Wednesday, January 19, 2011


On a late autumn day dramaturge Yarinaka Akisaya, his 7 actors and his friend, the novelist Rindou Ryouichi, have to take shelter from a snow storm in a western mansion that suddenly appears from the depth of mist that ascends from a lake. They don't seem to be welcomed by the inhabitants but each get their own room designated. Even so they are continuously reminded by the servants that Kirigoe Mansion is not a hotel and that they shall not sneak about too much, especially they shall not enter the 3rd floor at all...
In this ominous mansion strange coincidences happen and the building itself is said to be a mirror that reflects the future of those who visit it. Little would the guests be able to guess how these occurences lead to a chain of murders after the mansion and its surrounding are totally covered by snow without any way to inform the outer world...

This is so solid in any way possible that I almost regret reading it this late. It did not surprise me by any means, which is kind of a letdown after almost 700 pages, but I think that's only due to all the other works I've read by now. There's actually nothing I could criticize and on the other hand it was also fun to follow Ayatsuji Yukito's development as a writer over the 4 works in the yakata-series he had written until he wrote this 'spin off' which actually goes into even more detail as a 館モノ. The descriptive thoughts and depth Ayatsuji put into this building is simply astonishing. As long as you look up certain things you can perfectly imagine almost any corner of the mansion in a very lush manner.

This can also turn out to be the big sticking point for some readers. Almost the first 200 pages are used solely for introductory and descriptive purposes. It's awesome if you're into settings like this and want to feel like you're being right in there yourself. If you don't, I imagine it to be quite exhausting. After that part though, the fun immediately starts and Ayatsuji definitely also improved concerning the mystery part. While his mysteries usually rely on narrative tricks and if they don't they might turn out easily solvable, this time he omits any twisting structures and constructed a very, very solid orthodox puzzler. Again here we don't find any impossible crimes or huge alibi charts but totally staged crimes scenes and a lot of weird stuff to make sense of in the end. It's pretty difficult to find something you can actually turn into a useful fact amidst all these oddities and I have to admit I did catch some stuff but not even nearly enough to come up with a proper logical theory and the final 100 pages got quite interesting.
While the solution is totally logical, the mansion itself stays fairly phantasmatic. Whether certain incidents were mere coincidences or influenced by supernatural factors is left for anyone to decide for himself, since they don't play a vital role in the deduction, which makes this book perfectly balanced between orthodox puzzler and eerie gothic fiction and you can savor both sides equally.

Another improved aspect were the characters. Most of them featured a very distinct presence and Ayatsuji also excelled at this side of narration. The way he connected the culrpit's motive and thoughts to a universal 世紀末-theme in the epilogue seemed kind of forced to me though, but then again... I'm not from his generation and I'm not a Japanese writer publishing this story right after his country's bubble economy crumbled...

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