Friday, March 25, 2011


Mercator Ayu, who himself says his suberb and rapid skills as detective make him tend more towards short stories, and his friend Minagi Sanjou bring the reader 7 of their shared experiences. Most of these are indeed, as the title already hints at, crimes that are constituted the way they are due to Mercator's and/or Minagi's relatedness.

After Maya Yutaka became my favorite author I decided to catch up with the remaining works in chronological order, but eventually skipped one to finally read this short story collection since I wanted to see how Maya supposedly finally pulled of actual orthodox stuff and used his main detective figure more extensively previous to later books I already knew by him that are just as awesome in a slightly different way. And indeed, this collection mostly features orthodox mysteries but embeds them in Maya's typical genre decronstructing style and he puts the focus on the relationship between detective and novelist, as well as their individual roles in such stories.

「遠くで瑠璃鳥の啼く声が聞こえる」 seems to be considered as one of Maya's masterpieces and I do have to agree that this story immediately got me immerged in this book. Minagi is invited to stay over in a holiday villa in the mountains where one of the visitors is found shot in the room next to Minagi's. The door that leads to the corridor was locked from the inside with all the windows in the same state, while the door leading to the neighbouring room was locked with a bolt from Minagi's side. Ignoring the possibility of suicide, Minagi becomes the prime suspect and calls Mercator for help. Here we have a rather innovative case of the unreliable narrator, but in a totally different way than usual. Whether the solution is fair or not... I personally liked it since the hints were definitely laid out but maybe it's more guesswork than logical deduction. The climax is totally witty though and already depicts Minagi as a rather quirky but also cruel mystery writer. And believe me, the fact that this has something to do with a narrative trick does not help you at all in deducing this bizarre solution... at least I was not spoiled for the solution by knowing that.

「化粧した男の冒険」 followed as the least interesting story for me in this book, but that does not make it a bad one. The twist is not that shocking this time and neither is the solution, since the case of a murdered man with a whole set of make-up on his face and the elimination process of the suspects isn't that thrilling in comparison to other stuff in this collection. Mercator wanting to leave the pension and get the train home quickly and what he did to accomplish that are rather fun though and maybe even sort of shifting into the anti-mystery field.

「小人間居為不善」 turned out to be better. Similar to Holmes stories, a client enters Mercator's office after him and Minagi talked about how Mercator actually stumbles upon cases, i.e. finds his clients to make a living. The client explains his request but Mercator declines. Sudden ending? Of course not, since Mercator exposes an already commited crime before the client even left the room. The development was totally unexpected for me but as Mercator points out the hints were definitely apparent.

In 「水難」 Mercator and Minagi stay at a Ryokan in the mountains and stumble upon a ghost from the sole body of over 100 schoolgirls that died on a field trip which has not been found. Furthermore two corpses are found in a shed of the Ryokan with 死 written in red on the door. The corpses feature some weird points but I'll not go into detail with this one since it's one of the better stories in this book, turns out rather complex and the ending is pretty awesome if you are not fixated on and making a fuss over certain rules of the genre's classical defintion, since the fact that could bother you is totally irrelevant for the deduction and solution even if it's included in Mercator's talk. The twist at the end is again witty and cruel and makes the relationship of Mercator and Minagi a lot clearer.

「ノスタルジア」... hands down, this can be considered the best story in this collection and it's also one of the best things I've read by Maya Yutaka so far. Mercator hands Minagi a manuscript he wrote and challenges him to point out the culprit. His story features a locked room in a building seperated from a main mansion with no footprints in the surrounding's snow; i.e. a double-layered locked room scenario. While I'm still not really versed in this field, I was totally surprised and convinced by this brilliant puzzle. Whether this is orthodox fairplay will again differ in the readers' opinions and definitions and while I have to admit that Mercator is a very cruel and tough opponent I just cannot say that the solutions were unfair. Some clues are hidden very deep in the descriptions and the way everything is narrated, but then again, if you wrote such a story just to win against someone else, who wouldn't do the same? Other than that it's noteworthy that the tricks aren't only created between author (Maya) and reader (you) but also Mercator and Minagi, which turns out to be a quite intriguing meta-construction and delivers an interesting debate between Mercator and Minagi concerning fairness in a game between author and reader.

「彷徨える美袋」 could not keep up with the previous story but turned out to be one of the wittiest in terms of the two protagonists. Minagi wakes up in a shed in the mountains after he was knocked unconscious when he was on his way to a convenience store. Struggling through the forest he finally collapses in front of a log hause which turns out to be the place where his friend Daikoku was supposed to gather with his painter circle's friends, but his brother says that he left some days ago and he did not hear of him since then. Minagi received a package with Daikoku's cigarette case some days prior to the incident and wonders who knocked him out and brought him to that shed near the log house. Daikoku's brother Mikiya suspects one of the circle's members to be responsible for Daikoku's disappearance but Minagi advises not to rush things, which he regrets afterwards when Mikiya is found murdered in the room neighbouring Minagi's, again constructing a case similar to the one in the first story. The solution is a lot more orthodox this time and relies on logical deduction and elimination process but the reason for the actual initiation of the case turned out to be plain evil and extreme in terms of a detective's role in mystery fiction.

「シベリア急行西へ」, the last story in this peculiar but satisfying collection, is actually the first work ever published by Maya even before his first book. I was surprised by the "docile" and totally classical mystery without peculiar twists or actions by the two protagonists, but considering this was the first thing Maya published this somehow makes sense. And of course this does not make the mystery any less appealing. The setting is very traditional and the crime situation fairly complex with a lot of absolutely solid work on alibis, red herrings and careful deduction that only makes one character possible as a culprit in the end. Simply as mystery this was one of the most satisfying stories of the collection but concerning the overall theme and nature of Maya's daring approach towards the genre this was kind of a letdown and maybe the story should have been used as the first in this book. But then again, I would not have been as engaged as it was the case with 「遠くで瑠璃鳥の啼く声が聞こえる」...

I'm usually not that much into short stories as I also enjoy complex plots and settings a lot, but this really is a greatly welcome exception as it features an underlying theme/approach and a lot of wit and twists that make the stories different from usual 本格-fare while the mysteries as such are still mostly orthodox and fair. I definitely recommend this 本格+α collection to anyone interested in a new but loyal approach of the genre.


  1. I've read several short stories by Maya by now, though I never actually planned to read him. He just keeps popping up in my anthologies and stuff.

    I like his short stories though and I am tempted to pick this collection up... Maybe for my April/May purchases...

  2. He also frequently pops up in secondary literature due to his rather unique position in the literary revival movement.

    Knowing 6 of his novels I'd say this collecton is an appropriate introduction to (more) Maya since it captures the essence of his style in various ways and stories while you'll also be able to enjoy some fine puzzles, so I cannot think of any risks.