Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Ten Days Wonder

"But while you are doing this important and rewarding work, Mr. Queen, I ask you to keep in mind always a great and true lesson. A truer lesson than the one you believe this experience has taught you."
"And which lesson is that, Professor Seligmann?" Ellery was very attentive.
"The lesson, mein Herr," said the old man, patting Ellery’s hand,"that is written in the Book of Mark. There is one God; and there is none other but he."
"Cat of Many Tails"

In a world where everybody is talking about the upcoming PlayStation4 and XBox One, the one thing that left the greatest impression me this E3 was the inclusion of the Villager in the new Super Smash Bros. Villager!? [/not related to detective fiction at all]

Norizuki Rintarou's Futatabi Akumu ("The Red Nightmare, Once Again") starts with introducing us to Hatanaka Yurina, an idol who has been on the rise lately. She has managed to secure her own group of fans despite still being a minor star in the world of idols and she is rumored to be the main actress in the next movie of a famous director. One night, after a late night radio broadcast recording, Yurina is attacked by a lunatic fan in a storage room of the broadcasting studios and stabbed in her stomach. Or least, she is sure she was stabbed, but when she came to, she found herself to be alive. Not sure what happened, Yurina seeks the help of Inspector Norizuki (and his son Rintarou), but things become messy when they discover that in the park outside the broadcasting studios, a man was found stabbed to death. Indeed, the man Yurina thought had killed her. Was it Yurina who killed the man instead of the other way around?

A difficult book to recommend, mainly because it more or less requires you have have read Yuki Misshitsu and Yoriko no Tame ni and it would also be very nice if you have read Ellery Queen's Cat of Many Tails (and having read Ten Days Wonder would also be to your advantage). Of course, you could go straight for Futatabi Akai Akumu without any knowledge, but you will be spoiled to crucial plot points of all those books. So I really recommend you doing your homework before you start with Futatabi Akai Akumu.

I've mentioned it many times now, but Norizuki often addresses what he calls Late Period Queen problems in his novels. To quote myself:

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?

Futatabi Akai Akumu deals with the second point: at the start of the story Rintarou has severe trauma about how he (mis)handled the case in Yoriko no Tame ni, wondering whether things wouldn't have turned out better without his interference. As a result, he's lost most of his self confidence (and he's also suffering from a writer's block). Rintarou initially does not want to get involved with Yurina's case, but with some urging from his father, he finally tries to get over his problems. I have to admit that I'm not a big fan of the angsting detective (I already noted that in my Cat of Many Tails review) and it can become a bit too heavy at times if you're just looking for bloody murder. Good material for those interested in postmodernism though.

The plot of Futatabi Akai Akumu is not particularly clever. The main problem is about figuring out what happened to Yurina that night and who really killed the victim and while the puzzle itself is okay (very Gyakuten Saiban-esque, I have to say), it definitely is not strong enough to carry a complete novel of 500 pages. It might have been better for the main 'trick' to have been used for a short story in my opinion. Okay, there is another subplot that has to do with a murder that happened in Yurina's past to help the book fill its pages, but the solving of that murder is based solely on intuition and the solution is just dropped on the reader. There are also some parts where characters have long monologues about subjects that don't seem particularly related to the main topic, their function seem to be little more than boring padding.

For example, the fact Yurina is an idol provides a legitimate reason to insert segments commenting about Japanese idols, which I really think is an interesting topic on its own. But it has to relate to the story. A list spanning ten or so pages just summing up the major events related to idols (who debuted when, what singles came up etc.) is a) not a story, and b) not related to the main problem at hand at all! It's always a fine line you have to walk when including 'extra' information in a story and I can understand why a writer wants to show he did his homework for a story, but I personally didn't like how it was done here (might be different for another reader though).

Futatabi Akai Akumu is a book I find hard to recommend. It has too many requirements, and I don't really like its themes.If you liked Yoriko no Tame ni though, you're probably going to like Futatabi Akai Akumu though. The heavy atmosphere of the Angsting Detective and the intuitive mode of detecting are similiar and the stories are directly linked. I definitely liked Tasogare a lot more though, which was a very different kind of detective novel with its many logical deductions, despite being the same series.

Original Japanese title(s): 法月綸太郎 『ふたたび赤い悪夢』

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