Monday, July 30, 2012

「ぼくは言った。犯人は・・・ぼくだ」

「犯罪は『芸術』なんかじゃない!!・・・・どんなきれい事で飾ろうと、犯罪は悲劇しか生まないんだ!!」 『金田一少年の事件簿: 蝋人形城殺人事件』
"Crime isn't art! No matter how you dress it up, crimes only bring forth tragedies!"
"The Case Files of Young Kindaichi: The Wax Puppet Castle Murder Case"

Finally saw the live action Detective Conan TV drama special Kudou Shinichi -  Kyouto Shinsengumi Satsujin Jiken ("Kudou Shinichi - Kyoto Shinsengumi Murder Case") broadcast earlier this year, part of last year's Kudou Shinichi e no Chousenjou drama starring Mizobata Junpei and Kutsuna Shiori. The first half was a fairly faithful adaption of Shinichi's First Case (though they still managed to mess up canon!) while the second half was an original story about a murder on a movie set of a jidaigeki. There was a sorta interesting locked room trick there, definitely better than most what we've seen of the current TV drama production team, but I still can't stand the cast of the TV drama series! Oh, and things get way out of hand when I think that this famous scene of Captain Tsubasa is less ridiculous than what Shinichi does in terms of kicking stuff in this special! 

But enough about that. In better news: Kamaitachi no Yoru is actually getting an English release! I absolutely love the Kamaitachi games (see my thoughts on the first and second game), so quite excited to see the reception of a game that blends so expertly a mystery novel with an actual working game system! Oh, and this brings me to the main topic of this post. Games!

Meitantei Conan - Akatsuki no Monument ("Detective Conan - Dawn's Monument") for the GameBoy Advance is a very flawed adventure game featuring our kid detective. Which is a bit of a shame, because the story is actually quite good. Mouri Kogorou is asked to investigate rumors of the 'suicide village', which say that a whole town commited suicide. A gigantic hotel-apartment is built on the place the village used to be, and the owner of the building, Fujii Hidemi, thinks she was deceived by the construction company by not being informed about those rumors before investing in the building. Mouri and the gang arrive at the hotel disguised as guests at the opening reception, when suddenly a man falls from the top of building down on the main stage of the reception hall. And this is just one of the many, many murders (including locked room ones!) that are commited that night.


Like I said, this game is very flawed. It starts with the game-system which ties all actions to a time-limit. Doing something wrong depletes your time limit meter and running out of time means having to restart the chapter. The problem here is that everything costs time. I have seen this time-limit system quite often in adventure games when you are asked a question (forcing you think fast when answering), but it really makes no sense to give time limits to all actions, including examining items and changing locations. Why would I run out of time by going to the window?! Why am I punished for re-examing something, just because I wanted to re-read the description?! It means that you basically have to know exactly what to each chapter, as one or two mistakes usually means that you have to start all over again.


Removing almost all of the player's freedom also means that this hardly feels like a game at times. If I can't choose my own path anyway, I might as well read a book! I mean, the music isn't that great either! And no review of this game would be complete without refering to the awful, horrible, terrible mid-section of the game, where you are forced to interrogate twenty four suspects. All of them. One after another. And they all have basically nothing to tell you. You are forced to ask every suspect for their alibis for every murder (like I said, there are multiple murders) and because it would make sense to make this into one question ("What's your alibi for the murders"), you have to ask every suspect their alibis for every single murder ("What's your alibi for the A murder?", "What's your alibi for the B murder?" etc.).Twenty four times. And some other questions too. This part easily ranks amongst the top 3 bad game sequences of all games I've ever played. And I've played quite some games.

The story of the game is quite interesting though, with locked room murders and even a great alibi trick I've never seen before (but sadly enough, this also translated to a very bad game experience). The murderer is quite easy to guess though and I have to admit, this story felt less like a Conan story, but more like a Kindaichi Shounen story. Which brings me to the next game...

I haven't actually played this game (heck, I don't even own a Sega Saturn), but I am definitely tempted to get a Saturn and Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo - Hoshimitou - Kanashimi no Fukushuuki ("The Case Files of Young Kindaichi - Stargazing Isle - The Sad Monsters of Revenge"), having seen several awesome playthroughs of this game. This is naturally an adventure game based on Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo, but the twist here is, and I think that this is a first, that you actually play as the murderer! Yes, none of that waiting until a murder happens and slowly gathering hints until you get to reveal the identity of the murderer: here you slowly plan your murder and try to get rid of all the evidence! Can you outsmart the grandson of the famous detective Kindaichi Kousuke?!

It is sort of an inverted mystery, in the sense that you see all the events leading up the murder and the consequent investigation, with the big difference here being that you are trying to avoid the final confrontation with the great detective where he points out the little mistake you made. The concept is really original and actually perfect for Kindaichi Shounen. Yes, nearly all of the murderers in the series commit their crimes because of some great tragedy they had to undergo because of their victims and this is getting a bit stale after 20 years, but to literally see it from the other side: it's really a great motive to commit all these murders. Making things personal always works for these kind of stories.


As you start the game, you get to choose between two scenarios, which are related and play out like alternate universe versions of each other. In both stories a party is held on Stargazing Island, with guests like the idols Hayami Reika and Nagisa Chiharu, as well as some people from the press and of course Hajime and Miyuki. But there are potential murderers amongst the guests too (depending on which scenario you choose): the 'disappeared' idol Nao, who had to leave the showbizz world after getting involved a made-up scandal by some scheming journalists and Takuya, the fiance of Nao's manager who commited suicide after the scandal. Having found out that those responsible for the fake scandal are present on the island you, as either of the persons bent on revenge, try to get in to the Hall of Fame of Kindaichi Shounen murderers.

The game develops as a normal adventure game, where you have to collect information and make the right choices to advance the story. For example, you can get information useful for coming up with an alibi trick by talking to another person, or you might find out some useful habits of your victim if you choose to interact with him or her. The only difference here with a normal detective adventure is that you're the murderer now, but that makes it that much more fun. The meaning and impact of Hajime's catchphrases like In the name of my grandpa! or the murderer is among us! really changes when you're on the other side of things and whereas it usually gives a feeling of relief in the original manga, hearing those words here makes you think only one thing: GAME OVER.

The game is actually full of bad endings, which are not just simple game over screens. You have a range of possible murder methods for the victims, but while there is only one 'good' murder method per victim, the storylines featuring 'false' methods are developed quite comprehensively, each having its own denouement scene with Hajime and it might take quite some time for the player to notice that the murder method itself is wrong, rather that he is doing something wrong while committing the murderer. It sure lengthens the playtime, but in a natural and amusing way, as seeing Hajime solving the case doesn't feel like a 'normal' game over. Such game over scenarios are technically nothing more than orthodox inverted mysteries and thus feel 'complete' and not really as a game over. Compare to when you would play the detective and then fail to solve the case!


