Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Lucky Seven

「As The Dew」(Garnet Crow)

Unable to go against the flow of time, some feelings will fade away
"As The Dew" (Garnet Crow)

The cover of today's book is simple and clean, featuring deformed illustrations of the authors featured in this anthology, but I really like it!

Disclosure: I have translated works by Arisugawa Alice, Norizuki Rintarou and Ayatsuji Yukito, among which Ayatsuji's The Decagon House Murders.

Ayatsuji Yukito made his debut as a professional author in 1987 with the publication of The Decagon House Murders (org. title: Jukkakukan no Satsujin). The mystery novel had clearly derived its inspiration from the classic puzzle plot mystery novels like they were written in the Golden Age, but it was at the same time also clearly a product of its time, aware of the tropes from, and the discussions surrounding classic mystery fiction, and its story built further on that as a modern take on the classic puzzle mode. Ayatsuji's debut was only the start, as he was followed by many other debuting authors from a similar background (often college students) who'd write in what is now called the shin honkaku or "new orthodox" school of mystery fiction. 2017 is thus not only the thirtiest anniversary of The Decagon House Murders, but also the thirtiest anniversary of the shin honkaku movement. 7-nin no Meitantei ("The Seven Great Detectives", 2017) is a special anthology to celebrate this anniversary, featuring seven original stories on the theme of "the great detective", by seven representative authors of the early shin honkaku movement

The book is also known as part of the bookmark-gacha craze among Japanese mystery fans: three anthologies were published to celebrate the thirtieth birthday of the shin honkaku movement. A special series of a lot of bookmarks were made for these books, and you get one of them at random by purchasing one of the anthologies. A large number of them feature an illustration of one of the seven authors in 7-nin no Meitantei, together with an iconic quote from one of their works, while there's also one which features all seven authors. Behold the fans who try to collect all of them or find the one bookmark with their favorite author or quote. I got the one with everyone on it by the way.

The seven authors included in 7-nin no Meitantei have all been discussed at least once here on the blog, and as I noted in the disclosure message above, I have even translated some of their work. It might be interesting to note that five of these authors studied in Kyoto: Ayatsuji Yukito, Abiko Takemaru, Norizuki Rintarou and Maya Yutaka were all members of the Kyoto University Mystery Club, while Arisugawa Alice belonged to the Mystery Club of his own Doshisha University. Many authors of the early shin honkaku movement made their debuts as students or soon after graduation, and were often active members in the Mystery Clubs (student clubs for lovers of mystery fiction) of their respective universities, which is partly why a lot of the early shin honkaku works featured so many students, and also why the books tended to be so incredibly genre-savvy (as they were written in rather skewed enviroments, among other mystery fans). Oh, one warning: I can only add a certain number of characters in the tags to each post, and I was not able to tag everyone/add all the related tags, so you'll have to click on the author links in the post itself for some of them.

The anthology opens with Maya Yutaka's Suiyoubi to Kinyoubi ga Kirai - Ookagamike Satsujin Jiken ("I Hate Wednesdays and Fridays - The Ookagami Family Murder Case") and features his series detective Mercator Ayu. Narrator/mystery author Minagi is lost in the mountains, but finds shelter in the mansion of the recently deceased Doctor Ookagami. He had four adopted children, who form a musical quartet, and they are scheduled to perform at the mansion the following day for their annual recital. While Minagi is still recovering from his ordeal in the outdoor bath, he spots a cloaked figure making their way to a garden lodge overseeing a cliff. When the figure leaves again, he notices they have shrunk in size, and when he peeks inside the lodge, he finds distinct signs of a murder having occured there: blood, a weapon and a sinister sign featuring a quote from Faust, but there's no sign of any victim. Later, one of the adopted children is found murdered, together with another quote from Faust, but there is no weapon. More mysterious events occur in the mansion, but all is explained when brilliant detective (with a rather abusive attitude towards his "Watson") Mercator Ayu arrives on the scene.

