Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Hollow Man


"So beautiful woman don't kill. They don't lie. They don't fart. Right?"
"The 8 Murders"

I am still not sure whether it is a smart idea for my thesis topic (which I am supposed to work on here), my hobby and my club to all be about the same topic. But there are of course good parts to it. I spent the whole day reading a book, but at least I can sorta say that I worked on my thesis. And prepared somewhat for the Mystery Club meeting on Friday. And that I have something to write about on my blog.

It is no coincidence that I read Abiko Takemaru's 8 no Satsujin ("The 8 Murders") after Arisugawa Alice's Gekkou Game. For both of these writers are 'founding' members of the New Orthodox movement and these two books also happen to be their debut works. If you take a look in the library, you'll notice that I have reviewed a couple of Abiko's works, most of the being original scenarios for videogames (including the awesome Kamaitachi no Yoru). Yet I was never sure whether the scenario's he penned for videogames were similar to his novels, so I was interested in seeing how 8 no Satsujin would turn out. The story opens with the murder (by crossbow!) on Hachisuka Kikuichirou, the son of the director of Hachisuka Architects. The murder was commited in the Hachisuka mansion, commonly known as the "Eight Mansion", because of the strange design featuring two inner courts, resulting in an 'eight'-like shape when viewed from above. Eyewitnesses claim to have seen the murderer shoot from the room of the son of the mansion's caretaker, but the son naturally denies having commited the murder and to be honest, even the eyewitnesses themselves don't believe he could have done it. But the fact remains that his room was locked (and he was sleeping there), so it was not possible for someone else to have entered that room to shoot the crossbow.

Well, unless the murderer could fly and walk through walls, which would account for the second murder, where forensics say the arrow was shot from a place only someone with wings could have been! And because lieutenant Hayami Kyouzou is having troubles solving the case himself, he allows his younger brother and sister, Shinji and Ichio, two self-professed mystery freaks, to help him with this case. Because who besides mystery fans could solve these kind of crimes?

First thing that I noticed: Abiko really likes teasing his characters. I thought it was just something specific to Kamaitachi no Yoru, but Abiko seems to like to put people in awkard situations and see them suffering. The things Hayami's subordinate Kinoshita has to suffer is just horrible, but Shinji and Ichio are just as happy to tease their big brother about everything. There is a distinct humorous tone to Abiko's writing and while it is not as accomplished as the comedy-mystery fusion Higashigawa Tokuya offers, Abiko's stories should appeal to those with a want for a humorous (and slightly sadistic) tone to their stories. His writing style is also very easy to read through, and it should take not that much time to go through.

As a debut work of someone from the Kyoto University Mystery Club, it is tempting to compare it to books like Gekkou Game and Jukkakukan no Satsujin. What is funny is that 8 no Satsujin feels quite different from those books actually: there is no university mystery club featured heavily in the story, no closed circle setting, students don't feature as the protagonists. Heck, while Shinji and Ichio are the brains of the Hayami siblings, Kyouzou is still part of the team and he is an actual police detective, so they can't even be considered 100% amateur detectives. Is 8 no Satsujin different from the other two, or are the two books mentioned just very similar? There is of course a lot similar too: most visible in the distinct meta-conscious writing style. We have tons of references to the classics here (including a couple of references that sadly enough border on the spoiler-ific) and we even have a genuine locked room lecture, which Shinji himselves considers a continuation of especially Carr's famous one from The Hollow Man. Carr is actually referenced a lot in this story, which is understandable seeing the (seemingly) impossible crime situations here.

The impossible crimes are... kinda easy to solve however. The first one is very easy to see through because it is a very old trick. It only becomes more confusing if you add in the second murder, which again is not that surprising as a stand-alone murder, but it can work quite effectively if you manage to add it in just the right impossible-looking ingredients. Abiko is relatively succesful with that, but I have the same feeling with this book like I have with Kamaitachi no Yoru and the other stories I've read of him: he can write very entertaining, his tricks are not bad and he is certainly knowledgable about the genre, but he somehow never manages to really surprise me. I've yet to see something as imposing as Sensei Jutsu Satsujin Jiken or Jukkakukan no Satsujin. He is certainly an above average writer, but I've yet to see a trick that moves the heavens. Or something like that.

Oh, and going back to the closed circle thing I mentioned (sorry, I write these reviews just as I go, without making drafts and I really hate having to re-arrange everything again). In their debut works, Ayatsuji and Arisugawa both went through the troubles to create closed circle situations, cutting the people off from modern day forensics / police forces / other information lines. By doing this and explictly addressing this, these two writers showed that there was indeed the problem of technology and other things that upset the 'old' model of the detective novel and while their 'solutions' were kinda artificial (though Ayatsuji's approach certainly has its merits), it showed that both writers were trying to get the old model to work in modern times. Abiko's 8 no Satsujin hardly shows such ambitions and it could have been set in any time and place. Heck, I am not even sure whether it was set in contemporary times!

8 no Satsujin is a pleasant read, but not particularly surprising or impressive. It is a 'safe' story, doing the things it should do in an adequate way and it also offers some of the distinct meta-conscious, New Orthodox storytelling, but this should definitely not be a reader's first introduction to the movement.

And now I need more sleep. Why does it always takes weeks for me to get back to a normal sleeping routine in Japan?

Original Japanese title(s): 我孫子武丸 『8の殺人』

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