Tuesday, June 18, 2013

And On the Eighth Day


"But the murderer might come to kill you."
I feared the worst case possible.
"In such a case, I'll be sure to leave you a dying message. An easy one."
"The Tragedy of Saint Ursula Convent"

You would almost think I read Nikaidou Reito's Nikaidou Ranko series in the weirdest order possible on purpose, if you look at it closely. The following list is of the books I've read of the series so far:

(1) Jigoku no Kijutsushi | The Magician From Hell
(2) Kyuuketsu no Ie | House of Bloodsuckers
(3) Sei Ursula Shuudouin no Sangeki | The Tragedy at the Saint Ursula Convent
(4) Akuryou no Yakata | Palace of Evil Spirits
(5) Yuri Meikyuu | Labyrinth of Lillies
(6) Bara Meikyuu | Labyrinth of Roses
(7a) Jinroujou no Kyoufu - Deutsch Hen | The Terror of Werewolf Castle - Germany
(7b) Jinroujou no Kyoufu  - France Hen | The Terror of Werewolf Castle - France
(7c) Jinroujou no Kyoufu - Tantei Hen | The Terror of Werewolf Castle - Detective
(7d) Jinroujou no Kyoufu - Kanketsu Hen | The Terror of Werewolf Castle - Conclusion
(8) Akuma no Labyrinth | The Devil's Labyrinth

And for some reason, I've read the books in the following order: (2), (6), (7a), (7b), (7c), (7d), (8), (1), (4), (5), (3). The only books I've read in order are Akuryou no Yakata and Yuri Meikyuu, and Jinroujou no Kyoufu (the individual books of this story have to be read in order, except for maybe 7a and 7b). Akuma no Labyrinth I have read in relative order, after Jinroujou, but in terms of publication history, I still didn't read them in order and chronologically  Jinroujou and Akuma no Labyrinth are set the other way around, just to make things even more confusing. For many series, this isn't really of importance, but Nikaidou Reito has the habit of refering to his earlier books /  adventures, so it is actually better to read them in order. That's why I am stuck in Ayatsuji Yukito's Yakata series at the moment however: the one I'm reading now is almost as long as Nikaidou Reito's Jinroujou no Kyoufu. Which is very, very long.

Brilliant and beautiful detective Nikaidou Ranko (and her brother Reito) return in Sei Ursula Shuudouin no Sangeki ("The Tragedy at the Saint Ursula Convent"), where they are asked by the head of the Saint Ursula Convent to solve the mysterious death of a student one year ago. The girl had been found dead at the foot of a tower and because the door to the room where she had spent her last living breath was locked from the inside, the incident was considered a suicide. Of course, the police conveniently ignored the fact that there were definite signs that she was attacked by someone there. And that around the same time, a headless corpse was found hanging upside down near the convent. And there was something with a strange message the victim left behind. Anyway, something strange has been going on in and it is up to our dynamic duo to solve the arcane mysteries of the Saint Ursula Convent.

Jigoku no Kijutsushi was an interesting take on Edogawa Rampo's novels, Jinroujou no Kyoufu is the world longest locked mystery story and Sei Ursula Shuudouin no Sangeki is... chaotic. A locked room mystery and a headless body and a secret code can work together in theory, but the individual elements aren't very strong and while they work better together (as often in such stories), the complete picture is still not nearly as entertaining as Nikaidou Reito's other books pre-dating Jinroujou no Kyoufu (and he moved towards somewhat... stranger places after Jinroujou no Kyoufu). I do have to note that most of Nikaidou Reito's novels are absolutely packed with detective fiction tropes (c.f. my review of Akuryou no Yakata), which usually works out OK (although, sometimes just barely). It works this time, but Sei Ursula Shuudouin no Sangeki is the weakest link of Nikaidou's Ranko novels up to Jinroujou no Kyoufu.

The locked room problems are better suited for a short story for example and the actual discussion about the headless body, which even in Japanese detective fiction is usually not a convention used just for fun, takes no more than a couple of pages (of a 600 page novel). Nikaidou tries to string everything together by presenting everything as a mitate murder (naturally after the bible, considering the setting of this story), but it is hardly convincing, because the way the murders are supposed to be mirroring biblical events is really weak. No way a reader is going to figure out that before Ranko points out the fact, and even after the reveal, the reader still won't be convinced it is a mitate murder, because it's barely related!

The setting of the convent is used mostly in a very predictable way. Creepy atmosphere, secretive nuns, secret rituals and stuff, considering Nikaidou has always used a lot of esotoric history and conspiracy theories in his novels (Jinroujou no Kyoufu had the Spear of Longinus and Nazi-Werewolves, Akuryou no Yakata witches etc.), so you can guess how Nikaidou uses the convent. The ending does bring something interesting, but it is more of an extra than really part of the detective plot.

I have to admit that I read this book in a record speed though. As a whole, the plot... well, I certainly won't say this is gold material, but by keeping throwing all these elements at you at a steady pace, Nikaidou does keep the reader hooked for most of the book. It's definitely written as entertainment, and I have to admit that it mostly works as such. The whole outshines the individual parts and while not a classic, it's not really horrible (not really praising it either). If you like Nikaidou Reito and can get Sei Urusula Shuudouin no Sangeki for cheap, it's an okay read, I guess. I mean, I paid more for Nikaidou's Zouka Hakase no Jikenbo and that was absolutely horrible. I wouldn't recommend reading Nikaidou Reito starting with Sei Urusula Shuudouin no Sangeki though.

Original Japanse title(s): 二階堂黎人 『聖アウスラ修道院の惨劇』

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