Saturday, August 25, 2012

Death wears an Orchid

Okay. I'll take a bunch of those white ones.
- I wouldn't do that if I was you.
- They are lillies, m'sieur. Some people associate them with death...
Yikes! Thanks for telling me. What other flowers do you have?
- Dahlias?
What do they signify?
- Insecurity.
Hmm, I don't want to give her the wrong idea about me.
"Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars"

Please tell me the answer, is fate unchangeable? Yes, I will have to return this TV in a few weeks. Though I love playing games on it. Though I didn't really like Suikoden II as much as I did Suikoden I.

Nikaidou Ranko and her stepbrother Reito should by now be familiar with readers of this blog. Or else I refer to the Ranko tag. The Nikaidou Ranko series might be a sorta of an acquired taste, the more I think about it. Set in post-war Japan, Nikaidou clearly aims at a sort-of modern Edogawa Rampo story-telling with his novels. Weird, grotesque murders and situations that seem like a continuation of the grand master himself. This becomes more clear as the series continues (see Akuma no Labyrinth), but I have to admit, it does get harder to really get into later Nikaidou. I mean, what starts out as a honest bit of Rampo homage, has been giving us destined detectives, cannibals and Nazi-Werewolves (I will never drop this point) in slightly more recent entries. I haven't even started in the more newer novels, for sheer fear of what Nikaidou might have turned to the series into.

But to get back to the book: Yuri Meikyuu ("Labyrinth of Lillies") is the first short story collection featuring Ranko, with three rather long short stories. It starts off with Russia-Kan no Nazo ("The Russian Mansion Mystery"), which in turn starts with the regular meeting of the Murderer's Art club (a mystery club) to which Ranko and Reito belong. This time, the meeting is about mysterious events the members themselves have experienced in their life. The final member to tell his story is old man Speer, a Jewish-German who had fled from Germany to Japan during the war and who used to be Ranko and Reito's teacher. Speer tells the club that he used to work as a spy after World War I in Russia and one day, he was supposed to deliver vital intellegence to the Blizzard Mansion, a mansion hidden somewhere in Russia's snow fields where blizzards just won't stop. He manages to fulfill his mission thanks to the help of some fellow soldiers and is invited to stay a bit in the Blizzard Mansion. But the following day, the complete mansion just disappears. Speer still has no idea what happened to the mansion, but Ranko has an idea about what happened.

An impossible disappearance of a building! Queen's The Lamp of God is of course mentioned and while there are few variations in the story-types involving disappearing buildings/trains/etc., I still liked this story, mainly because how the story was told and because Nikaidou added a little touches to tie it up to the historical background (post WWI Russia, the revolution etc.). It works well as a short story and I was quite pleased with it.

Misshitsu no Yuri ("Lilies in the Locked Room") is about the locked room murder of a writer in her apartment. The murder was actually recorded on audio-tape, because the victim was dictating a manuscript when the murderer visited her apartment, but does it also proof to be a clue to the murderer? No, not really actually. But the thing I actually want to say the most about this story is: the basic ideas behind this locked room murder is precisely the same as a story I had been playing around with in my head for two years now. Heck, I sorta tried it in real life too. Heck, I even mentioned it at the time on this blog (point V)!

This story predates my idea and I never actually wrote it, so I am not complaining. In fact, one of the reasons I never wrote the story (besides the fact that I can't write) was because I couldn't never seem to work out in a satisfying way. It would always end up as too obvious. And I am sorta happy to say that Nikaidou also didn't really succeed with this story. Which is actually very, very low of me. But still. I actually think Nikaidou made it worse, because the clues he left pointing at the murderer and the way the actual locked room is set up, make no sense at all. There was no reason for the murderer to do all that. Especially if you realize that by creating the locked room, (s)he was actually leaving more clues incriminating him/herself! Anyway, I guess I'll abandon this idea for a while, though I still want to use it one day...

The last story in the collection is more of a short novellette, called Gekiyaku ("Strong Poison"). And yes, it's a reference to Sayers, even though the contents of the story are more related to Christie. The story is about a poisoning murder done during a bridge party, with Reito as one of the attending guests. It's a bit more complex than Christie's story, with eight people spread over two tables and a bit of walking around by the dummies, but yes, the basic idea is the same. How was the victim poisoned and by whom. Ranko wasn't there at the party, but an examination of the score cards (like Poirot and a hint of Vance!) gives her a good idea about who the murderer is.

