Book review: 『細い赤い糸』by Takashi Asuka

Cover of the book 細い赤い糸. The cover is black with the drawing of a woman (head only) looking to the left. There is also the drawing of what I identify as the lower body of a woman (we only see the legs and the skirt). The composition is quite strange with the head on the left, and the lower body sort of hanging from the top border of the cover.

Title: 細い赤い糸 (ほそいあかいいと)
Author: Takashi Asuka (飛鳥高)
Published by Kodansha bunko

細い赤い糸 won the Mystery Writers of Japan Award in 1962.

Review

When I read a mystery, I always jump into the story without reading the synopsis and without having any knowledge of the plot. I do this because I had some bad experiences with summaries on the back cover revealing too much, sometimes mentioning events that would only take place halfway through the book. I also like reading without knowing where the story would take me.

With this novel however, I wish I had read about the story before starting it. I was really close to giving it up halfway through, because I could not see where the story was going and the experience was a bit frustrating.

If you don’t want to know anything about the story of this book before reading it, you should stop reading this review now. However, I do think that this book is more enjoyable if you know where you are going.


This book opens with a story of corruption in a company. To be honest, I really had a hard time getting into the first chapter, we don’t know much about the corruption thing, and the novel just does not tell us enough about it to make us care. Same for the characters, I did not really care about them, and their actions seemed unconvincing because we don’t know them at all. I did not like the first chapter, but I was willing to wait and see.

Then the second chapter starts with completely different characters who have nothing to do with the first story. It felt frustrating because I was doing my best to find some interest in the first story, and we suddenly leave them here and switch to another story which I found equally difficult to get into. At this point, I was really tempted to give up the book, but the end of the second chapter finally reveals what it is all about: a serial killing.

This is the main point of the book. We get through four different stories and see four different characters who are all going to be a victim. The focus of the book is to know why they are killed and what could possibly link them together. I do think that if you know that before starting the novel, things becomes much more interesting as you can start looking for clues right from the beginning. It also makes sense, in a way, that each story seems rushed through, because the main topic lies elsewhere.

When I understood where the book was leading me, I started enjoying it much more. However, I also do think that, while the idea is excellent, the execution could have been better done. First, I find the book too short for its purpose. I would have been better if each story was a little bit more developed so that they would be interesting for themselves and not just as a part of a higher scheme. I also find that something should hold all these stories together. At the end of each chapter, we see the police investigating and eventually understanding that they are dealing with a serial killer, but these parts are very short, and you start seeing a pattern only at the end of the second chapter (at this point, we are more than 40% into the book).

Finally, the book just does not give enough clues. It is not impossible for the reader to work the solution for themselves, but you can only do that after a certain point, when some key elements are finally given. It would have been so much better if more clues had been laid all along, so that reading each story would have been more compelling. I could even see myself re-reading one of the first chapters to look for connections, but I felt that you cannot really see the link before the novel gives you some key information.

In the end, the solution turned out to be quite good, and I loved the last 25% of the book, when we are done with the different stories and follow the police investigation. I found this part very engrossing and I liked the solution as well. I just found that it was a bit unfair to the reader, as the story does not disclose some key elements until the end and some connections are difficult to make without them.

Book review: 『人喰い』by Saho Sasazawa

The cover of 人喰い. The cover is very simple: on a completely black background, two thick horizontal blue lines and the name of the author and the title of the book written in red on the black background. No illustration.

Quick facts

Title: 『人喰い』(ひとぐい)
Author: Saho Sasazawa (笹沢佐保)
Digital edition published by P+D Books

『人喰い』won the Mystery Writers of Japan Award in 1961. After winning the prize, Saho Sasazawa resigned from his post at the Postal Ministry to become a full-time writer.

Review

『人喰い』is a short novel with a simple plot and a small number of characters. We follow Sakiko, whose elder sister has disappeared, leaving a suicide note. The story is very straightforward, the narration rarely switches focus and the investigation mostly relies on deduction more than clues or interrogation of witnesses.

I really enjoyed this book, especially because the last winner of the Mystery Writers of Japan Award I read was going in too many directions in my opinion: there were a lot of different topics, different leads and motives, no consistency in the characters we followed. As a result, I appreciated the simpler line of this one, even though one could also argue that it has too few characters, which makes the outcome a bit foreseeable.

