Wednesday, February 23, 2022

The Case of the Floating Crime

He went out and hanged himself and then there were none.

I finished the Watanagashi chapter of Higurashi: When They Cry, so I added my speculations/questions about that episode to the memo page for my playthrough of Higurashi: When They Cry.

Back when I first started reading Japanese mystery fiction in translation, there wasn't that much available. One of the authors I "missed" back then was Natsuki Shizuko: while a handful of her work had been translated to English, the books were all out of print by the time I started looking, and you didn't really see them pop up often in the used market. And eventually, the one time I did end up reading Natsuki in translation, it was a rather funny experience, as I found the German translation of an English translation of one of her works in the club room at my Japanese university. Anyway, I never did manage to read much of Natsuki despite her (theoretical) availability in English, but I do remember slogans and blurbs describing her as the "Japanese Agatha Christie": a translated book can probably only sell if you push the author as the [Nationality] [Super Famous Novelist]. Interestingly, the book I had read, Mord am Fujiyama, was originally called W no Higeki ("The Tragedy of W"), which would suggest Ellery Queen more, but in terms of actual story, it did feel more Christie-esque.

Soshite Dareka Inakunatta ("And Then One Was Gone" 1988) is another novel by Natsuki with a title based on a famous work, in this case of course being And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie. Unlike Mord am Fujiyama  however, this story is written explicitly as a homage to Christie's famous closed circle mystery novel, staying very closely to the plot structure of that work. The book opens with the arrival of several people at a harbor. Haruka, the daughter of a hotel owner, has been invited by Mr. Uno for a week on his cruiser with a few other guests, which will bring them all the way to Okinawa. The Uno clan is a major force in the Japanese society, with patriarch Uno at the top and his (illegitimate) children heading several leading companies, so knowing this is a chance of a life time to make connections that will help her for the rest of her lief, Haruka of course agreed to come along. She is joined by four other guests, a lawyer, a doctor, a professional golfer and a writer on the cruiser the Indiana, which is manned by two crew men. The five guests are informed that Mr Uno is delayed, and that he'll join them the following day, when they'll pick him up at the next harbor stop. The first night, Haruka and the others notice that there are porcelain figurines of the Chinese animal zodiac in the living room, but oddly enough, only seven animals are represented. When they also spot a copy of And Then There Were None on the shelf, Haruka is overcome by a funny feeling, realizing that the cruiser Indiana, and their host Mr. Uno reminds her of the book's setting Indian Island and the host U.N. Owen. But just like the book, a tape starts playing during dinner, in which each of the seven people present on the cruiser are accused of having murdered someone, or directly caused someone's death. They all hope it's a very bad joke, but the following morning, one of them is found dead in his cabin, apparently having committed suicide. The captain informs the authorities and they hurry to the nearest harbor, but the engine, the navigation systems and the compass have been messed with, and soon they find themselves drifting completely off-course, and then another death occurs and it's clear this one is actual murder. Can the remaining five survive this floating closed circle situation?

Describing Soshite Dareka Inakunatta as a homage to And Then There Were None is honestly the only way to describe it accurately, because I don't think this novel works without the context of And Then There Were None. While the characters aren't killed one by one based on a nursery rhyme, names like Mr. Uno and the Indiana, and the accussations of murder to each of the persons present on the cruiser and all of that show this book is styled very closely after Christie's famous work. In fact, the characters themselves notice this and they even spoil part of the solution of And Then There Were None without any warning, so yes, Natsuki really expects you to be aware of the plot of And Then There Were None. Which is basically the reason why the novel fell a bit flat for me, for while Soshite Dareka Inakunatta is decent enough knowing it is a homage, it isn't as amusing when reading this novel as a standalone story. So much feels too familiar, and the cramped closed circle situation (the cruister) feels a bit too small for this plot too really work. Having either an unknown third party or someone within the group be the murderer who preys on their victims while on a fairly large island is one thing. With a group of just seven (let's say six, for they only know they are might be in danger once the first one dies) all stuck on a private cruiser, it just seems a bit hard to swallow anyone could commit multiple murders without anyone noticing if the others would actually try to prevent them.  Knowing this is a And Then There Were None homage, I could kinda wave this away, as I knew this story would have to unfold in a certain way, but otherwise, you're just left wondering how a murderer could ever succeed in committing these murders one after another without anyone noticing.

An important difference in narration between the two works however is that this book is told solely through the eyes of Haruka (except for the epilogue), which does add to the sense of suspense. In And Then There Were None, the player follows all the characters at one point or another, which helps sell the mystery of the reader wondering whether the murderer is among the people on the island or not, while in Soshite Dareka Inakunatta, the focus is more set on the thriller-mode, with Haruka being pretty helpless on the cruiser, with people dying around her, the cruiser being off-course, and Haruka not being able to do anything about this. It results in a book that's easy to read on an afternoon, but with the smaller cast and the focus on Haruka, it does mean everything feels rather light, as plot developments follow each other fast while there's not really much any of the characters do while on the cruiser while they're being killed one after another. 

That is part of the reason why as a mystery novel, Soshite Dareka Inakunatta does feel a bit underwhelming. It reads more like a thriller most of the time, and when everything is done and we get an And Then There Were None-esque epilogue where everything is explained, you're presented with a solution that is obviously written as a direct homage to the solution of Soshite Dareka Inakunatta, but it's not rewarding at all on its own. You're basically told that the culprit chose the most convoluted and least certain method to accomplish their goals, which of course makes no sense at all if you just read this book "as is." As an And Then There Were None homage, there's room to make interesting comparisons between the solutions and the plot structure of both works, but that's basically it: the whole plot of Soshite Dareka Inakunatta only works as a direct answer to And Then There Were None, with some scenes mirrored on purpose on the original work, but a lot of the novel doesn't work "in-universe", only for the reader, and specifically a reader who knows And Then There Were None. And while one can definitely argue about how "fair" And Then There Were None was, Soshite Dareka Inakunatta definitely has even less clear clewing for the reader, so at the end of the day, it's a mystery novel I wouldn't recommend as a standalone read.

If you're looking for a work specifically inspired by And Then There Were None though, I guess Soshite Dareka Inakunatta can be entertaining. The story's not just based on the same premise, but definitely written on purpose as a way to interact at several levels with And Then There Were None in an almost fanfic-esque manner, This is definitely light reading, but as long as you're aware of that and go in knowing it's staying very close to And Then There Were None by design, it can be a familiar-feeling, but entertaining read.