And the concept is worked out in hilarious ways too. Whenever you get a game over screen, one of your 'murderer' seniors, i.e. murderers featured in the series, give you hints on how to progress, almost mimicking the senior-junior relation we see in the series between Hajime and Saki (1 and 2). And because of the way the game is set up, you win when you succeed in killing all your victims without being found out. Which leads to the problem of someone else being caught as the murderer. Which is both scary and hilarious at the same time.

This was the only Kindaichi Shounen game to utilize this concept, but I sure wish there would be more of these games! Yes, there are tons of games where you kill people, but it is seldom this private and personal. It might feel a bit strange to take up the role of a planning murderer, but it really works in the world of Kindaichi Shounen.

So, with all this Kindaichi's 20th anniversary stuff, a new drama special and a new anime special... can I ask for a new game too?

Original Japanese title(s): 『名探偵コナン 暁のモニュメント』, 『金田一少年の事件簿 星見島 悲しみの復讐鬼』

Saturday, July 28, 2012

「僕にも誰かを愛せると、その手を重ねて知らせて」

「誰にも理解されず。 誰にも理解を求めず。 他人を頼らず己を頼み。自分を食い潰しながら生きていく」
『クビキリサイクル』 

"Without understanding anyone. Without asking anyone for understanding. Relying on no one, relying on oneself. Living on while living off one self"
"Deheading Cycle

If I were to plot a graph of when I make posts here against when I am busy with exams and papers, I think it show that I actually tend to post more often when I am busy. My theory: I am usually quite lazy and good at doing absolutely nothing in my free time: so when I actually have to get active (because I have to write papers / study), I also tend to read more books / write more posts. Or I am just good at not studying.

While stories like Issunboushi were considered full-length novels at the time of their publication, contemporary readers regard them more like novellas. Therefore, Edogawa Rampo's Kotou no Oni ("The Demon of the Lonely Island") is now commonly seen as his first real full-length novel. It is also often regarded as one of his best, if not his very best novel, an opinion I don't share completely, but I can certainly see why readers would regard it as such. Originally serialized in 1929, Kotou no Oni starts with our narrator Minoura, a young, not particularly attractive man, falling in love with his co-worker Hatsuyo, who returns his feelings. Their relation is not completely without troubles however, with the biggest problem being Moroto, a well-educated doctor-friend of Minoura who harbors amorous feelings for him. Moroto seemingly tries to sabotage Minoura and Hatsuyo's relation and it should not come as a big surprise that Minoura suspects Moroto of being a murderer when Hatsuyo is one day found murdered in her house. A completely locked house.

Minoura asks his friend Miyamagi, an amateur detective, to investigate the murder of Hatsuyo and it doesn't take long for Miyamagi to discover a truly inferious plot surrounding Hatsuyo's murder. But before he is able to tell Munoura more about the case, Miyamagi is murdered. On a public beach. During the day. Surrounded by families who had come for a sunny day on the beach. And under the watchful eye of Miyamagi. Who is this monster who is able to murder people like that in impossible circumstances!

And this was just the first half of the novel. Things get really weird afterwards. Which is to be expected from Rampo. What starts out as a fairly orthodox detective with two murders commited under impossible circumstances, evolves into a science-fiction boys adventure mystery with sexual deviant themes. And I have to admit. It works. I have no idea how Rampo pulled it off, but it somehow _works_. Kotou no Oni is as chaotic and deviant as the themes it addresses, incorporating pretty much all the motifs Rampo used in his stories, including orthodox detecting, people hiding in stuff, sexual deviance, physical impairments, secret codes and treasure hunting, abnormal fixations, Japanese architecture, public showing of murder (victims), 'circus freaks' and a lot more, but it does not break despite all this weight.

Though I have to admit that I was quite surprised by the way Rampo played with the amateur detective trope. The amateur detective is a character who is featured a lot in Rampo's stories and even Akechi Kogorou started out as nothing more than an amateur with a knack for analytic reasoning. The way Miyamagi gets killed off early in the story is actually quite shocking, as he was presented as a really gifted amateur detective, who did not differ from Rampo's other amateurs (who don't get killed off).

Anywy, Kotou no Oni works despite its chaos, and that is definitely largely because of Rampo's writing style. I somehow forget it every time, so I get surprised every time I pick up one of his books, but Rampo was a master in storytelling. The conversations, the 'spoilers' he gives you to entice to continue reading, the mysterious events that pique your interests, the way the story keeps on evolving, it might not be suited for a real orthodox detective, but it sure keeps your eyes glued on the pages. You would hardly guess that it was pre-war literature (and yes, there is a much more profound difference in pre and postwar Japanese fiction in terms of writing style compared to English fiction).

I liked the first half, with the impossible murders, the best. Here Rampo sticks quite strongly to the orthodox detective model and while the locked room murder of Hatsuyo slightly resembles another famous story by him, I do consider it an interesting locked room trick if one realizes when and where Kotou no Oni was written. The beach murder works actually wonderful in conjunction with the Hatsuyo murder, because the the solutions to the murders, while completely different, really do rely on the same hint and the moment you realize the solution of one murder, you see the implications for the other murder. In that sense, Rampo really succeeded in connecting the two murders, instead of just writing stuff just as he was going (a tendency he has shown quite often in the past). The solution to the two murders is revealed at the end of the first half of this novel, also signalling the change in tone of the novel.

The second half moves away from the orthodox detecting and we are introduced to a swashbuckling science fiction adventure on the titular lonely island. Kotou no Oni was one of the major sources for the movie Horrors of Malformed Men, so people familiar with that infamous movie might not be surprised to hear about stuff like an island full of physically impaired people and ideas like one half of a Siamese twin falling in love with the other half. We also have a treasure hunt inside the caves under the island and an evil mastermind called Otottsan ("Father". No, no that Father). This is Rampo really giving in to his grotesque writing mode (as opposed to his orthodox detective writing mode), but like I said before: the shift does not feel too abrupt. Abstractly seen, Kotou no Oni actually follows Rampo's own evolution as a writer, from orthodox detective stories to more grotesque stories (that still rely strongly on a mystery theme). But the two parts definitely make up one whole and the little details spread over the two parts that comprise this story also shows that Rampo did actually plan this story up to a certain extent as a whole.