Sakiko’s means to investigate are very limited, so a good part of her investigation is based on reflexion, with scenes where we see her think about the case through and through, testing eventualities and work her way to the truth. I found these parts well done and enjoyable to read.

The end was also very good, and overall, it was a very pleasant read, though part of me also find it surprising that it won the Award (the book is good, but there is really nothing special in it either). Maybe I am expecting too much from the award winners and end up a bit disappointed as a result? Anyway, it is still a nice mystery that I recommend if you like the genre.


Book review: 『黒い白鳥』by Tetsuya Ayukawa

Cover of the book 黒い白鳥. The cover is red with the title and author in a white rectangle in the middle. Also in the rectangle, a drawing of a railway track with a tran in the distance and the figure of a man in the foreground.

Title: 『黒い白鳥』(くろいはくちょう)
Author: Tetsuya Ayukawa (鮎川哲也)
Published by Kobunsha.

『黒い白鳥』is the fourth book in the Chief Inspector Onitsura (鬼貫警部) series, a series of 17 novels and numerous short stories spanning more than 30 years.

Both this novel and another Onitsura book won the Mystery Writers of Japan Award in 1960.

Review

The mystery/police investigation in this novel is very good, the solution is clever, with one trick in particular that I found excellent, and the reader is given all the elements they need to participate.

The mystery mostly resolves around train timetables, and unfortunately, I was too lazy to really try to work out a solution by myself. While this might be the main reason why I did not enjoy this novel as much as expected, there are also other elements that prevented me from feeling engrossed in the story.

First of all, I found that the novel throws several leads at us but does not really commit to any of them. The first one, which looks like it is going to play an important role in the story, is the trade union and negotiations between the company and the workers. Then we have religion playing a role with employees asking for freedom of religion (this took me a while to understand, because I was not aware that a company could impose a religion on its employees!). This makes for a complex and interesting setting for a murder story, but the story then moves on to other topics and we never really come back to this interesting setting.

Similar thing happens with the characters. The story opens with two women, one of which will clearly play a role in the story. We leave her in a difficult situation, but we won’t see her again until much later in the novel. Most of the novel is told from the point of view of the police detectives, but at some point, we follow other characters for a short sequence, and go back to following detectives. Even the detectives are split in two groups, and this did not really work for me (I prefer following the same duo of detectives from beginning to end, rather than follow one duo and then abruptly switch to another).

I also felt that the real purpose of a lot of scenes was the social aspect of what was described rather than the investigation itself, which sometimes felt a bit arduous. It often felt like the author just wanted to describe something, be it a place, a movement (like the labour movement), a professional area, etc. for the sake of the description rather than to advance the plot. The novel explores a lot of different social classes, and some passages felt like describing all of this was the real purpose of the book, and the investigation just a means to do it. So sometimes, we will have a long description of a certain place and little useful information relative to the case.

This makes for a good social novel, and it is great if you want to have a picture of the time, but it also felt frustrating to go through so many steps and descriptions just to confirm that what a certain character had said was true, or something of the sort.

I do think that this is a good detective novel overall, I just did not enjoy reading it that much. The end was good though, and I don’t regret reading it nor was I tempted to DNF it. However, I did not make me want to read the other prize winner of the same year (same author, same series), and I doubt that I will continue the Onitsura series.

Book review: 『四万人の目撃し』by Yorichika Arima

Quick facts

Title: 『四万人の目撃者』(よんまんにんのもくげきしゃ)
Author: Yorichika Arima (有馬頼義)
Published by Kobunsha

Yorichika Arima has written several detective novels, often described as social detective novels.

『四万人の目撃者』belongs to the prosecutor Takayama series. It won the Mystery Writers of Japan Award in 1959.

Mystery Writers of Japan Award – PROJECT – I read this book as part of my project to read all the winners of the Mystery Writers of Japan Award (at least, the books that are available today). Follow my progress here!

Review

This book started with a very strong and intriguing setting: a baseball player falls during a match and dies soon after. 40,000 people witnessed his death which looks like a sudden cardiac arrest. Yet, prosecutor Takayama is not convinced, and even though nothing indicates foul play, he starts investigating.

The story has several different, but equally exciting, starting elements. First, the difficulty to lead an investigation when there is no official case and therefore, no real police support or justification to talk to people and ask questions.

Then obviously, there was the mystery of the ”how”. If there is murder, how was it done, given that 40,000 persons had their eyes on the field the whole time.

