Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Double Purpose

Judge not, that ye be not judged.
"Gospel of Matthew 7:1" (King James tr.)

I don't really keep tabs on writers and new releases actually, not even of writers I do like. I just make random searches once in a while. Of course, this means I actually have to remember to make those searches. And that's why I only noticed today's book more than six months after its release (and it's also about six months between me writing this review and it being published online...)

Kamiki Raichi is an attractive senior high school student who practices enjou kousai ("compensated dating") as a part-time job: in theory, compensated dating does not need to mean more than that older men are paying attractive women for their companionship, but in the case of Raichi, she is definitely prostituting herself. That is the reason why Raichi wasn't that surprised when she got a letter from the owner of Sakai Machinery together with a maid costume. While the letter states that Sakai Touzou wants to hire her as a maid for a week, she suspects it's just some man who wants to hire her for her sexual services for a week, with her pretending to be a maid so the people around him won't notice her true identity. But when she arrives at the Sakai mansion in the outskirts of Tokyo, she realizes from the reactions from everyone there that Sakai Touzou did not send that letter at all, and that for some reason, everyone in the house is playing along with the fake letter. Raichi knows something is up, but even she couldn't have guessed that one of the persons in the house would be strangled to death in his room. At the same time, we're also introduced to senior high student Todai Kouhei who lives in Saitama. Having finally found the love of his life in Misaki, he manages to sneak inside the house of his girlfriend and have sex with her for the first time, but is then caught by the father, who has him arrested: Kouhei had mistakenly assumed that Misaki was older than him. And that means he had sex with a minor. Kouhei is taken away by the police in total disbelief to what has happened, but he could never have guessed at the curious link between his crime and the murders at the Sakai mansion in Hayasaka Yabusaka's Dare mo Boku wo Sabakenai ("Nobody Can Pass Judgement On Me", 2016).

Hayasaka Yabusaka made his debut as a mystery writer in 2014 with Marumarumarumarumarumarumarumaru Satsujin Jiken ("The ???????? Murder Case"), which first introduced us to Kamiki Raichi: a high school student prostitute who likes to solve crime as a hobby. That novel, as well as the short story collection about Raichi released afterwards, were quite unique for their focus on sex as a genuine part of the mystery. Sex sells, the saying goes, so often sex is only used in mystery fiction to 'spice things up'. This practice is especially often seen in screen adaptations of mystery fiction. In those stories, sex often has no function in terms of the mystery plot. Sex however is an integral part of the mystery plot in Hayasaka's Kamiki Raichi series. At times, the descriptions of Raichi's sexual adventures might appear surprisingly graphic, but it's always with a cause. From subtle hints to ingenious ways in which they link up with the mystery: the erotic touch to this series is never there just to be erotic, but always a vital part of it as a form of mystery fiction. As puzzle plot mysteries, the books in the Kamiki Raichi series are definitely well-plotted and much, much more than just sex (Sexual descriptions are also a bit toned down in this novel compared to the previous two volumes).

In this third novel in the Kamiki Raichi series however, Hayasaka tries his hands at something new. Traditionally, the puzzle plot mystery has been juxtaposed against shakaiha mysteries, or the social school. The social school of mystery fiction places emphasis on natural realism, and on exposing the problems of actual society. The Stereotypical Shakaiha Mystery would start with the discovery of a woman strangled in her apartment room and a hardworking police detective eventually discovering that she was murdered by her lover, who is also a director of a company, because she figured out he was buying off government officials. This is of course quite different from the romantic image of an excentric detective who solves a series of locked room murders set at a creepy mansion that is isolated from the outside world featuring a Challenge to the Reader. As you may have guessed, I am more a fan of the puzzle plot mystery than shakai-ha mysteries, though I do occasionally enjoy them (Matsumoto Seichou's Points and Lines and Jikan no Shuuzoku are great puzzle plot mysteries with social commentary, and the TV series Aibou does some great takes on the theme too). In essence though, these two schools are at odds with each other, but Hayasaka daringly attempts to fuse the two schools in Dare mo Boku wo Sabakenai.

As mentioned in the summary, Dare mo Boku wo Sabakenai is divided in two narratives, split up in Raichi chapters and Kouhei chapters. The Raichi chapters obviously follow Raichi inside the Sakai mansion as she tries to solve the murder and figure out why she was lured here as a maid in the first place. Her story is obviously a traditional puzzle plot mystery, involving a murder among a rich, but disfunctional family living in an oddly designed mansion. People familiar with Japanese mystery fiction are probably trained to be highly suspicious of oddly designed buildings, as nine out ten times there's a secret hallway, or some moving part, or a deathtrap built inside and the characters in this novel are apparently meta-concious enough to comment on that early on in the story. Indeed, near the end it is revealed there is something interesting going with the house, but this was telegraphed rather obviously, so it is not really a spoiler (basically, the characters first suggest the house might XXX, and then even mention a story by a different author that does the same thing, basically confirming what it is). The fact that the house is XXX is therefore not the main problem or reveal, but the mystery is solved by figuring out how that was used and how this will eventually lead to the identity of the murderer. This is classic puzzle plot territory, and the logical chain here is entertaining, as you suddenly arrive at the one and only murderer if you can follow the implications of each and every clue to their logical conclusion. What I did find a bit disappointing was atmosphere: the narrative here moves at breakneck speed, and more murders follow after the first, with little time to contemplate events.