For those interested in a more academic reading of Kotou no Oni, there is a paper written by Reichert (‘Deviance and Social Darwinism in Edogawa Ranpo’s Erotique-Grotesque Thriller “Kotō no Oni”", see the attic) which addresses the themes of (sexual) deviance in the novel. It spoils everything of the novel though, so only for those who don't care about being spoiled, or those who are not planning to read the novel anyway.  Which also brings me to the question: I am pretty sure that this is a fairly early example of modern detective fiction that addresses homosexuality, but is the earliest? I mean, it is not just hinted that Moroto is gay, he is without a doubt presented as a man having strong romantic and sexual feelings for Minoura. Rampo is often quoted as a writer whose work features homosexuality, but Kotou no Oni is as far as I know the only story where it is not just simply implied (c.f. Issunboushi, which starts with an 'enigmatic' meeting between two men in a park which features a lot of hinting).

I wouldn't recommended Kotou no Oni as a detective story, but this novel is definitely Rampo. It features pretty all of his major themes and motifs (excluding his adolescent fiction, of course), but it doesn't feel as chaotic as you would expect it to be. In fact, for a Rampo novel, it feels remarkably as a whole and I can definitely see why people would rank Kotou no Oni as one of Rampo's best works.

Original Japanese title(s): 江戸が乱歩 『孤島の鬼』

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

『鍵のかかっていない部屋』

「《水冷式重機関銃二百連発、ただし暗殺部隊!》みたいなっ!」
『クビシメロマンチスト』

"Like '200 continuous hits fom a water cooled heavy machine gun, but by an assasination squad!'"
"Strangling Romanticist"

A friend reacted surprised when I told her that I play several videogames at the same time (as in, I don't need to finish one game before I move on to the next one) and then I realized that I have the same habit for books. In general, I read several books at the same time. For example, the last few days I have been switching between novels of Arisugawa Alice, Ayatsuji Yukito and Edogawa Rampo. Well, and Akutagawa Ryunosuke for a paper. But yeah, in general, several books at the same time. Is it just me? But now for something completely different.

I think I read Higashigawa Tokuya's Chuutohanpa na Misshitsu ("A Half-Finished Locked Room") over a month ago already, but for some reason or another, I kept postponing writing the review. Which is the longest time between reading a book and writing the review for it ever since I started this blog. And I'm not even sure what caused this enormous time lag. Because this short story collection, featuring the first five stories Higashigawa wrote isn't that bad. On the other hand, it is nowhere close of being called a masterpiece either though. Which might be what kept me from my review: the book just doesn't invoke enough passion with me to really laud or bash it. It's like the title, chuutohanpa, neither fish or fowl. And I totally copied that last expression from my dictionary.

The titular story, Chuutohanpa na Misshitsu ("A Half-Finished Locked Room") is Higashigawa's debut story and naturally features a locked room, a trope Higashigawa uses quite often. The mystery of a company president found murdered in a locked tennis-court provides for an interesting problem: why was the tennis court, an incomplete locked room because one can simply climb over the fence, locked? Did the murderer lock the tennis court after he left it? Or was the tennis court locked from the beginning and did he go through all the trouble of climbing over the fence to get in and out of the court? If so, why didn't the victim himself flee by climbing over the fence? The story is presented by the two protagonists who discuss this strange case they see in the newspapers and already we see Higashigawa's trademark comedy style (and his love of misleading readers and his own characters alike). This story is quite short, but features some interesting observations about (semi-) locked rooms and we also have an inkling of Queen-ish logic behind the explanations of the strange murder scene.

Minami no Shima no Satsujin ("A Murder on A Southern Island") presents us to the duo of Binchan and Nanao, two students who will act as the Holmes and Watson for the remaining stories in this collection. Binchan and Nanao receive a letter from their mutual friend Kashiwabara who has gone on a holiday to a southern island. Their friend explains that he got involved with a murder there and he implores Binchan (because Nanao is useless) to solve the case for him to get him out of trouble. Binchan (and Nanao) have to deduce the case based on the letter their friend wrote with all the details, which makes for an interesting story, but not really fair. At least, there is one great trick hidden in this story, that forms the key for the remaining deductions that lead to the murderer, but I think the trick would be very hard for most readers to see through and it was definitely impossible for me. I just lack the 'expert' knowledge to see through that trick. The story does show very well Higashigawa Tokuya's writing style and these two opening stories are definitely my favorite of this collection.

Take to Shima ("Bamboo and A Corpse") has Binchan and Nanao trying to come up with an explanation for a very strange article they found in a 1936 newspaper (which was to be sold at the old bookstore Binchan works at). A dead body was found hanged from a bamboo tree. SEVENTEEN METERS UP IN THE SKY. Was it murder? Suicide? And how, and why would one hang a body seventeen meters high?! A fun story where Higashigawa plays around with several plausible explanations before he reveals the correct one, which unfortunately again relies on information that might or might not be present with the general public.

Kawashibara has another problem he wants solved by Binchan in Juunen no Misshitsu, Juppun no Shoushitsu ("A Locked Room Ten Years Old, A Disappearance In Ten Minutes"), which means another deduce-the-explanation-based-on-his-letter story. Which, by the way, was totally unnecessary I think for this story. Anyway, Kawashibara has gotten involved with a girl whose father died in a locked outdoor atelier ten years ago and he accompanies her to her old home, the place where her father died, which is now currently the home of her uncle. The girl wants to know the truth about her father's death and decides to investigate the atelier annex, but the annex literally disappears before Kawashibara's eyes as he was looking at it from the main building during a snow storm. How does a building disappear in the snow in ten minutes? Not a big fan of this story, as it features a trick which just seems a bit implausible. Like always, there are only that many variations on the disappearing building/train/etc., but this was certainly one of the harder to believe ones. And like I said, there was no need at all for this story to be told in letter-form, so that felt a bit distracting.

But nothing beats Arima Kinen no Bouken ("The Adventure of the Arima Kinen") in terms of disappointment. There might have been disagreeing opinions about this book and Higashigawa in general when discussed this book at the Mystery Club, but we could all agree that this story was bad. There is something about a murder and a suspect having an alibi which involves him having seen the Arima Kinen horse race live on TV, but the 'trick' used in this story is way too easy to see through. It is not only a dated trick (already dated when Higashigawa wrote this story!), but the same trick was also used in a minor Conan story much and much better by building upon it. It is amazing that this story was the only story in this collection that was written by Higashigawa after he became a pro (the previous four stories were all written before he became a fulltime professional writer), because this was definitely a bad story. Not even in terms of this collection. In general, I mean. And I have to admit that Arima no Bouken is the reason I haven't read Higashigawa for a while now. Yes, I know his later stories are better (hey, I've read loads of them by now!), but still, the aftertaste of that story is unbelievable.

