Thursday, June 21, 2012

『a=x, b=x, ∴a=b』

『殺人方程式 切断ざれた死体の問題』

"I found the answer. The answer to the three problems I pointed out last night. And naturally, I also found out the truth and the true culprit behind this case. What about inserting a 'challenge to the reader' here like in those detective novels of the past?"
"Murder Equation - The Problem of the Cut Up Body"

By now, most readers must have noticed that I seldom do what I say I will probably do at this blog. For those expecting a review of the next volume in Ayatsuji Yukito's Yakata series: sorry, but your princess in another castle. A castle which will probably come anyway if you wait long enough.

But hey, at least the Ayatsuji Yukito part is right! Satsujin Houteishiki - Setsudan Sareta Shitai no Mondai ("Murder Equation - The Problem of the Cut Up Body") has a neat title, I think and it starts out neat too. One day, the naked, dead body of a man is found on top of the roof of the Residence K apartment complex in S Town in Shinagawa Prefecture. Oh wait, maybe I should be more specific: the naked, dead body of a man who has been decapitated and is missing an arm too. It doesn't take long for the police to identify the corpse as Kidena Gouzou, the current head of the Mitagami Shoumeikai sect. The headquarters of the Mitagami Shoumeikai is located on the other side of a river across Residence K and Gouzou was supposed to have been in the penthouse there, as he was going through a ritual to officially take over the role of head of the sect from his recently deceased wife Mitsuko. Yet nobody saw him leave the building, nor did anybody see him enter Residence K. So how did he move from one building to another, losing a head and arm (and his life!) in the process?

Satsujin Houteishiki is despite this summary quite a light-hearted mystery. It is very different from the Yakata series and is mostly reminiscent of a two-hour TV drama. Which is usually a bad thing. But the main puzzle, 'the problem of the cut-up body', as the subtitle says, is luckily quite well-done. Ayatsuji himself admits that the main premise of the trick is not particularly original, but he adds enough of extras, like interesting clues to point to the murderer and the method, to keep it from feeling like just a rehash. This novel's main trick is also very different from what you'd expect from Ayatsuji if you're mostly familiar with him through the Yakata series (like me) though, so that also served as a pleasant surprise.

Ayatsuji also employs several styles of story-telling in this novel, which makes this novel a pleasure to read. The first chapter for example sketches a couple scenes starrring several star-players in the story around the time of the murder, while the second is a pure police procedural. The third chapter on the other hand feels more like an early Queen scene where the great detective makes some small deductions that lead up to new developments. The switching between these styles never feels forced and I myself was quite surprised how fast I finished this book, which is definitely because of this writing-style.

I have to say that the story feels almost too light at times though. It starts with the series detective(s): Asukai Kyou, who can't stand the sight of corpses and who only became a police officer because his wife wanted him to be one. And his twin (older) brother, who for convenience's sake is also called Kyou (written differently in Japanese though). They are fun to read as characters, sure, but the casts feels radically different from the gloomy and mysterious Yakata series and it took me quite some time to get used to them. The part where older brother Kyou 'dresses up' as his younger brother to get more information almost feels like slapstick or even comic-esque and this light touch to the story combined with the plot-element of sects/ new religions made me think of Nikaidou Reito's Karuizawa Magic, which is never good.

It is funny though that Ayatsuji mentions in the afterward that the editors originally requested him to write a travel mystery starring a police detective. Which was kinda not what Ayatsuji wanted and in the end they settled for going for a story starring an incredible trick, but to me, Satsujin Houteishiki really feels very close to the light two-hour police dramas that are so prevalent in Japan because of the writing style and the cast. Well, it does feature an incredible trick that would befit Shimada Souji, but still...

I really don't have that much to say about Satsujin Houteishiki actually. It is fun to read and certainly easier to get into than the Yakata series and the main problem is interesting too. But is... very different from the Yakata series. You won't find much of the elements that make that series so interesting in this novel. This is not (really) meta-fiction (though you might say it barely touches the borders). Not being the Yakata series isn't a bad thing per se though and like I said, there are definitely points worthwile to this novel, but yeah. Different.

Original Japanese title(s): 綾辻行人『殺人方程式 切断ざれた死体の問題』

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