Friday, February 18, 2022

Weave a Tangled Web

" Data! Data! Data!" he cried impatiently. "I can't make bricks without clay."
"The Adventure of the Copper Beeches"

You may have noticed the new tab at the top of the page mentioning Higurashi: When They Cry. Yes, I have started my visit to Hinamizawa recently and am currently playing Higurashi: When They Cry. Like last year, when I was playing Umineko: When They Cry, I'll be keeping notes there about each seperate chapter while I try to figure out what's happening in Hinamizawa, jotting down the questions and suspicions I have after finishing each chapter. Obviously, there'll be spoilers for the various chapters, so you probably should only look if you're familiar with the franchise. I'm going in mostly blind by the way (not even seen the various anime adaptations) so no spoilers please! Note that I am playing the Switch version though, which is a bit different than the more popular PC version, also following a different order. I'll probably be going through the game slowly, so I'll try to mention it in the regular posts too whenever there's an update.

Anyway, as I'm writing about mystery games anyway, I figured I might as well write a short short on some mystery games I played recently, especially the games that were fun, but not really deep enough to write a whole post about, so perfect to just throw on one heap and discuss briefly together.

Last year, I wrote a short article on the Kibukawa Ryousuke series, a series of mystery games which were originally released on feature phones in Japan. Due to the collective jump to smartphones, a lot of feature phone games are now lost media, but luckily, publisher G-Mode has been releasing ports of feature phone games on the Switch (and occasionally Steam) for over a year now, saving these games from obscurity. The Kibukawa Ryousuke series was perhaps the biggest feature phone-original series, spanning nearly two dozen of games. G-Mode has been publishing these at a fairly steady rate and I still plan to write a larger post about the series in general in the future, because while not every single release is as interesting as others, I think there are some entries that are worth highlighting.

Another feature phone game series that had always interested me was Izumi Case Files, developed by G-Mode and at one time popular enough to even warrant a DS release. The series ran from 2002-2009 and in it you play as Izumi, editor of the famous mystery novelist Kyougetsu Masamune, who often gets involved in murder cases, forcing Izumi to solve the murders to get Kyougetsu back to work again. One characteristic of this series was that each game would play out at a different (touristic) location, and that the team would actually travel to do research on the location (despite the limited budget!). G-Mode recently ported the first volume Shiosai to the Switch, and it's a very limited, but promising series. These games were originally released for feature phones (with limited storage space), and unlike some feature phones, these games did not work with a subscription model, where they'd cut a game up in different parts which you could download seperately each time you finished the previous one. Izumi Jiken File: Shiosai Hen (2002) was just a single download app, and an early one too, so it's really, really small in scope and you'll be done within forty minutes. In this first episode, Izumi is informed by Kyougetsu that he's distracted by a murder he heard about while visiting the harbor town of Shiosai in Kanagawa and that he thinks he knows who did it. Izumi has to investigate the murder herself to confirm Kyougetsu's suspicions and thus she's off to the harbor, where a man waiting for a fishing buddy was found murdered on one of the docks in the early morning.


The game is very simple: you just talk with all the suspects, have a look at the various locations and then it's the finale already: talk with Kyougetsu, who will ask you a few questions to see if you know who did it and point out how you came to that conclusiom. This is done by pointing out some contradictions between the various testimonies you got, and that part of the puzzle is okay, even if a bit simple in design. After answering Kyougetsu's questions, he'll say whether you were right or not, and then give you the option of whether to rethink your answers, or just continue on with the game, as Kyougetsu will explain the case and the clues anyway. Very simple game, made for simpler times for simpler machines, but I do like the realistic tone of the game and as feature phones evolved and more storage space became available, I assume these games also developed, become greater in scope (something very noticable with the Kibukawa Ryousuke series), so it's a game that is not a recommendation on its own, but it certainly is worth keeping an eye on this.

In Kitfox Games' Lucifer Within Us (2020), the player takes up the role of Sister Ada, an excorcist of the Church of Ain Soph. The deity Ain Soph is believed to have banished Lucifer and his horde of deaemons to the Aether a century ago, allowing for the world to flourish and develop into the high-tech world it is now, where cybernetic enhancements to the bodya re normal and sophisticated machines are powered by the Aether. Murder too has been a sin forgotten in this world, at least, that is until the start of this game, because Ada is asked to investigate a mysterious death, which may actually be the first murder committed in over a century. However, the only way a murder could happen in this world, is if a Daemon has managed to escaped the Aether and corrupted a person into committing the murder, so Ada's task is not only to solve the mysterious death, but to also identify which of Lucifer's minions have made their way back to the human world to corrupt mankind again.

Lucifer Within Us is a very interesting mystery game, that builds on familiar mechanics, but blended into a very original and promising game... that unfortunately is also way too short to really make the best of its amusing gameplay ideas. The game throws you right into a case from the beginning, where you're introduced with the core mechanic: timelines. Each suspect you interrogate will give an account of what they were doing around the time of the murder, which is reflected on a timeline, which you can play like a video, with the timeline divided into smaller segments to indicate the precise action they were doing at a specific time. However, as you listen to more and more suspects, you'll notice that their claims sometimes contradict each other: Suspect A for example may say they saw Suspect B picking up the murder weapon at 01:00, while Suspect B's story has them relaxing behind their desk at that times. By pointing out these contradictions between stories, you can force suspects to change their stories and tell you what they were really doing. The idea of allowing players to pick out contradictions was of course introduced by the Ace Attorney series, but has since seen various implementations. The idea seen in Lucifer Within Us is similar to what the demo of Armchair Detective did too, allowing you point out contradictions between various suspect testimonies, though Lucifer Within Us's presentation is very different, showing an isometric 3D world where you can actually see each testimony playing out on the screen, with characters moving around the map and telling you what they were doing and what they saw. Each time you point out an inconsistency in a suspect's story, you also gain an opportunity to peek into their "sanctum" (psyche), scanning their mind for markers and traits that might indicate certain Daemons.  By checking a compendium on Daemons, you can identify what Deamon is behind the murder. Eventually, the goal is to match up the various timelines and identify who the murderer is, when the crime was committed, the weapon and the motive, ultimately leading into the identification of the Deamon that has corrupted the mind of the culprit.