And no idea what the next review will be. Like I said in the introduction, I always read several books at the same time, so it's even to me always a surprise which book will be finished first!

Original Japanese title(s): 東川篤哉 『中途半端な密室』: 「中途半端な密室」 / 「南の島の殺人」 / 「竹と死体と」 / 「十年の密室・十分の消失」 / 「有馬記念の冒険」

Sunday, July 22, 2012

A Study in Scarlet

今はわからないことばかりだけど
信じるこの道を進むだけさ
どんな敵でも 味方でも構わない
この手を離すもんか
真っ赤な誓い
『真っ赤な誓い』 (福山芳樹) 

There is still a lot I don't understand
I can only move forward on this path I believe in
No matter the enemies or friends I will come across
No way I will let go of
This blood-red oath! 
"Blood-Red Oath" (Fukuyama Yoshiki)

As always, I tend to do a lot of other things when the time for actual study arrives (test/paper period), so instead of working on my Akutagawa Ryuunosuke paper of 10.000 characters, I decided to read a book I had been sitting on for almost 4 months. Though I really, really should start on that paper now, with just a few days to go... (I am working through the notes for my paper and studying for a kanji test as I am writing this, so please forgive the many, many typing errors that are bound to pop up! Will try to fix the worst of them later...)

Ayukawa Tetsuya, or Ayutetsu because Japanese people like to abbreviate everything, is one of the grand masters of post-war orthodox Japanese detective fiction and the fact that I haven't even mentioned his name even once until now on this blog is actually almost embarrasing. No idea how that happened. Anyway, Ayakawa is especially known for his alibi deconstruction stories (starring police inspector Onitsura) and thus a lot of his stories have a distinct Croftsian tone to them, I said knowledgably even though I've only read one Crofts story in my whole life. But for some reason I chose to Akai Misshitsu - Meitantei Hoshikage Ryuuzou Zenshuu 1 ("The Red Locked Room - Great Detective Hoshikage Ryuuzou Complete Collection 1") to be my first encounter with Ayukawa, which is actually a short story collection focusing on locked room mysteries, instead of alibi deconstruction. And it features the private detective Hoshikage Ryuuzou, instead of Onitsura. I never seem to choose things representative on this blog...

Though Jubaku Saigen ("Reconstruction of the Spell") is sort-of representative, as it is the draft / short story version of Lila Sou Jiken, one of Ayukawa's more famous novels. Seven students visit a villa in their summer vacation in Kumamoto, when one day they discover a card saying that O-tsuga's curse (a local legend) will kill them. And indeed, they start getting killed and for some reason, playing cards are left near the crime scenes. Famous private detective Hoshikage Ryuuzou takes up the challenge of solving this case.... and fails. It is up to the down-to-earth inspector Onitsura to find out who has been killing the students.

A weird story to rate. Maybe it should feel grand because of the two detectives,  because this is a very lengthy short story, but I have to admit, I was quite bored the first half of the story. It was pretty clear what was going on early on in the story and I had actually sorta given up on the story, when suddenly the name of the murderer was given two-third into the story. The remaining part of the story was reserved for the deconstruction of an alibi, which was actually way more fun and interesting than the first two-thirds of the story. I would say that the latter part of this story really makes it worth of going through the rather predictable early parts of the story. And I have to admit: I still get excited whenever I see Kyuushuu dialect in detective stories!

The titular Akai Misshitsu ("The Red Locked Room") refers to an university autopsy room (and the red brick building it is situated in), where one day the dismembered body of one of the autopsy assistents is discovered. The building served as a double locked room, so how was the murderer able to get in to murder the poor girl? Akai Misshitsu is a neatly constructed locked room mystery, but technically resembles another famous locked room mystery very much, which removes much of the surprise of this story. But it is really well-constructed as a short story, with just the right length to give the reader material to work with, without feeling too bloaty for a short story (like the previous story). Not a difficult or surprising locked room mystery, but expertly written.

Kiiroi Akuma ("The Yellow Devil") is not about a super-difficult boss from the MegaMan series, but about a stripper, who was found stabbed to death in her bathtub in her locked bathroom. She had been threatened by someone calling himself the Yellow Devil for some time now, but how did the Yellow Devil disappear from the bathroom? Mostly a gathering of several familiar tropes of detective fiction, but I have to admit that some of the foreshadowing / hinting in this story was very good.

Kieta Kijutsushi ("The Disappearing Magician") is also not especially exciting, even though it's about a magician who seemingly disappears from a locked room situation after shooting one of his assistants (oh, and don't forget that he poisoned another assistent while doing a 'disappear-from-a-box' trick earlier) . Sounds more interesting than it is, as it is too easy to solve and not particularly well written or structured. But I have to admit: it was hard to lay down because a lot happens within a short amount of pages.

Youtouki ("Record of the Monster Tower") is the shortest story in the collection and I quite like the story, even though it's very easy to solve. Rampo-esque storytelling quickly introduced the reader to the Eye of Shiba, a famous jewel that is supposed to have been lost during the war. The two protagonists suspect that the jewel on top of the turban of a local performing yoga practitioner is the Eye and they practically kidnap the man in order to retrieve it back for Japan. But afraid of the man's yoga powers (Yoga Flame? Yoga Teleport?), they decide to call the police, but not after having tied him up inside an old lift. Which also boarded up. And also raised. Just to make sure he wouldn't disappear. But of course, the yoga practitioner did escape. But how? Like I said, very easy to solve, but I really liked the way the story was told and it was an effective story for the short amount of pages.

But this collection's real gem is Doukeshi no Ori ("The Clown's Prison"). During an interview session by two journalists of a local jazz band at thei base of operations, the singer is killed in her bathtub in her room on the second floor. By a clown. The clown was seen leaving the building by the (tied-up) maid through the backside exit and entering the tunnel right behind the band's building, but witnesses on the other end of the tunnel swear that nobody came out of the tunnel! I really liked this story not only because it once again shows that clowns are evil, but also because it was a really well constructed story, that even if it may rely on what some might consider coincidences, works great. This could easily have been a longer story and still be fantastic, but to pull it off as a short story really shows Ayukawa's gift for constructing great mysteries.

This was just my first encounter with Ayutetsu, but I really liked his style of constructing stories. Even though this collection focuses on locked room situations, it was pretty easy to see that Ayukawa Tetsuya's main love lies in alibi constructions, as half of the locked room mysteries in this collection are mostly based upon the intricate description of character movements during a short span of time and the observation by witnesses of said movements. Jibaku Saigen's Croftsian alibi deconstruction sub-plot was also very interesting and I am tempted to read more of Ayutetsu's 'proper' specialty.

