Monday, September 3, 2012

「Justice for True Love 君だけのために」

「人はなぜ傷つけるくせに 許されたいの?」
『君がいるから・・・』 (西脇唯)

"Why do people hurt other people, even though they want to be forgiven?"
"Because you're there..." (Nishiwaki Yui)

Backlog... growing... Doesn't seem to stop.... Must write to reduce.... write to reduce...

All well, I get to borrow the TV a little week longer because of circumstances, so I guess less detective fiction, more games this week. Note to myself: I still need to write the reviews, because playing games only stops the initial problem from becoming worse.

The first words in Norizuki Rintarou's Yoriko no tame ni ("For Yoriko") set the tone for the story: August 23, 1989. Yoriko died. The 17 year old daughter of Nishimura Yuuji was found strangled in a park near her school. The police think it was the work of a sexual maniac who has been active in the area for some months now, but Yoriko's father has doubts about this line of investigation and a long search leads him to whom he thinks the real murderer is. And after stabbing 'his' murderer to death and leaving a note explaining everything to his wife, Yuuji commits suicide. Or at least, he tried to commit suicide, but he was saved in the nick of time, though still in a coma. Writer/detective Norizuki Rintarou gets his hand on the final words Yuuji left behind before his suicide attempt and discovers some hints in the manuscript that point to a totally different truth behind the death of Yoriko.

Norizuki Rintarou is a writer who is strongly influenced by Ellery Queen. The use of a writer-detective protagonist with a police inspector as a father is a clear example of this, but Norizuki is also a Queen-reseacher who specializes in what he calls 'the Late Period Queen problems': meta-problems concerning the role of the detective in fiction, as addressed by Queen himself in many of his later novels. To reduce it to two main points: the detective (and the reader) can never say with absolutely certainty that he has access to all of the hints and clues that lead to the truth. Except for the (meta) explanation that the writer at one points abritrary decides that the story should end and thus isn't going to offer any new hints. So the solution the detective offers at the end of a story can never be guaranteed to be correct. The second point is that the detective himself is not a omnipotient figure with no relation to the murder drama: his presence alone already has presence on the actions of the other players of the tragedy and who is to say that the real murderer hasn't calculated for the interference of a detective through the use of false hints?

Many of the New Orthodox writers in fact deal with these Late Period Queen problems (Maya Yutaka for example), but with Norizuki it kinda stands out because he seems to be mostly exploring this theme in his novels and not in his short stories. His short story collections are very much like the stories in The Adventures of Ellery Queen, stories that focus on the puzzle element. Norizuki's novels however deal more obvious with the darker themes of Queen, and therefore feel very different from the short novels. With the exception of the first novel in the writer Norizuki Rintarou series maybe. Maybe. It's a grey-line there. Yoriko no Tame ni is definitely more like Namakubi ni Kiite Miro than Yuki Misshitsu.

So, what do we have in Yoriko no Tame ni? It starts with why the character Norizuki Rintarou is involved with the case in the first place. He is in fact asked to investigate the case because he is a famous detective. People are bound to starts rumors if a famous detective is on the job, and certain people have an interest in covering up the scandal surrounding the death of the young schoolgirl and her murderer. So Rintarou is initially only asked to acts as a rumor-starter, because of his function as a detective. He is just a polital tool . Which deals with point 2 mentioned above, the influence of the detective on the story and the reactions of the characters.

Also related is the puzzle plot in this novel. Which is actually quite vague and weak. Rintarou starts to have doubts surrounding Yuuji's deduction after reading the manuscript, but it is based on one sorta-defendable point and another fairly weak point. The rest of the story is also based on a lot of guesswork and a bit of psychological analysis, which is very different from the early pure-logic-based Queenian stories as we see in Arisugawa Alice's Student Alice stories. It also makes Yoriko no Tame ni feel more like a Higashino Keigo story than a Norizuki Rintarou story, to be honest. But as said, it can be explained as Norizuki purposely avoiding 'hard' evidence, as that is more easier to fabricate than psychological analyses. If one can't trust the evidence, all the detective can do is hope his reading of the suspects is correct. Because of this, there are also less 'big' detective tropes in Norizuki's novels like closed circles and locked rooms (both available in Yuki Misshitsu though, and a locked room in Ichi no Higeki, but not as a main problem in the latter). The novels focus more on core families and bigger human relations and the drama that springs forth from that.

A lot of academic literary research on detective novels like to play with the analogies between reader=detective, writer=criminal and text=crime in the genre. In that sense, having a detective doing his investigation by reading a text (Yuuji's manuscript) could also be considered an unbelievably meta-plot device. Or maybe I am seeing too much into this. Fact is though that Norizuki seems to like this plot device of having his detective reading texts, as this is also used in the later Ni no Higeki. A more direct influence might be Shimada Souji's Senseijutsu Satsujin Jiken, which features a similar plot-point (and with Shimada being a major influence in Norizuki's rise as a professional writer).

In the afterword to this story, Norizuki 'confesses' that Yoriko no Tame ni was actually 'just' a lengthened version of a short story he had originally written during his years in the Kyoto University Mystery Club. The title and the beginning and end are the same, with only the middle part being fleshed out more to bring it up to novel length. It's fun to see that he already worked with Queen problems then, but like one can sense from this review, I am not that enthusiastic about it. Which is why I wrote this lengthy about everything but the actual story. I find Yoriko no Tame ni interesting as a Norizuki Rintarou novel, but not as a novel per se. Though I am probably quite alone there, with international versions being published of this book and this week rumors of a possible South-Korean movie version even popped up.  

Yoriko no Tame ni is admittedly a page turner, it hits all the right emotional switches and the final scenes contain enough revelations to entertain a fan of the genre. In fact, most readers won't probably catch the nonsense I wrote above and will be able to enjoy it as a Higashino Keigo-esque, core-family-centered drama mystery. But for me, it's just too different from Norizuki's puzzle short stories and that is what I like about him.

Original Japanese title(s):  法月綸太郎 『頼子のために』

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