Tuesday, December 28, 2010

「結」の章

"Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to that arrogant oligarchy who merely happen to be walking around.", G.K. Chesterton, "Orthodoxy"

Norizuki Rintarou is an author who has been discussed quite often by now, so I won't bother to introduce him. Even people who can't read Japanese have had a chance to read his work, as his price-winning Toshi Densetsu Puzzle has been published in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine as An Urban Legend Puzzle in the Passport to Crime series. An Urban Legend Puzzle was also my first experience with Norizuki and I have been a great fan of his work ever since. Ellery Queen readers really should at least try this Japanese Queen, as the Norizuki Rintarou stories parallel the Queen stories quite closely.

I especially like Norizuki Rintarou's short story collections, where many of the best short stories of the new orthodox school can be found. I've discussed the first collection, Norizuki Rintarou no Bouken ("The Adventures of Norizuki Rintarou") before, and I might re-read Norizuki Rintarou no Shinbouken ("The New Adventures of Ellery Queen") for a review in the future, but the topic for today the third short story collection, Norizuki Rintarou no Kouseki ("The Exploits of Norizuki Rintarou"). Yes, that title not based on an Ellery Queen novel, but on the Conan Doyle/Carr Holmes pastiche.

And I've actually already discussed two of the five stories in this collection already. Equal Y no Higeki ("Equal Tragedy of Y") was originally written for the anthology Y no Higeki ("The Tragedy of Y"), while ABCD Houimou ("The ABCD Line") was an original story for the anthology ABC Satsujin Jiken ("The ABC Murders"). So I refer to those reviews for more about those two stories.

And while those two stories were obviously written with a certain theme in mind, it seems Chuugoku Kagyuu no Nazo ("The Chinese Snail Mystery") wasn't, according to the afterword. Even if the reader would think otherwise. Anyway, the Queenish title is no coincidence, because what did Norizuki Rintarou discover when they finally broke open the office room of the famous detective writer Kanuma? A room where everything was upside down. Chairs, the desk, the computer, all upside down. And a piece of rope attached to the floor with a loose in it. Kanuma, who should have been in the office, is found hanging from the ceiling in the room beneath the office. Yes, it's Norizuki's take on Queen's locked room The Chinese Orange Mystery. But with a definite snail theme. I've learned more about snails and how they reproduce and stuff than I would ever want to know. In Japanese. But as Norizuki says himself in the afterword, locked rooms are not his forte and while Chuugoku Kagyuu no Nazo isn't really a bad story, it certainly isn't a very strong story either.

Both Toshi Densetsu Puzzle (An Urban Legend Puzzle) and Ishindenshin ("Tacit Understanding and Hanging") follow the same set-up, which is a parallel of how Ellery and Inspector Queen work. In both stories Chief Inspector Norizuki asks his son to help him with some case he is working on and by analyzing the facts and discussing the case, Rintarou arrives at the truth. This armchair/consulting detective model is one I especially like (c.f. the Puzzle Club stories by Ellery Queen) and actually one of the reasons why I prefer short stories (this model doesn't work really well in long stories).

Toshi Densetsu Puzzle is a story, that in my eyes, does almost everything great. The theme of the story, urban legends is a very interesting one and just like with Chuugoku Kagyuu no Nazo, Norizuki gives quite a bit of interesting background information on the theme. The story also proceeds at a nice pace and is just done almost perfect. The one negative point is that the trick of the story can be seen through almost immediately if you are not taken in by the blind spot Norizuki is trying to create. The writer himself confesses it's a rather easy story, but this is overall a great story.

The setup of Ishindenshin is the same, but the story itself is not as interesting. Chief Inspector Norizuki has trouble figuring out a murder on a young woman, who had been hanged in her room in order to make it look like suicide. Working through the many strange points of the case, father and son finally arrive at the truth, but is it a good one? The motive (in particular, the way the motive was set up) was one I hadn't seen before and it was distinctly modern, so I wasn't really prepared for it. A certain leap of thought had to be made if you're not familiar with a certain field, which I didn't really like. I think the main problem was a very sound and interesting one, so maybe I would've liked this story if I actually knew *that* existed.

But Norizuki Rintarou's exploits were overall quite interesting. I am a little disappointed with the lack of bibliophilia this time and most stories seem too strongly connected to other, major works, so it lacks a bit of its own identity compared to the previous collections, but still a solid work that shows that orthodox detectives are still very much alive in this world. 

Original Japanes title(s): 法月綸太郎 『法月綸太郎の功績』/「イコールYの悲劇」/「中国蝸牛の謎」/「都市伝説パズル」/「ABCD包囲網」//「縊心伝心」

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Des Pas sur la neige

"Once I went professionally to an archaeological expedition--and I learnt something there. In the course of an excavation, when something comes up out of the ground, everything is cleared away very carefully all around it. You take away the loose earth, and you scrape here and there with a knife until finally your object is there, all alone, ready to be drawn and photographed with no extraneous matter confusing it. That is what I have been seeking to do--clear away the extraneous matter so that we can see the truth--the naked shining truth."
"Death on the Nile"

Christmas means murder. Well, actually, it doesn't, but I sure associate the winter season and Christmas with murder. Because they are made for each other. A body lying in the middle in a field of snow, with no foot tracks. A group of people locked up in an old mansion because of a snow storm. A murderer who like Santa seems to be impervious to the laws of nature, popping up here and there. Christmas at its best!

So I do try to read winter-themed detectives in this season every year. Fortunately, there are many, many snowy-themed detectives out there. This year, I chose a book by Shimada Souji to be my Christmas detective. Shimada, one of the giants in the modern Japanese detective world, is actually one of the few New Orthodox (Golden Age styled) detective writers who has been translated into English. His The Tokyo Zodiac Murders (originally: Senseijutsu Satsujin Jiken ("The Astrology Murder Case")   is an excellent book. Nay, better than excellent. It is one of those books that any detective fan should read. It does everything right: characterization, setting, the tricks. The Tokyo Zodiac Murders was the first novel to feature the astrologer annex detective Mitarai Kiyoshi (whose family name you unfortunately write as "honorable toilet"). A brilliant, if somewhat eccentric mind. Like most great detectives.

The second novel featuring Mitarai is Naname Yashiki no Hanzai ("The Crime at the Slanted Mansion"). I'll begin by saying this is another excellent book. Not as impressive as The Tokyo Zodiac Murders, but oh so fun. The setting is snowy, snowy Hokkaidou. A strange mansion stands lonely on a clif near the sea. The reason the Drifting Ice Mansion is called strange, is because it is built slanted. Inspired by the Tower of Pisa, the Drifting Ice Mansion actually leans a bit, at the same angle as the replica Tower of Pisa which stands besides it. Everything in the house is bolted to the ground, table legs have been cut off so they don't slide away on the floor. And owner Hamamoto has fun everytime guests trip and fall. 

It is to this place that Hamamoto, a succesful business man, has gathered a small party of guests, mainly comprised of business contacts to spend Christmas and New Year with. But in true Christmas Murder Style (C), nothing stays merry. Christmas marks the beginning of a series of murders, horrible murders. One guests is found stabbed in a locked room, with no footsteps in the snow leading to his door. And for some reason a human-sized doll, which belongs to Hamamoto, is found lying outside in the garden. Was it the doll that running around on the roof , as one of the guests says she saw in the middle of the night? The police arrives at the scene, but they are not able to prevent a second locked room murder the same night. Everyone has an alibi. Except for the doll. A doll named Golem, who according to the store Hamamoto bought it from, was named after the legendary creature because he too is actually a living doll. As the police is able to do nothing, one man is sent for. Mitarai.

