Friday, January 3, 2014

The Big Sleep

「The Real Folk Blues」 (山根麻衣)

I wish I could sleep once more
in the cradle of your love
"The Real Folk Blues" (Yamane Mai)

Did we all enjoy the first episode of the new season of Sherlock? I'll write a review when all episodes have aired, so that post will appear in... a bit more than a week.

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)

Kaga Kyouichirou had planned to become a teacher after his graduation, but things don't always go the way you want. Nemuri no Mori ("Forest of Sleep") puts Kaga in the role of the police inspector in charge of  a murder case at the offices of the Takayanagi Ballet Troupe. Haruko, one of the troupe's dancers, was attacked by a man and killed him accidently in self defense. The police has problems figuring out why the man snuck in the offices and suspect that he was trying to find someone or something connected to the troupe. Suspecting the key to this case lies within the troupe, Kaga decides to learn more about the members of the troupe and the world of professional ballet performances.

The second Kaga Kyouichirou novel and quite different from the first novel. Sotsugyou was relatively 'classically styled', with a locked room puzzle and an intricate other problem focusing on actor movements. Nemuri no Mori on the other hand has none of these decorations; a normal bludgeoning death, and an investigation focusing on the psychology of the suspects. There is a relatively 'classic' murder around the middle of the novel, but the howdunnit of that murder is solved rather quickly and it never becomes a focal point in the case. Nemuri no Mori is definitely closer to the later novels in the Kaga Kyouichirou series.

The setting of a theater group is something you'll often see in detective fiction and while a ballet troupe is not that different, I have to admit that Higashino made quite good use of the setting and the world of ballet really comes alive in Nemuri no Mori. Specialized settings are used quite often in Kaga Kyouichirou series, with the world of university level Kendou competitions in Sotsugyou, writers in Watashi ga Kare wo Koroshita and a myriad of settings in Shinzanmono, which is definitely one element that makes the Kaga Kyouichirou series interesting to read.

One problem I had with Nemuri no Mori was its tempo though. Most of the novel focuses on Kaga getting to learn more about the members and their ideas on ballet, with the investigation almost an afterthought. Because of that, it's not always clear where Nemuri no Mori's narrative is going. Considering that the novel should be about a murder investigation, I'd prefer for the story to be a bit more focused.

A TV drama version of Nemuri no Mori was broadcast on January 2 of this year, as the fourth entry in the Shinzanmono-branded adaptations of the Kaga Kyouichirou novels. It is a fairly faithful adaptation of the original novel; changes include one concerning the second death, and some changes in the background of the character of Kaga. But I have to admit that I enjoyed the drama version more than the novel. Partly because I knew the story already; solving a bit of the problems I had with the pacing of the story. But it also helped that you could actually see and hear the ballet performances, rather than just reading about them. So much of the story depends on the characters and their passion for ballet, so it really adds to the enjoyments of the story to see and hear their art 'alive'.  

Oh, and the cameo perfomance by Nakama Yukie as Kaga's date at the beginning was hilarious, because Abe Hiroshi and Nakama Yukie are also the stars in the wonderful drama Trick!

I wouldn't call Nemuri no Mori a high point in the series in general, but I did really like the drama adaptation of it (even better than the movie!), so I'd recommend the latter for those who want to learn about one of Kaga's earliest cases.

Original Japanese title(s): 東野圭吾 『眠りの森』, 東野圭吾(原) 新春ドラマスペシャル“新参者”加賀恭一郎「眠りの森」

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