The anthology starts right away with a screwball, because that's the only way I can describe this story. There's something of an impossible crime here (disappearing victim, disappearing murder/weapon), but what this story really is, is a parody on Oguri Mushitarou's infamous anti-mystery Kokushikan Satsujin Jiken. The mansion, the backstory of an eccentric person adopting four children who form a quartet, the Faust imagery, it's all straight out of Kokushikan Satsujin Jiken. Several other later story development are also clearly lifted from that book. The problem I have with this story is that it doesn't really work in its current form. The pacing of this story is incredibly high because it follows the plot of Kokushikan Satsujin Jiken, but that was a full novel and this is a short story. The result is a story that I recognize as a parody on Kokushikan Satsujin Jiken, but it doesn't do much but mirror a few situations and circumstances in quick succession. The core mystery plot is therefore a bit too concise for my taste, as the tale just tries to cover too much ground for a short story. And I happened to have read Kokushikan Satsujin Jiken, but I can imagine that for someone who hasn't, this story will feel disjointed. I think this story would've worked better in a dedicated Kokushikan Satsujin Jiken tribute anthology. As a "Mercator Ayu taking on Kokushikan Satsujin Jiken" type of story, I guess it's okay, but I find it a strange choice for the opening story of this particular anthology. Then again, I guess Maya's work is seldom really straightforward.

Rakugo is a traditional form of Japanese entertainment, where a storyteller tells a comical story with witty dialogues, acting all the roles of the story themselves. Yamaguchi Masaya's Dokumanjuu Kowai - Suiri no Ichimondai ("I'm afraid of Poisoned Manjuu - A Deduction Problem") is part of a series where Yamaguchi builds on classic rakugo stories to turn them into mystery stories. The theme for this story is the classic rakugo story Manjuu Kowai ("I'm Afraid of Manjuu"). The retelling of Manjuu Kowai is followed by the continuation of the tale, where one of the major characters from Manjuu Kowai is murdered by a poisoned manjuu, just as he was about to disinherit his good-for-nothing sons. I liked the idea better than the execution, because the mystery part of the tale is basically a not-even-really-thinly-disguised variation of the "one of them always lies, one of them always tells the truth, who is the liar?" riddle. At this point, it doesn't feel like a story anymore, but just a slightly dressed-up riddle.

The previous story was set in pre-modern Japan, but Abiko Takemaru's Project: Sherlock is clearly set in the present, or even in the future. It tells the story of how a special computer database named Sherlock is built by a police IT engineer. Sherlock is a database that allows anyone to simply solve crimes by inputting the necessary data in it. Sherlock has a rich open source database of case files (both real and fictional) which is fed by a worldwide community, and by comparing circumstances and detecting patterns, the program can solve any mystery laid before it. This is a weird story: it reads more like a prologue for a longer story than an independent one, and while a murder involving Sherlock does occur late in the tale, it's not really meant for the reader to solve. There is potential for more in this story, but as it is now, it feels like you were only allowed to read the first chapter of many more.

Arisugawa Alice's Senchou ga Shinda Yoru ("The Night The Captain Perished") stars the criminologist Himura Hideo and his friend/Watson/mystery author Arisugawa Alice. Himura and Alice are on their way back from one of Himura's work trips when they decide to swing by a small villlage on the foot of a mountain where a murder happened last night. The victim, commonly referred to as the Captain, had been stabbed during his sleep in his home, and while a security camera nearby had caught the figure of someone fleeing the scene that night, this figure had covered themselves wisely in a large sheet of blue plastic, making it impossible for the police to identify them. The Captain had recently returned to his home village after a long life on sea, and his manly appeal had attracted the attention of at least two women in the village (one of them married), and it appears love-gone-wrong might be the motive. I have the idea the story is a bit longer than it needed to be (it is by far the longest story in this anthology), but the mystery plot is probably the best of the whole book. The structure is very familiar (short whodunit with three suspects), but it's expertly clewed. It's of course in the style of Ellery Queen, where you need to deduce what the murderer must have done on the night of the murder, how it was done, and eventually, who could've done those things we just deduced. The process as done here is great, and I think this is a good story to showcase how a good puzzle plot mystery doesn't need to rely on misdirection solely: it takes tremendous skill to lay down clues and puzzle pieces right in front of the reader, without any smokes or mirrors, and still have a puzzle that perplexes them, but the satisfaction you gain when you see how everything fits together is arguably even better than when an author uses aimed misdirection techniques.