Seeing the different testimonies play out on your screen is interesting, and the way the game has you compare the various accounts to find contradictions is fun, making these investigative puzzle parts the highlight of the game, but ultimately, Lucifer Within Us is just far too short to really make an impression. The game offers three cases, which all take about an hour or so, but it feels like too little is done with the concept. The first case barely differs from the the last in terms of difficulty or clever plotting/hidden contradictions and the overall story the game tries to tell feels rushed, with surprise plot twists not feeling as such in any way because the player has barely been settled into the world and characters. The small scale of the game is perhaps best represented by the idea of the Daemon compendium: the idea of having to identify a corrupting Daemon is fun, but there are like only 4 or 5 Deamons in that thing! The game tries to sell itself as a game twice, thrice as big, but it isn't, making it feel a bit underwhelming by the time you're done, which is a shame, because I do think the core ideas work well, it's just the execution doesn't macht the potential of the ideas. 

Last one today is Inkle Studio's Overboard! (2021), a simple but very fun inverted mystery game. Set in the 1930s on board of the SS Hoook you play as Veronica Villensey, who has just thrown her husband overboard in the night, and with some hours left until the ship will arrive in New York, it's up to you to erase all traces of your crime and get away scot-free. Each action you take in the game will take a certain amount of time, and the other passengers and the crew on the SS Hook all have their own schedules to. People you meet might ask you about your husband, and others might even have heard something suspicious last night, but it's up to you to deal with any problems that might pop up and make sure your stories to the various unique characters match as the ship approaches its destination.

One of the most unique licensed detective games was Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo - Hoshimitou - Kanashimi no Fukushuuki, based on the Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo series. But in that game, you didn't get to play as the series protagonist, but as a murderer, who has to plan and commit their murders, without getting caught by the series' hero! This was a very memorable game, and there never has been anything similar to that game, until the release of Overboard!. That said, Overboard! is more limited in scale. Your first two playthroughs make take about thirty minutes or so, but afterwards you'll start to realize what you have to do and manage to speed-read through most of the game. As this is an inverted mystery, the "mystery" of this game is of course the question: how are you going to get away with murder? Each action you take, from visiting the deck to having lunch or chatting with fellow passengers about what they may have heard last night will take a certain amount of time. The clock will keep on ticking, and each character has their own schedule, so sometimes you might find that a character you want to speak to isn't available at that moment, because they are napping. 

The first playthrough, it's likely the passengers will notice your husband has disappeared from the ship and ultimately realize that you killed your husband. But no problem! You are supposed to play through the game multiple times to learn the best and most efficient way to get away with murder. That character who heard you throwing your husband from the ship last night? Perhaps this time, you can convince them that what they heard was something else. That piece of evidence you dropped on the deck? The second time, you'd better get there early to pick it up yourself. With each subsequent playthrough, you'll identify what problems lie on your path to freedom (the mysteries), and through trial and error, you'll find the correct actions (and the time to do them!) that will solve those problems (the solutions). It's a simple game that will take just a few hours to get through, but the presentation is really good (as is the voice acting), and it's a short, but memorable experience. Especially enjoyable I think for those who don't usually play games, as this is very easy in terms of mechanics and controls.

Three very different games, which basically only have in common that they are all relatively short. Of these three titles, I think Overboard! that has made the best of its potential, as it does appear to get the most out of the idea without overstaying its welcome. Lucifer Within Us feels like it has the potential of becoming something much greater, and feeling too short at this moment, while  Izumi Jiken File: Shiosai Hen might have very harsh hardware limitations, but that doesn't take away the fact it's really, really short. Oh well, what isn't short is Higurashi: When They Cry, and I'll be busy with that for the coming months, though hopefully I'll be (mostly) done by the time The Centennial Case: A Shijima Story will be released, because I'm really looking forward to that new game by one of the writers of 428 and the director of Trick X Logic! Anyway, if people here want to share something about these games or about some interesting mystery games they have played lately, comments are always welcome!

Original Japanese title(s): 『いづみ事件ファイル Vol 1: 潮騒編』

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Hidden Pictures

"Why should I blame anyone but myself if I cannot understand what I know nothing about?" 
"Picasso Speaks"

The books you want to have read, but don't want to read: I don't remember who first mentioned this to me, but the often-used phrase has stuck with me ever since. The moment I heard it, I knew what it meant. I could immediately think of a few titles that would fit the description, and in the many years that have passed since this first contact, I have of course read quite a few books that I'm glad to have read because they help create context for reading other works, or because they address interesting issues or themes, but of which I also did not enjoy the actual reading process, for example because of frustrating writing styles. Reading is for me mainly a source of entertainment, so my tolerance for deeper reading experiences may not be very high in the first place, so it's very much a "your mileage may vary" thing, but I do think some books are better read with some context, with the foreknowledge of "this might be a book that will be challenging to get through, but it's worth it once you're able to turn over that final page." For someone like me is likely to give up early and just move on to another book if I don't enjoy a certain book and am not told it might be important for context for other books. By the way, I am also the kind of person who will easily drop an anime series halfway through the first episode if I haven't seen anything appealing by that time.

At this point, it should not come as a surprise that the book in today's review falls into this category, or at least, it doesn't for me. Natsu to Fuyu no Sonata ("A Sonata for Summer and Winter" 1993) , which also has the alternative English title Parzival on the cover, was the second novel by Maya Yutaka, released two years after his debut work Tsubasa Aru Yami, a powerful novel that embraced, but also fully deconstructed the tropes of the puzzle mystery genre, Natsu to Fuyu no Sonata goes even a step further, almost feeling like a fantasy novel that at times takes on the shape of a mystery novel, but if you pay very, very much attention, you'll notice the story is definitely built on the cornerstones of the mystery genre. I am not by any means a very experienced Maya reader, but in the works I have read of him, I have always noticed the urge to deconstruct the genre, to tackle The Classic Mystery Novel from a post-modern angle and asks Big Questions about what a detective is, what a clue is, what a mystery is. Of the works I have read so far however, none of them go even remotely as far as Natsu to Fuyu no Sonata, and it's in that context that it is definitely an interesting work to read. The book had been out of print for many years now, but I had heard a lot about how controversial this book was. In the years since I first heard about it, I had seen it described as an anti-mystery, a book that explored the theme of catastrophy in a detective novel, a novel without ending, and more. It was not the type of mystery novel I am usually interested in, but I was aware of its importance, not only as a pivotal work in Maya's oeuvre, but also as part of the 'bigger' picture: Maya Yutaka was the shin honkaku novelist who really dived deep into the post-modern themes of detective genre in the early nineties, and is therefore a must-read if one wants to read more about post-modern themes in modern Japanese puzzle mystery fiction, The book had been out of print for many years, but  got a revised re-release a few months back, which seemed like me the perfect time to read: usually I read Maya Yutaka's work like once every two, three years, but I had just finished the great Sekigan no Shoujo, so I was still in the mood when I started reading Natsu to Fuyu no Sonata.

