Monday, February 28, 2011


Kuonji Kyouko, the daughter of a family-run obstetric clinic in Tokyo's Zoushigaya, has been pregnant for 20 months. 3 months into her pregancy her husband Makio vanished from a locked room in the clinic. Her sister Ryouko wants to unravel the mystery around her family's clinic and contacts detective Enokizu and his "assistant" Sekuguchi.

Apart from the pregnancy-part this sounds like rather common detective fare, right? Well, it's not. Enokizu is more of a weird esper-character, Sekiguchi is a writer and the novel neither starts with the case nor with Ryouko showing up at Enokizu's office. The first 90 of 620 pages are dedicated to an extensive dialogue between Sekiguchi Tatsumi and his friend Chuuzenji Akihiko, mostly called by the name Kyougokudou he is given due to the temple he works at as Onmyouji while also managing a used book store. So before any of the actual story starts, we get an insight into Kyougoku(dou)'s thoughts and theories on various matter such as youkai, folklore or the constitution/definition of heart, brain and conscience. Discussions like this happen every now and then during the whole book and they are always relatively lengthy and heavy stuff compared to other novels of this overarching genre.

This not to say these topics cannot be interesting for themselves, but one might sometimes think of them as pretty natural or self-evident aspects talked about in an unnecessarily complex and complicated way. It really depends on the reader and what he hoped to find in this book. If you started reading this for the plot, these lengthy dialogues, that often only begin making sense in the plot's context during the finale, might be very distracting as it was in my case. When you do not read this with a lot of free time and concentration it gets really difficult to find your way into the story again, even it Kyougoku's construction turns out to be brilliant and worth the effort in the end.

Which brings me to the second aspect I dare to criticize this book for: It's mostly classified in the context of the modern orthodox school, but also somewhat as a transition point before Mori Hiroshi and the later Mephisto authors. And you absolutely understand that after reading this novel. While setting and era are totally reminiscent of classical works, there is not one single absolutely reliable detective figure but rather 4 characters with their individual information, knowledge and ideas culminating in the denouement eventually. Which is not that essentially different for orthodox puzzlers. What totally sets this novel apart though is that Sekuguchi, who also acts as the narrator, is not reliable at all. Not only does he turn out to be personally involved in the case due to a certain incident in the past, he even is a depressive, suppressing, frail observer who makes for one of the cheapest narrative tricks I've encountered so far, which is why I would never recommend this for being orthodox, especially since apart from the aspect of narration there simply were too many things I think nobody would come up with by himself before Kyougokudou points them out in the finale. Some things are slightly hinted at through the frequent dialogues and accordingly this series' worldview but relying almost solely on the minds of the various characters was way too convenient for my taste.

Other than that his novel certainly is recommendable for it's tragic and well-constructed plot as long as you don't mind dialogues almost as detached as meta-narratives and you are at least somewhat interested in psychology and Japanese folklore. Personally though... I don't think I'll be touching other works by Kyougoku anytime soon since I already know the essential plot of his second work by watching the anime and movie adaptions and the books after his debut always got at least 1000 pages which still gives me headaches by only thinking about it.

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