Monday, June 23, 2014

The Last Vampyre

Like a Bloody Storm
熱く Like a Bloody Stone 
『Bloody Stream』 (CODA)

Like a Bloody Storm
Hot like a bloody stone
The ever-floating bonds of pride
that are carved within the blood lineage of destiny
Hold on them tight
"Bloody Stream" (CODA)

I'm finally nearing the end of my backlog book list! That said, 'nearing' is just a relative word: considering the fact I lived off my gigantic to be read stash for more than a year, I could still continue normal business on this blog for months without getting new material.

Mitarai Kiyoshi series
Senseijutsu Satsujin Jiken ("The Astrology Murder Case") [1981]
Naname Yashiki no Hanzai ("The Crime at the Slanted Mansion") [1982]
Mitarai Kiyoshi no Aisatsu ("Mitarai Kiyoshi's Greetings") [1987]
Ihou no Kishi ("A Knight in Strange Lands") [1988]
Mitarai Kiyoshi no Dance ("Mitarai Kiyoshi's Dance") [1990]
Suishou no Pyramid ("The Crystal Pyramid") [1991]
Atopos [1993]
Nejishiki Zazetsuki  ("Screw-Type Zazetsuki") [2003]

Shimada Souji's Atopos starts a while after the troublesome shooting of the film Aida '87. Actress Matsuzaki Reona's new Hollywood adventure is Salome, a musical drama movie she wrote, with some help of horror writer Michael Berkeley. who has just released a new book based on the infamous female serial killer countess Elizabeth Báthory. The Salome project is a troubled one however. Starting with the murder on Barkeley, Tinseltown is struck with one horrifying event after the other: the drowned body of Sharon Moore, an actress in Salome, is discovered, and the baby children (and grandchildren) of several people in Salome's production staff are kidnapped. Some witnesses claim to have seen a bald, bloody monster at the crime scenes, but the police thinks that Reona, who has a history with drugs and a reputation of being mentally unstable, might know more about the case. The police can't prevent the main cast and production team of Salome from going to the Dead Sea for on-location shooting though. But Death seems to have chased the project all the way from Hollywood to Israel: both the mysterious building (with maze-like layout) where the team stays and the gigantic floating movie set in the Dead Sea serve as the background for more bloody murders, with Reona as the obvious suspect (it certainly didn't help her case when she was discovered covered in blood next to one of the victims).

And at around eighty percent in the novel, detective Mitarai Kiyoshi finally arrives to save Reona and explain what happened.

Atopos is very similar to Shimada Souji's Suishou no Pyramid: both novels revolve around the shooting of a film starring Matsuzaki Reona at an isolated location. Both novels feature an incredibly long prelude: you won't reach the main story until half way through the book. And you have to wait even longer for series detective Mitarai Kiyoshi to appear. I am also not precisely sure how I feel about both novels.

You can hardly call Atopos a short book, as it is nearly 1000 pages long. One might call it two books though. The first 400 pages consists out of a novel-within-a-novel: the book about Elizabeth Báthory by Michael Berkeley. It's bloody horror amusement and quite captivating if you're interested in these kind of famous crimes in history (Nikaidou Reito's Jinroujou no Kyoufu similarly told the story of Gilles de Rais amongst others. But then again, it also featured Nazi Werewolves). But... this narrative about Báthory is actually not really related to the main story of Atopos. The novel-within-a-novel is just to strengthen the atmosphere of the book, suggesting that Matsuzaki Reona might be possesed by the same sadistic bloodlust as the countess, but it's kinda overshooting its goal. To put it in perspective; most of the full novels I review on this site, are shorter than this novel-within-a-novel. A bit of background information and the creation of a setting/atmosphere is good, but this is just too much. But it's entertaining, I'll admit: Suishou no Pyramid did the same thing, but I didn't care for the narrative-within-a-narrative there at all.

So when you have gone through nearly half of the book, you finally reach the main story (the filming of Salome at the Dead Sea). There are quite some murders in this part of the book, with the impossible murder where someone of the staff is impaled on the sword sticking out on top of the floating movie set the most eye catching one: with no cranes in the neighbourhood and no real means of climbing the set (unless you deconstruct the set), nobody could have placed the body there. Another murder is a semi-impossible situation: only Reona could have commited the murder of one of her fellow actresses, but she denies having done so. The murder was commited in the strange building the staff found all ready for their stay right next to the Dead Sea, with a four distinct wings and a maze-like interior: the building is incredibly strange, so as the reader you know something is wrong with it and that it has to do with the murders, but even if you realize that, it's next to impossible to deduce its role in the grand scheme of things (also: compare to the mysterious 'tofu' structure in Onda Riku's MAZE).

I liked how all the murders were connected to one daring solution: even though the murders took all kinds of forms, you could all bring it back to one common factor. However, that solution is quite farfetched and nobody would think of it. In that respect, Atopos really resembles MAZE. And I say Atopos is ridiculous having read other books by Shimada Souji like Naname Yashiki no Hanzai and Suishou no Pyramid, so I know how absolutely crazy (and awesome) Shimada's solutions can turn out to be: but Atopos's main revelation... well, it's not coming out of completely nowhere, but really only Mitarai Kiyoshi could have arrived at the solution based on those hints!

Atopos is very similar to Suishou no Pyramid in terms of set-up and execution, but my feelings towards them are precisely the opposite: I liked the main story and the locked room situation of Suishou no Pyramid, while I thought the first, narrative-within-narrative part of the book almost a waste of my time. On the other hand, I quite liked the first, narrative-within-narrative about Elizabeth Báthory part of Atopos, but I am not that big a fan of the mystery (and its solution) presented in the main story. In general though, Atopos does a better job at presenting itself as one coherent narrative though.

Original Japanese title(s): 島田荘司 『アトポス』

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