Who of course solves the cases brilliantly. I really enjoyed this book. It felt quite Carr-ish, with the locked rooms and of course the doll. Heck, even the Slanted Mansion itself seemed to eminate an aura of evil. A hint of Queen with a Challenge to the Reader. Yet, it somehow missed the stunning -wow- factor of the previous book. Because of how the trick of the locked rooms is done, you'll quickly catch on who the murderer is and how. I don't know how detective writers write their books, but this is one which was clearly built around one brilliant trick Shimada had, who then kept building on it till he had a novel-length book. But because the book hinges on that single trick, an acute reader will see through most of the events as soon as he sees through the main trick.

Which might sound negative, but Naname Yashiki no Hanzai is still an excellent book. The main trick is among the more original tricks I have seen in my life and if I hadn't known this book was first published in 1982, I would have sworn it was a detective actually written in the Golden Age. Especially as this novel is relatively clean (as in: no cut-up bodies like in The Tokyo Murder Case), made it seem like one of the classics of the good old age. A revised version was actually published in 2008, but I picked up the original one. It was cheaper.

I haven't read that much Shimada yet, besides the mentioned two novels I've only read the novellettes P no Misshitsu ("The Locked Room of P") and Suzuran Jiken ("The Case of the Lily of the Valley"), but it seems like Shimada likes a big scale to his tricks. He doesn't use small psychological tricks, he doesn't uses the sleight of the hand, Shimada's stories are full of mystery and big and bombastic and everything nice. Perfect for Christmas. 

Original Japanese title(s): 島田荘司 『斜め屋敷の犯罪』

Monday, December 20, 2010

「ジッチャンの名にかけて!」

「 みんな5年前のままじゃない。やっぱり変わってるんだ・・・そして、これからも・・・・」
『金田一少年の事件簿:雪影村殺人事件』

"Nobody is like they were five years ago. Yes. Everyone has changed... And they will keep changing...",
"The Casefiles of Young Kindaichi: The Yukikage Village Murder Case"

I usually don't discuss manga here. Not because I don't like the medium. Neither because comics don't belong here (because they do!). I deal with detective fiction here, as the site description says in the sidebar, which includes a wide range of different media. Besides books, movies, TV-series and games have also been discussed here. And the alert reader surely has noticed I read Meitantei Conan ("Detective Conan") and Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo ("The Casefiles of Young Kindaichi"). So why are they not discussed here?

Mostly because of the way the medium is set up. Stories are often quite short, which I think is harder to discuss than a single story. Another problem, especially in Conan, is the fact that stories are often spread amongst several volumes, and I don't really like discussing a single part of a story. Yes, I am still thinking about how I'm going to discuss Nikaidou Reito's four-part Jinroujou no Kyoufu ("The Fear of Werewolf Castle"), the longest detective story in existence.

Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo though, is slightly easier to discuss though. Most stories since the reboot in 2004 have been longer, two volume stories. The only problem is that scriptwriter Amagi and illustrator Satou produce only two volumes a year. It just takes so long for a new story. But it is better than nothing at all, I guess.

This year's Renkinjutsu Satsujin Jiken ("The Alchemy Murder Case") is once again a rather classic Kindaichi Shounen. The story? Kindaichi is one of the three finalists in a TV programme with a lot of money at stake. These three finalists, together with three TV personalities, are gathered at Alchemy Mansion to shoot the footage for the final strage. The Alchemy Mansion, located on an island (of course!) was once the home of self-proclaimed alchemist, who had disappeared many years ago. As the TV crew make their preparations for the shooting, one of them is killed by a mysterious man dressed like... a man with a mask and a cape (I guess he is supposed to look like an... alchemist). And a sword. A giant sword. More murders occur and Kindaichi has to solve a locked room murder, the mystery of the disappearing murder weapon and prove his actress friend Reika is not the murderer. The elements that make up the bread and butter of the Kindaichi Shounen series.

At this point, I am not expecting new story set-ups in the Kindaichi Shounen series, I'd rather think I'd somehow not like such a change in the series. It's just something I'd expect from the series. So what kind of story did scriptwriter Amagi build with the classic elements? A solid classic story with few real surprises (on a meta level), which ranks among the better stories since the reboot. 2006's Gokumonjuku Satsujin Jiken ("The Jailgate Cram School Murder Case") is still the best since the reboot in my opinion, but Renkinjutsu Satsujin Jiken's use of the location and space for the creation of the mystery reminded me of the better Kindaichi Shounen stories.

The biggest problem I have with this year's volumes is the amount of fanservice it provides. Not the sexual-type of fanservice. But while appearances of him and her and such and so from the series' past can be fun, using it too much just cheapens the experience. It feels like almost every story since the reboot has relied on the nostalgia factor to a certain extent, which is just a shame. Go create new classic characters!

The same holds for Meitantei Conan 70. While I won't discuss it in detail, appearances of both KID and Hattori in a single volume is sort of overkill. Even if both stories are actually quite good. KID's flirt with the Ryouma boom in Japan is kind of entertaining and the Hattori story, which takes its cues from The Hound of the Baskervilles (Sherlock Holmes series) and The Inugami Clan (Kindaichi Kousuke series), is one of the more interesting stories of the last few years! But still, using both Hattori and KID in quick succession just cheapens the experience.

And yes, I decided to discuss manga this time because I couldn't keep up with the one-post-a-week rate. It's not really cheating as I abide to the rules! Trying to finish a (snowy) detective novel before the new year though! 

Original Japanese title(s): 天樹征丸、さとうふみや『金田一少年の事件簿 錬金術殺人事件 上・下』/青山剛昌 『名探偵コナン70』

Saturday, December 11, 2010

"But now I am very humble and I say like a little child: 'I do not know...'"

「密室は、今や黄昏だ。密室は滅びだ。この二つの文字は、もはや、人々の追憶の中にしか存在し得ない。だいたい、密室そのものが、密室にせねばならぬ理由を欠いているのだ。そんな密室が、現代に生き残れるはずがない。」,明智小五郎,『名探偵に乾杯』

"The locked room, it is in its twilight years. The locked room is dying out. Soon, it will only live in the memories of man. Locked rooms often lack a reason to be locked rooms. Such locked rooms can not survive in this day and age." Akechi Kogorou, "Cheers to the great detectives"

And then there were none. Curtain for Nishimura Kyoutarou's Meitantei series. And I will stop with the bad puns now. Ellery Queen's Ellery Queen, Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot, Simenon's Maigret and Edogawa Rampo's Akechi Kogorou have had their share of fun solving crimes together, but there is an end to all good things. The era of great detectives have passed. People don't read detective stories starring great detectives anymore; they long for hardboiled detectives, the normal man as detective! And so the four detectives slowly fade away from existence. And then Poirot demises. Ragnarok for the great detectives.

At the beginning of Meitantei ni kanpai ("Cheers to the great detectives"), Akechi Kogorou hosts a small memorial party on his private island for their recently departed friend. Guests naturally include Ellery Queen and Maigret, as well as Poirot's dear friend Captain Hastings. But un-invited guests also arrive at the island: a small crew of reporters, dragging along a shaman. A young couple happened to have trouble with their boat and somehow managed to swim to Akechi's island. And the most surprising one: a young man who claims his name is Hercule Poirot Junior. A man who claims he is the son of Hercule Poirot and Cynthia Murdoch.

I put the book away at this point. I was hesitating to continue. The chapter preceding Junior's appearance was awkward enough, with everyone debating on whether Poirot had a love life or not. But someone claiming to be the son of Poirot? Who knows what kind of madness Nishimura would come up with in the following chapters?

Junior says he can prove his story with two things. One: he has a manuscript with him written by Poirot, a critical assessment of the detective story. Two: he has inherited his father's little grey cells. Naturally, Hastings doesn't believe a word of Junior's story and in the end, the party decides to communicate with Poirot's ghost through the shaman, to ask him whether he really had a son.

I put the book away for a second time.

