Thursday, November 26, 2015

The Queen Is In The Counting House

「The Real Folk Blues」(山根麻以)

If only I could sleep once more
In the cradle of your love
"The Real Folk Blues" (Yamane Mai)

I have only just noticed how many Writer Alice reviews I've already written. I just didn't notice it as half of the reviews are about books, the other half about audio dramas.

Writer Alice series (audio drama)
46 Banme no Misshitsu ("The 46th Locked Room")
Swiss Dokei no Nazo ("The Swiss Clock Mystery")
Yaneura no Sanposha ("The Stroller in the Attic")
Zekkyoujou Satsujin Jiken ("-The Castle of Screams- Murder Case")
Nagai Rouka ga Aru Ie ("The House With the Long Hallway")
Saru no Hidarite ("The Monkey's Left Paw")  
Zankoku na Yurikago ("A Cruel Cradle")

An earthquake hitting the Kansai area results in heavy damage and some victims getting trapped in their houses or even getting knocked out by debris, but the most surprising result of the earthquake is the discovery of a man being shot in the annex building of the victim's acquaintance. While the victim had been at excellent terms with this friend and her husband, the home owners are naturally quite surprised to learn that the man had been in their house during the earthquake without their knowledge, and are of course shocked by the fact the man had been shot to death. The wife of the manor, before her marriage often surrounded by young men who considered her their 'queen', turns out to be an old acquaintance of criminologist Himura Hideo and mystery writer Arisugawa Alice, as they met in an earlier case two years earlier. Shocked at their reunion as they are, the crime-fighting duo set their mind to the solving the murder in the audio drama Zankoku na Yurikago ("A Cruel Cradle").

Zankoku na Yurikago is the seventh audio drama produced by Momogre based on Arisugawa Alice's Writer Alice series, which stars the criminologist Himura and mystery writer Alice. It is also the direct sequel to Saru no Hidarite, the audio drama I discussed two weeks ago. I wrote in that review that Saru no Hidarite was based on the book Kisaki wa Fune wo Shizumeru ("The Queen Sinks the Boat"), a book I hadn't read. I also noted that I thought the story might have been rewritten, because the summary of the book was kinda different from what happened in the audio drama. But now I know what was going on: the book Kisaki wa Fune wo Shizumeru actually consists of two novellettes that make up one narrative. For the audio drama, they split it up in two different productions: Saru no Hidarite and Zankoku na Yurikago. Both audio dramas can be listened to seperatedly, but do form one narrative centering around one woman.

I was quite enthusiastic about Saru no Hidarite, but I think that as a detective story, Zankoku na Yurikago surpasses that story. At the core, this is a very Queen-esque plot, which is something I always appreciate. Figuring out what characteristics the murderer must have based on the crime scene and the circumstances under which it was committed, deducing how all of the suspects fit in the big picture, it is done all very nice in this story and is something Arisugawa Alice (the actual writer) is actually quite competent in (Kotou Puzzle for example beats Ellery Queen at his own game!). The earthquake factor also adds something highly original to the mystery plot, as it is an element seldom seen in detective stories. Yet it does not feel as unreal as the volcano eruption in Arisugawa's own Gekkou Game. Earthquakes are actually quite common in Japan, so you'd think you'd come across them more often in fiction too.
The one note I want to make is that one part of the mystery was a bit vague because it was done as an audio drama. When things like architecture, positioning and angles are mentioned, an oral presentation often just doesn't work very well. Figures or being able to slowly read the description are far more effective in conveying things like that to the reader/listener. As I discuss mystery fiction in different media, I often pay attention to the question if the story fits the type of media. Some plots simply work better as a book, some better as an audio drama (or other medium). Zankoku na Yurikago still works as an audio drama, but I think I would have rated it higher if I had seen in on the screen or read it. Momogre's selection of the stories has been mostly well, but I'd say that Zankoku na Yurikago and 46 Banme no Misshitsu are the one where you kinda feel the medium fails slightly in keeping up with the story.

As said, Zankoku na Yurikago and Saru no Hidarite together form one narrative and listening to them after another, I'd say that as a standalone story, Saru no Hidarite perhaps works better. The detective plot, while still okay, is not as strong as that of Zankoku na Yurikago, but the themes there work better on their own. In return, Zankoku na Yurikago does more with the one character connecting both stories, and builds further on themes first introduced in Saru no Hidarite and forms a nice ending to this short story arc within the Writer Alice series. I recommend listening to them both and in order, as both stories are good mystery stories, but leave more of an impression taken together. I think it was an excellent idea of taking the novel and splitting it across these two productions. Length-wise, they were perfect for the complexity of the story, and together they are a lot more satisfying than the adaptation of 46 Banme no Misshitsu, the only other full novel Momogre has adapted as an audio drama.

Like with the previous release, the store Mandarake also offered a bonus audio drama together with Zankoku na Yurikago. Yuki to Kinkonshiki ("Snow and the Golden Wedding") is based on a short story originally included in the short story collection Nagai Rouka ga Aru Ie (the two other stories in the collection, title story Nagai Rouka ga Aru Ie and Tenkuu no Me are also available as audio drama). Unbeknown to an old couple celebrating their golden wedding anniversary on a snowy night, their brother-in-law was murdered in their annex building. The police manages to bring the number of suspects down to two, but miss the crucial evidence to find the guilty one. The husband of the old couple then appears to hold the key that can crack the case, but an unfortunate fall leads to temporary amnesia. Himura and Alice are asked by the police to help. The solution is a fairly simple one. It's hardly satisfying, but then again, this was a bonus audio drama. It's a cute story though.

Zankoku na Yurukago is a good, solid detective story that might work better as book than as audio drama, but still quite enjoyable, especially if taken together wth Saru no Hidarite. I don't think I need to comment on the acting, because that has been consistenly excellent throughout the series.

And for your convenience, the reviews of Writer Alice novels on this blog:
46 Banme no Misshitsu ("The 46th Locked Room") (1992)
Dali no Mayu ("Dali'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)
Malay Tetsudou no Nazo ("The Malay Railroad Mystery") (2002)

Original Japanese title(s): 有栖川有栖(原) 『残酷な揺り籠』


  1. do you watch Sakurako-san no Ashimoto ni wa Shitai ga Umatteiru ?

    1. Nope. Only following The Perfect Insider this season (whenever I remember to do so).

      This season's manga-related must-see is definitely the live-action series Angel Heart though, which is a surprisingly well-made adaptation of the manga!