Monday, November 25, 2013

A Friend in Deed

『卒業』 尾崎豊

Nobody realizes our freedom is fake
Our days of struggling will end
Graduation from this control
Graduation from the fight
"Graduation" (Ozaki Yutaka)

Hmm, I'll probably write about the last season of Poirot,  but seeing that three of the four posts this month were already about TV/film productions, I think I'll push that post to December. Which is close anyway (though at my current writing tempo, it might become next year...)

Kaga Kyouichirou series
Sotsugyou ("Graduation") (1986)
Nemuri no Mori ("Forest of Sleep") (1989)
Dochiraka ga Kanojo wo Koroshita ("One of the Two Killed Her") (1996)
Akui ("Malice") (1996)
Watashi ga Kare wo Koroshita ("I Killed Him") (1999)
Uso wo Mou Hitotsu Dake ("One More Lie") (2000)
Akai Yubi ("Red Fingers")  (2006)
Shinzanmono ("Newcomer") (2009)
Kirin no Tsubasa ("The Wings of the Kirin") (2011)
Inori no Maku ga Oriru Toki ("When the Curtains of Hope Come Down") (2013)

Higashino Keigo is probably better known internationally for his Detective Galileo series (thanks to the succes of The Devotion of Suspect X), but his longest running series is the Kaga Kyouichirou series, which started with his second novel Sotsugyou - Setsugekka Satsujin Game ("Graduation - The Setsugekka Murder Game"). I have already written about the later entries in the series (see above), where Kaga appears as an extremely competent police detective, so I was kinda surprised that Kaga was still an university student in this novel. Though the title should have tipped me off. Anyway, Kaga Kyouichirou is in his last year of university, and like the rest of his friends thinking about his future. One of his friends, Youko, however, seemingly commits suicide in her apartment,  but a series of curious facts leads the police, and Kaga to suspect it might have been murder. And when another of his friends dies during a tea ceremony game, it becomes clear something evil has been hiding among Kaga's friends.

Considering this series is Higashino's oldest series, it shouldn't be surprising when I tell you that this novel is quite different from more recent entries in the seriesl. The biggest change: Kaga Kyouichirou appears prominently in the story. Most of the later novels are narrated from the point of view of suspects, with Kaga occasionally popping up to ask annoying questions like he was a disciple of Columbo or Furuhata Ninzaburou. Sotsugyou is definitely his novel though, being about his friends. It shows a side of Kaga I had never seen before, which was interesting.

Sotsugyou is also much more an orthodox detective novel than the psychological mystery dramas that later entries seem to be. Dochiraka ga Kanojo wo Koroshita and Watashi ga Kare wo Koroshita are a bit of anomolies in the series (as they are fair play mysteries, but don't tell you who the murderer is), but the rest of the novels seem to focus more on the suspects and the drama that led up to the murder. Sotsugyou however features two seemingly impossible murders (one in a locked apartment room with limited accessibility and another where suicide seems to be the only solution), making it feel much more 'classic'. Indeed, older Higashino Keigo novels seem more like conventional detectives with clear problems (see also his parody series Meitantei Tenkaichi), which is more fun to read in my opinion. Then again, these older works by Higashino sometimes have the trouble of feeling a bit too conventional, as if he's just writing them with a checklist of tropes besides him.

Overall, I have to say that I do feel that Sotsugyou is a bit underwhelming. The solution to the locked room problem is a bit... well, I guess it forebodes his Detective Galileo series and shows Higashino's scientific background, but content, I am not. And the poisoning murder during the tea ceremony (which is where the subtitle Setsugetsuka refers to) is insanely complex. If you have a story where you need four pages of text, and another four pages of diagrams to explain where every cup was during each stage of the tea ceremony, then the story is probably too difficult for its own good. The two problems also feel very disjointed, and it's almost like reading two seperate storylines. It can work for some stories, but not here.

I wouldn't say that Sotsugyou is a bad novel, but it's not particularly memorable either. For those interested in Kaga's history, it has some nice moments, but as a detective novel it feels a bit safe, and not particularly inventive.

Original Japanese title(s): 東野圭吾『卒業  雪月花殺人ゲーム』


  1. "as a detective novel it feels a bit safe, and not particularly inventive"

    you kinda summed up my overall experience with that author. i never understood why he's SUCH a huge edal here in france. i saw he's a superstar in japan with series and movies being made, but i honestly never found anything redeeming about his stories and style. there are much more capable authors in my opinion who deserve to shine and yet cannot succeed in breaking into the mainstream.

    1. Higashino is really good at his particular niche of human drama-inspired mystery tales, which is easier to sell to a wider audience (not just mystery fans). I can definitely enjoy his work, but of course not all of his work is equally interesting. If you're into something more focused on the pure puzzle plot, his Tenkaichi series is pretty fun. It's one of his early series and a parody of the mystery genre, where the main characters (a "great detective" and the police inspector) know they are characters in a mystery tale and try to do everything according to the 'laws' of the genre. The drama was pretty fun too.