Sunday, June 7, 2015

Memory of Butterfly

"Ah, this is kinda relaxed. So hard to turn of my brain. I have to stop thinking.! ........ Hey, it worked! Oh, no, that's thinking..."
"Make Room for Lisa" (The Simpsons)

Doesn't the word "cocoon" actually kinda resemble one? With the round forms and all...

Writer Alice series
46 Banme no Misshitsu ("The 46th Locked Room") (1992)
Dali no Mayu ("Dalí's Cocoon") (1993)
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)

Doujou Shuuichi was not only known as the owner-director of a jewelry store chain, but also as a great admirer of Salvador Dalí. He owned several of Dalí's art objects and he even sported the same distinctive mustache! But just enjoying art is sometimes not enough to relieve stress, so Doujou also owned his own floating tank, which he used for meditation and rest. Little did he know that he would be falling in eternal rest inside his 'cocoon'. After Doujou missed a meeting at the office, his brother and some employees go looking for him at his house and discover him murdered inside the floating tank. But the crime scene is full of oddities: a clothes basket was overturned, Doujou's clothes are nowhere to be found and most striking: his distinctive Dalí mustache was gone! Himura Hideo, assistant-professor in criminology, once again heads out to the crime scene for his 'fieldwork', together with good friend and mystery writer Arisugawa Alice to solve the mystery of the missing mustache in Arisugawa Alice's Dali no Mayu ("Dalí's Cocoon", 1993).

This was the second book featuring Himura and Alice, released just one year after their debut in the amusing locked room murder mystery 46 Banme no Misshitsu. While the fourth novel in the series also featured an impossible crime, Dali no Mayu is more like a classic Queen story, featuring a strange crime scene (as you can guess by the fact that the author and the narrator share the same name: Arisugawa is influenced by Queen). No clothes on the crime scene! A missing mustache! I quite liked this premise and was hoping for something baffling with long Queenian deduction chains like Arisugawa had written in other novels like Kotou Puzzle.

And I really shouldn't have that high expectations. Dali no Mayu is not a bad mystery novel, but very bland comparing to other novels in the series, or specifically the ones before and after it. The initial premise is good, but the plot feels like it had several loose ideas strung together in a rather uninspired way. A lot of the mystery is already resolved halfway through the book not through the power of the mind, but sheer luck of the police and the rest of the book feature red herrings that feel a bit too much like red herrings: as if they were just written to pad out the story, rather than to improve on the story. There were at least two distinct moments where I rolled my eyes in disbelief. Was that really believable?! Would anyone really have done that?!  There are some good ideas in Dali no Mayu for an excellent mystery novel (I especially like the idea behind the role of the murder weapon, though that again is burdened by something really unbelievable), but it feels like every idea is just executed at just half of what Arisugawa could have done with them.

Oh, and a quick trip to Japanese fan-culture: it's been a while since I read the first novel in the series, so I can't remember whether the Writer Alice was like this from the start, but man, this second novel already feels strongly aimed at fujoshi with Himura and Alice's interactions. I had always thought that the shift towards catering to the fujoshi public came later, but putting Himura and Alice in situations that causes the fandom to squeal in pleasure was apparently already present this early in the series. Heck, nowadays I have the feeling that Arisugawa Alice only writes really good mystery novels for his Student Alice series, while he leaves the less complex plots for the Writer Alice series, which simply sells because of its fujoshi public. There's a reason why those audio dramas of this series (reviews here, here, here, here and here) are produced by Momogre. Not that I'm not trying to be antagonistic or dismissive of a rather big group of fans or something, I just wished the mystery plots wouldn't seem to play second fiddle to fandom pandering... True, there are some good and even great novels in the Writer Alice series, but in general, the level seems much lower than the Student Alice series.

Dali no Mayu is a slightly disappointing entry in the series. It might have become like this because it was released so soon after the first novel, but both the first and third novel are so much better than this one. Not that Dali no Mayu is bad, but I do have the feeling this could have been much more, as it does feature some good ideas. Maybe good as a light snack.

Original Japanese title(s): 有栖川有栖 『ダリの繭』


  1. Sometimes when a book does well, the writer pulls out one of his reject novels out of the drawer that he wrote earlier and it gets published due to the success of the first published novel. The novel you reviewed could be some apprentice work.

    1. I don't know about this particular book, but a lot of writers of the Shin Honkaku movement (like ARISUGAWA) wrote a lot of mystery fiction as members of their university mystery clubs, and they indeed occasionally rewrite some of their old stories when they become professional writers (for example, you can still find the "original" versions of a couple of AYATSUJI Yukito and NORIZUKI Rintarou stories at their mystery club).