Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Alice’s Evidence

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall
(Nursery rhyme)

I always have to think of an old college classmate, whenever I come across something related to Alice in Wonderland, which is kinda strange because I'm pretty sure we only talked about the novel once. I guess she'd like this novel too though.

Humpty Dumpty had a great fall, but it was no accident. Some person, or animal, had oiled up the wall upon which the great egg had been sitting, and there was still a vaguely visible hand print left on one of the cracked shell shards. A murder in Wonderland! The Mad Hatter and the March Hare investigate the murder and quickly find a witness: the White Rabbit swears that Alice, and nobody else but Alice entered the garden where Humpty Dumpty was. Alice says she is innocent, but when the Gryphon is murdered too by suffocating on literally a mouthful of shellfish and Alice once again lacks a clear alibi, the net around her seems to be closing.

Lately, college student Kurisugawa Ari has been having these weird dreams that place her in some kind of mysterious and highly nonsensical Wonderland ruled by the Queen of Hearts. But once she started thinking about it, she realizes she has never ever had dreams about anything else: she always dreams about her being in Wonderland, having adventures with characters like the Mad Hatter, the Cheshire Cat and the White Rabbit. On the day after she dreamt Humpty Dumpty died, she is shocked to learn a student of her faculty died in a creepily similar manner, by falling of the roof of the faculty building. It seems it was a simple accident, but speaking with some of her fellow students, she learns that it was no coincidence: more people around her dream of Wonderland! The smart Imori, a classmate, turns out to be the dull-witted Bill the Lizard in Wonderland, and they realize that the deaths that happen in Wonderland are reflected in this world too. The two work together both in the real world and in Wonderland to prove of Alice's innocence and find the real murderer in Kobayashi Yasumi's Alice Goroshi (The Murder of Alice, 2013).

I have not read the original Alice in Wonderland, nor even seen any of the (animated) movie adaptations, but man, I come across it a lot in Japanese mystery fiction. In fact, I think I can more-or-less construct the whole original story, simply by putting all the references I know one after another. It's kinda like Star Wars, which is parodied and referenced so often one can basically guess how the whole story goes just by consuming other media. A few titles I have reviewed here are for example Alice Mirror Jou Satsujin Jiken, The Land of the Wondrous Beauty in the second volume of Kaiki Tantei Sharaku Homura, and several works like the short story Jabberwocky by Arisugawa Alice, who took his pen name from Alice in Wonderland. Actually, I even praised myself a bit for picking up on the Alice in Wonderland reference when I was translating Arisugawa's The Moai Island Puzzle, exactly because I shouldn't even have noticed it as I don't have direct knowledge of the original story. Anyway, the concept of a mystery story that revolves around Alice in Wonderland wasn't special an sich, was what I was going to say.

Kobayashi Yasumi's Alice Goroshi seemed like an interesting title/topic when I first heard of the book, but I have to admit the title only really caught my attention when Kobayashi released a sequel titled Klara Goroshi ("The Murder of Klara"), with Klara being the friend of Heidi. Now things were becoming really interesting, as the premise of a whole series built around classical children's fiction seemed too good to pass. I opted to wait for the (cheaper) pocket re-release of Alice Goroshi though which was finally released in 2019.

Was it worth the wait? Yep, it sure was! As one can guess, story chapters alternates between Wonderland and the real world: in Wonderland we follow Alice and Bill the Lizard, while in the real world we follow Ari and Imori. The parts in Wonderland are fantastic. As said, I haven't read the original Alice in Wonderland, but the nonsensical dialogues and wordplay that go on in these half of the story are great and also sure to annoy you immensely (in a good way): everyone seems to get their wires crossed as they talk with each other leading to amusing, but nonsensical conversations, and that while Alice is desperate to find some way to prove her innocence. It's what you'd expect of Alice in Wonderland, and this novel really manages to capture that spirit. It's in this strange world that Alice tries to solve the murders, and it results in some really unique situations, with creatures like a Boojum also appearing as fanciful murder methods. Fantastical ways to kill off people are possible in Wonderland, and there's no scientific investigation like checking for DNA or blood of course, so the reader might be overwhelmed by all of this, figuring it's impossible to figure out who the murderer is: that is not the case. In fact, Kobayashi plays a nasty game with the reader here, as he plants some deliciously subtle clues in the nonsensical dialogues that actually allow you to identify at least some part of the mystery quite early on. If you manage to pick up on that, of course (I wasn't).

