Sunday, August 1, 2010


Self-proclaimed detective Makube Nako finds a doll disposed on 'doll mound' that writes the message "Help" with a photo attached, that shows a girl standing in front of a guillotine. This indirect client leads Nako and his friend Yorishina Yuuki to the legendary Guillotine Castle, a place that stores numerous execution tools and is equipped with an excessive security system. One year ago, the castle's lord was found decapitated in a locked room situation with a decapitated Russian doll beside him. After Nako and his companion arrive, Guillotine Castle welcomes them with another locked room murder...

Alright, Kitayama has become my favorite author in the more or less orthodox sector by now. He takes the foundations of the mansion mysteries laid by authors like Ayatsuji Yukito and almost carries them to excess in an absolutely positive way. Especially this latest volume in his 城シリーズ intertwines setting, plot, themes and murder/trick so harmoniously that I seriously have to think of another author who in one single, compact work arranges all aspects of the 館モノ as beautifully as Kitayama does.

He just excels at pointing out structures and conventions of the genre so bluntly yet skillfully by making them to the actual theme of each novel and playing with the exaggeration of the setting and the roles of the characters. While other authors also manage to do this they kind of tend to end up in pointing out the extent of artificiality a tad too much which can result in a loss of atmosphere, while Kitayama still knows how to write excellent phantasmatic literature as the main frame of his works.

I have to admit though that this time and in contrast to the brilliant locked room in the preceding work, the murder and trick are somewhat so far-fetched and suspending the reader's disbelief, that the trick really only works in Kitayama's precise setting and only counts as orthodox considering all the clues that Kitayama planted over the course of the novel. Whether you can actually deduce the right things with those hints is another question... Personally, I definitely enjoyed the solution and was satisfied in the end, but I think it's rather impossible to get to that conclusion as a reader.

On another note, the narrative trick Kitayama unveils after the physical trick just as in the preceding novel worked out even better for me this time. His narrative tricks are also kind of excessive, surprising, or even devastating. I was really shocked and immediately skimmed through some scenes in the book again to see how that fact was actually foreshadowed. This time I definitely had to 'capitulate' and admit that the setting, theme and depictions in several scenes absolutely hinted at this in a skillful way that for once almost made me put the narrative trick on the same level as the physical trick.

The overall theme of humans' similarity to dolls in certain aspects was brought out pretty well through the execution/equality topic and the security system that demands authentication of various body parts. It's a matter that can only really shine in a book as medium and in settings with deep-rooted factors. It's only in over the top settings like these that characters can be established in certain ways you could not find elsewhere and this is exactly one of the most significant reasons why I love this genre.

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