Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Name of the Game

"I live in the games. I search through systems, peoples, and cities, for this place."

The last few years have seen an uprising on blogs on mystery fiction, and it has led to a small ecosphere, where people talk about their love for the genre over the internet. Often, the discussions will be about specific works or authors, but sometimes, you'll also see discussions on the best locked room murder trick, or how a murderer made a stupid mistake in an otherwise flawless plan, and at other times, these people will not only try to compete with a book author and the fictional detective in "a battle of the wits", but also with fellow people on the internet, with detective games or puzzles. But all of that is still peanuts compared to today's book.

Somewhere in a back alley of the internet, you'll find a small private video chat group populated by a colorful lot. "The Mad Header", "044APD", "aXe", "Zangya-kun" and "Professor Ban Douzen" are not ordinary people. That is not only because they use voice changers or wear funny masks like that of Darth Vader (The Mad Header) or Jason Voorhees (aXe). It's also not just because they love mystery fiction. This group is not ordinary, because they play a certain game. Once in a while, the group comes together to play a game of intellect: one member has to pose a locked room murder problem to the others, who will need to solve it using the available hints. But the catch is that the host of the problem must commit their locked room murder in real life. So the participants need to solve a real life locked murder, using the information gain from the news, as well as any additional information or hints provided by the host. Eternal glory awaits those who manage to solve a locked room murder, or who manages to mystify their fellow members. Utano Shougo's Misshitsu Satsujin Game 2.0 ("Locked Room Murder Game 2.0", 2009) details a new series of linked short stories about these ingenous, yet monstrous games of deduction.

I read the first Misshitsu Satsujin Game back in 2015 (the review wasn't posted until 2016 because of timey-wimey stuff) and it became one of my favorite reads of the year. It was not only highly entertaining as a short story collection focusing on locked room murders (some of them were really brilliant): the whole set-up of the tale, as well as the characters were memorable. The video web chat setting was not just a gimmick, but was used to its fullest, leading to surprising developments. One fine example was one member having an alibi for their locked murder, as they were busy video-chatting with the others during the murder in an earlier story! The characters, despite only interacting through webcams and hiding behind masks and avatars, were also incredibly lively, each with a distinct personality and way of talking, resulting in very entertaining chat sessions, making the whole book an absolute delight to read. So it was only a matter of time before I'd come back to the world of the Locked Room Murder Games.

For those who have read the first book and are wondering: at first the connection between that book and this one might seem a bit odd considering how that one ended, but a proper explanation is given over the course of the stories. The plot structure for most stories is fairly similiar: a host details the murder they committed, supplying some additional details about the victim and murder with pictures and videos they took of their deed, followed by several chat sessions where the participants propose solutions while bantering and bickering a lot. Occasionally, the chat sessions are interrupted by moments where we see the participants trying to gain more information in real life, for example by questioning the witnesses themselves or visiting the crime scenes in person. Each story is an entertaining read as all the participants keep throwing their thoughts at each other, constantly developing the plot further.

Q1: Tsugi Wa Dare Ga Koroshimasu Ka? ("Q1: Who Is Going To Kill Next?") starts with a surprising statement to the police by a young man who got arrested on suspicion of a series of murders. He only wrote down a series of numbers, mentioning only that this was all a game. "The Mad Header", "044APD", "aXe", "Zangya-kun" and "Professor Ban Douzen" quickly deduce that the man must also be playing some kind of internet murder game, just like themselves. The people in the other group are apparently murdering their victims in similar ways, making it appear like a serial murder. Working on the assumption that the series of numbers must have some meaning to the suspect's group, our group tries to figure out what that message is, and the details behind the other killing game. As an opener, it's a bit disappointing this story isn't a locked room mystery, but basically a code-cracking story. It's a pretty good one, granted, because as the stories develops, the other game is revealed to be quite shocking, and the way 'our' group deduces that truth is fairly solid. The story also functions as a fair introduction, as we see how the members of our group each gather information in their own way: some only look at the news, while others actually go to the crime scene themselves to gain an advantage over the others. So it's a good code-cracking story, but most people won't be reading this book for a code-cracking story....

Q2: Misshitsu Nado Nai ("Q2: No Locked Room At All") is a short intermezzo, as Professor Ban Douzen tries to lighten the mood with a short locked room puzzle (so this is not a murder they actually committed). The answer to their puzzle of how a murderer managed to attack a man living in  a house that had been closed off completely is utterly ridiculous, but oddly fair, due to the careful wording. It's obviously meant as a joke problem though. A variation on the same problem is offered with a more serious solution, which is better, but again, this is just light stuff compared to the actual murders they commit.

Q3: Kirisaki Jack Sanjuppun no Kodoku ("Q3: Jack the Ripper - Thirty Minutes of Solitude") is our first genuine locked room murder of the book, and it's a gem. A man was killed inside one of the buildings he owns. His daughter found him inside one of the office rooms, but at the time of the discovery, the only office door was blocked by something on the inside, so she had to push hard before she could open it. The objects blocking the door were her father's legs: his torso was lying in the middle of the room, his stomach cut open and all his organs had been pulled out. The legs had been put against the door after it had been shut and that door is the only exit out of the office. So how did Zangya-kun commit their gruesome murder and then managed to "lock" the door with the legs? The story has a nice pace, as the group banters on about the horrible murder case and Zangya-kun keeps on provocating the others for not being able to solve their murder. It's a very tricky locked room murder too, as it even features a trap. The story is also a good showcase of how a deduction should be based on clues: at one point Zangya-kun decides to reveal a clue on purpose to help the group out, and it's that one clue that changes all the deductions up to that point, changing the problem they had been playing with in something different. The way that one clue manages to turn everything upside down is absolutely brilliant, and results in an incredibly memorable locked room mystery. This story is titled after after a Shimada Souji novel by the way.