During the seance, a murder is commited. Junior comes up with a great deduction, which turns out to be wrong. Akechi, Ellery and Maigret do nothing. A second murder is commited, in a locked room nonetheless. Junior comes up with a great deduction. It turns out to be wrong. Akechi, Ellery and Maigret do nothing. Rince and repeat for several times. And in the end, Akechi solves everything. And an alternate solution for Curtain is proposed.

Yes, Meitantei ni kanpai is a tedious, awful book. Not only was the whole concept of Hercule Poirot Junior ridiculous, it was executed ridiculous too. Why would someone raised by Englishmen in South-America suddenly start using random French vocabulary because he thought his real father was Belgian? Everytime he said mademoiselle, I asked myself why. The rest of the book wasn't any better either. The locked rooms were awful and just like the previous book, the great detectives were reduced to one single entity, The Old Great Detective, who does nothing except for watching other people do stuff. The great detectives really don't show any signs of having a personality at all and it would hardly have mattered whether there were three great detectives present or one.

This is the only book in the Meitantei series that is written in the first person, by Akechi's assistent Kobayashi. Once known as the boy Kobayashi, he has become a middle-aged men with a daughter. Yes, Nishimura tried to draw parallels with Curtain. But the years and especially Nishimura have not been kind to Kobayashi, as he is reduced to an idiot. The boy who once battled The Fiend with Twenty Faces, the Robin to Akechi's Batman, is now a man who is impressed by Hastings' deductions. By Hastings' deductions!  This book is one out-of-character disaster after another.

The series had a good start. Meitantei nanka kowakunai ("Not afraid of great detectives") really was about four great detectives tackling a case togther, each using their own methods. Meitantei ga oosugiru ("Too many great detectives") was kinda busy, with four great detectives and two phantom thieves outsmarting each other, but the story was still focused on them. But Meitantei mo raku janai ("Even great detectives don't have it easy") and this book don't focus on the detectives anymore. Meitantei mo raku janai ("Even great detectives don't have it easy") is a book that laments the disappearance of the great detectives from detective novels, that sacrifices Akechi, Poirot, Ellery and Maigret for the story. And I am not even sure what Meitantei ni kanpai is. It sorta builds on the theme of the previous book, but kinda rejects it through its solution to the locked rooms. Was is it a vehicle to show the alternate solution to Curtain? If so, Nishimura coud have proposed it without imbedding it into a story. But as it is, the Meitantei series has ended in the worst way possible.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

「おそらく君たちは負ける。僕も勝てない。これは完全犯罪だ」

「理論的には考えられても、現実的にはありえない。」
『聖女の救済』
"Even if it is possible in theory, it is impossible in practice"
"The Saint's Salvation")

While I absolutely love 2005's Yougisha X no Kenshin ("The Devotion of Suspect X"), I wasn't really impressed with 2008's Galileo no Kunou ("The Agony of Galileo"). I do still keep my eyes on the Tantei Galileo ("Detective Galileo") series however and with a new Galileo novel finishing its serialization this year (Manatsu no Houteishiki; "A Midsummer's Equation"), I thought it was time to finally catch up with the series. Luckily, I was just one book behind.

So it was time for Seijo no Kyuusai ("The Saint's Salvation"), released simultaneously with Galileo no Kunou. Seijo no Kyuusai is the second novel-length entry in the Tantei Galileo series and as such, I wasn't sure what to think about the book when I picked it up. Should I expect a fine work again, because the previous book was good? Or is the bar set by Yougisha X no Kenshin too high? Yougisha X no Kenshin was a big hit in Japan and stirred up discussions on what a detective novel is and as far as I knew, Seijo no Kyuusai didn't stir up anything.

Seijo no Kyuusai begins when Mashita Yoshitaka, CEO of an IT firm, tells his wife Ayane, a famous patchwork artist, he wants to divorce her. It's been a year since their marriage, but there are no signs of her getting pregnant and that is the only reason he got married in the first place. No kids, no marriage. As they agreed to this before their marriage, Ayane accepts. Before their divorce, Ayane goes to Hokkaidou, back home to her parents to spend a weekend there. It is during her weekend away that Yoshitaka dies due to arsenic poisoning. The most likely person to have commited the murder is of course Ayane, but how was she able to poison her husband in Tokyo all the way from Hokkaidou?

Seijo no Kyuusai is a pretty decent novel. It's an orthodox detective, fairly rare among Higashino Keigo's work, but it lacks the impact of Yougisha X no Kenshin. Like all of the Tantei Galileo stories, this is a howdunnit and like the previous novel-length story, this book does not feature the laser-guided-death-trap methods of killing from the short stories. The exact sciences still set Yukuwa, nicnamed Galileo, on the right track (keyword for this novel: imaginary numbers), but the sciences are like thematic decoration; no actual knowledge of them is needed to solve this mystery. The solution? A simple, yet effective one. If Higashino tries, he is perfectly able to write normal detective novels.

My only problem with the book is the length, as the story is rather drawn out. Which ties in with Higashino's pet peeve themes: women, love and the criminal mind. Many pages of the story are used to flesh out the rather small cast, digging in their psyche like in Uso wo mou hitotsu dake. And by letting police detective Kusanagi fall in love with the suspect, Higashino creates a dual story of Kusanagi trying to prove Ayane innocent, while his (female) junior Utsumi, with the help of Galileo, try to prove her guilt. While the story starts with the actions of Yoshitaka and end with Galileo's deduction, both males, most of the story is driven by the women in this story. As Sugie Matsukoi (2009) posed in an article on Higashino's work "Women are terrifying" is the theme in Higashino Keigo's work. I think gender in Japanese detective novels has been researched before (c.f. Seaman, Amanda (2004). Bodies of Evidence - Women, Society, and Detective Fiction in 1990s Japan. Hawai'i: University of Hawai'i Press), but maybe Higashino Keigo's work might be interesting too.

While not a masterpiece by any means, I enjoyed the book and I hope the third novel in the Tantei Galileo series, Manatsu no Houteishiki will be released soon in book form soon. 

Original Japanese title(s): 東野圭吾 『聖女の救済』

Sunday, November 28, 2010

「ああ、悪魔が来りて笛を吹く。」

悪魔ここに誕生す
The devil was born here

Say "Japanese detectives", and the image of Kindaichi Kousuke pops up in my head. Yokomizo Seishi's post-war creation has been called the first genuine Golden Age Japanese detective, who made his debut in Honjin Satsujin Jiken ("The Grand Mansion Murder Case") in 1946. The locked room murder mystery (much better than Edogawa Rampo's D Zaka no Satsujin ("Murder on D Street")) was praised a lot, which led to many more adventures of Kindaichi. Yokomizo Seishi ultimately earned the nickname of the Japanese Carr, which I personally think is more because of Yokomizo's flair of creating atmosphere, rather than Yokomizo's locked rooms (though he has written his share of locked room mysteries).

Few Japanese detectives I read are as "Japanese" as the Kindaichi series. The Kindaichi series is set after the second World War and often refers to the war. For example Inugami-ke no Ichizoku ("The Inugami Clan") is set right after the war, and the plot revolves around the post-war chaos and soldiers returning from the battlefield. Another characteristic of the Kindaichi series is the use of small, rural communities as the backdrop of the stories. In fact, the Kindaichi series has been a major influence on Trick, where most of the stories also take place in weird, rural mountain villages.