And finally, we had to find out who did it. There were different leads (work, family, baseball team) and different motives possible.

Unfortunately, none of these interesting elements turned out to be satisfactory. The investigation led by Takayama was a bit frustrating in my opinion. There are obvious key characters in this case whom he never speaks to because the investigation is not official. I also found the pace very slow, the investigation makes little progress, with limited clues and elements to work with. There are elements to pick up the pace (like the sudden disappearance of a character), but these elements always turn out to be disappointing in the end. In contrast with the general slow pace of the investigation, Takayama sometimes jumps to conclusions or finds a new lead of investigation without real support for it. For example, there is this threat of an incoming second murder that preoccupies Takayama during some parts of the book, but I am not sure I understood on which basis he anticipated a second murder. Maybe I missed it, but the whole thing felt unconvincing to me.

As for the ”how” the murder was done, I found it extremely underwhelming. I thought that maybe, the particularities of the baseball field and where the players were placed at what moment would play a role, but it is not this kind of mystery at all.

And as for ”who” did it, the mystery is even more underwhelming if possible. There is no real mystery or twist or surprising development. The investigation tends towards one obvious character and follows a straight line.

Finally, we follow a baseball player who becomes some sort of main character (apart from the investigation team), and I found these parts quite boring. At first, this character was closely linked to the case, so following him was interesting, but after some time, he becomes more and more disconnected with the case and the parts where he appears became more and more annoying to me. I could not care at all for him and his problems, be it his baseball career or his love relationship.

To conclude, this book is not really a satisfactory detective novel if you judge it from the point of view of the mystery. It is a more social and realistic depiction of the time and environment (here mainly, the baseball team and career aspiration of the players). I liked for example the description of forensic methods of the time, and the limitations it had. Unfortunately, I am not at all interested in baseball. If it can help to solve a murder, I am more than willing to study the rules and particularities of a baseball game, but just talking baseball for the sake of it was not that appealing to me (and the book also did not triggered my interest nor did it make me want to find out more about baseball, on the contrary!).

So if you like baseball, maybe you will enjoy this book more than I did, but I still think that the mystery and detective parts were too underwhelming to really keep a reader engrossed in the novel until the end, even a baseball fan.

Book review: 『顔』by Seicho Matsumoto

Introduction

Title: 『顔』(かお)
Author: Seicho Matsumoto (松本清張)
Published by Kadokawa
Available on Booklive

Seicho Matsumoto is known for popularising detective fiction, with several of his books translated into English and adapted into films. The short story 顔 won the Mystery Writers of Japan Award in 1957. The collection I read contains 5 short stories: 顔、張込み、声、地方紙を買う女、白い闇. Some of these stories have been translated into English by Adam Kabat and compiled into the collection The Voice and Other Stories.

Mystery Writers of Japan Award – PROJECT – I read this book as part of my project to read all the winners of the Mystery Writers of Japan Award (at least, the books that are available today). Follow my progress here!

Review

This collection of short stories is one of the most entertaining collection of mysteries I have read. The prize winner, 顔, was certainly the best story, but all are excellent and if you like one, you will probably like the others too.

Both 顔 and 地方紙を買う女 were similar in structure. We have a protagonist who is clearly hiding something, but we don’t know what it is at first. These two stories are my favourite, because it creates a tension between caring for the protagonist on the one hand and looking for the truth on the other hand. The reader does not know whether they should identify with the protagonist or keep a suspicious eye on them, and this makes for suspenseful and entertaining stories. 顔 in particular has a very good ending, and belongs now to my favourite short stories of crime fiction.

声 has a similar theme than 顔, where recognition (of a person’s voice or face) plays a role in the mystery. The two stories also have a similar structure with two different parts. While 声 did not have the same impact than 顔 it was still very good with an interesting police investigation in it as well.

白い闇 is a mystery about a husband who suddenly disappears. Even though the outcome is predictable, the story was enjoyable.

Finally, 張り込み is certainly my least favourite short story, but it was still very good, though quite depressive at the end.

Overall, the characters are all very complex for characters of short stories. Some are tormented by a dark past, some want to protect their secrets and some want to find out the truth. As for the Japanese level, this book is certainly the easiest I have read so far among the prize winners.

I will definitely check out Matsumoto’s other books!