Magazine writer Uyuu is given a special assignment by his editor to visit Kazune Island, together with high school student Touri, a friend of his who will act as his photographer (though she seems more interested in just enjoying he trip). Mamiya Kazune was a budding actress who starred in an indie film twenty years ago. While she had not become a big star yet, six young men and women became completely entranced by Kazune and with the financial powers of the oldest (richest) of them, an island was bought where they'd all live together. Kazune Island was where the seven of them would live for a year. Kazune was their idol, and the others worshipped her on the island, convinced that one day, Kazune's brilliance would shine not only on the island, but across the country, no, the world. But one day, Kazune fell into the sea and was never found again. That was the beginning of a swift end: one of the remaining people soon followed in her steps in despair, and save for the owner of the island, the others eventually left the island, going their own paths. But it's beeen twenty years since the death of Kazune, and now the remaining people will gather at Kazune Island once again to mourn the death of their idol. Uyuu is to write about this curious gathering, and the members' island life twenty years ago with Mamiya Kazune. Arriving on the island, Uyuu is confronted with surprise after surprise. The house being built in a Cubist style is perhaps a relatively tame surprise, but as Uyuu tries to strike up conversations with everybody, he slowly realizes everyone is very evasive about their lives on the island twenty years ago, and the accounts he gets to hear about Kazune seem slightly disturbing. This being a rush assignment, Uyuu had no time to do prior research, so everyone being evasive isn't really handy, but the big surprise comes at dinner, when a dressed-up Touri manages to shock everyone at the table: no wonder, for she looks exactly like the portrait of Mamiya Kazune hanging at the top floor of the house! Uyuu gets a bad feeling about this, not sure how these people who once worshipped Kazune will react to his protoge Touri. The following morning, the group wakes up to another surprise: it's snowing, in August, on what is basically a tropical island! But this surprise is soon turned into horror, when they find the corpse of their host in the garden. However, the whole garden is covered in snow, and there are no footprints to be found anywhere on the snow in the garden! A quick search also tells them that the two servants are gone and that the one motor boat on the island is gone When they eventually find out the phone isn't working either, they realize they'll have to wait for help to come, which will be after the day Kazune died, but will they be safe until that time? And what has all of this to do with the events that occured on this island twenty years ago?

People in a closed circle situation on an island? A strangely designed house? A "no footprints in the snow" scenario (in the middle of summer!)? Mysterious deaths in the past, and people being evasive about said past in the present? At first glance, Natsu to Fuyu no Sonata takes on a familiar form. Even people not particularly familiar with the genre will recognize these tropes, but looks definitely deceive here, for nothing is as it seems in this novel. The fact the first (yes, first) murder happens so late is perhaps already a hint this is not a conventional mystery novel. Natsu to Fuyu no Sonata is a very long novel, but the first actual mystery (the impossible murder) doesn't occur until the halfway point, which is really, really late: I've read completely fleshed out mystery novels with the same page length! The first half of Natsu to Fuyu no Sonata is filled with slow dialogue between Uyuu and the people who returning to the island, trying to find out about the lives they had twenty years ago, and the banter between Uyuu and Touri. Touri is a rather unique high school student (who always skips school) with an interesting view on life, who does offer a lot of fun dialogue to read, but you really have to be patient this first half of the book, for little happens. The second half of the book moves faster, but even there you will find a lot of pedantry in this novel: it might not be as excessive as in that other famous Japanese anti-mystery Kokushikan Satsujin Jiken, but let's say it'll feel like you just got through a whole semester course on Cubism by the time you're done with this book.

Even after the first murder occurs, the book doesn't really feel like a detective novel. While Uyuu realizes they are trapped on the island, he feels reluctant to play detective, feeling it will only stir up trouble: his single and one concern is to protect Touri and get her off the island alive, back to her parents. There are other minor mysteries that bother him and Touri, like Uyuu seeing a Kazune-like figure roaming the building and some minor comments dropped by various people about the death of Kazune twenty years ago, but most of the time, Uyuu doesn't want to actively detect, and most of the time, he's just there to prevent the inquisitive Touri from being too rash and to find out just enough to be able to protect her. This again strengthens the concept of this book of taking on a detective novel's form, but not being quite like the novel you'd expect it to be initially. One of the biggest examples of this is how the impossible crime is handled. After some initial investigation soon after the murder is discovered, it's more or less put away in a drawer until the very end of the novel, where it's basically explained in three sentences and then forgotten again. The solution, on its own, is both ridiculous and memorable. And nobody is going to guess it based on the hints in the book, because there are no clues or hints and the solution suddenly comes out of nowhere, with the probabability of it ever happening infinitely small, but it's certainly one you'll never forget. But the whole thing is barely touched upon in the end, with the solution just mentioned very briefly in the final few pages of the book. Natsu to Fuyu no Sonata is a detective novel, but it's not really a detective novel.

While that part of the mystery is explained and it is also revealed who is the actual killer on the island, Natsu to Fuyu no Sonata actually leaves a lot of the events that occur in this book completely unexplained. After a feverish, catastrophic finale that even takes on fantasy elements, you're left with a sense of utter disbelief and confusion, that is only strengthened by a curious, two-page appearance by series detective Mercator Ayu, who asks Uyuu, and the reader, one simple question  It's here where the book ends, but where the reader is challenged to go on. For Uyuu's answer turns everything around, and that combined with the countless of unanswered events of the novel, leaves you with nothing but more questions as you turn over the last page. As you think back, you will notice a lot of questions the book drew attention to where never addressed again, from actual physical evidence seen and examined by Uyuu, to suggestive remarks made by the various characters or the almost fantasy-like finale that Uryuu experienced. Where did that character appear from, what was the meaning of that small object they kept finding, what about the painting, where did they go, why was this put in motion anyway and A LOT more: a genuine mystery novel would never leave all of this unanswered, but Natsu to Fuyu no Sonata does. It leaves the reader with a heap of unanswered question and challenges them: can you figure how all of this is connected, and how Mercator's question relates to all of this? This might sound interesting, a detective novel that doesn't actually tell you the whole answer, but leaves you with the clues necessary to solve it. Last year, I played Umineko: When They Cry which takes on a similar form. Only.... Umineko: When They Cry is Sesame Street in comparison to what Natsu to Fuyu no Sonata does. For the latter, doesn't really provide the reader with clear clues and evidence for them to build theories upon. I finished reading this book just before I wanted to go asleep, which was a big mistake, because it left me with all kinds of questions. The following morning, I decided I'd just look around online to see what the conclusions were: it's 2022, so almost 30 years after the book's initial release, so surely there was consensus now, right?