Oh, and one might have noticed that I hardly mentioned the series detective Hoshikage Ryuuzou. He is... just there. He is supposed to be a bit like a Vance-type, but he mostly just appears at the end of the story to explain what happens, with little to nothing to really make him stand out. It's like giving up on a difficult math question and asking the computer to just give the answer to you. He might be different in later stories, but in this collection, he hardly made any impression on me. Well, besides the whole failing part in the first story.

Overall an entertaining collection though and I am defnitely more excited now to read more Ayutetsu. And now to get going on my Akutagawa paper.

Original Japanese title(s): 鮎川哲也: 『赤い密室 名探偵星影龍三全集1』: 「呪縛再現」 / 「赤い密室」 / 「黄色い悪魔」 / 「消えた奇術師」 / 「妖塔記」 / 「道化師の檻」

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

"En route, ladies and gentlemen for - Murder."

"...he thought in despair: 'She's one of Them!' For Inspector Cockrill was setting out upon a Conducted Tour of Italy and ever since, his money being paid and withdrawal now impossible, he had received the assurance of the travel agency that he would find delightful friends among his fellow tourists, he had been contemplating their coming association with ever-increasing gloom. 'She and all the rest,' he thought. 'They're Them.'"
"Tour de Force"

Three months in Kyoto have convinced me that people like to stand in line for restaurants a lot more than people in Fukuoka. And as someone more accustomed to Fukuoka-rituals than the ones in Kyoto, I still have an aversion to standing in lines for food. But still, those long lines do suggest that the food is good. So our plan was to simply be the first in the line, cutting the waiting time. So we picked a soba restaurant that always has a long line waiting in front for it and arrived  a bit before opening time. We got in safely, had a nice dinner, went out. And then we discovered that there were actually always two lines here; a modest one for 'our' soba restaurant, but most people were actually standing in line for the ramen restaurant next door. Next time, Gadget!

What this has to do with the Christianna Brand's Tour de Force? Nothing at all. Really. I've been relatively good lately, but some people might remember that usually the introductions to my posts are not related to the main topic.

So yes, we continue our streak of English fiction on this blog. But a bit differently this time. Luckily. I read Croft's Mystery on Southampton Water in Japanese (even though I could have easily read it in English), and the same holds for The Misadventures of Ellery Queen, though it has to be mentioned that there is no English equivalent for that release. But Christianna Brand's Tour de Force, I actually read in English. How rare! I really think that I'm the only one who reads the English books in the Mystery Club room. Anyway, my first encounter with Brand and Inspector Cockrill was through the excellent movie Green for Danger and I had seen the title Tour de Force mentioned earlier as a good Brand, so I opened the book with quite some expectations. And then I sneezed, closed the book again and washed my fingers. And the book. Clearly, the book had certainly not been cleaned of dust for many, many years.

Having booked a tour to Italy for his holiday, Inspector Cockrill is forced to spend his days with his fellow travelers. Which consists of a widely varied group, including a fashion designer, a writer, a piano player who lost his arm, accompanied by his wife and many others. The group enjoys and suffers in the ways you would expect from such a tour; great sights to see, but also problems with bad hotels and bad meals being served. And then, the tour arrived at the island of San Juan el Pirate, where Vanda Lane, one of the members of the group, is murdered in her hotel room. Most of the members of the tour being away on an excersion luckily narrows down the circle of suspects, but it just happens that all the suspects were on the beach during the time the murder was commited and they were all within eyesight of Cockrill!

As I only saw the movie version of Green for Danger, Tour de Force was the first time I made contact with Brand's prose, but I have to admit that I had troubles going throug the book. There is a certain witticism to Brand's writing I really like and there are quite some quote-worthy passages in the book, but there is just something to her writing that really made it hard to read for me. Maybe because there were few dialogues / direct lines spoken by characters? Not sure, but it made an excellent story a bit hard to really enjoy. It makes me a bit weary of starting with Death of Jezebel, which I know is regarded as Brand's masterpiece. I can easily get my hands on a Japanese copy, but just the thought of reading Brand's prose again, but in Japanese.... *shudder*

The prose was a shame though, because Tour de Force is really fun. The busman's holiday (and island) setting reminded me of Christie's Evil Under the Sun, which is never a bad thing with me. The varied types of members is something you'd expect only to see in... the Orient Express. Like I said, there are some funny passages and observations in the text that described a really plausible tour with all its problems.

But that was not all, as the puzzle plot is quite interesting too. Brand comes up with a whole series of possible solutions and plausible scenarios that explain who could have killed Vanda Lane and the presentation of these 'solutions' is actually quite natural seen in the context of the story developments (as opposed as the sometimes rather forceful presentation of a false solution in a Queen story). At any rate, these solutions do make you doubt what is real and what's not, which makes Tour de Force the more interesting.

And the final solution is really memorable, as the lead-up to it is done very well. It's a bit of a shame I've seen a very similar plot in the final episode of a TV series I like (which I won't specify anymore in fear of spoiling anything for anyone), where it was also done a bit better I think, but still, Tour de Force is worth a recommendation if you wanna read a very compentently constructed murder mystery.

All in all a good mystery which is certainly recommendable to anyone who enjoys a great puzzler. Unless you don't like Brand's prose.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

"All the Queen's Men"

暗い霧のただ中
求め捜せ
真実(まこと)の道
神話の中で繰り返される戦い(バトル)
『女神の戦士 ~PEGASUS FOREVER~』(Marina Del Ray)

In the middle of the dark mist
Look and search for
The road of truth 
The battles that have been repeated in legends

I like how I never seem to do what I say I'll do in my posts (like I mentioned here). So I might say that it is a bit silly to read English fiction in Japanese and that I should read more in English, but I'll still read English fiction in Japanese. Short story: I am not to be trusted.

Though I have a semi-excuse for today's review. For The Misadventures of Ellery Queen (or Ellery Queen no Sainan), an anthology featuring Ellery Queen pastiches, parodies and homages is actually not available in English! Sure, all but one of the stories collected here were originally written in English, but this is the first time they have been collected in a neat single release. In Japan! Been able to read Japanese, I've been able to get my hands on some (translated) English novels rather easily, but I had never expected that I would come across a Japanese-exclusive, English-based Queen volume! So I had actually been waiting for the release of this volume for quite some time now as a Queen fan. In fact, I had been waiting for so long, that I had actually forgotten about it! Which explains why I'm a month late with my purchase. And review.