Book review: 『狐の鶏』by Jokichi Hikage 

Quick facts

Title: 『狐の鶏』(きつねのとり)
Author: Jokichi Hikage (日影丈吉)
Published by Kodansha
216 pages

Jokichi Hikage has written a lot of short stories and novels, including a detective series called ハイカラ右京, but only a couple of titles have been translated into English.

The short story 狐の鶏 won the Mystery Writers of Japan Award in 1956. The book I am reviewing contain five short stories: 狐の鶏、ねずみ、犬の生活、王とのつきあい、東天紅.

Mystery Writers of Japan Award – PROJECT – I read this book as part of my project to read all the winners of the Mystery Writers of Japan Award (at least, the books that are available today). Follow my progress here!

Review

The first short story, the prize winner 狐の鶏, was certainly the most impactful to me, and the one that stands out from the collection. The story follows Shinji, the second son, who came back from the war only to take his elder brother’s place, who did not return. It took me a while to understand the characters’ relationship with each other because the story contains what is called levirate marriage (when a man, whose brother has died, is forced to marry his brother’s widow – and in the story, also to adopt his child). I was quite shocked to read this kind of arrangement practised in post-war Japan.

The story is a mystery and falls in the category of what we would call today a psychological thriller. I read it for the mystery, but it is the setting, the characters and the helplessness of Shinji’s situation that I found really interesting and gripping.

The second story is set during the war, in Taipei, and was also quite a heavy read with a very shocking and terrible end.

After reading these two stories, I felt like I needed a break from this book, and came back after reading lighter and more joyful things. However, the other short stories were less dark. 犬の生活 felt more like a classic police investigation, and 王とのつきあい was more a horror story. I really loved this one, it is suspenseful and delightedly horrific, with another impactful end.

I found the stories that are set in the countryside, 狐の鶏 and 東天紅 to be the most difficult to read in Japanese. I guess it comes from the vocabulary and the dialogues that are more challenging to me because of the dialect. The other ones were good for my level.

Overall, I was not expecting such a heavy read for a mystery book. My favourite stories are 狐の鶏 and 王とのつきあい, but I don’t thing that I will jump into another book by this author just yet.

Book review: 『不連続殺人事件』by Ango Sakaguchi

Introduction

Title: 『不連続殺人事件』(ふれんぞくさつじんじけん)
Author: Ango Sakaguchi (坂口安吾)
Published by Kadokawa
323 pages

First published in 1947, 『不連続殺人事件』is Ango Sakaguchi’s first detective novel. It won the Mystery Writers of Japan Awards in 1948.

The novel is available on Aozora.

There is a French translation by Estelle Figon: Meurtres sans série, published by Les Belles Lettres.

Mystery Writers of Japan Award – PROJECT – I read this book as part of my project to read all the winners of the Mystery Writers of Japan Award (at least, the books that are available today). Follow my progress here!

Review

Famous figures of the decadent literary circles of post-war Japan find themselves, as well as some uninvited guests, in the family house of the Utagawas. Many of these guests cannot stand each other and this chaotic reunion soon witnesses a series of strange and scary murders.

When the book was first serialised in 1947, the author challenged the readers to find the murderer before the publication of the last chapters. He offered a financial prize, and challenged by name several personalities of the time as well as the fictional police officers of his novel. And of course, any reader could participate.

The fact that one reader of the time was able to give a perfect answer to Sakaguchi’s challenge shows that we have all the elements we need to solve the mystery. Sakaguchi himself insists on that point several times: we, the reader, are given all the elements to solve the crimes. As such, this is a perfect whodunnit, which I think is quite rare. As Ango Sakaguchi said when he revealed the names of the winners, many detective novels are disappointing, and even though I would not go as far as saying that 99,99% of them fall into this category, 『不連続殺人事件』surely does not.

人間性を不当に不合理に歪めて、有りうべからざる行動を実在させそれを、合理的に解けと云ったって無理である。私は日本のみならず、全世界の探偵小説の九十九パーセント、否、九十九、九九パーセントぐらいが不合理なものだと思っている。

To find the solution, we are provided with everything that the police officers of the novel have access to. Unfortunately, it is easy to be overwhelmed by the amount of information we are given. This is what happened to me, and this is why I decided to read the novel in parallel with the French translation. The Japanese was quite difficult to begin with, but trying to sort every bit of information and lead my own investigation was almost impossible to do in Japanese: too many characters (all introduced at the same time!), too many murders, too many alibis to verify and too many clues.