Which in turn makes Akuma ga kitarite fue wo fuku ("The devil comes playing the flute") actually a bit of an exception. As most of the story takes place in good old Tokyo and features several distinctively urban plot points. The story starts with the Tengin Poisoning Robbery case (based on the Teigin Case, also appearing in Ellery Queen's Ellery Queen's International Case Book). One of the suspects is the viscount Tsubaki, but after a long investigation by the police Tsubaki himself reveals he has an ironclad alibi. Not long afterwards though, he commits suicide, leaving a message to his daughter Mineko saying the shame is too much for him to bear and warning her for the devil who comes playing the flute. Months after viscount Tsubaki's death, Mineko's mother Akiko and several others claim to have seen the viscount and fearing the once mild-mannered viscount might have come back to live to take revenge, the whole family, including Akiko's uncle former Count Tamamushi and Akiko's brother Shinguu's family gather around for a seance, to find out whether viscount Tsubaki has really come back to life. Kindaichi attends the seance, which ends when a mysterious mark, dubbed the Mark of the Devil appears on the seance table, followed by the omnious melody The Devil Comes Playing The Flute, a flute song the viscount wrote before his demise. This is just the beginning though, as former Count Tamamushi is found murdered in a locked room the next day, the first in a chain of murders.

And yes, this is just the beginning. Stuff happens. Good stuff. Akuma ga kitarite fue wo fuku is an interesting detective, with a plot that keeps turning around, with new developments making it hard to see where the story goes. But not in a too convoluted way (except for maybe the ending). The story is roughly split in three parts, with the first being in Tokyo, the second in Hyougo prefecture where Kindaichi tries to find the motive for the murders and in the final part, Kindaichi returns to Tokyo. The first and last part are classic Golden Age detective investigative parts, but actually the most boring. The book becomes much more interesting when Kindaichi travels to Hyougo and Yokomizo shows of his gift for creating atmosphere. The people talking with their local dialects, the way of living there compared to Tokyo, the way the story unfolds when in Hyougo, it is truly the best part of the book and Yokomizo's strong point. Back in Tokyo, Yokomizo concludes the story in an impressive way, which only suffers a bit due to the lack of appendices. Maps and some sort of music sheet to show the notes the flute song The Devil Comes Playing The Flute should have been included to make the story a bit more fair (yes, this book is actually great material to base a movie/TV series on. Audiovisual aids to strengthen the atmosphere!)

I also liked how Yokomizo made use of World War II's influence on Japan. The abolisment of the kazoku (nobility) is a big plot point, but how scarcity of food and electricity or even the circumstances in post-war Tokyo make their way into the story in a non-obtrusive, useful way was well done. Yokomizo was better at making a real Japanese detective than Edogawa Rampo I think. While Edogawa's D-Zaka no Satsujin or Nisen Douka ("The 2 Sen Coin") are the first Japanese detective stories that were really set in Japan (featuring a locked room in a Japanese style house in the former and a Japanese code in the latter), Yokomizo was much better in recreating the atmosphere of Japan, as well as more talented in writing classical orthodox detectives.

I am glad I bought a lot of the Kindaichi series, as I really love this series. Too bad it takes so long to read them compared to modern books... 

Original Japanese title(s): 横溝正史 『悪魔が来たりて笛を吹く』

Thursday, November 18, 2010

「ミステリー・マニアの弱さでしょう。考え過ぎてしまう弱さです」

"'You mean these Baker Street societies and all that,' said Miss Lemon. 'Grown men being so silly. But there, that's men all over. Like the model railways they go on playing with.'", "Hickory Dickory Dock"

To my own surprise, I'm actually close to finishing a series of detective novel reviews now. I've been enjoying Nishimura Kyoutarou's Meitantei series ("Great Detective") for some time now, starring four famous detectives, Ellery Queen's Ellery Queen, Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot, Simenon's Maigret and Edogawa Rampo's Akechi Kogorou. And no, Nishimura didn't ask for permission to use them. But ignoring the problem of copyright, the previous two works, Meitantei nanka kowakunai and Meitantei ga oosugiru were quite entertaining, pitting the quartet against the infamous 300 Million Yen robbery and two phantom thieves. So my expectations for the third work were quite high.

Meitantei mo raku janai ("Even great detectives don't have it easy") starts with a group called the MMM ("Member of Mistery (sic) Mania") which invites the four detectives. MMM is a group for people with mystery mania, very fanatic fans of the detective genre. With a critically acclaimed magazine published by them and a rich hotel owner backing them up, MMM is a well known club in the Japanese detective novel world. However, in modern times, the quality of detective novels seem to have fallen and in their desparation, MMM urges detective writers everywhere to come up with a new, modern great detective. And that is why they invited the four great detectives of a time long gone, to promote this event.

It doesn't take long before a young man named Samonji barged in on the meeting between MMM and the four detectives, claiming to be the modern great detective. At which, the head and financial backbone of MMM, Okabe falls dead, poisoned. Thus starts a chain of serial murders, with members of MMM being killed one after another. The four detectives however, do not act. They express their interest for Samonji, saying he might indeed have the skills to be the modern great detective and that they want to see how Samonji handles this case. Which lieutenant Yoshimuda just can't accept, so a battle of wits begins between Yoshimuda and Samonji to solve the MMM serial murder case.

I was actually very excited after the first chapters or so, because a group of detective novel fanatics always make a nice background for a detective. It should also push the writer, as such characters are usually a lot more imaginative and experienced when coming up with deductions and thus the writer needs to come up with something that is truly brilliant (or else a in-story character could have solved it, and there would be no use for a detective).

But there is big however, as the novel was just so badly written, I lost interest halfway. Because of Samonji, the four detectives pretty much do nothing and in fact, they weren't needed in the story at all. In the end, this was just a story of Samonji versus Yoshimuda in a horrible serial murder case. I can understand why you'd confine the suspects to one hallway of a hotel, while you're conducting your investigation. In theory, you can keep your eyes on them much easier. But you'd think you'd at least let one guard guard the hallway. Because you know, you might not want to let the murderer go running from one victim to another, killing them in their rooms. Which he indeed did. Several times. The police placed someone in the hallway only after the fourth or fifth murder.

While the ending was sort of interesting, featuring a triple-layered solution, it was too bad the last solution (of course posited by the four) was impossible to deduce for the reader. Furthermore, the book had to end in a certain way from the very start and while I really hoped it wouldn't be that way, it did. Which made the book very boring, because it was more of a waiting game.

What makes the Meitantei series so much fun, is the gathering of the four detectives, doing their own things. However, in this novel, the four have been reduced to one entity, "the old generation" to contrast with Samonji and one single great detective would have done the job. Of course, putting the four detectives in the backseat, while watching Samonji and Yoshimuda's attempts to take control of the car, is bad too; I read this series to see the four detectives in action. And it could have been such a great work which this setting... I hope the final novel in this series places the four detectives back in the spotlight. 

Original Japanese title(s): 西村京太郎 『名探偵も楽じゃない』

Thursday, November 11, 2010

「俺を信じろ。君の百倍も千倍も頭の良い俺が言ってるんだ!」

「きさまらのやっていることは、お見通しだ!」
-- 決まった!わたしは、心の中でガッツポーズ。
これからは、これを決め台詞にしよう。

"I've seen through the things you're trying to do!"
-- Got'em!
I struck a Guts pose. I'll use this as my finishing quote from now on.

It takes some time to appreciate some authors somtimes. I for one didn't really like my first Nishimura Kyoutarou novel and I still can't really understand his popularity that well, but his Meitantei series is a surprisingly fun series, which really made me reconsider him. Hayamine Kaoru's first impression was close to horrible too. The volumes of the manga based on his Meitantei Yumemizu Kiyoshirou Jiken Note ("The Case Files of Great Detective Yumemizu Kiyoshirou") were quite awful. His second chance wouldn't be years later.

This year is the 10th anniversary year of the Trick franchise, with the movie Trick: Psychic Battle Royale being the main course. Of course, a series as big as Trick had to be celebrated cross-medium. So it was not only a new movie, but we also got a (fine!) videogame, a spin-off series and a novel. While there had been novelizations of previous series and movies before, this time an original novel was released. And yes, it was written by Hayamine Kaoru. But as I am a blind fanboy, I still bought the book. And just hoped for the best. I mean, Trick already has a great cast of clearly defined characters, so Hayamine could pour all his energy in creating a suitable story and let the characters do everything for him.

