Wednesday, July 25, 2012



"Like '200 continuous hits fom a water cooled heavy machine gun, but by an assasination squad!'"
"Strangling Romanticist"

A friend reacted surprised when I told her that I play several videogames at the same time (as in, I don't need to finish one game before I move on to the next one) and then I realized that I have the same habit for books. In general, I read several books at the same time. For example, the last few days I have been switching between novels of Arisugawa Alice, Ayatsuji Yukito and Edogawa Rampo. Well, and Akutagawa Ryunosuke for a paper. But yeah, in general, several books at the same time. Is it just me? But now for something completely different.

I think I read Higashigawa Tokuya's Chuutohanpa na Misshitsu ("A Half-Finished Locked Room") over a month ago already, but for some reason or another, I kept postponing writing the review. Which is the longest time between reading a book and writing the review for it ever since I started this blog. And I'm not even sure what caused this enormous time lag. Because this short story collection, featuring the first five stories Higashigawa wrote isn't that bad. On the other hand, it is nowhere close of being called a masterpiece either though. Which might be what kept me from my review: the book just doesn't invoke enough passion with me to really laud or bash it. It's like the title, chuutohanpa, neither fish or fowl. And I totally copied that last expression from my dictionary.

The titular story, Chuutohanpa na Misshitsu ("A Half-Finished Locked Room") is Higashigawa's debut story and naturally features a locked room, a trope Higashigawa uses quite often. The mystery of a company president found murdered in a locked tennis-court provides for an interesting problem: why was the tennis court, an incomplete locked room because one can simply climb over the fence, locked? Did the murderer lock the tennis court after he left it? Or was the tennis court locked from the beginning and did he go through all the trouble of climbing over the fence to get in and out of the court? If so, why didn't the victim himself flee by climbing over the fence? The story is presented by the two protagonists who discuss this strange case they see in the newspapers and already we see Higashigawa's trademark comedy style (and his love of misleading readers and his own characters alike). This story is quite short, but features some interesting observations about (semi-) locked rooms and we also have an inkling of Queen-ish logic behind the explanations of the strange murder scene.

Minami no Shima no Satsujin ("A Murder on A Southern Island") presents us to the duo of Binchan and Nanao, two students who will act as the Holmes and Watson for the remaining stories in this collection. Binchan and Nanao receive a letter from their mutual friend Kashiwabara who has gone on a holiday to a southern island. Their friend explains that he got involved with a murder there and he implores Binchan (because Nanao is useless) to solve the case for him to get him out of trouble. Binchan (and Nanao) have to deduce the case based on the letter their friend wrote with all the details, which makes for an interesting story, but not really fair. At least, there is one great trick hidden in this story, that forms the key for the remaining deductions that lead to the murderer, but I think the trick would be very hard for most readers to see through and it was definitely impossible for me. I just lack the 'expert' knowledge to see through that trick. The story does show very well Higashigawa Tokuya's writing style and these two opening stories are definitely my favorite of this collection.

Take to Shima ("Bamboo and A Corpse") has Binchan and Nanao trying to come up with an explanation for a very strange article they found in a 1936 newspaper (which was to be sold at the old bookstore Binchan works at). A dead body was found hanged from a bamboo tree. SEVENTEEN METERS UP IN THE SKY. Was it murder? Suicide? And how, and why would one hang a body seventeen meters high?! A fun story where Higashigawa plays around with several plausible explanations before he reveals the correct one, which unfortunately again relies on information that might or might not be present with the general public.

Kawashibara has another problem he wants solved by Binchan in Juunen no Misshitsu, Juppun no Shoushitsu ("A Locked Room Ten Years Old, A Disappearance In Ten Minutes"), which means another deduce-the-explanation-based-on-his-letter story. Which, by the way, was totally unnecessary I think for this story. Anyway, Kawashibara has gotten involved with a girl whose father died in a locked outdoor atelier ten years ago and he accompanies her to her old home, the place where her father died, which is now currently the home of her uncle. The girl wants to know the truth about her father's death and decides to investigate the atelier annex, but the annex literally disappears before Kawashibara's eyes as he was looking at it from the main building during a snow storm. How does a building disappear in the snow in ten minutes? Not a big fan of this story, as it features a trick which just seems a bit implausible. Like always, there are only that many variations on the disappearing building/train/etc., but this was certainly one of the harder to believe ones. And like I said, there was no need at all for this story to be told in letter-form, so that felt a bit distracting.

But nothing beats Arima Kinen no Bouken ("The Adventure of the Arima Kinen") in terms of disappointment. There might have been disagreeing opinions about this book and Higashigawa in general when discussed this book at the Mystery Club, but we could all agree that this story was bad. There is something about a murder and a suspect having an alibi which involves him having seen the Arima Kinen horse race live on TV, but the 'trick' used in this story is way too easy to see through. It is not only a dated trick (already dated when Higashigawa wrote this story!), but the same trick was also used in a minor Conan story much and much better by building upon it. It is amazing that this story was the only story in this collection that was written by Higashigawa after he became a pro (the previous four stories were all written before he became a fulltime professional writer), because this was definitely a bad story. Not even in terms of this collection. In general, I mean. And I have to admit that Arima no Bouken is the reason I haven't read Higashigawa for a while now. Yes, I know his later stories are better (hey, I've read loads of them by now!), but still, the aftertaste of that story is unbelievable.

And no idea what the next review will be. Like I said in the introduction, I always read several books at the same time, so it's even to me always a surprise which book will be finished first!

Original Japanese title(s): 東川篤哉 『中途半端な密室』: 「中途半端な密室」 / 「南の島の殺人」 / 「竹と死体と」 / 「十年の密室・十分の消失」 / 「有馬記念の冒険」

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