Sunday, May 20, 2012


There simply must be a corpse, and the deader the corpse the better
"Twenty Rules for Writing Detective Stories"

Wow, it's been almost two weeks. Maybe I should update more often. I actually have read and played and seen quite some things the last few weeks, but there is a proble with the conversion of my experiences into written words. As in I have several half-written concept posts and I don't think any of them are going to work the way they are written now. But because I am lazy and really want to get them out of the way, I'll finish them all the way they are. Today. Before noon. Though the posting will be spread. There. I said it. And so it will be.

[addendum] You know what, I am not going to finish them before noon. Mainly because I think I will just throw most of them into a future short short post. That is way more efficient. 

I think I already mentioned we sometimes have reading club-esque sessions at the Kyoto University Mystery Club. It's pretty much what you expect: the leader of the sessions chooses a novel the attending members have to read, the leader presents his opinions about the book and then members can state what they thought about the book and the presentation. The level of discussion is actually quite high, with people coming up with stories on the spot that would have been better than most of the reviews I write.

Last week we discussed Kanou Tomoko's debut work Nanatsu no Ko ("Seven Children"). Within the novel-universe, there is a novel called Seven Children written by Saeki Ayano, which is about the strange events the young boy Hayate encounters. And with strange events I don't mean bloody murders, but just small events that may make you think "?!". One stolen watermelon. Blue crayons being stolen. Little occurences to which most people would shrug. But not for Hayate. And luckily for him, he has a little girl friend, Ayame, who has a wonderful knack for pointing out why or those strange events happened. The university student Irie Komako is a big fan of this novel and lately she has encountered a bunch of little mysteries herself too! As these mysteries remind her of the stories in Saeki's Seven Children, Komako decides to write Saeki a fan-letter, telling her also about her own experiences. But it seems like Saeki is no less a detective than her own creation Ayame, as Saeki's reply letters always explain the strange mysteries Komako encountered!

Nanatsu no Ko is a representative work in the subgenre of 'everyday life mysteries'. I am not really sure whether there is an equivalent English term for this subgenre, but it basically refers to mystery stories.... that you encounter in your daily life. Yes, I just repeated the words in the term. Anyway, the mysteries you find in this short story collection are not murder and other foul crimes, but just odd occurences. 99% of the people would just shrug and forget it. If there was a proper use for the word 'cozy', it would be for this subgenre. Because this is really cozy. Just events that anyone really could encounter. To be honest, I did find it a bit lacking (murder please), but I can definitely understand why people would like this light, almost feel-happy, mystery subgenre.

I usually go with a story-by-story summary/review for short stories, but I am afraid they would tell way too much because of the story-within-a-story setup (which would require me to write a lot). Like I mentioned, while I thought there was definitely a nice feeling to the stories, I found most of them lacking. The problem here is that there is almost no way back once you fall into the trap of becoming one of the 99% of the people who would shrug at the mysteries presented here. Which is what I had somewhere around the fourth story. I thought the best story to be the fifth story, Ichimannisennengo no Vega ("The Vega of 12000 Years Later"), which features a gigantic plastic dinosaurus disappearing from a department store, only to appear at the playground of an elementary school. Which was actually probably the story that seemed the least like a problem you'd encounter in real life.

I did like how this short story collection actually featured a storyline that developed over the course of the seperate stories, which is something I actually like very much. I also liked the rather light-ish approach of the two detectives Ayame (in the novel-within-the-novel) and Saeki. They practically never say it was like this, but they always carefully propose solutions that might be correct. It's just a guess, but I think it might be like this. It fits the light-hearted tone of this volume perfectly and is actually quite refreshing to see, being used to the absolute confidence most great detectives have. Finally, I think this is actually an excellent book for getting people into the mystery genre. Nanatsu no Ko can be read perfectly as a 'normal' book, but it is also constructed very good as a mystery actually. I might not be a fan of the content, but the way the stories are structured, the way Kanou weaves her hints into the plot is really good and it never feels unfair.

In short, not my cup of tea, but certainly a well-constructed light-hearted 'cozy' short story collection.

Original Japanese title(s): 加納朋子 『ななつのこ』: 「スイカジュースの涙」 / 「モヤイの鼠」 / 「一枚の写真」 / 「バス・ストップで」 / 「一万二千年後のヴェガ」 / 「白いタンポポ」 / 「ななつのこ」


  1. After trying out the anime of 氷菓 I knew why I never bothered buying any of those often rather highly praised everyday life mystery novels... As you already said: Murder please. It's not that I dislike or even hate this kind of stories, but it's just not my cup of tea from a very subjective point of view.

    1. I don't think I would have ever tried one of these books if not for the discussion session in the club. It's easy to read and all, but it really lacks a sense of suspense.

      But these sessions do introduce me to other writers, so I am definitely trying to attend to all of them. Heck, it's not even limited to Japanese writers so next month actually includes Helen McCloy's Through A Glass, Darkly.

    2. I've wanted to read that book for ages, but it's one of those rare classics where I actually considered reading the Japanese translation as a cost-saving alternative. As long as I don't find an affordable satisfactory copy before the end of September, I think I won't bother anymore.

  2. Hey, there's an English equivalent to these 'daily life mysteries,' Isaac Asimov's short stories about the Black Widowers, which deal with problems varying from a science-fiction writers missing umbrella to figuring out where a woman got off the bus. I discussed a bunch of these stories a few weeks ago.

    'Daily life mysteries' is a good term, by the way. It never felt right to call the Black Widower stories cozies.

    1. Ah, thanks for the pointer! I was pretty sure there was no equivalent to the common term in English, but I was sure there was something similar available! I might take a look at the Black Widowers... when I get back =_=.