Thursday, June 23, 2011

赤い密室 名探偵・星影竜三全集 (1)

Collection by Ayukawa Tetsuya who set the standard for the orthodox renaissance movement. This is the first of two volumes which gather all of the short stories featuring classical detective Hoshikage Ryuuzou; works that made me realize Ayukawas huge influence on late 80s and early 90s writers once again and even more.

呪縛再現 was the first draft for 2 of Ayukawa's full-fledged novels and I'm glad I read りら荘事件 before this draft. While some of the characters are portrayed differently the 2 versions do not differ that much. At least until halfway into the murders in りら荘事件. After that the murders simply stop in this short story and Hoshikage utterly fails in deducing the culprit. Then inspector Onitsura (the other more prevalent detective figure in Ayukawa's works) jumps in after the 2 had a fancy confrontation and points out what Hoshikage overlooked. However he has his own problems after he figures out who must have commited the murders when he has to crush the culprits seemingly perfect alibi.

Even knowing the longer version of the same tricks I was able to enjoy this short story because of the cracking of the alibi that was constituted by the train routes and time tables. I would even suggest to read this after りら荘事件 because the longer version excels even more in the way the tricks are constructed and used even if the several added murders don't play that much a role and therefore dragged a little. And if I read the shorter version first, I think I would have never finished the full-fledged novel... which would be a shame since it's cited so often by contemporary authors.

赤い密室 is about a dismembered medic on an autopsy table in a twofold locked room. Apparently this is considered Japan's best locked room along with Yokomizo Seishi's debut novel 本陣殺人事件. While the latter is a slightly improbable but thoroughly constructed case, Ayukawa wanted to create a locked room not because he simply could by coming up with some mechanical trick, but because it would be the most effective method for the culprit and the most natural solution for the reader. And indeed instead of focussing on some overly physical trick without this method being logical and inevitable, whodunit and whydunit as well as the alibis are just as important as the physical method itself, if not more than that. This case really is a prime example of various means of creating a locked room murder put together into a harmonious, logical construction. Being rational and effective, the trick does point at the culprit a bit too easily maybe, but even figuring most aspects out for myself I loved this story, simply due to the fact that for once the locked room trick was not just used because it's thrilling and intriguing, but because it made sense for the murderer to murder in this exact way. Moreover I doubt it would have been that solvable without all the previous knowledge from works that followed afterwards...

黄色い悪魔 is about yet another locked room. Yes, this collection is full of murders in and disappearances from locked rooms or comparable impossible situations. Here a female stripper is found stabbed in her own bathtub with the bath being locked but with footprints leading into her apartment and other traces in her living room. This story wasn't as awesome as the previous one but that opinion might be a bit biased since it features one of the methods to create a locked room that's certainly established and classic but it's also one I personally don't like that much in comparison to others, which does not make the misdirection any less solid or the solution any less logically solvable though.

消えた奇術師 is about a magician and his assistant troupe with one of his assistants being killed by gas poisining while being in a box used on stage for a trick. The magician later shoots another assistant and then disappears in a locked room situation. This story was decent and the solution easily figured out but still fun to read as it did well to stay short.

妖塔記 was the story in this collection that did not manage to catch my interest and the trick was nothing applaudable either. It's about some famous, valuable but supposedly cursed diamond that the 2 protagonists suspect on the turban of some yogi. They snare him into some old lift, go off to call the police but when they return with the officers the tied-up yogi has disappeared from the boarded-up lift. The obviously intended misdirection comparable to other very short but very famous western short stories went totally awry in this case. Misdirection can be a very frail way of constructing a case. If it hits, it hits the bull's eye, but otherwise the whole story fails.

Fortunately 道化師の檻 was the other masterpiece of this collection and was an awesome story to end this book. The singer of a jazz band is found murdered in the bathtub on the 2nd floor of the band's housing during an interview session of the rest of the band with a journalist and a cameraman on the 1st floor. The tied-up maid in the kitchen and a shopman with a stand in front of the band's house witnessed a pierrot enter the house and leaving through the back-door after getting rid of evidence in the kitchen. However there was a car accident in the tunnel directly behind the band's house and the officers did not see anyone leaving the house, while the maid insists that the pierrot did not go back into the house again as she would have noticed that being tied-up near the kitchen window facing the rear side of the house. Thus emerges the question how the murderer left the scene of the crime if he did not vanish into thin air.
While the solution might be a little too convenient in the end, the construction of the whole case was brilliantly invented and the details put into it were fair, logical hints but yet not too obvious and easy.

All in all a very solid collection I can definitely recommend to anyone, especially those who read some neo-orthodox writers because I always think it's fun to retrace all those influences. Ayukawa's stories aren't just important because of their influence though since naturally such impact does not come out of nowhere. Most of the stories collected in this book can be just as well enjoyed in the present time and I can only imagine how groundbreaking they were when they were written. Someone really has to publish something by Ayukawa in English, preferably this book!

1 comment:

  1. Man, I've wanted to get this collection for ages, together with some of Amagi Hajime's work, but with my self-imposed purchase restraint this summer.... >.<

    *must... control... myself*