Wednesday, August 3, 2011


Student Taneda Shizuma visits the secluded hot spring village Sugarumura to commit an allegedly romantic suicide. Before his awaited first snow falls though, he encounters the detective-in-training Misasagi Mikage, a 17 year old girl who wants to succeed the name of her deceased mother, a rumored and famous great detective. Soon they wind up in serial murders in the Kotosaki family, the religiously rooted governing family of the village. Mikage sets out for her first case and points out the correct culprit at last. Or so it seems until Shizuma visits the village once more 18 years later...

Since the table of contents already gives away that the book consists of two parts, the first playing in 1985 and the second in 2003, I guess it's safe to say that it's no spoiler that this novel broaches the issue of the arbitrariness of deductions and logic and presents multiple ultimately false solutions over the course (this is not even the suprising point of this novel). And it was awesome at that, which is why I certainly understand why this book got praised by fellow authors and critics and placed 1st in the Orthodox Mystery Best 2011 and won both the Orthodox Mystery Award and the Mytery Writers of Japan Award. Even the false solutions require a fair amount of deductions and don't seem entirely inappropriate at first. It shows that Maya Yutaka put a lot of thought in his new representative work. Most time when the Kotosaki do not talk about their family issues and worries the dialogues are spent on thought processes and deductions and you really become engrossed in the protagonists' situation and with each false solution you care more for them.

Here lies the delicate point of the book though. The characters are even more anime-esque than in Maya's other works and they are not better off in the Yokomizo-esque setting. Personally I could not care less as the dialogues are still witty and snappy enough for my taste and I felt entertained throughout the whole novel. Whether the setting and the characters are realistic seldom gets focus in my rating, but I guess this is a rather significant point of criticism for a certain kind of other readers that did not find out about orthodox detective fiction via popular culture. I liked the characters and therefore I was also moved by the outcome of the plot, even considering I could foresee certain aspects having read other works by Maya Yutaka.

So I guess it's difficult to enjoy the plot if this is not your kind of setting, but there's no doubt that Maya crafted an interesting mystery novel with a distinct thematic focus on the detective figure and his corresponding hardships shouldering almost unfairly high anticipation, as well as the delicate issue of deductions and the arbitrariness of clues. Maya deserves to be praised for this even if the rest is not your cup of tea.

Now excuse me while I'm off trying to finally get my hands on a satisfying copy of Ellery Queen's The Greek Coffin Mystery...


  1. I'm a total sucker for multi-layered/false solution stories, so I guess this might be as good as any place to really start reading Maya. *scribbles down title for the post-summer purchasing list*

    Anime-esque characters in straight novels is not something I'm very familiar with, actually. While I read plenty (plenty) of manga, I never really got deep into the light novel scene (reminder to self: continue with Zaregoto novels), so you do raise an interesting point I'll keep in my mind if I ever start with this novel.

    And Queen's The Greek Coffin Mystery is still my favorite Queen novel <3 (Awesome) Required reading for anyone interested in the genre!

  2. I've always wanted to read The Greek Coffin Mystery since it's pretty much the most praised work by Queen, but I've yet to find an offer where the condition or the absence of photos does not keep me from ordering...

    Maya's debut work 翼ある闇 actually already included multiple solutions and a unique and reflected view on the genre in general, so you might as well start with that one. Especially as a Queen fanboy. And I don't even have to know Queen novels myself to be able to say that...

    Roman Hat, French Powder, Siamese Twin, Chinese Orange and Spanish Cape are piled up on my desk. I did read up on the contents a bit but do you have any personal suggestion what to read first?

  3. I hope you won't mind me chiming in, but from that diminutive pile of titles (not counting The Greek Coffin Mystery) The Siamese Twin Mystery is the best for someone who has primarily read Japanese detective fiction.

    It has a bizarre plot, even for an EQ story, in which Ellery Queen, Inspector Queen and a cast of outré characters are trapped atop a mountain estate, cut-off from the civilized world by a raging forest fire, while a murderer prowls among them – and it introduces the dying message.

    The French Powder Mystery is also very good, but somehow I think you would appreciate the former a bit better.

    On the other titles you listed: The Chinese Orange Mystery has a locked room mystery, of sorts, but it's too clever for its own good and you need a pencil/sketchbook to make sense out of it; The Spanish Cape Mystery has one of the most transparent plots I ever came across in GAD (not what you'd expect from the otherwise complexly plotted International series) and The Roman Hat Mystery is a better than average debut, but not one of their classic performances.

    It's a pity you didn't list The Egyptian Cross Mystery, which is a proto-Japanese mystery with its cut-up bodies publicly displayed. You should also try and take a peek at The American Gun Mystery. That one is a personal favorite of mine, but even I have to admit that the mind numbing solution to the impossible disappearance of the gun is what kept this book from conquering a spot among the classics of the genre. Still, a great read and has, for the most part, a very clever plot.

    Oh, and while you're at it... try getting hold of a copy of John Sladek's Black Aura - a stunning impossible crime novel, in which a member of a spiritual circle is murdered while apparently levitating in mid-air. Required reading for everyone who loves locked room mysteries and impossible crimes.

  4. I really, really love French, which, like Greek, is a great example of the logical reasoning in Queen's work (and for example in Norizuki's writings).

    Roman is certainly not perfect, but as it introduces all kinds of typical Queen-elements (Challenge, the great search etc.), it should end up rather high on the priority list.

    I agree that Chinese and Spanish might not be the best places to start reading Queen. Siamese is indeed one of the better nationality novels, and I remember that Kasai discussed the book at the beginning of 『探偵小説と二0世紀精神』 (note to self: start reading Kasai for real). Egypt would indeed have been interesting one to start with too.

    So... if you're sorta familiar with Queen, I'd go with either French, Siamese (Egypt). If not, you might consider to just start with Roman. And if you can start with Greek, that's probably the best, as it's the first chronologically anyway).

  5. I forgot to mention the omnibus of almost the whole Drury Lane series, but as I wanted to get to know Ellery Queen as a detective anyway it's a bit farther down on my list at the moment (even considering I seem to like those arrogant and eccentric Japanese detectives based on Drury). And the thickness of that bulky monster featuring the 3 tragedies is not really an impetus to start reading...

    Actually I was already thinking about French Powder or Siamese Twin. The former because I wanted to get to know Ellery as a detective figure (since he seems to be less absent than in the debut), the latter because of the setting. So as long as I don't switch over to ordering Greek Coffin and Egyptian Cross somehow, I guess I'll read one of those two first.

  6. The Drury Lane novels are great too! Y is one of the classics of the genre, while the final scene in Z where Lane explains everything is Queen at his best. I don't particularly like Drury Lane as a character though (Z and Last Case are therefore more fun to read as they're written from a different perspective)