Sunday, July 1, 2012

Troubled Waters


"I want to go to Tokyo"
"Well, please first take the special express Hayabusa 2 departing at 12.38 and get off at Kyoto."
"Get off?"
"Yes. Get off there and then the Tokyo-bound Tokyo Tonbi will come, but don't get on that train, but take the Max Hagetaka that comes next to Tokyo. Your alibi will be perfect!"
"Do you think you're Nishimura Kyoutarou?!"
"The Greenish Counter" (Sandwichman Sketch)

Like I said last week, I like spending time in the Mystery Club room as it beats having to cycle back and forth from and to my room. But there is one big drawback of being in the club room. All of my clothes start to smell of katori-senko. Seriously, I've been forced to wash my clothes more often because of the distinct smell that sticks to my clothing. On the other hand, it is probably better than getting stung by mosquitoes...

Mystery on Southampton Water is actually the first Crofts I've read, and consequently the first Inspector French novel I've read. And despite the novel feeling immensely British, I've read it in Japanese. Anyway, the story starts with the people of Joymount Cement Works having severe financial troubles, being slowly pushed out of the market by a new, better and cheaper cement produced by rival company Chayle. King, chief scientist of Joymount, tries to replicate the formula for the new cement, but all of his experiments end up in failure. So as his last resort he decides to break into the Chayle factory to steal the formula. King comes up with a perfect plan to enter Chayle, complete with ablibis and such and together with one of Joymount's directors, Brand, he manages to break into Chayle.

However, they are surprised by a watchman, Clay, and accidently kill him. King quickly comes up with a plan to make the watchman's death seem like an accident and the next day, King and Brand are sure they are free of any suspicion. That is, until chief inspector French enters the scene, who suspects that Clay's death might not have been an accident and starts to sniff around Joymount, but is not able to proof anything. Unlike the directors of Chayle themselves, who have strong suspicions (and possibly even evidence) of King and Brand's guilt and they start to blackmail Joymount. How are King and Brand going to get out of this pinch?

My first Crofts and I thoroughly enjoyed it. But I have severe troubles pointing out what I liked about it precisely. Was it the inverted mystery at the beginning of the story, that detailed King's plans to infiltrate Chayle and the subsequent plans surrounding Clay's death? Was it the police procedural of the second part starring French who finds all kinds of little contradictions that pile up to one big suspicion? Or is the third part, which features the blackmailing of Joymount by the Chayle directors and the fact that a new (non-inverted!) mystery is added to the story? No idea, but I at least know that the story's tension never slacked and that I was entertained from start to finish.

I do think that the different parts I just described make up for a large part of this novel's entertainment. It is not only the inverted mystery and the police procedural parts (and the added 'non-inverted' mystery part), it is also how the atmosphere changes from a (company) spy thriller to a more familiar police investigation, back to a thrilling blackmail scene. While there are actually few events in the story, the way it is written makes it feel like an amazing rollercoaster that keeps surprising you.

And as I am writing this, I still have no idea how to explain better why this was so entertaining. The text is quite dry, there is very little that actually happens, there is certainly a 'echo-ing' effect of plot-elements that might seem redundant as we see both the crime itself and the subsequent police investigation, but still, I can't but be positive about Mystery on Southampton Water. Which is really bothering me, because there is really little I can point to that supports my stance on it. There are no locked rooms here, no challenges to the reader, no logic-chains that point to the one and only murderer, no particularly rememorable settings, nothing cultural-specific, no meta-discussions, no linguistic games, no Greek mythology, no courtroom scenes, no phantom thieves, no writer-detectives, no mitate murders, none of the things I usually point to. So why do I like it? No idea, but Mystery on Southampton Water was definitely a fun introduction to Crofts.

Though I guess I should read Crofts in English. Which would be a lot more easier actually. This reading English fiction in Japanese is getting a bit silly now.

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