A fairly mediocre story. The inclusion of the bridge rules as a sort of intermezzo was sorta strange, as it broke up the flow of the story. Of course, the story had a very, very tedious beginning with the victim making lots enemies, just so we could have a nice cast of suspects. The ending of the story is surprising though, with an incredible amount of plot-twists and multiple solutions, that almost seem too impressive for just a short novellette. Actually, it doesn't just seem too impressive: it simply is. A look at other reviews showed that a lot of people thought that it was unneccesary complex. Not in the sense of logic, but just in the sense that Nikaidou tries too hard to surprise the reader with several solutions presented one after another. I wouldn't say simple is best, but in this case, simpler would have been better. And shorter. Seriously, this story could have lost half the page count and still work.

All in all a not very impressive collection. I only really enjoyed the first story, which feels the most like a Nikaidou story with its detailed historical background and the more gothic atmosphere. Which is what he does best, I guess. Maybe I should continue reading the series to see whether he managed to get rid of the Nazi-Werewolves.

And yes, another bland review, presented by Lack of Sleep, I Want to Play Videogames and of course Mediocre Books Lead to Mediocre Reviews. But from what I've read until now, I think I will be a bit more enthusiastic about Hoch's Hawthorne series. A bit. And to wrap things up, I pose the question: why is there a complete Sam Hawthorne collection available in Japanese but not in English?

Original Japanese title(s): 二階堂黎人 『ユリ迷宮』: 「ロシア館の謎」 / 「密室のユリ」 / 「劇薬」


  1. I really liked this review. It wasn't bland... all three of those premises sound cool. To answer the question you posed at the end, I think the reason is that most English publishers forget about the good things created in their language (not to mention the incredible stories created in foreign languages).

    Great authors are only mortal, only kept alive when their books are kept available. There will be fans of the classic mystery in every decade. Keeping mysteries out-of-print is a bad idea because some of their ideal audience will be born decades too late. In some cases, older fans might not live long enough for a book to be released. (This happened with video games:

    Every person is mortal. There's always people dying, too much awful stuff in the world. Culture is the only thing we can hope to keep alive. But when we waste paper printing news that only serves to depress, we hold ourselves back as a civilization. Printing literature should take priority: it's more thought-provoking, and also more entertaining. Mysteries are plain fun to read, posing questions grounded in logic, decomposing in the ground. There's an audience out there, waiting for their release. There's an audience out there, waiting to be discovered.

    I myself am a newbie to detective fiction. I didn't realize how much I loved mysteries if it weren't for Detective Conan, a series that changed my life.

    I always enjoy reading your reviews because you give things a fair shake; you really care about mysteries. Everything reviewed on this blog gets a chance. Stories aren't always disparaged—not like how you unfairly disparage your own writing. You're a really good writer. I have a hard time writing anything, and to see someone review stuff so often, consistently and humorously, is something I wish I could do. Reading this blog, I look up to it (and in the background see a nighttime sky filled with apartment lights).

    1. It's of course a problem of both demand and supply, though I am not sure how strong an influence publishers have on the demand of consumers over the world. What I have noticed in Japan however is that the major publishers are quite strong in pushing their new releases in the faces of the consumers in the book stores, also coming up with special events (collecting stamps for special book covers, re-releases of classic popular books under a certain theme), but I don't think that this approach would work in for example, the USA. I said, having no idea things work there. But still.

      Though this is mainly for the Japanese releases. Going into the topic of translated English (Western) detective fiction, I think that besides Queen, Carr and what thriller writer is popular right now, few are actually read. Certainly happy to have been able to get Crofts, but when a senior held a Crofts reading club session at the mystery club he did mention that we're probably the only mystery club in Western Japan to actually read and discuss (something as old/classic) as Crofts.

      Falling in love with Conan brought me all the way out to Japan, so who knows what might still happen to you! :)

      I'm happy you enjoy my writing! I think it depends on what you want to accomplish with your reviews. This blog didn't start out as a serious mystery blog (and it still isn't) and it is for that reason I think I still mostly write precisely like I think: it explains the chaos and the personal anecdotes. Which is also why this blog is kinda hard to follow I think if you just start randomly: I often refer to previous reviews/comments because that is just the way things comes up in my mind. But I don't think I would be able to write this often if I would be write more serious / compacter / topic - focused. It makes this site a bit more personal / harder to get into, I guess, but this is how it works for me as someone who writes. You should just find a 'writing mode' that works with you.

    2. One deleted post and repost later...

      One day, I will master this complex branched reply system!