There wasn't. 

I have read at least five or six different theories that build upon similar ideas, but ultimately all go different directions or explain the details differently. And they all sounded plausible, making good use of the few clues we do have and trying to contextualize their solutions within the framework of the whole book. And yet, they all differ. This made it clear to me: Natsu to Fuyu no Sonata is not a mystery to be solved. It is a story that takes on the form and tropes of the mystery novel, and it does tell a mystery story, but at the same time, it is also a distinctly post-modern take on the mystery story, where not everything is explained, where there's room for multiple explanations and where ultimately you're left with questions and unprovable theories. Concepts I know of Maya's other works, but never explored as extremely as in this work. This book is experimental and with the way it ends so open-ended, I can easily understand the arguments of both the sides who see this book as either a success, or a complete failure.

After reading Natsu to Fuyu no Sonata, I wrote a little bit about it elsewhere and how it was a book I didn't want to be reading, but wanted to have read, and a friend asked the rhetorical question whether this was the kind of book you'd wanted to have read "real-time", getting confused/frustrated with everyone together, or the kind of book you'd want to read later, with more context/sudies available. Personally, I am glad I read Natsu to Fuyu no Sonata now, thirty years later, knowing the context of this book, how it was received (a great 63rd place in the 2012 Tozai Mystery Best 100!) and what theories people came up with. Some people might have wanted to go in blind, some people will perhaps just give up right away after reading this or other reviews. I think I would have just given up halfway without the context, and having read the book, I do think there are a lot of neat ideas mystery-wise to be found in the book, though I would never recommend it to anyone as a mystery novel.

Natsu to Fuyu no Sonata is a book I'm glad I done with, and I'm also happy I finally wrote this review. It's a strange book, and it's the kind of book I needed to know was strange before opening it or else I would have thrown it on the floor at some point.  But having read the book, I do have to admit it has all kinds of neat, thought-provoking ideas that I'd like to see in other mystery stories too, and seen in the context of Maya's other works, I can see it being an important step. It is not a perfect experience, at least not for me, and I'll be the first to admit it took me some dedication to read, but I think that if you get to the point you're considering whether to read this book or not, there's definitely enough interesting concepts to be found here that may enrich the experience of reading mystery fiction, ranging from its post-modern take on mystery tropes to simply the types of trickery used in the core mystery plot that warrant a read.

Original Japanese title(s): 麻耶雄嵩『夏と冬の奏鳴曲』

Thursday, February 10, 2022

Game, Set, Murder

"“It’s a great huge game of chess that’s being played—all over the world—if this is the world at all, you know. Oh, what fun it is! How I wish I was one of them! I wouldn’t mind being a Pawn, if only I might join—though of course I should like to be a Queen, best.”"
"Through the Looking Glass -- And What Alice Found There"

Back in November, I wrote a short post on trying some mystery board games: while I play a lot of mystery video games, I had never really played board (tabletop) games of the mystery variety, but luckily the two games I tried then (Decktective and MicroMacro: Crime City) were both amusing, and the latter even ended up on my list of favorite mystery fiction of last year. I think most reader could've guessed I'd try out more of these games, and it didn't take long for me to do some more exploration into this medium.

I have a feeling the best-known mystery board game besides Cluedo (Clue) might be Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective, a game which was originally released in 1981 but has since seen several (revised) releases and is currently being sold as Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective: The Thames Murders and Other Cases (and there are several sequels). I had known about this game long before I even started looking into mystery board games, and I had even already played a form of this game: there is a video game adaptation, based on the cases in this board game, and I had played it in the past. So I was already somewhat familiar with the Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective: The Thames Murders and Other Cases before I actually started wtih the original board game last month. This game is perhaps best explained as a kind of gamebook (Choose Your Own Adventure), though it takes on a format that allows for both more, and less freedom than an usual Choose Your Own Adventure story. In the game, you take on the role of a Baker Street Irregular, and "compete" against Sherlock Holmes himself to see who will solve the case the most efficient (spoiler: you'll never, ever be able to beat Holmes in a fair way).

When you unpack the (fairly large!) box, you'll find it holds a map of London, the London Directory, a set of newspapers and ten case books, one for each of the cases ("campaigns") you can play alone or with up to about 8 people (though I think 1~4 players is probably the best). Each case is dated (allowing you access to the newspaper of that day, as well as any older back numbers that may be available) and opens with a short introduction to the case (written in the style of a Holmesian story), which briefly explains what the mystery is, the major characters involved and after that, you're on your own! In a "normal" Choose your Own Adventure, you'd usually now be presented with choices like "If you want to visit A, go to page 110" or "if you want to visit Lestrade at Scotland Yard, go to page 220". None of that here. Instead, the game offers you the London Directory, which is a booklet which lists the addresses of all characters, facilities, shops and much more. Every person or place you can visit has a specific address, and by looking up the address you want to visit in the case book, you'll find another story entry which will tell you what happens there. For example, the introduction tells you Mr. A. Victim was killed, so you look up A. Victim's addresss in the London Directory, find out it's 1EC (East Central), so then you look up "1EC" in the case book to read what happens at this address and what clues you might learn there. So unlike a conventional gamebook, which presents you a number of choices, Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective: The Thames Murders and Other Cases challenges you to figure out yourself which places you should, or perhaps more importantly could visit to find the clues necessary to solve the mystery, making it much more challenging. Some addresses are easily found, some not at all, and often, you'll just come up empty-handed at an address you were sure was going to be important. Once you think you have gathered enough clues, you go to the back of the book to find a few questions you have to answer, and finally compare notes with Sherlock Holmes himself, to see who needed fewer leads to solve the case (It's ALWAYS Holmes, so don't even bother to compete with him, he's a psychic).

