Thursday, October 31, 2013

Halfway House

「 あの翼があるから鳥だといい、牙があるから獣だといった、どっちつかずの話に出てくるあの蝙蝠ですか?」

"Do you mean the bat, that animal nobody can decide what it is, as some people call a bird because it has wings, while some people call it a beast because it has fangs?"

I aim at a minimum of four posts a month, but maybe I should also work on spreading the posts a bit, so it at least seems this blog has a regular schedule. Anyway, number four on the last day of the month, so just safe. November should be a bit more active.

Today, Nagai Rouka ga Aru Ie ("The House with the Long Hallway"), another audio drama based on a short story in Arisugawa Alice's Writer Alice series. When criminologist Himura Hideo and writer Arisugawa Alice aren't somewhere (like in Malaysia) solving crimes, they actually have work. Himura teaches as Kyoto's Eito University and it is one of his students, Hibino Hiromitsu, who stumbles into trouble. Wandering in the mountains of Kyoto, examining genkai shuuraku (highly depopulated towns; near ghost towns) for his thesis, Hibino gets lost. As the sun starts to fall, he finally finds a little house with the lights on. Inside, he finds three people from the occult magazine Black & White, who are working on an article about a ghost that appears in the house. Hibino is invited to stay with them for the night and offer to give him a lift back tomorrow. He accepts, and takes an interest in the work of the reporters. The ghost is said to appear in a long, underground hallway which connects the house to another house a bit further away. The hallway is cut in half by a door which can be locked from either side.

No ghost appears that night though, and Miyamatsu Takeyuki, an expert in the occult, who should have come, also fails to appear. Anyway, the reporters, and Hibino, spend the night drinking and talking and when dawn breaks, they take one more look at the hallway. But for some reason, the door in the middle is locked from the other side, and when they enter the hallway from the other house, they discover Miyamatsu, dead, leaning against the door. According to the police, the man must have been killed around the time Hibino and the others had been drinking, but Hibino swears no-one left the small party long enough to have been able to go to the other house, into the hallway, kill and lock the door, and go back all the way over the mountain. But on the other hand, the door was locked from the other side, and it seems there is no way possible of tampering with it from this side. The problem that Himura and Alice has to solve is thus whether this was an alibi trick, or a locked room trick.

Like I mentioned in the review of the audio drama of 46 Banme no Misshitsu, some types of stories are better suited for an audio adaptation than others. Locked rooms, especially those that rely on some mechanical trick, are a hard one to pull off effectively in an audio drama for example (which is why the audio drama of Carr's The Hollow Man doesn't really work...). And I still have to have the pleasure of hearing one, but I would love to hear an audio drama with an audible clue. But taking this thought of locked rooms back to Nagai Rouka ga Aru Ie, do I think the story works?

Yes, oh, yes! Because the main problem of Nagai Rouka ga Aru Ie isn't about solving a locked room. it's about figuring out what kind of trick was used in the first place. Was it an alibi trick, or a locked room trick? Figuring out what happened in the first place is actually something I enjoy very much, and while the set-up was different, a highly popular novel by Higashino Keigo basically also plays with this kind of trope expectation. I think I mentioned in the review of Higashigawa Tokuya's Koukan Satsujin ni Mukanai Yoru that knowing the type of trick in advance can ruin a story, but Nagai Rouka ga Aru Ie is more like a meta-story, since it plays one level above where most detective stories are. The double layered story ( 1. What is the problem? 2. How to solve the problem?) works pretty good as an audio drama, and is a solid story (regardless of medium) overall.

Nagai Rouka ga Aru Ie also has a distinct yakata-mono flavor, something I hadn't seen in Arisugawa's works since 46 Banme no Misshitsu (though that may be because of my choice of reading). The two houses connected by a creepy hallway, somewhere deep in the mountains, a ghost haunting the place (the majority of ghosts in Japan are actually female, by the way). You'd almost think you'd walked into one of Ayatsuji Yukuto's novels. Which is seldom a bad thing.

In short, a fun story which works quite well as an audio drama. It's actually a pretty deep story because it is basically playing around with genre tropes, making you guess (deduce) what kind of story it is, making it a good, slightly meta-mystery.

Arisugawa Alice's audio dramas:
46 Banme no Misshitsu
Swissdokei no Nazo
Yaneura no Sanposha
Zekkyoujou Satsujin Jiken 
Nagai Rouka ga Aru Ie
Original Japanese title(s): 有栖川有栖 『長い廊下がある家』

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