But that turned out to be wishful thinking. And it began sort of interesting too. Kaerisorajou no Nazo - Trick Seishunban ("The Mystery of 'the Castle returning to Heaven' -  Trick Youth Chapter) is a prequel and is the very first adventure of self-proclaimed magician beauty Yamada Naoko. High school student. Along with three classmates she's invited by her teacher to her teacher's hometown to witness an ancient and rare odori. The village, far away in the mountains (of course. This is Trick) also holds a secret: long ago a mysterious clan led by the psychic Reihime were in control of this area, with every in fear of them and their powers. However one day, the clan seemed to have offended the gods, as their 'Castle returning to Heaven' suddenly disappeared from the face of the earth, together with their treasures. Yet, the town still fears a return of Reihime. Until now it sounds very Trick-like, so that should be good, right? No.

The problem is that is too Trick-like. While I of course want a Trick product to be Trick-like, Hayamine is doing this wrong. Why? Absolutely nothing is original in this book. He writes bits and pieces of Trick-like parts together and I can't even see why they would have needed to ask Hayamine to write this. And Hayamine sticks to the model to a ridiculous extent. While Trick indeed needs both self-proclaimed magician beauty Yamada Naoko and self-proclaimed super physics expert Ueda Jirou to be Trick, it is just plain weird to have them meet in this story, as it is set in the past. Hayamine 'solves' this by saying they did their best to forget each other, but it just doesn't work. This is made even more ridiculous by even having detective Yabe make an appearance, still as patrol-man and not bald yet (he's the type who will get bald fast, everyone comments though). Having 'solved' the problem of getting everyone in the story, Hayamine just ticked off a checklist. Village in the mountain? Check? Legend (involving psychics)? Check. Strange villagers? Check. Gags about Yamada being poor and a bad sleeper? Check. Baldy gags about Yabe? Check. Ueda fainting? Check? Yamada's mother saying writing has mysterious powers? Check. Check. Check.

The only thing Hayamine forgot, was that Trick also has interesting detective-plots. Oh, wait, I guess that was the only part he had to do himself. And I guess my first impression was right. He. Is. Awful. At. That.

While the Trick DS game also got everything on the checklist, the developers at least didn't forget to include an interesting detective plot (and accompanying mechanics!) to actually make it fun. Sadly enough, this novel is only the checklist for making something like Trick. It still needs that something extra to actually make it a genuine fun Trick product.

The good part of the book? I did like the art by Tsuruta Kenji... And I really should watch those last few episodes of Keibuho Yabe Kenzou (Police Lieutenant Yabe Kenzou) to finish all the Trick releases of this year. 

Original Japanese title(s): はやみねかおる 『帰天城の謎 TRICK青春版』

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Murder by the Book

「峰子さんのことを信用しているんじゃなく、信用したいだけだろう?」
『友の助言』

"It's not that you trust Mineko, you just want to trust her, right?"
"A Friend's Word of Advice"

I find most of Higashino Keigo's work to be a kind of guilty pleasure. They almost never comply to the rules of a real orthodox detective, but you can always sense Higashino Keigo's knowledge of the genre and that he is in fact intentionally avoiding the classic model and instead opts to mix it with different themes. The one theme that is pretty much in all his works is love and the consequences of love. The murders in his books are usually quite personal and a lot of pages are spent building his characters. Higashino often explores the mindsets of the criminals and more often than not you will feel some kind of sympathy for them (Yougisha X no Kenshin is a great example of this).

Kaga Kyouichirou series
Sotsugyou ("Graduation") (1986)
Nemuri no Mori ("Forest of Sleep") (1989)
Dochiraka ga Kanojo wo Koroshita ("One of the Two Killed Her") (1996)
Akui ("Malice") (1996)
Watashi ga Kare wo Koroshita ("I Killed Him") (1999)
Uso wo Mou Hitotsu Dake ("One More Lie") (2000)
Akai Yubi ("Red Fingers")  (2006)
Shinzanmono ("Newcomer") (2009)
Kirin no Tsubasa ("The Wings of the Kirin") (2011)
Inori no Maku ga Oriru Toki ("When the Curtains of Hope Come Down") (2013)

His Kaga Kyouichirou series is a somewhat more orthodox detective series compared to Higashino's other works, but is still 'different'. Last time I looked at Dochira ka ga kanojo wo koroshita, which was as a classic a detective could be, except for the fact that the name of the murderer is never mentioned. This time I looked at another book in the Kaga Kyouichirou series, a short story collection to be precise.

Uso wo mou hitotsu dake ("One more lie") collects five short stories involving crime. I don't really want to call the stories inverted detective stories, but that term is probably the closest we have. The stories are more like psychological studies of the criminals than 'normal' detectives. Higashino explores how these criminals cope with their daily life after they have commited their crime, what drove them to their crime and finally, how the police detective Kaga arrests them. In schematics, it might look a lot like Columbo or Furuhata Ninzaburou, but in fact very little is told about the crime themselves and the focus is clearly on the criminal as a person, instead of the criminal as, well, a criminal. They are the protagonists of the stories and just like in Dochira ka ga kanojo wo koroshita, Kaga is more like a figure who only works in the background.

What is interesting though, is that Higashino did came up with murder methods which would have done well in any detective. Some solutions Kaga presented were truly quite entertaining and they would've been great for Furuhata Ninzaburou or other series; however Higashino intentionally wrote the stories so readers can't solve them and thus differs from the Columbo model. It is almost a shame Higashino wrote the stories the way he did and not in a more conventional way, but that is Higashino's M.O., I guess.

Once again, Higashino is close, but not close enough. And yet, I liked this short story collection and I do think the Kaga Kyouichirou series is fun enough to explore. It is easier to recommend than his Galileo series, which can be quite silly at times. 

Original Japanese title(s): 東野圭吾 『嘘をもうひとつだけ』

Saturday, October 23, 2010

『ちなみの家』

「犬を飼っている人に一言。名前を呼ぶ時は「ちゃん」を付けるのは止めてください。「ちゃん」を付けると犬は「ちゃん」までが自分の名前だと思い込んで「ちゃん」を付けないと振り向かない場合があります。犬には…んー…」
『古畑任三郎: 死者からの伝言』

"A word to the people who own a dog. Please stop using the suffix -chan when you call your dog's name. If you use -chan, your dog will think that -chan is part of their name and they might not turn around when you don't use -chan. With dogs... hmm..."
"Furuhata Ninzaburou: A Message from the Dead"

A new translation at last? I had translated half of this story already in Japan, but somehow never finished it. And even though it is a fun little story.

While I have introduced the Japanese drama Furuhata Ninzaburou before, I had forgotten to mention there is also a novelization available. And this is a somewhat rare case, but the original scriptwriter Mitani Kouki actually wrote the novelization. Mitani Kouki is an excellent writer, who is mostly famous for his comedic stage productions and lately, his comedy movies (for example Welcome Back Mr. McDonald, The Uchouten Hotel and The University of Laughs). The style of Furuhata Ninzaburou (and Columbo) are of course excellent for a stage writer, as it focuses on dialogue and few characters. Readers will note that most of the text of the translation consists of dialogue.

Chinami's Home is the novelization of Shisha kara no Dengon ("A Message from the Dead'), the first Furuhata Ninzaburou episode that was broadcast for the first time on April 13, 1994. The novelization is mostly the same as the episode, except for the removal of Furuhata's sidekick Imaizumi from the story. The character of Koishikawa Chinami, famously played by idol singer Nakamori Akina, would be referenced a lot in later episodes in all three series, chronicling her life after this story, and is probably one of the most famous culprits in Furuhata Ninzaburou history.

Anyway, this story introduced the world to the gentleman detective Furuhata and features a dying message. Or does it?  