The game can be played with one player or more, and while this game is reminscent of a gamebook, it definitely also works as a multiplayer game, because it can be pretty hard to figure out where to go next on your own and it helps to have more people thinking along. The cases start out easily enough, asking you to look up the address of a name mentioned in the introduction in the Directory and then looking up the addresses of any characters or locations that happen to be talked about at that location, but it quickly becomes much more challenging. That's where the map of London, the newspapers and the list of informants come in: sometimes you have to actually look at the map to figure out a certain address to visit (for example, something is mentioned about a neighbor and if you look at the map, you'll notice there's only one other house on that street) and the map is also important to determine whether people's alibis actually hold, by noting the times of their alibis and their distance to the crime scene. Newspapers are a treasure cove of information too: at first glance they just look like pieces of paper with "flavor" news articles and advertisements, but you'll soon realize they too are a valuable resource. Sometimes a person you are looking for happens to be mentioned in an advertisement, or you notice an article with some familiar names who happen to be member of some club or something like that. What's fun is that you not only have access to the newspaper of the day of the case, but also of back numbers, and sometimes you come across an article in an older newspaper (used in a previous case), which suddenly turns out to be relevant to a more recent case. The game thus offers a lot of ways to hint at which addresses you can visit, but the more vital ones are hidden in rather clever ways, making this a surprisingly challenging game, which can be great fun if you play it with multiple people as you can all check different sources and discuss what to do next ("Hey, didn't that guy over at B. Witness say something about a restaurant? What if we visit that restaurant...?"). Other times, you'll get to the list of questions at the end of the book, only to find out you missed a lot of the story because you didn't think of visiting location X or Y, or never managed to find the address. 

A major difference with a conventional gamebook however is that each case is presented in a completely non-linear format. You, as the player, can choose what places to visit in what order, which means "story developments" are not really possible, as the game never forces you visit one specific location before another.  Therefore, there are never moments where your actions as a player have direct influence on the story or where "something" happens to change the story. This is quite different from a normal gamebook, because that will always be able to present a story in a certain, chronological manner and thus introduce story developments. To those who do play video games, I think Her Story makes for a good comparison: in Her Story too you have the freedom to choose how to proceed in the story (finding clips) in a non-linear fashion, and it's up to you to piece all the clues in the clips together, but depending on the order chosen and whether you managed to think of specific keywords (addresses in Consulting Detective), you can figure out the mystery much sooner or later.

I have only played about three of the ten cases in Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective: The Thames Murders and Other Cases at this moment, but I can definitely recommend it! It's a game that really challenges you to write down every clue and carefully consider where you should go next, and the writing is pretty good too, invoking a Holmesian atmosphere (which is also aided by the newspapers and maps!). While each story entry tied to the addresses is pretty short, the characterization is surprisingly okay, especially for the recurring characters like informants whom you can visit in each case. In the end, I think it took me well 60-90 minutes for each of the cases I have completed already  The official site has a whole case you can try out for yourself (or with others) by the way, as well as the material necessary for remote play, so have a look if you're interested!

In the previous post about board games, I also asked for mystery board game recommendations, and a commentator mentioned having played, and enjoyed Suspects recently. At that time, Suspects wasn't released locally here yet, but to my surprise I saw it was released here last week, so I decided to pick that one up too. One of the things that piqued my interest was one name in particular: The game hails from France and was designed by Guillaume Montiage, but of the three cases inside the box, one was written by a Paul Halter. I don't actually know if it's the Paul Halter, but given that this is a French mystery, I'm going to guess...probably? In Suspects, all the players (1-6) take up the role of female detective Claire Harper, an adventerous traveler who was one of the first women to graduate from Oxford. Set in the 1920s, each case (probably taking about 60-90 minutes, also depending on number of players) has Claire take on a mysterious death in a world inspired by the works of Agatha Christie, which is by the way also visualized by the gorgeous artwork of this game. As a board game, I'd say that Suspects too is very much like a gamebook/Choose Your Own Adventure, even though it uses cards to present its story. A lot of cards!

Like Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective, each case begins with a short introduction explaining the basics of the mystery and the primary characters. Additional documents are also provided, like floorplans or family trees. And at the end of the introduction, the main questions are asked which you'll have to solve at the end of the game (culprit, motive etc.) From there, the game allows you pick your own route through the story of the game. Each action you can take within the game is tied to a card in the deck with a specific number: for example, the husband of the victim might be Card 1, and if you look at the floorplan, you'll find each room also has a corresponding card number, for example the Library being Card 34. To take a certain action, you simply take the corresponding card, flip it around and read the story section written on the back. Usually, a card will also point you towards other cards: on the first card with the husband, he might tell you about his alibi, but it might also mention follow-up cards you can read where they talk about their wife, or about the other suspects. The latter cards especially do help with fleshing out the characters. At times, you will also stumble upon physical evidence (cards) or other important information and the game actually uses nifty little tricks to actually incorporate the actual, physical cards into the mystery solving process, asking you to put cards together to make certain connections etc. It's a fun idea that helps strengthen the feel you are playing a physical board game. As you read more and more cards, you'll learn more of the story, slowing making connections between testimonies and physical clues and hopefully figure out whodunnit.

Suspects, at a glance, feels quite similar to Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective, as far as the free-form Choose Your Own Adventure style goes. Like in Consulting Detective, you are mostly free to choose what to investigate in what order, but instead of using a case book and a London Directory, everything is written on numbered cards, and you're only allowed to pick a card that has been referenced on a card you have already read. A difference would be that many cards in this game can only be read after reading certain preceding cards, allowing for some kind of  linear story developments). But where the two games do differ greatly is the objective: In Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective, you are challenged to follow the least number of leads in order to solve the case, thus asking you to read as little of the game. In Suspects, you will always read all of the cards available, after which you'll be allowed to open the sealed solution to see how well your deductions fared. However, Suspects does ask you to try to answer the main questions early. Once you have read about half of the cards in the case, you can make your first guess, and you get another turn at about 75% in, and one final time once all the cards have been read. You earn points for every correct answer you have at the end of the game, but you earn more points the earlier you made the correct guess. It's of course easier to make a correct guess at the end of the game, once you have all the information available, and the game does allow you to change your answers midway, but the better sleuths will still earn more points because they'll be able to make the correct guesses earlier, when there are fewer cards/information available. I do like that the game doesn't "punish" you for reading all the cards eventually, as opposed to Consuting Detective, where you are supposed to read as little as possible to "win". This point system leads to an interesting multiplayer experience with Suspects: you discuss with each other which card to read next and read the contents together, but you can choose whether to make the guesses together, or have everyone make their own guesses, adding a competitive element. If you play alone, the points are used for the simple multiple ending system (very short, one sentence epilogues that change depending on how many points you got).