屋敷の見取り図の画像

To give you an example of what I mean by too much information, this is the map that is provided by the author. Floor and building maps play an important role in detective novels, but I have always assumed that they were there to help the reader, not confuse them 🤔 When Ango Sakaguchi says that we have access to the same elements than the characters, he means it literally. This is the “real” map of the villa, not a simplified version made for the reader. (I have read a lot of detective novels, but I never saw a map with 56 indications!)

But… you have no choice but to investigate yourself, because no one else is doing it. There are police officers and even a character who is here as a detective, but they never investigate, or if they do, we don’t see them doing it. As such, this novel differs from classic detective novels where we follow the investigation of the fictional detective. The role of the police is clearly to give us, readers, all the elements we need. They appear after the murder to collect every character’s alibis but then, they just don’t do anything with this information. Even the other characters do not seem particularly interested in solving the crime, and our narrator does not do much either.

This is barely surprising, given that most of them are writers. As one character states in the novel, writers are similar to criminals, not to detectives (it follows that it is the reader who should assume the role of the detective):

文学者は、大概、大犯罪者ですよ(…)天才的な先生方は全然探偵の能力なしに、徹底的に、ただもう、大犯罪者の素質だけをお持ちなのですな.

And the characters of this novel are not easy people to be with. Some of them cannot stand each other and make it clear every time they have an occasion to do so. They are arrogant, proud, rude and even insulting when addressing certain characters, if not violent. They are constantly quarrelling, and to be honest, the dialogues and the relations between the characters were the most difficult things to understand in Japanese to me.

This is why I made a character map (pdf) for anyone who wants to read this book in Japanese. The story is very complex and if you don’t have a clear vision of people’s relationships to each other (attraction, resentment, general dislike), then the story and the dialogues become very difficult to understand.

I did not manage to find the solution, but I had fun trying to. I wish that Ango Sakaguchi had written more detective novels…

Finally, I should add that I found Estelle Figon’s translation to be truly excellent. The text is full of pep and a real delight to read!

Book Review: 『本陣殺人事件』by Seishi Yokomizo

Introduction


Title: 『本陣殺人事件』(ほんじんさつじんじけん)
Author: Seishi Yokomizo (横溝正史)
Published by Kadokawa
204 pages

First published in 1946, this short novel won the Mystery Writers of Japan Award in 1948. It is the first novel in the Kosuke Kindaichi series, but strangely, it appears in the second volume of the Kindaichi series (金田一耕助ファイル2) as published by Kadokawa. The book also contains two other short stories/novellas that I haven’t read yet.

There have been two film adaptations, one in 1947 and one in 1975, as well as several drama adaptations.

Mystery Writers of Japan Award – PROJECT – I read this book as part of my project to read all the winners of the Mystery Writers of Japan Award (at least, the books that are available today). Follow my progress here!

Review

Our narrator, who is a writer of mystery novels, visits the place were a famous murder case took place in 1937. He decides to challenge himself with the task of giving a full written account of the events and the role that young private detective Kosuke Kindaichi played in it.

I am reading this novel after spending a year reading the Kogoro Akechi series by Edogawa Rampo, and some points felt very similar, which made me appreciate the novel immediately. First of all, Kosuke Kindaichi reminded me a lot of the young Kogoro Akechi from the first short stories (his hair and his crumpled clothes are certainly a nod to Akechi). I really loved the first Akechi, but liked less the gentleman he turned into in the late novels, so I became an immediate fan of Kindaichi. I also find that the narration felt somehow similar: the narrator often addresses the reader to make sure we remember certain things, which is something used both by Edogawa Rampo and Seishi Yokomizo.

The case that our narrator tells us about is a locked-room mystery, and it contains all the elements of a classic of the genre: a room completely locked with two dead bodies in it, a limited set of characters, a mysterious stranger and even a heavy snow to deepen the mystery of the footprints…

The solution is clever, but unfortunately, there are several elements that I found unconvincing.The motive seemed a bit weak to me, and the role of a certain character felt a little far-fetched. This being said, I enjoyed reading this novel very much. The way it is told and the way it unfolds make the novel addictive, and anyone who enjoys a good murder mystery will be happy with this one.

