Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Off With His Head


"But Douto didn't like puppets like Yamane did. In fact, she thought they were creepy. Even though puppets look like humans, they aren't alive. A fact they share with dead bodies"
"'Alice Mirror Castle' Murder Case"

Yes, this month's rule: all post titles in English. Just for fun. I don't think it has any actual influence on the visitor count though...

Confession to make: I finished reading Kitayama Takekuni's 'Guillotine Jou' Satsujin Jiken ("'Guillotine Castle' Murder Case") at the end of October. No idea why I postponed writing this review for so long, since I did like it. After finding a photo of a girl standing in front of a guillotine with the message "help" on the back, great detective Makube Naco (note: self-proclaimed) and his assistent Yorinashi Yuuki (note: according to Naco) head to the Guillotine Castle. The place gained this cute nickname because its recently deceased owner collected all kinds of execution tools. Which of course guillotines. And talking about guillotines, the castle owner was found decapitated one year earlier in a locked room. Together with a Russian doll that is rumored to be an executioner automaton. But that was one year ago.  But luckily for our great detective (?), new murders (of the locked room kind) await him in the Guillotine Castle.

As always, Kitayama Takekuni utilizes a closed circle situation in what can only be considered its own closed circle: Kitayama's novels seem always to be set in a somewhat different world, a world that is very alike, but not quite like 'our' world. These worlds feel quite artificial actually, though I am not sure whether that is what Kitayama is aiming for. But at any rate, these worlds, and the closed circle situations set inside them work very effectively in conveying a feeling of uneasiness, of something just being wrong on the reader, which really heightens the tension in his novels. Though it is a hard thing to do, as you don't want to estrange too much fom the reader (I for example, found it distracting in 'Clock Tower Jou' Satsujin Jiken).

Guillotine Jou Satsujin Jiken features two grand tricks, both involving a lot of cutting up bodies in a locked room (the main one being that of four girls being cut up and spread across several rooms in a locked space). Both tricks are quite impressive, but I am not sure whether I would consider them fairly clued. Also, I am normally not that big a fan of this type of trick in locked room mysteries, even though it is a characteristic of Kitayama. Nevertheless, the solution behind the two murders do impress when the truth is revealed to the reader and the way the two tricks are intertwined with each other is really fantastic. It's almost undetectable, but you can only nod when the link becomes clear.

And Kitayama wouldn't be Kitayama if he wasn't awfully meta in his novels. This time character identities and names within novels become a main theme in the novel, but what is impressive is that this isn't something Kitayama does just to flaunt with how smart he is, it is a vital part of the story and the way this theme is connected to the rest of the novel is really few authors can imitate.

This is where Kitayama excels in, but it forms one of Kitayama's weaker points. He manages to mix themes, tricks and setting by creating a complete artificial world where he is god, where he can change everything to suit what he wants to accomplish. Which is what most writers strive for, I guess, but the artificialness of Kitayama's stories can also feel to overwhelming, making it hard for the reader to get into.

Guillotine Jou Satsujin Jiken however is an excellent example of it simply working and what you get is an awesome murder mystery that is worth the time and effort to read.

Original Japanese title(s): 北山猛邦 『『ギロチン城殺』殺人事件』

1 comment :

  1. That moment when the narrative trick is revealed and you skim through the book to recheck...

    Didn't really like the impossible crime though. The idea itself is neat, but as you said it's pretty much undetectable compared to Alice Mirror Jou. But overall this one might be the most coherent in terms of setting, theme and trick.