Thursday, July 23, 2015



Break my lies
Notice the tears flowing from my eyes...
Save my heart!!
Kiss my trembling lips...
Now Return to Love
"Break" (Two-Mix)

One of the weirdest courses I've followed at a Japanese university was Ancient Greek. Why would I study another language while I was in Japan to study Japanese?! Then again, I also did a semester Chinese around the same time...

Yamabuki Satsuki, a Master student at C University, is having a little reunion at an old friend's place in the Hattori Apartment Mansion, which also turns out to be the location of a very peculiar murder. Exactly one floor above his friend's room, the body of a student is found, bound with his arms to the ceiling and with a silver knife sticking out of his chest. Two details make this a mysterious murder. One is that the room was locked from the inside: both keys had been found inside the apartment and the door had to be opened by Yamabuki with the caretaker's key. The second peculiarity is the fact that a camera had been set to film the inside of the room slightly before and until after the discovery of the body. Together with his friends Kabeya Megumi and Kurage Kyuusuke, Satsuki tries to solve the locked room mystery of Mori Hiroshi's φ wa Kowareta ne ("Phi Broke Down", 2004), which like a lot of Mori's books carries an alternative English title: Path Connected φ Broke.

φ wa Kowareta ne is the first book in Mori Hiroshi's G series, with the G standing for Greek, as all titles in the book feature a Greek letter. The G series is also connected to several of Mori's other series, among which his most famous series, the S&M series, which starred the student Nishinosono Moe and the assistant-professor Saikawa Souhei. The G series is set several years after the S&M series. Protagonist Yamabuki Satsuki is studying with assistant-professor Kunieda Momoko, who used to be Saikawa's assistant in the S&M series, and S&M's protagonist Moe (now following a Doctor's course) appears a lot as she is doing a joint research with Kunieda.

The G series also mirrors some of the character relations of the S&M series: Kabeya Megumi is like former protagonist Moe the energetic, curious girl who keeps getting interested in murder cases and tries her hand at solving them. Kurage Kyuusuke on the other hand mirrors the former detective-role of assistant-professor Saikawa as a taciturn man who's only interested in solving the case for himself. This said though, prior knowledge of the S&M series is not really needed to enjoy φ wa Kowareta ne and in fact, the overall tone of the books is quite different and much easier to read than the S&M series.

I haven't much exposure to Mori Hiroshi, but the things I have read/heard were always a bit 'heavy'. Subete ga F ni Naru (the first book in the S&M series) basically started the scientific mystery boom, and it had plot strongly connected to 'new' technology like computers, networks, internet and virtual reality, which had only just reached the general public (the book was released in 1994).There's also quite a bit of philosphy on identity there, which is also heavily featured in Mori's 100 Years series. So Mori Hiroshi books always had a heavy image for me.

But not so with φ wa Kowareta ne: the book is relatively short and it's really easy to read. The plot stays focused on the mystery plot from start to end and I really like how the plot develops mostly through the discussions between Yamabuki, Megumi and Kurage. Of course, that's just a personal preference, but I usually enjoy detective stories where the protagonists discuss their theories and bounce ideas off each other. It works good here, as the talks between the three always lead to something, be it a correct or wrong theory and with new information being given to them every now and then, the unfolding of the mystery never comes to a complete stop. I thought this book was a lot more readable than Subete ga F ni Naru.

The locked room mystery is a bit simple, but quite fair and it fits the smaller scale of the G series compared to the we-have-cameras-and-high-tech-security-equipment-and-computers-and-everything locked room mysteries of the S&M series. One of the major hints of this book is actually quite brilliant, because it works at a meta-level and it is extremely difficult to realize it is indeed a hint until it is pointed out to you. Oh, and I usually don't really complain about motives for murders, but I do wish it had been made a bit more clear here, because the murder took a lot of trouble and to have the motive stay so vague at the end... (though motives in Mori Hiroshi stories seem to be a bit vague quite often).

I quite enjoyed φ wa Kowareta ne as a to-the-point locked room mystery with a brilliant hint and fun characters. So I'm definitely going to read more of the G series. I can imagine it works great as starting point to Mori too; the book itself features a competent locked room mystery and is fun to read, but it also offers some links to Mori's other series, so those curious can work themselves 'up' in the Mori universe.

Original Japanese title(s): 森博嗣 『φ(ファイ)は壊れたね PATH CONNECTED φ BROKE』

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