Anyway, The Misadventures of Ellery Queen is a handsome (and also very expensive) hardcover release and is edited by Iiki Yuusan, chairman of the (Japanese) Ellery Queen Fanclub. Iiki wrote introductions to every story, explaining his reasons for selected the story in question and presenting all kinds of story regarding the original publication, the writer(s) and the relations to Queen-dom.  Iiki also added a probably fairly complete list of (English) Queen pastiches at the end of the volume, which might suggest a future volume? But back to the current volume. The Misadventures of Ellery Queen is divided in three sections: pastiches, parodies and homages, with the pastiches definitely the highlight of the volume. I wasn't too big a fan of the parodies, as they became a bit too silly at times and the homages were a hit or miss too for me, but I had quite some fun overall with this volume. Though I will admit this right now: there are just too many stories here, so I'll discuss most stories only briefly.

Part I: Pastiches

We all know about those undisclosed cases mentioned in Dr. Watson's stories. Queen himself addressed the disappearence of Mr. James Phillimore in his radio-play Mr. Short and Mr. Long. Francis M. Nevins Jr.'s Open Letter to Survivors [1975] in turn is based on a undisclosed case mentioned in Ten Days' Wonder regarding the will of Adelina Monquieux. Our unnamed detective visits the infamous Adelina, who has three sons, a triplet, who look exactly the same (and who are convieniently named Xavier, Yves and Zachary) and a niece. According to Adelina's will, they will all inherit a great sum of money if she is to die and another great sum of money is to go a hospital to treat the victims of the atomic bombings in Japan. But if her safe is opened within 24 years after her death, the money intended for the victims is to go the Flat-Earth society

And of course Adelina is killed. The story is distinctly Queen-ish, with several plot-devices often used by Queen utilized here (though I am not mentioned them by name for a reason) and a logical explanation of the events by the unnamed detective as if by Queen himself. Also funny is the way the suspects are named, as Queen, in his Puzzle Club stories, also often gave his suspects easy to understand names (initial letters ABC, or XYZ etc).

I have to admit that this is the first time I've ever read a story by Edward D. Hoch. Which seems like almost impossible, seeing his output. But still. The Circle of Ink [1999] concerns a series of seemingly indiscriminate murders, with the murderer leaving an ink circle on the hands of his victims. What connects these victims and will the police be able to stop this serial killer? The search for a missing link in a serial murder case. Yes, this should sound familiar. The result? A very entertaining short story that reminds of the latter period Queen. Those in the know, should be able to guess some of the plot twists coming, but that doesn't make this story less fun. A lot happens actually in this story, but it never feels too rushed and I really love the way the murders are connected (in a way).

I was less a fan of Hoch's Wrightsville Carnaval [2005]. Maybe because it was set in Wrightsville, maybe because the story was a bit too easy and not really... Queen-ish. Though in my mind, a lot of the Wrightsville stories don't feel Queen-ish, so that might be right. Anyway, Queen has not visited Wrightsville for years now and is surprised to see how much has changed (and to hear how many of his acquaintances have died). But one thing hasn't changed: people die when Queen visits Wrightsville. I would usually write more detailed about the story, but I have the feeling that the solution would become rather clear if I were to do that. At any rate, the story is set in a very modern world (everybody uses mobile phones), which might feel a bit strange at times, but if I allow Columbo to use one...

The Japanese Armor Mystery (日本木製鎧甲之謎) [2005] by Ma Tian is the only story here not originally written in English. Iiki notes that the story feels a bit like a Japanese New Orthodox story, which I sorta understand. And sorta don't understand. Anyway, the problem for Queen to solve: why was there a man dressed in a complete Japanese war armor in the garden? And why would one murder a elderly sick man who was going to die soon anyway? The somewhat weird murder scene of man in armor reminds a bit of the early Queen novels, but yes, there is something distinctly New Orthodox to this story. Which is actually not a bad thing, nor a strange thing as the New Orthodox school was originally a direct offspring of the Kyoto University Mystery Club's Guess the Criminal short stories, which in turn were often inspired by Queen-ish stories. The Japanese Armor Mystery is a bit easy to solve though and might have been better in a novelette form, I think.

The Book Case [2007] (Dale C. Andrews and Kurt Sercu) is the most recent story collected in The Misadventures of Ellery Queen and the most meta of the pastiches. An elderly Queen has to solve the death of Djuna's son and his colleague. The latter was found murdered in his room, with a pile of Ellery Queen novels on the floor keeping him company. Is this a dying message that means Queen himself did it? Of course not and there is an absolutely good reason why there's a pile of Queen novels besides the victim. Besides the meta-reason of course that the writers are clearly Queen-fans who wanted to mention all the Queen novels in their story. I am not too big a fan of the super-elderly Queen described here (the elderly Queen described in Nishimura Kyoutarou's Great Detectives series feels a bit less physically helpless), but this is a great story overall. It gets kinda modern near the end of the story though and the solution kinda asks for specialist knowledge, or expects you have read the Detective Conan volumes that were released a bit before the release of this story that surprisingly enough feature a similar plot point, but this is great meta-fun.

Part II: Parodies

Ten Month's Blunder [1961](J. N. Williamson) features detective Celery Keen in a dying message story. What does the word FAN written in blood indicate? The set-up is a classic, three suspect, elimination-style story, but as this story is filed in the parody section and not in the pastiche section, you can bet that this is not a straight serious story. It's actually reasonably entertaining, but as often is the case, the interpretation of a dying message can be troublesome, if it refers to somewhat specialist knowledge.

The strongest impression Arthur Porges' The English Village Mystery [1964] made on me was when it mentioned that twelve of the fourteen inhabitants of the titular village were murdered in a serial murder case. That doesn't leave many suspects for Celery Green to investigate! The solution is a playful take on a Queen staple trope, but one that really doesn't work in a Japanese translation, sadly enough.

Dying Message [1966] does not really feel like a Queen parody, in my mind, except for the fact that Norma Shier wrote this story under the name Leyne Requel (an anagram of Ellery Queen), who is also the detective in the story. Schier plays a lot with anagrams here and Ellery Queen (Dannay) himself added an editor's note at the time of this story's publication in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine (EQMM) explaining all the anagrams Schier hid in the story. I don't really like this story as a meta-mystery, as it features the kind of meta-solution I don't like (not even in meta-fiction!), but it might be of interest to someone else.

Jon Breen's The Idea Man - C.I.A. Cune's Investigatory Archices Plagarism Department [1969] is a somewhat surreal dying message story starring E. Larry Cune, but the main attraction of this story is the way Breen manages to insert many, many references to Queen and (mystery) fiction in general in just a few pages. Once again, something that might be of interest to others.