The events in the real world are of course less fantastical, but the more realistic tone here does really help the story, as 380 pages of only Wonderland would've been quite tiring. That said, the worlds do kinda seem to blend into each other as the story progresses. In the early chapters, Ari obviously has trouble accepting the truth that she's been living in Wonderland in her dreams and that she shares this dream with other people. But as events unfold, we learn of more people around her who have an avatar in Wonderland and certainly near the end, some human characters seem to resemble their Wonderland avatars a lot more than at the start of the story. The murders that are committed in Wonderland lead to death in the real world, but not in the exact same manner: the counterpart to the Gripphon for example was a professor at the university, but he died 'simply' of food poisoning (from shellfish), not by being force-fed them. That means that even though we're talking about a series of murders in Wonderland, there aren't even really murders happening in the real world, leading to a very unique situation where the human characters in the real world are investigating a series of murders in Wonderland. It's in Wonderland where they can find proof and interrogate witnesses, but due to the crazy characters in Wonderland, it's only possible for Ari and Imori to apply real logic to the problem and really think about the how and who while in the real world. There is an added thread of suspense here as Ari is also under investigation by two police detectives who suspect there's something fishy going on with all the deaths that happen at this university, and who are very eager to find out who Ari is in Wonderland.

You don't need Wonderland-logic to solve this mystery though. It's a surprisingly tricky plot, because it's split up in two distinct locales with their own narratives: for example it is possible to figure out who the murderer is in Wonderland fairly early on (or at least have founded suspicions), but that doesn't mean you know who that character is in the real world. You need to combine clues from both worlds in order to solve the mystery, which can be quite a challenge, especially as the dialogues in Wonderland can seem to be so crazy at times. The main clue to the identity of the murderer for example can be really easy to miss because the jumping between the two worlds, but once pointed out it seems so obvious. I myself only got the last big twist, but missed most of the stuff regarding the murderer. There's also a nice dying message near the end of the story that points towards the murderer in a very roundabout, but at the same time also very logical manner. It is a good example of how to do a dying message that is meaningful in the context of the story, without being too complex just for the sake to be too hard to decipher for the reader.

Oh, I do have to make a note that Alice Goroshi can become quite gory near the end. Guh. I mean, you might be thinking 'Haha, Alice in Wonderland, it's so cute,' but man, I didn't see that one scene in the house near the end coming. It's really frightening. It becomes really messy once you're past the halfway point.

So yes, I really enjoyed Alice Goroshi, as it not only had a really unique premise and setting, it also made excellent use of that to bring a tightly-plotted mystery plot that works because of the premise. The way it utilizes Alice-mythos isn't just for show, but in integral part of the plot, resulting in one of the more memorable reads of this year. I am definitely looking forward to reading the sequels to Alice: at the moment of writing this review, Klara and Dorothy (of The Wizard of Oz) have already featured in their own titles, so I hope the pocket versions are released soon.

Original Japanese title(s):  小林泰三 『アリス殺し』

10 comments :

  1. Thanks for the review. :) The goriness in the latter half of the novel sounds off-putting, but I’m fascinated by the interplay between the real and fictional realms. And my local library stocks a Chinese translation too! But I think in the traditional script. Oh well.

    Will you be reviewing the recent Kindaichi 37 release anytime soon? Or am I right to suspect that the volume contains an incomplete case? I’m excited that the Chinese translations are finally being released...!

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    1. Haha, it seems like all the major mystery releases are often translated officially to Chinese quite swiftly.

      I haven't read 37's volume 4 yet (on order, but not shipped yet), but I too suspect it won't offer a complete story, so it's very likely I won't (be able to) write a review until volume 5's released.

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  2. Ahhhh murder mysteries with parallel stories in conjunction with classic children's literature sounds divine! Not surprised this one got gory in the end, what with the Red Queen's famous call for Alice's head. Interesting to see what The Klara Murders will do; all I can think of is the meme from Isao Takahata's Heidi anime where Heidi dumps Klara off a mountain from her wheelchair. ^_^;

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    1. For some reason, (memeable) footage from the Heidi anime is also used for a series of commerials for what I think is a home tutor agency in Japan. I suspect most people nowadays only know that anime from the memes, though I've seen some kind of recent CGI children's cartoon on TV a few times that uses the same character designs as the anime.

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  3. I also have noticed that Alice in Wonderland is all over the place in Japanese popular culture. I think there is a real affinity between Japanese and English cultures. As far as Alice goes, it has isekai, cute girls, frilly dresses, dream images, parody, word play and all the other things the Japanese like.

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    1. I really should read the original one of these days...

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  4. Why don't you watch the disney animated film ?

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    1. Assuming you're the same anonymouses as the two below: it's not as much as I'm ignoring it, but it's simply a question to which I can't offer any specific reason and I assumed that would be clear. I just don't have any specific plans for watching it now. No particular reason. I mean, I have tons of movies/series/etc. I haven't watched yet for no specific reason...

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  5. not sure why you're ignoring me, I'm just asking a question

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