room in this collection, even the mundane locked rooms are made interesting by Kishi's fantastic use of his two protagonists. While Enomoto is definitely the detective in this series (being a thief is useful when trying to get in and out of 'sealed' spaces), Aoto is certainly more than 'just' a sidekick and as a highly intelligent laywer, she comes up with great deductions and hypotheses that many readers wouldn't even come up with. Even if the locked room situation seems kinda boring, the way the two protagonists keep making hypotheses based on the evidence, point out the faults in each others hypotheses and slowly move towards the truth is really exciting. The pacing in these stories is fantastic and I finished the book in a record time.

The titular Kitsunebi no Ie ("House of the Will o' the Wisp") is the most reminiscent of The Glass Hammer, both in structure as in story-type. Aoto is hired to defend a man living in a small village in Nagano Prefecture who is accused of killing his own daughter. The man claims that his daughter was already dead when he came back home, but also swears that there were no footsteps around the house when he arrived there (rain had made the ground muddy). A eyewitness also states that the man only came back to his home after his daughter's estimated time of death. All the doors and windows were locked from the inside, except for a window near the back, facing a forest. If there was a killer, he must have escaped there, but there are no footsteps to be found at the back either. Security consultant Enomoto is once again hired by Aoto to prove how someone could have escaped the house without leaving any traces. Similar to The Glass Hammer, the ending is told from the murderer's point of view, but this time it was just a few pages instead of half the book, so it felt less disjointed from the main storyline. All in all a great locked room mystery that keeps the reader guessing.

In Kuroi Kiba ("Black Fangs"), Aoto's client is claiming that a woman is planning to kill the pets she inherited from her dead husband. Aoto and her client meet the woman, trying to get her to hand over the pets she clearly does not want to her client. The fun part in the first part of the story is that Aoto at first assumed that her client was talking about cats, but she discovers quite late that her client was talking about a totally different kind of pet. We enter the second part when Aoto starts to suspect that one of the two killed the woman's husband. However, the police say it was an accident and furthermore, he died inside a locked room. The rest of the story unfolds as she holds a phone-conference with Enomoto in order to discover how the murderer could have created the locked room. And interestingly enough, the story actually has two locked room mysteries, as one of the pets seems to have gotten out of its holding place. As a locked room mystery, this is definitely what the Japanese call a bakamisu, a "What-the?!!-Mystery", because the first reaction you will have when you get to the solution, is "What the...?!!". This does not necessary mean that it is a bad solution, it is just so surprising that that the reader is not sure how to react (it's something I have with some of Shimada Souji's tricks, which are so grand that it almost seems silly). Also definitely not for people with a certain kind of phobia.

Bantan no Meikyuu ("The Board Labyrinth") seems like a simpler story than the previous two stories, but its plot is actually constructed quite complex. A famous shougi player is found stabbed in his hotel room, with the chainlock locking the door. Who stabbed him and how was the locked room created, seem like obvious questions, but what Enomoto focuses the most on is why the locked room was created in the first place. Once again, the constant examination of hypotheses is what makes this story. The solution does require a lot of imagination if you want to arrive there on your own power. The setting reminds of the Furuhata Ninzaburou episode Kegareta Oushou ("The Tainted King"), both stories set during an important shougi match and with shougi playing a big role in the problem itself too.

Inu Nomizo Shiru DOG KNOWS ("Dog Knows") is very different from the other three stories. The main problem revolves around the classic curious incident of the dog in the night-time, but the solution is so simple that any reader think of that. The story is also very short and the characters act so surreal, that Dog Knows might be regarded as a humorous mystery / parody mystery, but Kishi's writing style is so ambiguous here, that I'm not sure whether that was his intention. A disappointing story, but because of its length and place in the collection, maybe I should just regard it as a light bonus story.

As the second entry in the Security Consultant Detective Enomoto Kei series, this is a robust collection and certainly recommended if you liked The Glass Hammer. There was less information on security this time, which is a shame as I really liked that in The Glass Hammer, but Enomoto and Aoto's teamwork certainly makes a lot good. I definitely want to read more of this series.

Original Japanese title(s): 貴志祐介 『狐火の家』: 「狐火の家」 / 「黒い牙」 / 「盤端の迷宮」 / 「犬のみぞ知る DOG KNOWS」

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