Contrary to how I felt with most of the Kogoro Akechi novels, I found that the characters were very interesting here, with each their own personality and particularities. However, given that the characters’ psychology plays a role in the story, I think that this aspect could have been more developed. For example, the personality of a certain character is key to understand the mystery, but everything is told afterwards and we don’t really get to see it for ourselves. The focus of the story is more on the clues and the locked-room mystery in itself, but as a result, the characters’ actions felt sometimes unconvincing because we don’t really know them.

What I liked the most in this novel is how it constantly refers to famous works and authors of crime fiction. One character is an avid reader of mysteries, our narrator often refers to John Dickson Carr or Gaston Leroux, Kindaichi is compared to Antony Gillingham from A.A. Milne’s The Red House Mystery, and so on. The case is also brought to us by a writer of fiction and he talks about the art of writing mystery fiction at the end, with a reference to Agatha Christie.

Actually, the fact that the story was told by a fictional writer of fiction was almost more interesting than the case itself. Our narrator tries his best to give us the best reading experience, pointing out important details or things we might overlook, providing us with a map of the room in question and a detailed description of everything (so that we get a fair chance to solve the mystery by ourselves), sourcing his information and even switching narration and giving us a first-hand account when necessary.

Overall, this was a pleasant mystery, it is short and reads easily, even though some descriptions were a bit hard to follow at my level (the description of the locked-room state and its resolution were the most challenging parts). I will be honest and say that I had to peek at one of the film adaptations to help me understand a scene 🤫

I will certainly go back to the Kosuke Kindaichi series at some point, but for now, I will continue my project and move on to the next award winner.

Book review: 『少年探偵団|黒蜥蜴』by Edogawa Rampo

Introduction

Title: 『少年探偵団|黒蜥蜴』(しょうねんたんていだん|くろとかげ)
Author: Edogawa Rampo (江戸川乱歩)
集英社文庫
443 pages

This is the tenth book in the Kogoro Akechi collection I am reading this year (published by Shueisha). It contains two novels: The Boy Detectives Club that belongs to the sub-series for children of the same name, and The Black Lizard, which is one of Edogawa Rampo’s most famous works.

Review

I loved the two novels of this book, and it was one of the most entertaining reads of the series.

黒蜥蜴

黒蜥蜴 or The Black Lizard might be Kogoro Akechi’s most famous adventure, but now that I have read it, I really don’t understand why. It is good yes, but it is also very similar to all the other books of the series, and there are other titles that I consider to be better.

The only thing that makes this novel stand out compared to the others is the identity of our criminal: a woman. This is the first time that Kogoro Akechi has to fight against a woman, and the Black Lizard is an interesting character. She sometimes uses the pronoun 僕 when referring to herself and collects beautiful objects: art, precious stones… and humans. In our story, she is after the beautiful Sanae.

この世の美しいものという美しいものを、すっかり集めてみたいのがあたしの念願なのよ。宝石や美術品や美しい人や……

And this is how she addresses Sanae: それに、あんたは、あんまり美し過ぎたのよ。僕は宝石もご執心だけど、宝石よりも、あんたのからだがほしくなった。

The Black Lizard is certainly one of the most intriguing adversaries of the series, but apart from that, the novel had nothing new or unique to justify its being more famous than the others.

I was curious to see what the back cover of the French translation was saying about the novel (translated by Rose-Marie Fayolle, published by Philippe Picquier), and the summary talks about kidnapping and disguise as if it were some unique feature of the story, but there is kidnapping and disguise in almost every single novel of the series. To me, this would hardly be a selling point, rather the opposite.

There is one scene in particular where I thought that there would be some clever explanation to something that seemed impossible. I was sure that I had overseen something and that I would be surprised by the solution, I even paused for a moment and tried to work out how the Black Lizard had done it. But no, in the end, it was the same good old trick that has been used again and again throughout the series.

Similarly, there is another trick that was very exciting and new when it appeared for the first time in the series, but it is used now for the third time. I could see it from miles away, just the mention of a single word and I know what was coming. I could not believe that Edogawa Rampo was really using this same trick for the third time!

Another thing that I find always a bit disappointing is that we never know how Kogoro Akechi arrived to his conclusions. He foresees everything, outmanoeuvres his opponent, is always one step ahead. But how did he know??

Overall, this novel was very entertaining, and I enjoyed reading it. I just did not find it better than the others and it is certainly not my favourite. The fact that it is so famous made me expect more, so I ended up being a little disappointed, but all in all, I would say that this novel belongs to the better ones of the series, though by far not the best.

