Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Uneasy Lies The Crown

"See, I knew there was something going on. Of course, the Big Cheese made two mistakes. First of all he didn't recognize me: Lemming, Arthur Lemming, Special Investigator, British Dental Association, and second, by the time I got back from lunch I had every dental surgeon in SW1 waiting for them all in the broom cupboard. Funny isn't it, how naughty dentists always make that one fatal mistake. Bye for now, keep your teeth clean."
"Secret Service Dentists sketch" (Monty Python)

I always wondered why people wrote lambda instead of labda for the Greek letter λ. Turns out that lambda is the modern pronuncation. I only studied Classical Greek, so labda has always been my default pronuncation. All well, another thing I learned today.
The students of Assistant-Professor's Kunieda's lab are working through the night on an experiment held in one of the testing facilities of T Construction. That night however, horrible murders are commited elsewhere in the facility, in an experimental lab building. Four unknown men were found shot to death in the laboratory, but that is just the start of the mystery. The laborotary building has an advanced security system, but no records can be found of the four victims ever entering the building. There is no trace of a murderer leaving or entering either, of course. Yet no weapon was found in the lab, meaning the deaths couldn't have been suicides. But the biggest mystery is that the teeth of all four men had been pulled out. Inside the pocket of one of the victims, a note saying "λ has no teeth" was also discovered. Puzzled by this locked room mystery, the students in Kunieda's lab try to solve this quadruple murder in Mori Hiroshi's 2006 novel λ Ni Ha Ga Nai, which also carries the English title λ Has No Teeth.

λ Ni Ha Ga Nai is the fifth book in Mori's G series, the sequel to his famous S&M series. The G stands for Greek letters, which has been an important link between the books in this series. In the various adventures we've seen up until now, it's been clear that a series of murders have been committed, but the motives in each of these cases has remained vague. We only know that Greek letters pop up in each of the cases, like the lambda of this book. The result of this ongoing story however is that each book feels rather incomplete though, and I'm afraid that for those waiting for more answers, λ Ni Ha Ga Nai is not able to provide them. It only raises more questions. Mori originally planned this series as a 12-part series, but you'd think that by the fifth book, we'd have slightly more answers about why all these Greek-letter-inspired murders are committed, at least compared to the first book, but that's not really the case. This is definitely my biggest complaint about this book, because like the previous ones, it's nearly impossible to look at λ Ni Ha Ga Nai on its own. Each of the books feels like they're missing one or two chapters that flesh out the story. In fact, it's amazing how little pages there always are between the explanation of the crime, and the last page of the book. You never see anything about the aftermath of solving the case, giving the reader little catharsis.

But I have to admit, overall I enjoyed λ Ni Ha Ga Nai quite well. The locked room mystery is very reminsicent of the one in Subete ga F ni Naru - The Perfect Insider (the first book in the S&M series), with a highly secured laboratory being the setting of a seemingly impossible murder and students being a part of the story, but it's definitely not just a rip-off. The trick used to murder the four people inside the building is actually quite ingenious and also very neatly hinted. I do have to say that you'd think more people would think of that trick, considering where the murders were committed in the first place but still a very memorable locked room trick.

Also, I enjoyed that architecture played such a big role in the story. The characters in the S&M and G series all study or teach architecture, but by the way they usually talk, you'd think it's philosophy. λ Ni Ha Ga Nai starts with the students working on an architecture experiment and you actually see them studying and learning about their major in this book. Architecture was only featured sorta prominently once earlier in this series, when the students mapped out a house to check for secret rooms in τ ni Naru Made Matte, but it is great to see this element of the characters finally being of importance to the plot.

The plot of the book is very bare-bones however. The murders are outlined in the first chapter, and the rest of the book mainly consists of many people discussing the case with each other, constantly coming up with different theories as to how the locked room murders might've been committed. The fact this series is a sequel to the S&M series is both good and bad. Good in the sense that there is a very diverse cast of (fairly to very) intelligent people, which can result in all kinds of different conversation partner match-ups. On the other hand, the main cast is a bit on the bloated side, with the three "real" main characters of the G series, three "veteran" characters from the S&M series and even another role for someone from Mori's V series. And that's just the main cast. Most of the book consists of them talking to each other, and there is very little that is really driving the plot forward between the opening and the ending of the case. They just talk. They come with interesting theories and even dabble in philosophy, but still, it's not a very active book.

As the fifth book in the series, λ Ni Ha Ga Nai has little surprises to offer. It's a short, easy to read novel with a good locked room mystery and chatty characters, but like all the books preceding it, only part of a larger story, which can feel incomplete read on its own. Simply based on the locked room murder trick, I'd say this one was the best until now, but I'd never recommend reading this as an entry into the series, as I can't imagine it being fun without the proper background information gained from the previous books.

Original Japanese title(s): 森博嗣 『λに歯がない』

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