Q4: Soutou na Akuma ("Q4: An Unbelievable Devil") is an alibi deconstruction story, as the impossibility comes from the fact that the Mad Header couldn't have committed the murder they committed. The victim had been in Osaka on the night of her murder, and while her body was found buried somewhere thereabouts, her head was found inside the refrigerator of her own apartment back in Kanagawa Prefecture, near Tokyo. The problem however is that on the day of the murder, the Mad Header held several video chat sessions with his group, one of which together with the body even. These chat sessions however place him until a certain time in Tokyo, which means it would've been impossible for him to make it all the way to Osaka in time to do his video chat session with the victim's body. So how did he manage to make it in time to Osaka for the murder? The solution to the alibi is a bit simple, and not really impressive, but it's in fact no the main attraction of this story: once you realize how the alibi was created, a new riddle arises of how that situation could've been orchestrated in the first place, and that's when the story ventures into very surprising areas, making excellent use of its unique setting as a web-based story. I'd say this tale is more memorable because of the latter revelation (which is really surprising) than the (ostensibly) main puzzle, and one with a really nasty aftertaste (designed on purpose). The title is a play on Arisugawa Alice's Soutou no Akuma ("Double-Headed Devil")

Q5: Mittsu no Kannuki ("Q5: The Three Latches") is named after Carr's The Three Coffins, and features a special 'coffin' with three latches. aXe's victim was stuffed inside a transparant coffin, which had been locked from the inside by three latches, and the coffin itself stood a few meters away from a lonely automobile road. Snow had also fallen that night, but no footprints were found that led to or away from the coffin. The locked coffin and the untouched snow means a double impossible situation to solve for the chat group. The solution is a bit... dissappointing isn't the right word, but I'd say less impressive than the previous efforts? The other participants make the same complaint actually, but a transparent box dumped near a road isn't that memorable, and as early on aXe admits they themselves created the box, the reader will soon suspect there's something err... to suspect about the box. The way the impossible situation was created is in practical terms okay, but it misses... imagination, I guess.

Q6: Misshitsu yo , Saraba ("Q6: Farewell, My Locked Room") is the last full story in the volume, and is all about 044APD's daring locked room murder. The person 044APD announced they'd kill was indeed found murdered, but what baffles everyone is the fact the victim was found lying dead inside an apartment he had no connections to whatsoever. One of the inhabitants of the apartment was also murdered, but she and the victim had no ties at all. Furthermore, the apartment door and windows were naturally locked, and the only entrances leading inside the building are either the emergency exits (which can't be opened from outside), or the entrance which is being watched by a guard all day, with visitors being required to sign a register. So how did 044APD manage to get their victim inside a random apartment, in a secured building? This is by far the longest story, with 044APD holding several chat sessions as nobody manages to solve the conundrum. The solution is incredibly daring, with many steps required to accomplish the impossible. This is why we read mystery fiction! The sheer imagination and audacity needed to pull this murder off is what tickles our interests! And not only does it feature several ingenious red herrings (which also take on a completely different meaning when you know the truth) that manage to send the other participants in the wrong direction, it also makes good use of the internet chat group setting again to set off some other surprises on the way. This is really a good story that combines a great locked room mystery in a natural, but meaningful way with the overall plot, setting and the characters as established in the previous stories. Definitely this volume's MVP.

The book ends with the one-page long Q?: Soshite Tobira ga Hirakereta ("Q?: And Then The Door Was Opened"), but this is nothing more than a teaser for the third book in the series.

Like the first volume, Misshitsu Satsujin Game 2.0 proves to be a great locked room murder short story collection. The combination of a "modern" setting like a video chatroom (used to its fullest!), with a incredible cast of totally crazy people who commit murders for their own entertainment, and incredibly imaginative locked room murders means that this second volume is a gem too in the genre. There's so much goods going on here, from genuinely captivating conversations to surprising plot twists and usage of the web-setting, that I can only recommend Misshitsu Satsujin Game 2.0 wholeheartedly. The one minus point I could give it, is the fact that it resembles the first volume a lot, so it lacks the initial shock, but this is still a very good book.

Original Japanese title(s): 歌野昌午 『密室殺人ゲーム2.0』


  1. The premise of these two short story collections - I'm presuming part 1 is also made up of short stories? - sounds chilling. A real shame that no Chinese translation has been released. Perhaps an English one? :D

    1. It's absolutely a chilling experience, as the characters all joke and think nothing about the murders they commit and consider it really nothing more than a game. And yes, they're all short story collections, but with interlinked stories (I mention this example in the review, but the first one had a great moment where the impossibility in one story came from the fact the murderer had a perfect alibi for the murder, because they were video-chatting with the others in a previous story).