Oh, I already used 'surreal' for Breen's story. Not sure what to use for David Peel's The Cataloging on the Wall [1971] then, as this story is even more bizarre. Grotesque maybe. It features Quellery Een, a librarian/drug addict/writer/editor/detective/and more who has to find a replacement for his dead secretary (whom he himself killed). The story was written for the April Fool's edition of Wilson Library Bulletin and despite having a Challenge to the Reader, probably unsolvable unless you're as crazy as Quellery here. Not my cup of tea, but I can understand why one would like this story though.

Whodunit? [1976] (J.P. Satire = Peter David and Myra Emjay Kasman) is my favorite of the parody section. Not because of the solution or something like that, because that wasn't that surprising or original (it might have been at the time though). No, this story is fun because it's a crossover between Star Trek (the original series) and Ellery Queen. The TV show of Ellery Queen, starring Jim Hutton. James T. Kirk is found murdered (burnt to death by a phaser and margarine!) in his quarters, leaving only the dying message Uhu and Ellery, inspector Queen and Velie have to find the murderer among the crew of the USS Enterprise! The setting is bizarre, but it is definitely written as an 'episode' of the Ellery Queen TV show, complete with the story beginning with several dialogue cuts featuring all the suspects and a Challenge to the 'Viewer' (?)! Near the end, the story becomes more relient on Star Trek-fandomania (and this is still a parody story, so don't expect it to be too serious), but this was still an entertaing story. But weird. Definitely weird.

Part III: Homages

The Case of the Stuttering Sextant [1974] is a parody on a true crime story by Baynard H. Kendrick, with Clayton Rawson having added an introduction and footnotes in the spirit of Ellery Queen (Dannay), the EQMM editor. The story itself was not that funny, but I loved Rawson's take on Queen, the editor, complete with very, very detailed footnotes questioning Kendrick's style of writing.

The African Fish Mystery [1961] (James Holding) takes it cues from Author, Author, the radio program where Dannay and Lee acted as Mr. Ellery and Mr. Queen. Guests were presented with an enigmatic situation, for which they were supposed to think of (deduce) an explanation for. Martin Leroy and King Danforth are our replacement Dannay and Lee here, who are on a world trip. In Africa, they are told by their driver that a previous customer became a wealthy man after being driven by him, as his customer was told that he inherited a fortune when they came back from their tour. Martin and King however think the story sounds too great to be true and they start to come up with their own explanations for the sudden increase of wealth of the man. Great fun if you're familar with Author, Author!

Dear Mr. Queen, Editor [1963] (Marge Jackson) is written in the form of a letter to Queen, the editor, like the title suggests. The author tells Queen about the murder of a husband and hints at a future murder, with the editor Queen not sure what to think about the letter. It's a short story and the conclusion is rather predictable, so it hardly leaves an impression, to be honest.

E.Q. Griffen's Second Case [1970] by Josh Pachter is a story in a series featuring the family Griffen, with all the children of the household being named after famous detectives. And like the name suggests, this story features the second case starring Ellery Queen Griffen. And as a Queen homage, we naturally have a dying message. What is the meaning of the message 123 the hippie-cum-children's book writer murder victim left behind? As a dying message story, it is pretty fun and fairly clued at, and the idea of having all these 'famous detectives' running around in one house is actually quite interesting, so I might want to read more stories of the Griffen series.

But the greatest story of the homage section has to be Drury [???] (Steven Queen), which is also a very effective Misery parody. One of the Queens cousins gets involved in a car accident and is found by Annie, who also happens to be Barnaby Ross's greatest fan (and she hates Ellery Queen). Having found the name card of Barnaby Ross among her patient's possessions (thus finding out that he is Ross), she tells 'Ross' that she is not happy with the conclusion of Drury Lane's Last Case and forces him to write a continuation that suits her taste.

This is really a funny story, because it plays perfectly with the confusion that arised from having the two cousins playing both Ellery Queen and Barnaby Ross in radio shows and the moment Annie begins to think that her patient Ross is actually Queen is both terrifying and hilarious at the same time! The continued stories of Drury Lane are also good for a great laugh, and while Drury does contain heavy spoilers for Drury Lane's Last Case, I can only recommend this story!

Like I said, not too much a fan of the parody section, but I loved the pastiche section and some of the homages stories were very good too. Overall though, this is a very nice release and a must-read for Queen fans. If they can read Japanese. That might prove tobe a small problem to some though. In the afterword, Iiki gives a bibliography of more (English) Queen pastiches and I really hope that the future will bring another volume!

Original Japanese title(s): 編訳: 飯域勇三 『エラリークイーンの災難』

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Troubled Waters

「東京に行きたいんだよ」
「でしたら、12時38分発、特急はやぶさ2号に乗ってもらって、一旦に京都で降りてください」
「えっ、一旦降りるの?」
「え。降りたら、すぐに東京行きの東京トンビが来ますけど、それを敢えて見送って、次のマックスはげたかで東京に向かえば、アリバイはばっちりだと思います」
「西村京太郎か?!お前」
 『もどりな窓口』 

"I want to go to Tokyo"
"Well, please first take the special express Hayabusa 2 departing at 12.38 and get off at Kyoto."
"Get off?"
"Yes. Get off there and then the Tokyo-bound Tokyo Tonbi will come, but don't get on that train, but take the Max Hagetaka that comes next to Tokyo. Your alibi will be perfect!"
"Do you think you're Nishimura Kyoutarou?!"
"The Greenish Counter" (Sandwichman Sketch)

Like I said last week, I like spending time in the Mystery Club room as it beats having to cycle back and forth from and to my room. But there is one big drawback of being in the club room. All of my clothes start to smell of katori-senko. Seriously, I've been forced to wash my clothes more often because of the distinct smell that sticks to my clothing. On the other hand, it is probably better than getting stung by mosquitoes...


Mystery on Southampton Water is actually the first Crofts I've read, and consequently the first Inspector French novel I've read. And despite the novel feeling immensely British, I've read it in Japanese. Anyway, the story starts with the people of Joymount Cement Works having severe financial troubles, being slowly pushed out of the market by a new, better and cheaper cement produced by rival company Chayle. King, chief scientist of Joymount, tries to replicate the formula for the new cement, but all of his experiments end up in failure. So as his last resort he decides to break into the Chayle factory to steal the formula. King comes up with a perfect plan to enter Chayle, complete with ablibis and such and together with one of Joymount's directors, Brand, he manages to break into Chayle.

However, they are surprised by a watchman, Clay, and accidently kill him. King quickly comes up with a plan to make the watchman's death seem like an accident and the next day, King and Brand are sure they are free of any suspicion. That is, until chief inspector French enters the scene, who suspects that Clay's death might not have been an accident and starts to sniff around Joymount, but is not able to proof anything. Unlike the directors of Chayle themselves, who have strong suspicions (and possibly even evidence) of King and Brand's guilt and they start to blackmail Joymount. How are King and Brand going to get out of this pinch?

