"The identity of the murderer is revealed beyond this point.Try to deduce it yourself first!"
A note found between the pages of a second hand copy of The Water Mill House Murders.
Aaah, Kyoto University Mystery Club, curse you for introducing me to even more writers and books I want to read! And actually having them in your room! The Mystery Club room is actually pretty awesome now I've taken a more detailed look at it. There are _a lot_ of novels crammed in the bookcases there, including interesting books like rewritten versions of Queen's The Dutch Shoe Mystery and Berkeley's The Poisoned Chocolate Case, for children.
And the people are cool too. Showing the note quoted above I found in my second hand copy of Suishakan no Satsujin, a senior described it very gracefully as "a challenge from a reader to the reader!". If there's no Challenge to the Reader in the book, you make one yourself, the previous owner of my copy must have thought. I really appreciate it though!
Anyway, today is another book written by an alumni of the mystery club, namely Ayatsuji Yukito. I've already reviewed his awesome Jukkakukan no Satsujin in a long away past: Suishakan no Satsujin ("The Water Mill House Murders") is the second book in Ayatsuji's series featuring amateur-detective Shimada Kiyoshi and murder cases set around weird buildings designed by the late Nakamura Seiji (as introduced in the first novel). The Water Mill House is a castle-like building deep in the mountains of Okayama. The building derives its name from the three big water wheels set at the side of the mansion (to generate electricity). Its owner is Fujinuma Kiichi, son of the famous painter Fujinuma Issei. A car accident many years ago left Kiichi with a disfigured face, forcing him to wear a rubber mask during the day to hide his monstrous face (yes, Ayatsuji is aware of the classics of Japanese detective fiction). It is also the reason why he lives so secluded, with only his (very) young wife and some servants living with him in the Water Mill House.
Every year, a small group of acquaintances visits the Water Mill House to enjoy the many paintings of Kiichi's father that are displayed throughout the mansion. An impossible disappearance, murders and the theft of a painting make the 1985 visit an unforgettable one though. While not everyone is particularly fond of the idea, the annual visit to the Water Mill House is repeated again the following year, but this time an uninvited guest shows up: Shimada Kiyoshi, friend of the person who disappeared last year from this mansion and who wants to know the truth behind the incidents one year ago.
A lot of people seem to prefer this book to Jukkakukan no Satsujin, though I don't know really why. I for one prefer the mystery club students of the first book and the main trick too. By which I don't mean that Suishakan no Satsujin is a bad book, but I didn't like the setting as much as its prequel and this book is a lot easier to solve (especially if you have read the first book). The first book, admittedly, is hard to beat in my eyes. Suishakan no Satsujin is an excellent book actually, which especially excels in creating atmosphere by the gothic description of the Water Mill Mansion (and the Sukekiyo-esque owner of the mansion), which must be horrifying with all those pictures hanging on the walls. Or maybe I am just weak to that sort of things. I also suspect that Tantei Gakuen Q's storyline featuring the genius artist Kuzuryuu Takumi, including a set of buildings he designed, is partly inspired by the architect Nakamura Seiji of this series, as both series see the buildings as a place that attract abnormal (criminal) activity. And both architects love making secret passages and stuff.
But it must be said that when viewed abstractly/structurally, Suishakan really resembles the previous book a lot. Which makes the deciding factor for my personal views on Jukkakukan no Satsujin and Suishakan no Satsujin very dependent on the more aesthetic ways with which Ayatsuji dressed up these similar story-structures and like I said, I like the more recognizable and genre-savvy setting of Jukkakukan more than the more standard / gothic mystery setting of Suishakan.
The story-telling structure of the book is pretty interesting though: the story switches between chapters set in the past (1985) and the present (1986) and is usually set up in such a way that it starts in the present time, with detective Shimada Kiyoshi asking about some events that happened last year, which are then explained in detail in the chapters set in the past. The trope of a detective solving a case that happened in the past is certainly not new, but the way it unfolds in this book works surprisingly well. In most examples I can recall at the moment, the detective in the [PRESENT] hears bits and pieces about the [PAST] case until he suddenly learns all of the [PAST] case in one turn (i.e. by finding a police file, someone telling him about it or something like that). Here it's much direct (for the reader) and therefore more engaging. Because new murders happen during Shimada's visit to the Water Mill House in the [PRESENT], the chapters set in the [PAST] and [PRESENT] also form symmetrical pairs (with events in one time period mirroring the other), much like how the Germany and France chapters of Nikaidou Reito's Jinroujou no Kyoufu resembled each other. And for those who play videogames: just think of any game with dual worlds (i.e. present/past worlds, light/dark worlds), like some of the Legend of Zelda games or something like Chrono Trigger.
And it is actually funny that this book doesn't feature an actual Challenge to the Reader (except for my own personal challenge from a reader to a reader), as structurally it would have fitted perfectly there. I understand from a writer's perspective that you would choose whether or not to insert one (and because the previous book didn't feature one, Ayatsuji might have been hesitant in adding one here), but the note I found in my copy really did add an extra dimension to the whole story structure, I have to admit!
Anyway, fun book, but I still think Jukkakukan is better. And now, to look for something in my bookcase that is not written by an OB/OG of the Mystery Club! (Also because we're doing guess-the-murderer with scenarios written by club members on Monday anyway)
Original Japanese title(s): 綾辻行人 『水車館の殺人』