Saturday, October 16, 2010

「俺は煙草に火をつけた」

「事件が解決して素直に喜ぶものはいない」
『探偵神宮寺三郎:新宿中央公園殺人事件(携帯アプリ版)』

"Nobody is truly happy when a case is over"
"Detective Jinguuji Saburou: The Shinjuku Central Park Murder Case (mobile phone ver.)"

I've mentioned Tantei Jinguuji Saburou here once or twice, but as I've been playing quite a lot of the games lately, why not make a more general post about this awesome hardboiled detective game series?

While not very known in the Western world, Tantei Jinguuji Saburou is actually one of the oldest running game series, having survived many consoles and even development studios, and started in 1987 with Shinjuku Chuuou Kouen Satsujin Jiken ("The Shinjuku Central Park Murder Case") for the Famicom Disk System. The adventure (which featured advanced graphics and sounds for those times) introduced us to the private eye Jinguuji Saburou, a hardboiled detective who operates from Kabukichou, Shinjuku, Tokyo. He's assisted by Misono Youko, a secretary who is fluent in several languages and quite capable of detecting herself. At the beginning of the game, Jinguuji is requested by his old friend inspector Kumano to help solve the mystery of a strangled woman in Shinjuku Central Park.

The game is set in a hardboiled world, with Jinguuji having to confront witnesses in hostess clubs and even the boss of a yakuza group during his investigation. To emphasize his hardboiledness, the game even has a smoke option, which allows Jinguuji to...smoke. And think. But most people just use it to smoke. It's actually one of the hallmarks of the series, with every Jinguuji game having a button solely mapped to smoking, accompanied by "I lit a cigarette".


Despite the hardboiled world though, the plot of Shinjuku Chuuou Kouen Satsujin Jiken actually has more in common with more orthodox detectives, as the biggest mystery is how the culprit managed to leave the body in the park without leaving any footprints. While Jinguuji does solves this using hardboiled methods (including threatening a yakuza boss in his own home!), the case is distinctly orthodox. In later Jinguuji games, the footprints in the snow theme or other orthodox detective themes aren't the focus of the games, but they never really disappear from the games either.

Shinjuku Chuuou Kouen Satsujin Jiken turned out to be quite popular and by now, 15 games have been released in the main series for several consoles and handhelds, as well as about 20 games in a seperate series for mobile phones. Whether he is solving a crime in hometown Shinjuku, neighbouring Yokohama or even somewhere else,  Jinguuji always stays the same though; a hardboiled story that manages to touch you emotionally, great art, great music, GREAT MUSIC and a lot of smoking. Jinguuji even tried to make it to American shores, as Aksys localised the first Nintendo DS game as Jake Hunter: Memories of the Past. He still smoked, but it didn't really catch on. Maybe because the game was now set in fictional Aspicio U.S.A. instead of Shinjuku. 


Because, Shinjuku plays a vital part in the story. A big emphasis is placed on the hardboiled word of Shinjuku on a visual, a spatial, as well as on a social plane in later games. Places like the clubs in Shinjuku as well as other famous places like the Alta TV screen and Central Park are often visited, but the 'shadow' people of Shinjuku like hostesses, yakuza, homeless people and corrupt officals are also often featured in later stories. Actually, a remake of Shinjuku Chuuou Kouen Satsujin Jiken for the mobile phone (as well as for the Nintendo DS) got rid of pretty much all of the plot of the original game, inserting... yes, more homeless people, yakuza and corrupt people in the new story. Whether that's good or bad change, I can't say, but it's certainly different. But in a sense, Shinjuku as a town, as an entity has been a very big factor in the more recent games, somewhat similar to how Shinjuku has played a very big part in Angel Heart. Of course, it's a very romantic image of Shinjuku, the image of dark town with dangers everywhere, which yet somehow charms its inhabitants.

This is somewhat outside the scope of my blog, but the role of environment in games and the interaction with environment is actually quite interesting, be it a totally fictional one (Hyrule of The Legend of Zelda) or like Shinjuku, based on a real location.

Shinjuku as a location also played a very big part in Tantei Jinguuji Saburou Episode Code: Hai to Diamond ("Detective Jinguuji Saburou Episode Code: Ashes and Diamonds") (PSP), the lastest Jinguuji I played. The story begins with the search for the legacy of a recently deceased real estate developer in Shinjuku, but the case will turn out to have ties with kidnapping cases of homeless people, buildings owned by yakuza, corrupt officals and... the infrastructure of Shinjuku itself. A town which has changed immensely since the war and which changes even now and yet maintains its Shinjuku identity. Gamewise, the game features the ingredients you'd expect from a Jinguuji game (smoking! great music!) and this time also features a branching storyline, something I hadn't expected, as the Jinguuji games are amongst the most linear games in existence.

The Jinguuji series will never be the deduction-fest that is Trick X Logic and even something like the Trick game is more orthodox than the Jinguuji series. However, it is The Lady in the Lake in gaming, that is to say, it features well written stories and character, as well as good music and a truly distinctive style make the Jinguuji series something a detective/gamer should at least try.

See you next trouble

Original Japanese titles: 『新宿中央園殺人事件』、『探偵神宮寺三郎Episode Code灰とダイアモンド』

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Armchair Detective

 「実に非論理的だ」、湯川学、『ガリレオ』
'Truly illogical', Yukawa Manabu, "Galileo"

Huh. I hadn't written anything about Carr yet?

Looking at my preference in detective novels, you'd think I'd be a big Carr fan, but I am not. Carr's The Hollow Man and The Judas Window are excellent novels in my opinion, but I just can't get very excited about Carr's works in general. Which is really weird. There are no reasons for not liking him and a lot to like him. I do want to be more enthusiastic about his works, so I'm always looking for the book which will convert me into a Carr-fan.

And I was hoping 13 to the Gallows to be that book when I started reading it. 13 to the Gallows , by Carr and Gielgud, is a collection of 4 plays by Carr en Gielgud, similar to the (excellent!) The Adventure of the Murdered Moths and other radio mysteries (Queen). It should have been the book that would have converted me, as I'm a fan of a) detective novels, b) radio dramas and c) detective radio dramas.

The last two stories in the collection, Intruding Shadow and She Slept Lightly didn't impress much, but I was very taken in by the first two stories, Inspector Silence Takes the Air and Thirteen to the Gallows. Inspector Silence Takes the Air was more Queen-ish than Carr, as the plot revolves around a gun used in a murder disappearing from a BBC studio. The setting of a BBC studio is also used in Thirteen to the Gallows which is classic Carr with a seemingly impossible murder. Both stories are great in their setting, the problem and the solution. And I quite enjoy reading detective plays.

And yet, I wouldn't say this book made me a Carr fan. I will happily recommend this book to everyone (after they've read Queen's The Adventure of the Murdered Moths...), I don't really have any complaints about this book, in fact, it features quite interesting problems. So I like it on a personal level, it's also solid on a more technical level. Heck, this book even features an introduction and notes and everything I get all happy about in book releases. And yet... it didn't convert me. Even after reading this, Carr is just "the writer who has some excellent books among his books" to me.

Therefore I conclude there is some irrational part within me that just doesn't want to get all fanboyish with Carr's work like I am with Queen's work. Or maybe it is rational, as I can only read that many books in this lifetime...

Luckily, I've already ruled the possibility I will ever like Sayers' work (except for Lord Peter Views the Body). I keep trying, but it never, ever pays off. Strong Poison, the last one I read, actually had a simple, yet effective plot. Which had its interesting parts. However, the interesting parts were either in the first chapter or the last chapter. The 20-ish chapters between those chapters were awful. This will be the last time I'll mention Sayers here. I give up on her.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

「むろん、お前はABCをしっているな」

"You have to excuse me, but I've seen you play this routine time and time again. The paper shuffling, the distractions, the talk about your wife, or in this case your broken percolator. If you've got me in your cross hairs, you really have to do better than using all that crap.", 'The Gun that Wasn't', " The Columbo Collection"

Desperately trying to shorten the backlog before a ridiculous amount of books is delivered here from Japan. But I don't really think I'll be able to shorten it significantly. Especially not if I forget which books I have read and which not.