At the moment, I have only played the first case of the game, and I have to admit it was a lot trickier than I had expected at first! It was an enjoyable session though, as neat things were done with the cards. The game also feels quite fair: the sealed solution doesn't just say "The killer was X!", but refers to all the relevant cards, allowing you to re-read the cards and see how the clues were laid out. And of course, I'm quite curious to see what the final case will bring, written by a Paul Halter of whom I am not completely sure whether he's Paul Halter. Perhaps that will become more clear once I've actually played it!

As mentioned before, I don't play board games in general, but I think that both Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective and Suspects are very enjoyable experiences that should appeal to fans of the mystery genre. These two in particular have a lot in common with gamebooks (and Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective in particular uses very prosey writing), so they also feel closer to a traditional mystery novel than say MicroMacro: Crime City, so perhaps these games are easier to ease into for fans who usually only read.These games do a great job at allowing the player to try and solve things on their own and making them work for it, while also being accessible enough to not require you to 4D chess your way towards the solution. Anyway, if you have played these games, or even better, have more suggestions for mystery board games, please leave a comment, because I'd love to try out even more in the future!

Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Absolutely Elsewhere

「スカイ・ブルー」(Garnet Crow)
That bus going around the corner is expertly
Passing through that narrow road - Is it moving around freely?
"Sky Blue" (Garnet Crow)

Sometimes, I read books not written in Japanese.

After leaving the Black Prince pub in Woodstock near Oxford, a young man finds the dead body of Sylvia Kaye lying a corner of the car park next to the pub. It's soon discovered by the police that Sylvia had been spotted at a bus stop the day before, trying to catch the last bus to Woodstock, but that she and an unknown companion had decided to hitch a lift to Woodstock. There are signs of sexual assault, so it appears something must have gone wrong on her way to Woodstock, but who picked the two young women up and where has Sylvia's companion gone too? Inspector Morse and his new partner Sergeant Lewis decide to tackle the problem from two sides: they want to track the driver who picked the girls up, but also suspect the unknown companion seen at the bus stop might be one of the girls of her work, so they want to see who might have hitched that lift with Sylvia that fateful night, and why they are keeping quiet. Lewis has not worked with Morse before however, and sees a man who can at times seem brilliant, but at times somewhat eccentric with a tendency to snap at his partner for no reason. As the investigation goes on however, the two detectives stumble upon more secrets than they had initially suspected in Colin Dexter's Last Bus to Woodstock (1975).

Allow me to confess right away: I have never ever seen a whole episode of Inspector Morse or any of its spin-offs. In my whole life, I might have seen 10 minutes in total of Inspector Morse, and my record on Midsomer Murders isn't that much better either. So no, I don't really have a connection with the British police procedural. So why did I try the first novel in the Inspector Morse series, the one that sparked that long-lived television series? To be honest, I don't really know. I had written the title down and judging from the other titles I wrote down around the same time, I was looking for puzzler-type mystery novels, but.... this isn't really one. So either it was a misinformed recommendation somewhere, or I had jotted it down for some reason, but either way, I can't really say Last Bus to Woodstock convinced me to read or watch more of Inspector Morse, as it's not exactly the type of mystery fiction I commonly read.

The writing and Inspector Morse's not really likeable personality (despite the weirdly inserted romance subplot) is a thing your mileage may vary on, and let's say that some of the views presented by the characters in this book on women and rape are dated, but as for the core plot of Last Bus to Woodstock, I can't say it really made an impression. I think I can best describe it as a plot that has a few okay ideas here and there, which are however overshadowed by some moments that seem so out of place and forced, it's hard to take the story really serious. For example, one of the earliest moves Inspector Morse takes in this novel, is to check out all of the private correspondence of the victim's female collegues received at their workplace, in an attempt to find the mysterious companion who hitched a ride. Only this action doesn't make any sense at all. It's a looooong shot that such a search would yield results and there's no reason why the police would need to not only check the private mail of the victim, but of every female colleague at her workplace on the off-chance something of interest might be there. If the police would go through the private mail of the victim's colleagues every time someone is murdered for no specific reason at all, well, that's a full-time job there. Of course, Inspector Morse's nonsensical move does lead to a certain clue because the author decided so, but it doesn't make any sense at all from a narrative point. And that happens few other times too in this novel, where Morse makes outrageous guesses based on flimsy foundations, which are of course rewarded by the author but never do these moments feel satisfying. The way Inspector Morse stumbles upon the trail of the person who picked the girls up for example is supposed to be very convincing, only the method sounds as convincing as me predicting the weather tonight based on how the tea in my tea cup looks like at this moment.

Strip the plot of the details, and Last Bus to Woodstock has some okay ideas: Dexter manipulates his web of characters to create a base that could serve as an interesting whodunnit game, with several developments shifting suspicion from one character to another consistently and enough puzzling facts and incidents that don't seem to mesh entirely until you see the correct shape of the puzzle. But fill in the details, and you'll notice that so many moments and actions feel rather artificial, and not in a "natural artificial" manner. Meaning that even within the logic of the artificial world that is this novel, people's behavior and actions to be supported enough by the way they are actually portrayed and described. Ultimately, I didn't enjoy reading this novel, because many of the major moments of the book felt to come out of nowhere, and Morse was constanty rewarded for his deductions/guesses plotwise despite the fact they shouldn't. The puzzle of whodunnit just never clicked with me because of this.

So yeah, Last Bus to Woodstock was my first foray into the world of Inspector Morse, but it's likely I won't return. As a police procedural, I didn't find this one satisfying or convincing at all, and I'd muuuuch rather read Inspector French's adventures then. It may be the book that started the famous series, but it's not one that managed to capture me. As a whodunnit puzzler, it's just not plotted tightly enough. Perhaps there are other Morse novels that are more satisfying? If anyone has a recommendation or anything, feel free to leave a comment!

