Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Snow Light Shower

la la la- la- la-
夢 うつろな ユートピア
堅い殻の クルミが割れたら
la- la- la- la- Marionette Fantasia
『Marionette Fantasia』 (Garnet Crow)

la la la- la- la-
Our world
A dream, a hollow utopia
When the hard shell of the walnuts break
The world will flow out of them
la- la- la- la- Marionette Fantasia
"Marionette Fantasia" (Garnet Crow)

Confession to make: I had read the prologue of today's book at least six times in the last two year or so. And every time I thought, naah, kinda boring, I'll read this later. But the book turned to be much more fun than I had expected actually, as I finished this book in just two days when I finally did get past the prologue...

Writer Alice series
46 Banme no Misshitsu ("The 46th Locked Room") (1992)
Russia Koucha no Nazo ("The Russian Tea Mystery") (1994)
Sweden Kan no Nazo ("The Swedish Mansion Mystery") (1995)
Brazil Chou no Nazo ("The Brazilian Butterfly Mystery") (1996)
Eikoku Teien no Nazo ("The English Garden Mystery") (1997)
Zekkyoujou Satsujin Jiken ("The -Castle of Screams- Murder Case") (2001)
Malay Tetsudou no Nazo ("The Malay Railroad Mystery") (2002)
Swiss Dokei no Nazo ("The Swiss Watch Mystery") (2003)
Nagai Rouka no Aru Ie ("The House with the Long Hallway") (2010)

Mystery writer Arisugawa Alice has traveled to Mount Bandai in Fukushima prefecture to gain some inspiration for his new book. Next to Alice's inn stands the Swedish Mansion, which is named like that because it's a Swedish style woodlodge, but also because the mistress of the house came from Sweden. Otsukawa Ryuu is a writer of children's stories, and he lives in the Swedish Mansion with his beautiful wife Veronica. Ryuu and Veronica love guests, and even though they are already entertaining some friends at their house (which has an annex building), they also invite Alice for tea. The same night however, one of Ryuu and Veronica's guests is found murdered at the annex building: and the only footprints in the snow leading to the annex were those of the victim herself. How did the murderer get away from the crime scene without leaving footprints? Being a suspect himself (as the only 'outsider' to the party), Alice asks his friend, the criminologist Himura, to help him in Arisugawa Alice's  Sweden Kan no Nazo ("The Swedish Mansion Mystery").

Mystery writer Arisugawa Alice and criminologist Himura Hideo first appeared in 46 Banme no Misshitsu and has since then been Arisugawa Alice (the actual writer, not the character)'s most popular series characters. Within the Writer Alice series (not to be confused with the Student Alice series),  there's a subset of stories that follow the titles of Ellery Queen's nationality novels: Sweden Kan no Nazo is the second of that series, following the short story collection Russia Koucha no Nazo. I got kinda tired of this series with the third and fourth entries in the series (Brazil Chou no Nazo and Eikoku Teien no Nazo), so what did I think of the second novel?

I quite liked it actually. The impossible crime trope of the missing footprints in the snow is a classic of course, but that doesn't mean it can't be good. Sure, by now I've seen countless of variants of it, and while I wouldn't say that Sweden Kan no Nazo provided a really surprising new twist on the formula, it's definitely a solid entry in the history of Missing Footprints in the Snow. But more impressive than the trick itself, is the way at which detective Himura arrived at the truth: Sweden Kan no Nazo might be an impossible crime story, but the thought process behind it is pure Queen. You don't need ridiculous imagination to solve this puzzle: just follow the clues all to their natural conclusion, and you can solve the case by sheer logic. And that's the best way to do a detective story! In a sense, Sweden Kan no Nazo feels like a smaller scale version of the amazing deduction chain of Kotou Puzzle: the deduction chain here is also mostly based on one little contradiction in the circumstances, which eventually leads to the truth.

The setting of the lodges, and the snow do feel a bit similar to 46 Banme no Misshitsu, Alice and Himura's debut story; the major differences of course being that 46 Banme no Misshitsu was set inside a house. On the other hand, the fact that Himura doesn't appear until halfway through the story feels fresh: Alice and Himura always appear together with their typical banter, so it's a nice change of pace to see more of just Alice for once (because Alice is always the butt of the jokes).

In fact, it's this banter of Himura and Alice that kinda doesn't work for me. It starts out okay, but as the series continued, it seemed like a lot of the stories were not really interesting as detective stories, and that a lot more attention was being paid at presenting 'fun' conversations between Himura and Alice. Mostly by having Himura act all cool, while Alice constantly being at the receiving ends of things. And the problem is: it sells. It sells really good, even. It even sells audio dramas! I suspect that writer Arisugawa Alice is actually really happy he's able to write lighter mysteries with just bantering Alice and Himura as these books fill his pockets, and once in a while he'll write a more serious and complex Student Alice books to keep the more die-hard mystery readers happy.

But that's another story. I might be complaining about the direction of the series in general, but Sweden Kan no Nazo is really a decent imposssible crime mystery, especially when you realize that the method of detecting is one not normally associated with impossible crimes. Definitely one to read (after the Student Alice series, of course).

Original Japanese title(s): 有栖川有栖 『スウェーデン館の謎』


  1. This writer sounds like Rex Stout. The Nero Wolfe novels I have read seem to me generally only mediocre as mysteries. What people seem to like is the byplay between Wolfe and Archie Goodwin (which I find irritating) and the relation of Wolfe's eccentricities.

    1. I'll have to be fair and say that even Arisugawa Alice's mediocre stories are still pretty okay fair play mysteries, but when one considers that the Student Alice series consists of only fantastic complex mysteries, and the Writer Alice series kinda goes up and down, and the last few years seems to be more about pandering to the fanbase (of mostly female readers who ship Himura and Alice together), well, that kinda gives away Arisugawa Alice's intentions with his two series, I think.