Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Sea Breeze in Yokohama

「君という光」 (Garnet Crow)

I like watching the jellyfish floating on the waves
Like I am always thinking of a world faraway
"A Light Called You" (Garnet Crow)

Man, I love these covers. The previous book had the same kind of cover, with blue and yellow, but they look really great.

Three members of the Kazegaoka High School Newspaper Club decided to visit the Yokohama Marumi Aquarium for a special report on the place. The aquarium is a small local aquarium that doesn't appear in the major tourist guides, but it has been an appreciated cornerstone of Yokohama for many years. The Newspaper Club managed to arrange a behind-the-scenes tour and interview with the director, but their interview is cut short in the most cruel way, when one of the trainers is thrown inside the shark tank with a cut neck: the shark made sure little was left of the victim's upper body. Police investigations quickly show that the murderer must have attacked the victim on the catwalk above the tank in the 'backyard' of the aquarium (the off-limits area) and then thrown him in the tank, but interrogation of the suspects leads to a surprising conclusion. While they have eleven suspects, from the other trainers to office workers to the vet and a part-time cleaner, they all have perfect alibis! As the police investigation doesn't appear to be going anywhere, the leading inspector decides that even though he really doesn't want to, he needs to ask the help of Urazome Tenma, the brilliant Kazegaoka student who solved the Gymnasium Murder some months earlier. Tenma, who lives illegally on school grounds, agrees to solve the alibi problem (in exchange for a new AC unit in his room) in Aosaki Yuugo's Suizokukan no Satsujin ("The Aquarium Murder", 2013).

Aosaki Yuugo's 2012 debut novel, Taiikukan no Satsujin ("The Gymnasium Murder") was a fantastic, Ellery Queen-inspired impossible murder mystery. The book even featured an alternative English title, The Black Umbrella Mystery, which invoked that Queen spirit too. Suizokukan no Satsujin continues in that spirit and likewise features an extra English title: The Yellow Mop Mystery and yes, a mop will turn out to be very important to the plot.

Taiikukan no Satsujin was one of my favorite read mysteries in 2015, because it was a great fusion between a young, high school student cast (including light, funny banter) and an extremely intricate mystery plot that was anything but juvenile. The way it used Queen-like logic-based reasoning to solve a mechanical locked room mystery was amazing, and while the trick itself was not surprising, the way otaku-detective Tenma arrived at the solution was. So I had high expectations of its sequel.

But I have to say I am not as positive about Suizokukan no Satsujin. The biggest problem is its enormous pool of suspects (eleven persons). A lot of the investigation is focused on the alibi of all eleven suspects, and by that I mean you need to keep in mind the exact movements of all these suspects up to the minute! It is utterly unbelievable that on any common workday, people would remember their movements up to the minute ("I was in the office until 09:57, had a talk with X in the hallway until 10:03, then had a coffee at 10:05, etc."). If it's like in Ayukawa Tetsuya's Kuroi Trunk, where there was an investigation into one specific person's alibi (using a train), okay, this approach can be both believable and viable, but not for eleven persons moving around in an aquarium. It's just too much, and after a while the reader loses interest with all the specific time-stamps. The large number of suspects reminds a bit of Arisugawa Alice's debut novel, Gekkou Game, which suffered too from a bit too many homogeneous suspects.

Like any proper Queen-inspired mystery novel, Suizokukan no Satsujin focuses very much on physical clues (objects) and their use. Deductions are made by looking at the state of an object, and imagining what actions, or knowledge, could have resulted in that state, and said deductions lead to new insights, which again bring new light to other objects/circumstances, etc. (see also this post on clues). Like the alternative English title suggest, a mop left near the shark tank proves to be of importance in this story, and while I admit that the final solution revealed is quite impressive on a technical level, I'll also admit that it didn't do as much to me as I had expected. Maybe I had already been exhausted by the constant alibi-checking of all those suspects. Halfway in the book, Tenma already reveals something of importance, and I thought that was much more exciting than the actual conclusion of the story. But I'll say that at a technical, plot level, this book is really well done. I just didn't feel as invested in this story as with Aosaki's debut novel.