Wednesday, February 2, 2022

The Secret in the Dark

"Let us step into the night and pursue that flighty temptress, adventure.” 
"Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince"

I like the art style of these covers, but they are literally all just Shiina, so when you look at all six covers which are basically all the same, it's kinda boring. I wish there was more variety in terms of composition...

After losing most knowledge on magic in the witch hunts, mankind has been rediscovering and re-examining magic and in the last century, magic has developed as an academic field. While there are only six known magicians on the world, magic can be studied by anyone as an academic theme, the same way not all Literature students actually write literature. Japan is still just a "developing" country when it comes to magic and it is only this year that Jousui University opened Japan's very first Magic Faculty. After incidents occuring in April and June, narrator Amane and fellow Magic students Ririko, Hio, Imina, Rie and Chisato had a short, uneventful time, but a new mystery befalls upon them in October, during the 42nd Jousui University Campus Festival. Early in the day, Amane and Ririko are asked by Imina to swing by the stand of the Mystery Club, as she's a member of the club. During the opening ceremony of the festival, the two walk over to the General Studies A Building to find the stand, but suddenly they become unconscious. When they wake up, they find themselves inside the General Studies A Building together with a few members of the Mystery Club, but for some reason they find the building is completely covered in darkness. Literally even. It's not just that the lights are out: there's some black force field enveloping the whole building, keeping daylight out and preventing them from going outside. The people inside start looking for a way out and an explanation for what obviously seems like a feat of magic, though the two Magic students are quite sure no single magician could ever pull such a force field off and given that their own professor Shiina is the only magician known to be in Japan at the time, the whole thing seems quite impossible. But as they look for answers and an exit, they are attacked by a mysterious being and one by one, they are taken away by the beast. Can Amane and Ririko figure a way out to contact the outside world and their professor and save everyone in Kuzumi Shiki's Tricksters D (2006)?

A month ago I reviewed the first Tricksters, which I thought was a fun light novel which used a magic setting to tell an entertaining and clever mystery story. Magic is still a developing academic field in the world of Tricksters, so the number of possible magic spells are still fairly limited, all with clearly defined limitations, so magic as a plot element in a mystery story feels very fair here. I mentioned in the previous review that it was actually Tricksters D that first caught my attention, as I had seen some people discuss it as a very clever mystery novel, but with the caveat that it was the third novel in the series and that it was best to read the first two novels first, or at least one of them. This is actually also mentioned in the introduction to Tricksters D. So that's why I did read Tricksters first, though I have skipped the second novel for the time being to go straight to Trickster D. I'll probably return to the second novel in due time.

I do have to say that I'm happy I read Tricksters first though. Not just because it makes for a much better introduction to the characters and setting, it also featured a more "familiar" mystery plot with a good old fashioned impossible situation/locked room mystery, while Tricksters D has a more tricky plot to it. In a way, Tricksters D reminded me of Houjou Kie's Kotou no Raihousha ("Visitors on the Remote Island"), which also featured a plot where the characters are trapped inside a closed circle while being hunted by an unknown being, and part of the story revolved around figuring out what the unknown assaillant is, how it is conducting its attacks and why this is all happening. In Tricksters D, we have a group of students who are trapped in a building that's been cut off from the outside world by some kind of magic cloak with something hunting them in the darkness. It's not a typical plot for a detective story and because of the other focus of the story, I too wouldn't recommend people starting with Tricksters D.

For the other part builds on your knowledge of the previous stories, but in a surprisingly funny manner. Trapped inside the building with members of the Mystery Club, Amane and Ririko are startled to learn that those students already know them... in a way. It is only then that Amane and Ririko are told that Imina has been writing a mystery series for the club with the title Tricksters, based on the adventures they had with their professor Shiina the last few months. What follows is a fun meta-look at Tricksters and the characters themselves, with Amane and Ririko slowly realizing that Imina has used "artistic freedom" in her portrayal of the past events and that the characters based on themselves are both accurate, but also fictionalized on certain points. This blending of reality and fiction however is also played on the reader, with some events we saw in the previous books being explained as having been quite different from reality and the result feels likke a recontextualization and subversion of Tricksters lore in an interesting manner, especially as the original Tricksters derived its title that it was fooling the characters and the reader in multiple ways: seeing the third novel suddenly turning things around again is something most series wouldn't get away with, but it strangely works for Tricksters and the pay-off this sub-plot builds towards to in the end is actually really good. But for the ideas presented here to work, you do really need to have at least read the first Tricksters.

As for the main mystery of Tricksters D, it is an entertaining one, but it's hard to write about the story in detail, because like with Kotou no Raihousha, so much revolves around the slow process of peeling away the layers to find out what is actually happening. Early on, they figure out that the sudden black-out inside the building, the force field outside the building that blocks light and physical movement in and out the building, and the beast that's attacking them one by one must be related to a magic amp (amplifier) that was kept inside the building, but the precise connection between all these points remains vague, so the reader is kept guessing at the correct explanation until the end. I have to admit that the plot was much more complex than I had first imagined: there was a lot more trickery going on than I had noticed, and the way the story eventually manages to tie up all the minor spots that at first seemed mildly odd, was quite good. The Tricksters books are of course set in a world where magic and magicians exist, so it shouldn't come as a surprise to learn that magic (and the related set of rules) are connected to the solution in a way (in this case, the magic amp plays a big role), but I do think that Tricksters D is not as good in explaining the world of magic and its workings as the first novel. The books were obviously written to be read in order, so details on magic and magicians might feel a bit lacking in this novel, which could make the final explanations of the case feel a bit underwhelming. In that sense too, it is greatly advised not to read Tricksters D as your first Tricksters.

Would I say that Tricksters D was better than the first book in the series? It's definitely more unique, with a rather creepy atmosphere and an interesting mystery because at first it's not clear at all what's going on and as the reader, you honestly have no idea where to even begin to start solving this mystery, but then slowly the darkness is lifted and it does reveal a clever mystery plot that is both original and it makes good use of the existence of magic, but a lot of the better points of the book work only in the context of the series, so you do need to have read another Tricksters first for this book to really work. But if you've read more entries in this series already, you definitely owe it to yourself to read Tricksters D too, because it's a really original meta-take with an original mystery plot.

Original Japanese title(s): 久住四季『トリックスターズD』