The week started with ABC Satsujin Jiken ("The ABC Murders"), an short story anthology named after Agatha Christie's classic. Like with Y no Higeki, a book discussed earlier, stories in this anthology all play with the theme of Christie's The A.B.C. Murders. Both Arisugawa Arisu and Norizuki Rintarou contributed to ABC Satsujin, as well as Onda Riku, Kanou Tomoko and Nukui Tokurou.

And as I was reading this book, I realised I had actually read half of this anthology before, but I couldn't remember what happened in the stories, so I had to re-read them. However, the fact I couldn't remember a single fact of most stories was indeed a sign the stories weren't that interesting. Maybe I had supressed them in my memories.

Which in hindsight seems plausible. Veterans Arisugawa Arisu and Norizuki Rintarou offer slightly entertaining stories with "ABC Killer" and "ABCD Houimou" ("The ABCD Line"). ABC Killer is closest to Christie's ABC, with a string of serial murders of people who are killed in alphabetic order. "The ABCD Line" starts with a man who keeps confessing to murders (and saying he's responsible for accidents), but whom it was impossible to commit those. Why would someone confess to murders he didn't commit?

Howver, the remaining stories are not interesting at all. Onda Riku's Anata to yoru to ongaku to ("You, the night and music") has an interesting setting, at a radio station, but is a mediocre story. And the strangest part is that it is less of a homage to The A.B.C. Murders, than to Ellery Queen's The Mad Tea Party or The Finishing Stroke. Kanou Tomoko's Neko no Ie no Alice ("Alice of the House of Cats") does revolve around a plot of poisoned cats (yes, in alphabetical order), but is full of distracting Alice in Wonderland references. Which again reminds more of Queen than Christie.Nukui Tokurou's Rensa suru Suuji ("Connected Numbers") is actually bad, with bad pacing in story, a bad plot and bad characters. I won't even bother writing about it.

Compared to the very entertaining Y no Higeki, this anthology is mostly disappointing. The A.B.C. Murders is one of the most famous detective stories ever and you'd think writers should be able to do more with the ingenious theme of the book. And not really related to that, but maybe I should finally start reading Alice in Wonderland.

Luckily I read The Columbo Collection afterwards, a new collection of Columbo short stories! Written by series creator William Link and published by Crippen & Landru, this set of 12 stories revive the old show. In a new setting though. It's hard to imagine the lieutenant using a cell phone. But he does. Still, what is there to complain about a continuation of good old Columbo, who'll keep hounding his suspect till he catches them on one small mistake?

Even though the series stopped many years ago, reading these stories will make you realize Columbo is a series that will never age. While these short stories are indeed short (compared to the 60 till 90 minutes episodes), the psychological fencing between murderer and Columbo is still as entertaining as ever. Looking for the one mistake the murderer made is still as exciting as ever. And everyone will read Columbo's lines with Peter Falk's voice in their heads. It's classic Columbo, in 2010. And it's good. 

Original Japanese title(s): 『ABC殺人事件』/有栖川有栖 「ABCキラー」/恩田陸 「あなたと夜と音楽と」/加納朋子 「猫の家のアリス」/貫井徳郎 「連鎖する数字」/法月綸太郎 「ABCD包囲網」

Saturday, September 11, 2010

「君ね、決め台詞のない名探偵なんて、存在価値がないも同然だよ」

"But what is often called an intuition is really an impression based on logical deduction or experience. When an expert feels that there is something wrong about a picture or a piece of furniture or the signature on a cheque he is really basing that feeling on a host of small signs and details. He has no need to go into them minutely - his experience obviates that - the net result is the definite impression that something is wrong.But it is not a guess,it is an impression based on experience.", Hercule Poirot, "The ABC Murders"

Upon my return, I discovered I had a bigger gaming and detective fiction backlog than expected, so it was nice (and more efficient) to have something that was both a game and detective fiction. Trick X Logic Season One was a game I bought only days before I left Japan (because I have wa~hay too many point cards), but that doesn't mean it was just chosen on a whim. I had been actually looking forward to this game for some quite time.

This visual novel, developed by veteran Chunsoft, caught my attention because many big-name Japanese detective writers collaborated on it. Seven writers wrote ten scenarios for the game, with the reader being forced to solve the mysteries themselves.

The premise: after being pushed off of a building, prodigy prosecutor Yoshikawa Itsuki wakes up in Hell. Where the judge of human souls, Yama, asks Yoshikawa for his help with some unsolved cases. Yama usually reads a record of human deeds, the Akasha, to pass judgement on human souls, but in some cases he can't figure out whodunnit just by reading the Akasha. Hence the need for Yoshikawa's mind. He is to read the Akasha and figure out the culprit. If he cooperates, Yama promises to return him to the land of the living.

Cue the scenarios of the detective writers. Season one consists of 5 and a half stories, being 0) Yubisasu Shitai ("The Pointing Corpse", credited to Chunsoft), 1) Nusumerata Figure ("The Stolen Figurine", written by Abiko Takemaru), 2) Akari no Kieta Heya de ("In the dark room", written by Takemoto Kenji), 3) Yuki furu Joshiryou nite ("At a snowing Women's Dormitory", written by Maya Yutaka), 4) Setsudan sareta Itsutsu no Kubi ("Five Necks Cut Off", written by Ooyama Seiichirou) and the story part (no solution chapter) to 5) Bourei Hamlet ("The Ghost Hamlet", written by Kuroda Kenji). The stories all feature classic detective themes like dying messages, impossible disappearences, cut up bodies and alibi tricks.

In practice, you get to read a story (or for the lazy: listen to a reading of the story!), with no conclusion. Then you select keywords from the text ("He can't read" and "He was seen reading a book"), in order to generate mysteries (the previous keywords might lead to "Why was the man reading a book if he can't read?" for example). This mysteries can be combined with other keywords to solve them, thus creating insights ("It was an imposter" or "He actually can read"). Finally, these insights are used to answer the questions of who- and howdunnit.

It's like a more advanced version of Gyakuten Saiban (Ace Attorney); reading the text you'll find suspicious sentences, which you pursue further. The difference being the scale: whereas Gyakuten Saiban usually gives you 5 pieces of testimony a time, Trick X Logic will give you a 200 page story to find all the clues. And the mysteries and insights you find while reading the story? A lot of them are plausible, yet false. This combination-of-hints-to-produce-hypotheses system is kinda reminiscent of the Trick game (not related), only at a much higher level.

Which is also the frustrating part of the game: at times you'll figure out what happened and how, but have severe problems finding the right combination of keywords out of a 200 page story. It's a complaint I hear a lot about Gyakuten Saiban, knowing what happened without knowing how to activate the story flags to actually proceed. I personally never had any problems with that in Gyakuten Saiban, but let's say that a 200 page version of that is indeed very vexing.

I certainly had fun with this game; the stories were fun, production values are quite good for the budget price at which this game is sold and I am looking forward to the second season. However, at times it was kinda frustating to actually find the right keywords and mysteries within the story to complement the (correct) ideas I already had in my head. Still, I guess this is the closest you can get to a one-on-one conversion of a classic detective novel to a game.

Original Japanese title(s): 『TRICK X LOGIC』/チュンソフト 「指さす死体」/我孫子武丸 「盗まれたフィギュア」/竹本健治 「明かりの消えた部屋で」/麻耶雄嵩 「雪降る女子寮にて」/大山誠一郎 「切断された五つの首」/黒田研二 「亡霊ハムレット」

Sunday, September 5, 2010

A Study in Terror

Something old, something new,
Something borrowed, something blue,
And silver sixpence in your shoe
My backlog is horrible. While I have sent quite some reading materials back home, I was (pleasantly?) surprised to find I had left a lot of reading homework before I left. But as I had already started the book at Hong Kong Airport, I figured I might as well finish Agatha Christie's Secret Notebooks by Curran first.