The chapters starring Kouhei on the other hand are definitely social school material. After being baffled by the fact that it is illegal for him, even as someone who has only just turned 18, to have sex with someone one year younger than him (whom he even thought was much older), he learns more about the oddities of the law concerning having relations with minors during his stay at the detention center. Age of consent is 18, even though people can marry at 16. The will of the persons involved doesn't seem to matter at times, and there are even cases where a married person of 32 had relations with a girl of 17, but was found no guilty because they were "truly in love", while in another similar case, the man of 32 was found guilty of rape. Raichi herself (who is over 18, by the way) too makes use of the seemingly arbitrary laws and regulations as the act of prostitution might illegal, but the prostitute herself can't be punished by law. These examinations of the workings of the law, as well as the procedures after a sex offender is arrested are pure social school, far removed from Raichi's adventures at the strange mansion.

Eventually, the two narratives obviously link up in a...well, not really surprising manner. From the start, it is obvious the two narratives that start out so far apart will eventually come together. I think calling it a fusion of a puzzle plot mystery and the social school mystery might not be the best description of what happens in this novel. In Dare mo Boku wo Sabakenai, the puzzle plot mystery and shakai-ha mystery cross paths. In a good way though. At the point in the story where these two storylines intersect, Dare mo Boku wo Sabakenai does manage to impress a lot, as this crosspoint fullfills a surprising number of plot-related tasks for both the puzzle plot and the social commentary storyline. Plotwise, it is one of the most efficient scenes I've ever seen, I think. But besides that, the two storylines feel detached, and because the novel is particularly long, both storylines barely have the space to settle (as mentioned above when I said the Raichi chapters feel a bit rushed).

The conclusion of the novel feels a bit... talkative though. It is supposed to be like an account of the events from the POV of the murderer, but it reads more like the actual writer explaining things. I remember Yabusaka's first novel had something similar, with some of the narrative feeling too much like the author was directly telling the reader, rather than through an external point (in this case, a neutral third person narrator talking about the murders).

As a character, I still like Raichi a lot. She is an energetic female amateur detective who knows she is sexy and uses it. But she is not just simply a femme fetale, or seducer. Not at all, actually. She simply enjoys her erotic adventures, and uses it to her advantage by making money out of it, but her sexuality is not her main weapon in solving mysteries (she'd never get a confession from the culprit during pillow talk, for example). While erotic escapades are part of the mysteries, it is always clear that she doesn't solve them by using her gender characteristics to gain an advantage: Raichi is simply a highly intelligent woman, who manages to solve the most complex crimes because of her great set of brains. She just also happens to be a prostitute. She is also always shown to be a quick thinker and very much in charge (many foolish men have fallen victim to her taser and other means of self-defense), making her a surprisingly strong female character.

Dare mo Boku wo Sabakenai is thus an entertaining novel which mixes the classic puzzle plot mystery with the social school based on natural realism. Often, it feels like you're simpy reading two seperate stories, but when the two storylines do cross, this novel does manage to make a very good impression. Juxtaposing the two styles within one story does make the murders-in-the-mansion part feel even more detached from real life, and the many laws, regulations and trial cases mentioned in the Kouhei storyline even more strangely real, which makes this a fairly unique reading experience. Overall, I'd say Dare mo Boku wo Sabakenai was a great third entry in a series that has always managed to satisfy.

Original Japanese title(s): 早坂吝 『誰も僕を裁けない』


  1. I don't know if this is the same book, but I think my friend might had been describing this book to me some time ago (I didn't really mind because there was no Chinese version anyway). I am using rot13 in case it is the actual spoilers:

    Vf guvf gur bar jvgu gur Fbpvny Fpubby raqvat, jurer gurer jrer gjb cnegf bs n pvgl jurer gur ynjf ertneqvat jung pbafgvghgrf pevzvany npgvivgvrf jvgu n zvabe vf qvssrerag orpnhfr bs qvssrerag ntr yvzvgf jvgu gur ivpgvz? Gura gurer jrer fbzr znpuvangvbaf be gevpx gb ubj gur znafvba ebbzf jrer ynvq ba gur qvivqvat yvarf orgjrra gur pvgl, naq guhf nssrpgvat gur bhgpbzr bs cebfrphgvba qrcraqvat ba jurer gur pevzr npghnyyl gbbx cynpr?

  2. Hi

    I'm thinking of starting a kickstarter to translate Japanese light novels and short stores

    I consider detective stories as gems , unfortunately because od the language barrier they are locked inside a chest

    That's why I want to free them, to make them readable by people who enjoy such stories

    I just can't leave them untranslated like this, I want to discover all these japanese stories you have been talking about on your blog for so long

    That's why I want to ask, how much would I have to collect in order to pay a translator?

    Let's say, for example, how much for a volume of the Kirigiri series?

    1. It's hard to give estimates, as it really depends on what the translator asks for it and the length/complexity of the work. Something like Kokushikan Satsujin Jiken isn't much longer than the average novel but at least twice as convoluted and hard to translate (and your translator might go insane halfway through). If you really want to have a Kickstarter, best to secure a translator and let them give an estimate, so your own estimates for the Kickstarter will be as accurate/transparent as possible.

      And as I also work with them myself personally, I'll also remind you you'd also need to factor in securing the rights from the proper copyright owners/publishers and the costs of that for a Kickstarter like that...

    2. How much were you paid for the translation of The Moai Island Puzzle, if you don't mind telling me ?

      just so I can have an estimate

      And I'm aware of all that copyright stuff.

      For now I plan on translate authors whose works fell into public domain

      Actually the first story I'd want to publish is the Gold Mask from Ranpo

      Once I have it translate I will publish it somewhere on a public website so everyone can read it for free

      But first I have to know how much would I need to pay a Japanese translator

    3. I do mind actually. Like I just said, I think your best bet is to find yourself a translator first and see if you can agree on their fee as it depends on so many factors like the specific work and the target language, and then you can calculate what you need for your Kickstarter.