Monday, May 30, 2011


6 students visit Villa Lilac to spend their summer vacation when suddenly superintendent Yuki shows up and informs them about the corpse of a man wearing one of the students raincoats who was found under a cliff near the mansion with an ace of spades lying next to him. This incident is only a forewarning of a series of murders yet to come, each one attached with a new card and clouded in alibis. The police find themselves in a dead end which forces them to get the help of "amateur" detective Hoshikage Ryuuzou.

Ayukawa Tetsuya, finally. Master of Japanese orthodox mysteries and precursor, standard and influence for authors like Maya Yutaka, Ayatsuji Yukito, Arisugawa Arisu, Nikaidou Reito... pretty much anyone associated with the new orthodox school. There was no way to get around him for me and so I finally read one of his supposed monumental works everyone mentions somewhere.

And indeed, I can understand why this is often seen as such and also as a kind of whodunnit manual for later writers. I'm more into impossible crime situations, especially locked rooms, but this one definitely managed to keep me interested with its many murders and alibi discussions. The only part that dragged a bit was the one between solution and the middle, when many of the characters were already murdered and the events were mostly told from the police's perspective, which meant less deductive discussions since the police is depicted in a really classical way here (as this book is a classic): They are pretty much dumb.

The book starts out awesome though. The first murder is announced as early as 40 pages in and from there onwards stuff happens continuously. The mentioned dragging part was inevitable due to the nature of Hoshikage: He acts as a classical armchair detective and does not appear before the last quarter of the novel, of course only to brilliantly solve the case immediately after getting all the necessary information. So the late appearance of the detective figure makes for a rather unexciting segment but I have to admit that everything in its detail was important for the solution and when Hoshikage explained everything I realized again how complex this novel actually was.

Most of the explanations are totally logical and guessable. I guessed the culprit more or less correctly, but not the howdunnit and whydunnit and since both are essential and the idenity of the murderer itself does not explain anything, I was surprised and satisfied after all. Ayukawa really stuffed a lot of (nowadays) standard alibi tricks into this novel which can certainly serve as a manual for other authors.

Next Ayukawa will be a short story collection which includes Akai misshitsu, another work which is essential for the context of Japanse orthodox mysteries, and Jubaku Saigen, the original draft for Villa Lilac Case and one of his other full-length novels, so I'm curious about how that one differentiates from the one I've read and whether the shorter frame actually suited the content better... which would explain the slight dragging. I've already seen enough differences at a glance though, so I might actually read it right away, but of course Ayukawa is not as easy a read as newer novels and there are still so many other authors I want to explore...

1 comment:

  1. Like I said on the How to Escape a Locked Room blogspot, thanks for continuing to review these books!

    I can't read them myself, but I'm convinced that, somewhere down the line, they might proof useful and play a part in getting these treasures translated and published here in the west. So keep 'em coming!