The book contains as the title sorta suggests transcripts of Agatha Christie's notes on the books she wrote, with Curran commenting on them. While not really interesting for the casual reader, the Christie fans will love the book. It's fun to see how awfully clever Christie was, brainstorming on every available piece of paper in random order. Readers will see how some novels evolved into their final form, or how some plot-ideas were incorporated into other novels.

And the main selling point of the book must be the inclusion of two unpublished Poirot stories! The first one, The Capture of Cerberus is actually the first version of the same-named story Christie wrote for The Labours of Hercules short story collection. The contents are totally different from the published version and while Poirot acts somewhat out-of-character at times, the story makes for an amusing read.

The second short story, The Incident of the Dog's Ball, is as the name suggests an alternate version of the novel Dumb Witness. The main ideas are the same, mainly the incident of the dog's ball, and I think the story works better in short story form than in novel-length, though I am kinda biased towards short stories.

The book is a very entertaining read for the Christie fan, but I can hardly recommend it to other people: the notes spoil a lot of books and it's just not as interesting if you don't know anything about the stories, while the new short stories are entertaining, but not among Christie's best.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Curtain: Poirot's Last Case

地球の上に夜がくる
僕はいま家路を急ぐ
『Bob Lennon』

"
Night is falling upon the earth
I'm hurrying now on the way back home"
  "Bob Lennon"


Back in the Netherlands. Which feels kinda strange. And cold. While I detested the incredibly hot temperatures in Fukuoka, somewhere inside me longed for some old-fashioned Fukuoka weather when I stepped out of Schiphol Airport, walking right into good old Dutch weather of just 8 degrees Celcius. My body also longed for a coat.

And while I'm not really in a writing mood, but I'll just wrap stuff up and seeing my lack of memory, it's better to write while my memory is still at just the hazy state (c.f. to actually forgotten). It'll be Agatha Christie-note style though: totally unorganized, neither chronically, nor thematically and I won't elaborate.

Will update the blog in the future again with detective-fiction posts. When those boxes with books actually arrive here.

But without further ado, stuff that happened somewhere in August:

I. I survived eating the infamous fugu! A friend had bought some and made tempura of it. And it's actually really, really tasty. Now I hope I won't die of the fugu curry I took back to the Netherlands.

II. Went to Busan, South Korea. Which might sound far, but it's actually closer to Fukuoka than Kyoto or Tokyo. While the plane isn't that expensive, we took the boat to Busan, which was a new experience.

Korean food made the most impression. Of which a large, large part is indeed spicy. Very spicy. But oh-so-delicious. And cheap. Busan itself is a nice city too, being built on mountains and having a harbor. Anyway, wanna go again~

III. Somehow managed to finish my research paper...

IV. Finally ate motsunabe and mizutaki. The first actually is a must-eat in Fukuoka. So I ate it. And it was good. I hadn't actually heard of mizutaki till 2 minutes before we ordered it, but was surprisingly good. Not as good as motsunabe though.

V. Managed to actually create a locked room in my kaikan room. Now only if I could actually use it for some reason or another.

VI. Taught Dutch for two weeks. It seems you can count all the Dutch international students in Fukuoka on one hand.

VII. Closing ceremony of JLCC 09-10. Hearing a teacher quote SMAP is weird. Lots of photo-taking.

VIII. JLCC goodbye party ;_;

IX. Somehow managed to pack and send off 100+ kilograms of luggage, getting rid of my TV, kotatsu and other stuff and just getting ready to leave Japan in just two days. I am so grateful the postman acutally came up to the fourth floor to collect my boxes.

X. Lots of farewells at the airport on the first of September, my own departure being on the second.

XI. Just being awesome @ Super Smash Bros. Brawl.

XII. Made pancakes.

XIII. Plane food was actually OK-ish.

XIV. Officials at Hong Kong airport are slightly, but only slightly more polite when speaking Cantonese.

XV. Avoided going crazy at Hong Kong airport by reading Agatha Christie's Secret Notebooks. When traveling, read Christie. The 'new' story The Capture of Cerberus was entertaining enough, though both versions are kinda boring compared to the other stories in The Labours of Hercules.

XVI. Even though we tried, my trusty silver steed couldn't be freed from its chainlock. So in the end I just left him in front of Kaizuka station. Thank you for one year of transportation. And you too, mr. Airco.

XVII. It's the proof of one's love for detective fiction, but the fact I never encountered a murder while a) being a year in Japan and b) having traveled by train, night bus, planes and boats is actually kinda disappointing. Ah well, there was the cut-up body case in Fukuoka...

XVIII. Watched StarCraft and Tekken on South-Korean TV.

XIX. The buses in Busan are scary. It's like Crazy Taxi, only with buses. If you're not standing at the exit one stop early, you won't get out.

XX. Went to the largest department store in the world: Shinsegae ("The new world") in Busan. Yes it's big. They have an awfully nice ikameshi (squid stuffed with rice) there~

And thus the curtain falls on the Fukuoka chapter. 楽しかった。

Monday, August 2, 2010

Murder in the Mews

「最初は湯気のしずくに花火の色が映ったのかと、そのまま見すごしていたのですが、やがて、紅の飛沫は益々はげしく降りそそぎ、彼自身の額や頬にも、異様な暖かなしたたりを感じて、それを手にうつしてみれば、まがう方なき紅のしずく、人の血潮に相違ないのでした。そして、彼の目の前の湯の表に、フワフワと漂うものを、よく見れば、それは無慚に引き裂かれた人間の手首が、いつのまにかそこへ降っていたのです。北見小五郎は、その酔うな血腥い光景の中で、不思議に騒がぬ裸女達をいぶかりながら、彼も又そのまま動くでもなく、池の畔にじっと頭をもたせて、ぼんにゃりと、彼の胸の辺りに漂っている、生々しい手首の花を開いた真赤な切口に見入りました。か様にして、人見廣介の五体は、花火とともに、粉微塵にくだけ、かれの創造にしたパノラマ国の、各々の形式の隅々までも、血液と肉塊の雨となって、降り注いだのでありました」
『パノラマ島の奇譚』

"At first he just looked at it, thinking the drips of dew were reflecting the color of the fireworks. But the scarlet splashes rained down more and more; he himself felt the strangely warm drops on his head and cheek and when he put some on his hands, there was no doubt those scarlet drops were in fact human blood. And when he looked carefully at the thing floating lightly on the surface of the hot spring in front of him, it turned out to be the wrist of a man, cruelly ripped off;
unnoticedly it had fallen down. Amidst that drunkenly blood spectacle, Kitami Kogorou wondered about the naked women who strangely enough didn't panick at all; and he too didn't move one bit, leaning his head on the footpath of the pond, dreamingly gazing at the scarlet fresh wound on the wrist floating near his chest. And thus Hiromi Kousuke's body had exploded into countless of pieces, and it was his flesh and blood that was raining down onto every corner of the Panorama Kingdom he himself had created."
The Strange Tale of Panorama Island


The summer means firework in Japan. And the biggest firework event in Fukuoka, is probably the firework in Oohori Park. Which was yesterday. Luckily, no people who blew themselves up together with the fireworks. Though I was certainly mentally prepared for it.




Somehow, I feel cheated because nobody yelled kagiya or tamaya. The kid behind me did scream tamago (egg) several times though, when the fireworks burst in circle-patterns. Close, but not really what I wanted to hear.

Oh, and also an annoyance when hanami-ing: people who only use half of the space of the giant sheets they lay out to reserve sitting place. Use space more efficiently!