Norizuki Rintarou's Abekobe no Isho ("The Switched Suicide Notes") features his series detective named after himself. Rintarou's father, Inspector Norizuki, has a weird case on his hands. Two suicides, one by poison, one by jumping off a flat. Suicide notes were also found at both scenes. So no problem, right? The conundrum Inspector Norizuki has however is that the suicide notes were switched: both victims had the suicide note of the other person! The two victims knew each other, and were both vying for the hand of the same lady, so they had no reason to be committing suicide together, but why did they have each other's suicide note? It's a wonderfully problem that feels realistic, and yet mystifying at the same time. The story unfolds by Rintarou proposing several theories to his father, which his father sometimes shoots down as he reveals a new fact he hadn't told his son yet, but the two do slowly move towards the truth. Or do they? A gripe I do have with this story that it is mostly built on theories: eventually the two arrive at a solution that is actually quite clever, and one that does seem to fit the facts, but they only arrive there by making several assumptions, and the story basically ends with the Inspector finally moving to check whether their theory is true. The story makes a good case for puzzle plots focusing on logical reasoning, with Rintarou proposing theories and having to adjust them as the Inspector introduces new facts, but it also undermines it a bit as we never leave the land of theories.

Utano Shougo's Tensai Shounen no Mita Yume Wa ("The Dream Of The Prodigy") is set in the future, starring the last few remaining pupils of the Academy, once the home to people talented in fields like hacking, engineering or even ESP, but once the war broke out, survival was the only thing left on everybody's mind. Acting on a rumor that the enemy country will launch a new destructive weapon, the students lock themselves up in the Academy's bomb shelter and while they do feel that something with tremendous power hit their city, they have no idea what happened outside because all communication was cut off. But then one of the students is found hanging. She appears to have committed suicide, but the following day another student is found dead right next to the first victim. Another suicide, or is there something else in this shelter? While this story does seem familiar, with its closed circle setting, it's not really a detective story (it is however a mystery story in the broad sense of the term). Explaining too much would spoil it, but the story is trying to work towards a certain conclusion, but that conclusion is barely clewed/foreshadowed, and the story is a bit strangely structured, with a very long intro, while it basically skims over the murders to jump the conclusion. Might've worked better in a longer format.

Ayatsuji Yukito's Kadai - Nue no Misshitsu ("Tentative Title: The Locked Room of the Nue") closes this anthology, and while it's technically not really a fairly clewed mystery story, it's a pretty heartwarming story that puts the thirtieth anniversary of shin honkaku in context. The story stars Ayatsuji Yukito, Abiko Takemaru and Norizuki Rintarou themselves, as well as Ayatsuji's wife Ono Fuyumi (a well-known horror/fantasy author herself), who were all members of the Kyoto University Mystery Club around the same period back when they were in college. Guess-The-Criminal is one of the oldest traditions of the club, where one of the members presents the first part of a mystery story to the others, ending with a challenge to the others guess whodunnit. The other members then have to guess who the criminal is, and explain the process that led to their conclusion. Nowadays, the stories are all written and printed out so everyone has their own copy, but back in the early eighties, these stories were told orally, so little remains of them now. Abiko remarks that a while back, he had a few drinks with Maya Yutaka (also a Mystery Club member who joined after them) and that he, while drunk, had said that he had once witnesses a really incredible and illusive Guess-The-Criminal story. The problem: he doesn't remember anything about it. Ayatsuji, Abiko, Norizuki and Ono all seem to have unclear, yet existing memories of such an event, which they vaguely remember as being titled The Locked Room of the Nue, so they start talking about what that story could've been, digging deep in their memories of the Mystery Club.

