Saturday, August 27, 2011

青い密室 名探偵・星影竜三全集 (2)

Short story collection of 8 works by Ayukawa Tetsuya and compiling all his short stories featuring the detective character Hoshikage Ryuuzou together with the first volume 赤い密室.

To be honest, I did not expect that much from this collection, or rather did not want to expect too much to avoid being disappointed. But speaking strictly, while there were 3 masterpieces in the first volume, one of those worked a lot better as a revised full-fledged novel version and the other 3 stories were so obviously copied and reconstructed from Carr and stuffed into a small page count with an uncomplex structure, that they turned out too simplistic for my taste. Adding the fact that those 2 actually not just good or decent but awesome stories also seem to be the most discussed and praised ones, I was wondering how the 8 stories in the second volume would turn out.

Fortunately, while there wasn't anything as awesome as 赤い密室 (the story) in this collection, many came very close and there are only one or two stories out of 8 that I did not find particularly interesting, which makes this collection more recommendable as a whole in comparison to the first one. This might also stem from the fact that while in the first one 5 out of 6 if not all stories featured impossible crimes, only one half of the second compilation consists of those and therefore more variation is offered. The other 4 are 1 rather bland story and 3 which were featured as culprit guessing stories in magazines at that time. With a challenge to the reader and mystery writer Ayukawa Tetsuya as the narrator in 2 of them. Yes, especially these 2 are very Queen-ish, not only in structure but also in terms of tricks and deductions being used to gain a logical and totally satisfying yet surprising solution.

白い密室 features a murder in a house surrouned by snow with the only 2 lines of footprints leading into it being from the 2 characters who discovered the corpse. The trick is rather simple but it fits the short page count and it's also pretty innovative for its time. My only problem was that I found the clues to be insufficiently or imprecisely placed. Even Hoshikage himself mentions in his deduction that at some parts he was guessing 1 out of 3 possibilties and he just had to check which was actually the case by asking the police to check up on it. Which does not make the deduction process strictly logical in my opinion.

薔薇荘殺人事件 was pretty much awesome in any way possible. Ayukawa gets invited by Hoshikage to visit a crime scene together after his novels were criticized for their unrealistic depictions of police procedure, so he should better learn from watching. 2 murders and one robbery incident have to happen until Hoshikage finally points out the culprit living together with the other inhabitants of the mansion. The way of deduction was totally logical and convincing in Queen-ish style and yet Ayukawa managed to make the culprit surprising because of his misdirection skills that fortunately were at their best here.

I already loved the narration via Ayukawa in the previous story, but it got even more fun with 悪魔はここに in a secluded mansion in the mountains, isolated due to a typhoon. Ayukawas depictions are always neat and while the case wasn't as complex as in the previous story, the culprit was more convincing and memorable and just as surprising for me even though the solution should have been apparent to me right away. This story is even more Queen-ish, but I won't say why because that could become a spoiler.

青い密室 is the third and last of the color-related locked room stories Ayukawa wrote. The title doesn't carry much meaning though. The first one was red due to its red brick walls and probably the autopsy room itself, the second derives from the snow and this one merely from the blue halogen lamp and lampshade in the locked room. While still not as good as the red locked room, I liked the blue one more than the white since the clues were more fair and the case featured more suspects. The trick is rather classic but has a unique note as well as the absence of footprints under the room's window actually point out the culprit rather than making this seemingly impossible situation more complicating... and I still didn't get it until it was solved by Hoshikage.

砂とくらげと was an interesting approach in structure with Ayukawa writing a letter to Hoshikage describing another murder case on the same ground as in 薔薇荘殺人事件 and Hoshikage answering and solving it with another letter, but for me it sadly made for the least entertaining read in this compilation. Not even because of the case itself, but the boring way it was told. Just descriptions, almost no dialogue at all. The case was rather fine as it features a culprit vanishing from a beach with 1 stabbed corpse and one poisoned by a jellyfish! However I didn't quite get why the murderer should have to make such a hassle and why Ayukawa made the most suspicious person the culprit since it makes the whole impossible situation rather insignificant. The trick itself, while not logical in a way that one would understand why the culprit must choose this method, is definitely quite fun though.

茜荘事件 was the only really bland story in here. Some aspiring artists in some hotel in Karuizawa who all have a motive for murdering a journalist also staying there. Logical but very simple case and nothing worth mentioning at all unfortunately, even though I found it more fun to read than the previous story.

悪魔の灰 might be my favorite impossible crime story out of the 4 in here. In its short frame it manages to depict an engaging setting and characters with personality while still featuring a satisfying locked room. A scientist is found murdered and covered with ash in the lab of his mansion with the door locked and the windows shut tight after statues of his father and grandfather were found covered with ashes as well, like some kind of premonition. The key to the lab is found on the table inside of the room while the other key was in the hands of the victim's wife which was not at home when the murder happened. The misdirection worked pretty well here and I really liked this story overall.

朱の絶筆 might potentially be the best story of this compilation, as it was also made into a full-fledged novel later, but that's exactly my problem: It's just too complex for its page count. This was also written with a challenge to the reader for the readers of a magazine to guess the culprit before the solution was published and I really wonder how I should have deduced all that with tha facts I had. I would not say it's not logical, but some conclusions were a bit difficult to arrive at, to put it mildly. I had to look up a lot of aspects and needed almost as long to understand the solution as I needed to read the story itself... and the denouement is partly to be blamed for that as well, since Hoshikage in my opinion did not even address everything I wanted explained in detail. Even if it's a nuisance, I'll have to read the revised longer version someday as the setting and mystery itself were great.
Famous author Shinozaki Gousuke houses various other persons like editors, illustrators and cameramen in his mansion and as editor Tanaka arrives there to take the new manuscript to the publisher, Shinozaki's secretary and assistant Nogawa Fumiko tells him that Shinozaki finished the short story, but she still has to complete the clean copy from his tape dictation and let Shinozaki straighten it out after that. Apparently that should not take too long though and Tanaka even offers to write down the last few pages himself. Meanwhile Nogawa arranges a car so the two can go for a drive while Shinozaki makes his last corrections. After they return and want to have dinner with all the guests the maid discovers Shinozaki strangled in his study with a smell of burned manuscript paper filling the room. The aforementioned manuscript itself is safe though and was already partly corrected before the author's death, but the room's high temperature due to the burning makes the exact time of murder uncertain. It takes another strangulation and a poisoning incident until Hoshikage (not mentioned by name this time though...) arrives to deduce the truth with the suspects' statements.
Totally classic, complex whodunnit that certainly has more than just the potential for a whole novel. It's really the same thing as with 呪縛再現 and りら荘事件... so I'll have to get my hands on the novel somewhen.

Overall more recommendable than the first compilation, but they both have their pros and cons, it's just that this one is more consistent in quality.

1 comment:

  1. This volume comes across as an interesting compilation of short stories and it always amazes me how nearly every neo-orthodox writer dabbles in impossible crime stories. It's a pretty specialized sub-genre over here, but I don't think there's a Japanese mystery writer who didn't try his or her hands at it.