少年探偵団

On the other hand, 少年探偵団 was truly excellent, and even though it is a book for children, I enjoyed it more than 黒蜥蜴. Again, most of the action, scenes, escapes and tricks have already been used, but somehow I don’t find it annoying at all in a children book. On the contrary, it feels strangely comforting and exciting because you can anticipate what will come next.

There are other things that make the Boy Detectives Club exciting. This is the third book I read from this series, but it is the first one where we see the club really in action with the introduction of several members and an important scene where we see the boys acting as a team. The 七つ道具 of the detective are also an addition proper to the Boy Detectives Club series that does not appear in the regular series. I really loved the scenes where the detective tools were used, it is ingenious and a great addition to the story.

The passage I liked the most in the novel is Akechi’s 四つのなぞ. When our young protagonist Kobayashi exposes the problem to Akechi (who, as often, just came back from abroad), Akechi challenges his young assistant by telling him to solve the 4 problems that would bring light to the whole mystery. This chapter was a real delight to read, even though it was easy to solve all four points for an adult.

I also like how the narrator participates in the tension by addressing the reader or commenting things like: ひょっとすると、まにあわないかもしれません。ああ、早く、早く。おまわりさんたち、早くかけつけてください。

Finally, in the Boy Detectives Club series, Akechi is some kind of super detective who always knows everything and solves the crime before it even happens. But somehow, this is not annoying at all in this series as we identify with Kobayashi and see Akechi as an ideal detective, or even some kind of deity: 小林君は、明智先生を、まるで全能の神さまかなんかのように思っているのです。この世の中に、先生にわからないことなんて、ありえないと信じているのです. It is more annoying when it happens in the regular series like mentionned above where Akechi seemed to know all the Black Lizard’s plans in advance.

Overall, 少年探偵団 has everything to make an excellent adventure/detective book for children, and I start loving the Boy Detectives Club series more than the Kogoro Akechi series.

Book review: 『完全犯罪に猫は何匹必要か?』by Tokuya Higashigawa

Introduction


Title: 『完全犯罪に猫は何匹必要か?』(かんぜんはんざいにねこはなんびきひつようか?)
Author: Tokuya Higashigawa (東川篤哉)
Published by 光文社文庫
458 pages.

This is the third novel in the Ikagawa series (烏賊川市シリーズ), a comical detective series featuring private detective Morio Ukai. Ukai might be the worst fictional detective I know, but he somehow manages to solve murder cases in spite of his dubious deductions.

Review

It took me some time to get into the story, but it turned out to be very good: a captivating murder mystery with alibis that are too good to be true and weird witness statements. I found the story excellent, but similarly to the second book of the story, I also did not always connect with scenes that only serve the comical aspect of the book.

This series feature two sets of characters: private detective Morio Ukai and his assistant Ryuhei Tomura on one side, and chief inspector Sunagawa and his subordinate detective Shiki on the other side.

I always found interesting that this series does not follow the pattern ”genius detective vs incompetent police officers”. Here the police detectives are actually quite good, and in this novel in particular, they are the ones who do all the job, and private detective Ukai looks more like a secondary character than the protagonist of the series.

I found the parts were we follow Sunagawa and Shiki to be much more interesting than the ones with Morio and Ryuhei. First, the police detectives are investigating a murder, whereas our private detective’s mission in this novel is to find a missing cat. Moreover, I found that some scenes featuring Morio Ukai and his team were often serving a comical purpose only and did not add much to the story.

The title of the book was very intriguing, but it turns out that this book is more about lucky cats than real cats…

When it comes to comical effects, I find that there are two types in this novel. The first type is when a scene that serves the plot and the investigation is told in a comical way. For example the scene when chief inspector Sunagawa asks witnesses to report on what they saw at different hours is described as if Sunagawa was an auctioneer trying to sell those said hours. I found this creative and very funny to read. The second type are scenes that are here just to add humour to the novel but which do not serve the story. For example, when Ukai fights with his landlady. I felt that this type of scenes would look great if the book was an anime, but I did not really enjoy reading them.

Overall, the murder case is excellent and engrossing, and while I found the humour partly good, partly unnecessary, it all comes down to a question of personal taste in the end. But comical effects aside, the author really has great ideas when it comes to writing murder mysteries, and this alone makes me want to continue the series.