As said, this isn't really a mystery story, but closer to an essay where Ayatsuji, using the other authors as his fictional devices, looks back at his own time at the Kyoto University Mystery Club. As the four slowly start to remember more from the past, we also read about what the club activities were to what cafes they went to when they were still students, painting an image of the place and culture that would eventually lead to the birth of the shin honkaku movement. There are some nice moments, like when each of them remembers something else about the illusive story, to which Ayatsuji draws parallels with each author's writing styles, as well as a heartwarming ending. Read as a story that mixes autobiographical elements with a bit of fiction, I'd say this was an entertaining story for those wanting to know more about the shared past of these authors, but again, don't expect any detecting on your own.

7-nin no Meitantei has the usual ups and downs of an anthology, but in general, I'd say it's an interesting showcase of the work of the featured authors. The theme of "the great detective" worked better for some authors than others: Arisugawa Alice and Norizuki Rintarou's contributions were definitely the best detective stories included, and those stories featured their best known series detectives. Yamaguchi Masaya and Maya Yutaka too used their series detectives in their stories, though I found the stories themselves not as good as the previous two for various reasons. Utano Shougo and Abiko Takemaru on the other hand did not choose to go with their series detectives (partly because they haven't used them in decades), but tried to explore the theme of the Great Detective in stories that are almost science fiction, and your mileage on them might vary. Ayatsuji Yukito's contribution is not a mystery story at all, but a sort of nostalgic look back at a long forgotten past, before there was such a thing as shin honkaku, and works wonderfully as a closer for an anthology meant to commemorate thirty years of shin honkaku.

Original Japanese title(s): 『7人の名探偵』: 「曜日と金曜日が嫌い 大鏡家殺人事件」(麻耶雄嵩) / 「毒饅頭怖い 推理の一問題」(山口雅也) / 「プロジェクト:シャーロック」(我孫子武丸) / 「船長が死んだ夜」(有栖川有栖) / 「あべこべの遺書」(法月綸太郎) / 「天才少年の見た夢」(歌野晶午) / 「仮題・ぬえの密室」(綾辻行人)


  1. I like shin honkaku very much, and the concept of the cover and the bookmarks does sound like an appealing package. But I suppose a Chinese translation might take some time, and might not contain the bookmarks. Then again, why is Ayatsuji Yukito featured with a microphone, and Norizuki Rintarou featured with a cat?

    What would you say is the top novel by each of these seven authors? I've only read some works by Arisugawa Arisu and Ayatsuji Yukito...

    1. I had to look up the microphone, and luckily the illustrator actually talked aabout it on Twitter ^^' The Ayasuji illustration (w/o the microphone) was made first, as a promotion image for the 30th anniversary campaign, and the other characters were drawn later for this anthology. The other characters all had something symbolic in their designs (like the game controller for Abiko), so the illustrator wanted to add something simple to the Ayatsuji design (that'd fit easily with the design they already had). The idea is that Ayatsuji is singing ^_~'

      I'm not sure about the Norizuki one. Perhaps he likes cats? Or it's a reference to Queen's Cat of Many Tails, a work that plas a big role in Norizuki's own fiction and scholarly works (as many of his novels revolve around concepts from late Queen novels).

      Personally, I absolutely loved Ayatsuji's Clock House Murders, and while it might sound like bias, but The Moai Island Puzzle is definitely my favorite Arisugawa. I think Norizuki's short story collections featuring the writer Rintarou are his best (so Adventures, New Adventures, Exploits and the two Horoscope of Crime bundles) while Abiko's greatest work has to be the game Kamaitachi no Yoru / Banshee's Last Cry.

