Thursday, April 2, 2015

Les Confidences d'Arsène Lupin

「時の階段」 (LieN)

When I've reached the top of the stairway of time
I'll be able to be with you, that's what I feel

I'll admit it right away, the reason I bought this book was because it said Lupin on the cover. Even though I knew it had nothing to do with Arsène Lupin.

In December 1975, the English language teacher Mine Maiko was found dead at the high school she worked at. The discovery of a suicide note closed the case. Until fifteen years, minus one day later. An anonymous tip tells the police that Mine Maiko's death was not suicide, but murder and that her death was connected to "The Lupin Scheme" three students had concocted. With only twenty-four hours to go before the statute of limitations passes, the police wastes no time in tracking and bringing (the now adult) Kita Yoshio, Tachibana Souichi and Tatsumi Joujirou to the police station to hear what they have got to say. And so we are told of three high school students who planned to steal the answers of the end of semester tests fifteen years ago and the shocking discovery they made during their heist. Can the police find out what happened to the teacher before the time limit in Yokoyama Hideo's Lupin no Shousoku ("News of Lupin", 2005)?

Lupin no Shousoku is kinda Yokoyama Hideo's debut novel, and not at the same time. He won the Suntory Mystery Grand Prize in 1991 with this novel, but the book was not published until 2005, many years after Yokoyama's "real" debut as a novelist. By that time, he had already made a name for himself as a mystery writer. Lupin no Shousoku was also adapted as a TV drama in 2008.

While Yokoyama had revised the original manuscript for the 2005 paperback release, I do have to say that I was surprised Lupin no Shousoku read so incredibly well for a debut novel. The two-sided plot (the execution of the Lupin Scheme in the past and the race against the clock in the present) each drive the story forward and the narrative jumps at just the right times between the two storylines to keep you on your toes. The Lupin Scheme plot is exciting on its own, as it depicts how the three students plan and execute a heist, while the present day plot reacts to the information revealed in the Lupin Scheme plot, resulting in new suspects and theories as the story progresses.

I do have to say that the present day plot, where the police only has twenty-four hours until the statute of limitations pass, is the weaker part of the novel. While everyone is yelling that they only have a few hours left to solve the case and all cops with time on their hand (and those who don't too) are working on the case, the reader mostly sees scenes where the supervising police officer is just standing there, listening to the story of the three behind the Lupin Scheme in the questioning rooms. Sure, the cops are listening while looking at the clock and acting nervously, but they are just listening. It's all they can do, I give them that, but it could have been presented a bit more dynamic to strengthen the time limit idea. Standing does not convey haste. Oh, and a bit of trivia: I've read/seen a lot of mystery stories that feature the statute of limitations (both civil and criminal cases), but the statute of limitations on crimes resulting in death was abolished in 2010, so I wonder whether these kind of stories will disappear some day as the concept disappears from the public's mind.

Oh, and this is part of a major plot twist, so I'll keep it vague, but the depiction of a certain characteristic of a certain person... was absolutely horrible. I get what Yokoyama wanted to do, I think, but he could have chosen his wording a bit more carefully...

As a mystery novel, Lupin no Shousoku is entertaining enough: there is some good hinting within the confessions of the Lupin Scheme conspirators and the heist part of their stories is also good. But I always find these kind of stories a bit weak, because it's all based on recollection of events that happened many years ago and heck, I don't even remember things that happened last week in such detail, let alone of fifteen years ago! Lupin no Shousoku does nothing to remedy that and the way evidence at the end turns up after fifteen years, is a bit unbelievable. Nothing game-breaking, but it is something I notice.

Oh, and because I have avoided the topic up until now, even though it is quite heavily promoted: Lupin no Shousoku's plot is also connected to the unsolved, real-life 300 million yen robbery case, which is a popular topic in Japanese crime fiction. But mind you, the Mine Maiko Murder is the main focus, the 300 million yen robbery is just slightly connected.

Lupin no Shousoku is an entertaining crime novel that will satisfy most readers. I have some very minor with the plot, but it's overall a fun heist and whodunit novel.

Original Japanese title(s): 横山秀夫 『ルパンの消息』

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