My first Crofts and I thoroughly enjoyed it. But I have severe troubles pointing out what I liked about it precisely. Was it the inverted mystery at the beginning of the story, that detailed King's plans to infiltrate Chayle and the subsequent plans surrounding Clay's death? Was it the police procedural of the second part starring French who finds all kinds of little contradictions that pile up to one big suspicion? Or is the third part, which features the blackmailing of Joymount by the Chayle directors and the fact that a new (non-inverted!) mystery is added to the story? No idea, but I at least know that the story's tension never slacked and that I was entertained from start to finish.

I do think that the different parts I just described make up for a large part of this novel's entertainment. It is not only the inverted mystery and the police procedural parts (and the added 'non-inverted' mystery part), it is also how the atmosphere changes from a (company) spy thriller to a more familiar police investigation, back to a thrilling blackmail scene. While there are actually few events in the story, the way it is written makes it feel like an amazing rollercoaster that keeps surprising you.

And as I am writing this, I still have no idea how to explain better why this was so entertaining. The text is quite dry, there is very little that actually happens, there is certainly a 'echo-ing' effect of plot-elements that might seem redundant as we see both the crime itself and the subsequent police investigation, but still, I can't but be positive about Mystery on Southampton Water. Which is really bothering me, because there is really little I can point to that supports my stance on it. There are no locked rooms here, no challenges to the reader, no logic-chains that point to the one and only murderer, no particularly rememorable settings, nothing cultural-specific, no meta-discussions, no linguistic games, no Greek mythology, no courtroom scenes, no phantom thieves, no writer-detectives, no mitate murders, none of the things I usually point to. So why do I like it? No idea, but Mystery on Southampton Water was definitely a fun introduction to Crofts.

Though I guess I should read Crofts in English. Which would be a lot more easier actually. This reading English fiction in Japanese is getting a bit silly now.

"It all happened on the 11:20 from Hainault, to Redhill via..."

「降りること止めることも出来ずに今日も昨日揺られ、
ああ、夢なんて、昔どこかに描いた落書きだ」
「ファイティングポーズの詩」 (馬場俊英)

"Shaking through today and yesterday, unable to get off or stop,
Aa, dreams are just scribbles made in the past"
"Fighting Pose Song" (Baba Toshihide)

In the Netherlands, I spend quite some time in trains to go to my university. Heck, on bad days, I spend more time in trains than in classes. In Tokyo, my main means of transportation, besides my two feet, were also the trains, which is still an experience I will never forget. It is hard to forget how insanely crowded the trains are in the morning. Heck, I wasn't even always sure whether I could get off at my station, because people just wouldn't, and some couldn't, move out of the way inside the compartments so people could get to the exit. I kinda miss sitting in the train talking with people now, as I cycle everyday to campus, but memories of Tokyo do help realize how much better a bicycle is.

Anyway, trains. I have a friend who is a self-professed train-fan. I never really understood it, but then again, I guess being a fan of detective fiction is also strange. The funny thing, trains, or any means of transport and detective fiction have always had a strong connection. Just think of the many, many mysteries set within trains. Like Tsukidate no Satsujin ("The Tsukidate Murders"), a 2005-2006 one-shot manga penned by Ayatsuji Yukito and illustrated by Sasaki Noriko. 18-year old Karigaya Sorami, raised in Okinawa, has never ever set foot inside a train, because of her mother's strange aversion to them. Now her mother has deceased and Sorami's estranged grandfather wants her to visit him in faraway Hokkaidou. To get to her grandfather's mansion, Sorami has to travel with the luxary express Genya, departing from Chiseppu to Tsukidate.

The Genya is comprised from couches from the Orient Express and the trip will take one night. There are 6 other guests invited by Sorami's grandfather who also travel by the Genya with Sorami, all of them train fanatics and all of them having different 'specialties' within the field of trainology. They are all set for a wonderful night on the train, mimicking the grandour of the guests on that fateful night of that famous Orient Express mystery. And of course, having made all these allusions to Christie's classic, you can be sure something is going to happen. During the night, one of the guests is found murdered within his locked sleeping compartment. Was it the work of the train fanatic murderer who has been active lately?

I have to admit, I had no idea that this was a train oriented manga when I purchased it. I really just went for the name Ayatsuji Yukito. It seems that a lot of the editors at the magazine this story was serialized in are in fact train-fanatics, which is why they commissioned such a story. Anyway, it is almost surprising how much you'll learn about the many types of train-fandom as you read this story. Railway table fanatics, item collecting fanatics, photo fanatics, history fanatics, modelling fanatics, 'experience' fanatics, I really had no idea there were so many kinds of train fandoms. Quite a lot of background research has gone into this story and it's pretty interesting to read.

As for the detective plot, it shows a lot of potential halfway through, but ends up being rather easy, sadly enough. The story starts out a bit slow, but becomes quite interesting with the (first!) murder, it being commited on a running train and inside a locked sleeping couch and all. And then, at the halfway point, something incredible is revealed that acts as a double-edged sword. On one hand, this plotpoint does make it feel more like an Ayatsuji Yukito story, and feels original, surprising and it makes you doubt everything you've read until now. On the other hand, the moment this plot point is revealed is also the moment that the right solution becomes very visible, rendering the latter half of the story as merely filler. I actually think that not revealing the important plot-point, but instead hinting at it and incorporate it into the final conclusions, would have made this a much better story. There were also some 'lucky' breaks for the murderer that seemed a bit too lucky to be convincing.

Finally, I said I liked the train fanatics setting, but one problem was that despite all of the characters having different specialties, they ended up being very similar. Maybe it's because I am an 'outsider' and just see them as a homogeneous group ('the train fanatics'). Maybe the characters of Jukkakukan no Satsujin feel homogeneous too for 'outsiders'. But having these characters saying the same things the same time isn't going help in establishing them as seperate characters. Especially not if half of the them, they are meant as comedy fodder (this is actually quite a funny manga and there is a distinct light-hearted tone to it). Having them act more as different characters would certainly have made for a more thrilling story and it reminds me of how awesome Murder on the Orient Express is with its different kind of characters interacting with each other.

Tsukidate no Satsujin is a competent one-shot murder mystery. It is very train-fandom heavy, so that might be a selling point (or not at all) to some people. It won't go into history as a manga-mystery classic, I think, but it is worth a read if you can get your hands on it. I don't think it's available as an official English release, but there are quite some manga availabe in English from Ikki Comix, so maybe in the future?

Original Japanese title(s): 綾辻行人(原)、佐々木倫子(画): 『月館の殺人』(上下)