      I haven't read much of the other three writers, but Utano Shougo's Locked Room Game series is fantastic: it's about an underground chat room of extremist mystery fans who commit impossible crimes in real life and then challenge the other people in the chat room to solve it. Yamaguchi Masaya's Death of The Living Dead does wonderful things with a fantastic premise (a murder case in a world where of late, the dead have been returning as zombies), and I think quite a few of his works are available in (Taiwanese) Chinese too. Maya Yutaka is an acquired taste and I do like his debut novel (Darkness with Wings), it's also not very accessible, as it's post-modern deconstruction of the very classic serial-murders-in-a-creepy-mansion-and-stuff pattern. It's utterly nuts, in a good way, but you need to get into it with a certain mindset.

    2. The avatar for 麻耶雄嵩, with a snake coiled around his neck, seems somewhat bizarre. I like the idea of a singing 綾辻行人 though. :)

      Thanks for the comprehensive recommendations. I don't play video games, so the recommendation regarding 我孫子武丸 is somewhat lost on me... I think of all the works you recommended, I found my interest piqued most by 密室殺人ゲームシリーズ, But I don't think it has received a Chinese translation yet. Or perhaps an English one would be even better! :D

      Incidentally, it seems that there's a new Kindaichi manga coming out, that doesn't seem to be part of the R series... Do you happen to know what it is? Is it one of those casebooks?金田一少年の事件簿外伝-犯人たちの事件簿-講談社コミックス-さとう-ふみや/dp/4065104327/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1509771964&sr=8-1&keywords=金田一少年

    3. That's a new gag spin-off of the Kindaichi Shounen series, which focuses on the various murderers of the series. It's basically a parody based on the old stories (like Opera House or the Seven School Mysteries), showing how silly the dressing-up and committing all those murders can sometimes be.

      Incidentally, there's a similar Conan gag spin-off too running at the moment, which unlike the Kindaichi Shounen spin-off, doesn't star specific characters, but the Dark Figure and their daily life instead.

  2. Can you recommend me a good Lupin III episode from series 2 ?

    1. Haven't watched enough of it/watched it with enough attention to give any specific recommendations.

  3. Knowing a lot from the Japanese side of the question, how many different locked-room and impossible-crime lectures have you encountered embedded into the plots of the stories? I can only personally remember three.

    1. Plenty of them as essays of course, but imbedded in the story.... Hmmm... the ones that come in mind at the moment are ABIKO Takemaru's 8 no Satsujin (locked room), NIKAIDOU Reito's Kyuuketsuki no Ie (missing footprints IIRC) and Akuryou no Yakata (locked room) and MAYA Yutaka's Tsubasa Aru Yami (locked room). AMAGI Hajime's Amagi Hajime no Misshitsu Hanzaigaku Kyoutei is a bit weird, in that it's a collection of essays on the topic, each essay followed by a "practical" example of the impossible problem in question, so that's actually the other way round (stories that follow a lecture). There are probably many more.

  4. I got recommendation about this and two mansion mysteries anthology too (black/white, if i remember right).
    is they related?

    1. Yes, they released three anthologies in total to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of shin honkaku: the one I discussed for this review, and the two 謎の館へようこそ/Welcome to the Mansion of Mysteries anthologies (one is titled "White", the other "Black"). All three books come with the special bookmarks I mentioned and feature original stories written for these anthologies.

      I haven't read the two other anthologies, but they feature authors who debuted after the original first wave of shin honkaku writers.

  5. Ho-Ling,I'm Pietro De Palma. A my short story the last year was published in the John Pugmire & Brian Supkin Anthology of Impossible Crimes and Locked Rooms, The realm of Impossible. In other occasions I've written here and you have answered. I ask you for a question: Do you own in the translation in english, the short story Urban legend Puzzle by Rintarou Norizuki. I would like reading that short story after reading The Lure of the green door I've read some days ago. I have asked John, ma he doesn't own it; I've asked Mike Grost, but he doesn't own a scan. Could you send to me it beaqcause I can read it? I've put my email address into a message I've sent to you in the page of facebok of Criminal Element. Thanks. Pietro De Palma - Italy

    1. Hi,

      The English translation of The Urban Legend Puzzle is available in the anthology Passports to Crime: Finest Mystery Stories from International Crime Writers (2007). It doesn't seem to be in print anymore, but plenty of them in the used market.