Oh, and like with the previous novel, this book has something extra to offer if you know your manga and anime. Protagonist Tenma is a huge otaku, and he drops references left and right. These can be very subtle, and I only managed to catch a couple of them (I am especially bad with more recent anime), but man, it'd be difficult to do Translator's Notes for this book! I myself am proud I caught the Maison Ikkoku one (Maison Ikkoku is awesome).

Overall, Suizokukan no Satsujin is a well-constructed mystery novel, but it's also a novel where "less is more" applies. I think I'd really have enjoyed this novel better if it had been less detailed. Now it's just overwhelming and after a while, you just stop caring where X was at 09:56 and at 10:14. But now, I can only recommend this book with "Yes, but...".

Original Japanese title(s): 青崎有吾 『水族館の殺人』


  1. I recall your review of 体育館の殺人, and feel regretful that there is no Chinese, not to say English, translation of the novel... It's usually not too hard to find Chinese translations of Japanese mystery novels, but for some reason Aosaki Yuugo has yet to be brought to the Chinese reading market.

    1. Actually, there is a Chinese translation, and for all 3 books: Gym, Aquarium and Library murder cases. I am not sure if it was an official or fan translated release, but I did read all books on the web.

    2. I can't be absolutely sure, but I can't find any mentions of translations (in any language) on Aosaki's Wikipedia page, so I don't think there are any officially published translations of his work yet.

  2. so this one was better than the previous book ?

  3. This series looks amazing, and you are right such beautiful covers. Reading your blog always makes me so sad about what I can't get in English, and this looks great! Any chance these will be translated?

    (On a big side not, the last post on my blog - I am pretty new to the community - was written with you in mind, would appreciate your thoughts if you have the time!)

    1. Hi! I do hope these books will get translated sometime, as they are as classic a puzzle plot as you can get. Considering the numerous references to anime/manga and its high school setting though, I can definitely see publishers like Vertical picking this series up, as opposed to more "traditional" mystery publishers.

      And thanks for the heads-up, I'll definitely take a look at the post! It's been a while since I saw that book :D

    2. Thanks Ho-Ling. I do like vertical, they seem to be putting out a lot of cool bits, you involved with them in anyway as well?

    3. Nope, I just like their releases :P

  4. speaking of book covers, i find japanese book covers so engaging, creative, beautiful and imaginative. it's like you are proud of the work gone into them. american/french ones?? not so much. ouh look there! yet another book cover with just the book title in huge font. or random fumes, smoke and lace spread on the cover. or nature. with desolate landscape. or some half naked woman gasping in shock like those old ellery queen books. i wish western publishers took note from japanese covers and just...dared a little with their books.

    1. It might have to do with the shrinking physical market and growing digital market. I read some comics digitally too (which obviously feature the same art as the physical versions), but for some reason stuff like cover art doesn't really stick with me if I read it digitally (it might just be me though). But yeah, it's a shame so many covers nowadays are like collages of stock art, or so abstract they don't really stand out anymore.

    2. but digital titles also have book covers. and these are plastered everywhere in book reviews, blogs and online retailers. i honestly do not think it's a physical/digital issue?
      i have over 400 digital books in my itunes library and always change the book covers to aletrnative covers or fan art. i feel soothed just by scrolling through them and admiring the covers.
      do you get to pick your covers for your translations? i loved the original moai puzzle island japanese cover for example. with just the islang map in color.
      big hug for valentines day if you don't have a special somebody currently.

    3. I know digital books have covers too, and they're the same as the physical versions (if both exist), but for some reason they just don't make as much an impact on me personally when I see them on an e-reader/smart device. Though that it's a problem I have in general with e-books (for some reason, things I read as e-books don't 'stick' in my mind as good as paper books). Seeing it as a digital image just... leaves less an impression, I think.

      I don't pick/make the covers for the books I translated, though I do get to think along/comment on them (but I have basically no 'creative' powers, so there's little I can do there).