Eleven-year-old Mamoru finds himself being handed over by his parents to a strange facility that certainly is not on Japanese ground. Even knowing he will return to his parents when starting middle school, he needed some time to adjust to the new environment but eventually got used to it and found new friends among the other five students in the rather unusual residental school in the midst of nowhere.
Half a year after he arrived at the facility, the students finally start to discuss various theories about why they are gathered in this building from all over the world to routinely work on the deduction workshop's assignments.
When a seventh student is announced, things start to distort like they did when another student arrived before Mamoru came and eventually disappeared without any trace. Is there really a black evil something in this facility that despises change? Everything gets out of control when the first murder happens...
I was kind of wavering whether I should really try reading this as the other work by Nishizawa Yasuhiko I read certainly was an interesting book but in the end it actually did not surprise me at all. Another point was that for my taste the murders started way too late and ended too fast to actually build up this typical tension between murders in (neo-)orthodox detective fiction. I felt like Nishizawa only proved to me that orthodox mysteries also work out in a SF setting (in that case personalities switching bodies). Me taking so long to actually pick up another book by this author speaks for itself I guess.
I'm glad this novel turned out to be what I expected and even more than that. While it certainly has that same weak point about the murders happening too late for my taste, this time the first half was much more interesting. In both cases the setting was interesting, but in the first novel I read Nishizawa spent too much time on explaining the system over and over. However here I was immediately drawn into the whole situation the narrator found himself in and I also wanted to know for what purpose this facility was build. Of course the children are overly intelligent for their age and the way they worked on their deduction tasks in their workshop was just as entertaining as their theories on the facility itself, which vary between virtual reality experiments and of course the training of secret detective entities.
The real fun sets in when the seventh student arrives and the whole atmosphere slides a bit into horror territory until the murder chain begins. While the culprit itself isn't that surprising, the whole truth behind the facility and the evil dwelling in there who does not want to see new faces was simply shocking and turned everything I read before upside down. And I love books with narrative tricks like this one. Especially when, like in this case, the author manages to include countless hints that are on the one hand totally obviously stated, yet you don't realize their existence as clues.
Another distinct point about this novel is that while an excessive narrative trick that turns everything upside down is not anything special nowadays, the trick has a double-layered nature. The trick does not simply exist to deceive the reader, it also works among the characters in the novel. From what I can gather right now, I only know of one other novel I've read that did something slightly similar yet totally different.
And this is also where the theme of this novel shines. It's all about belief and delusion and therefore challenges concepts as objective perception and logic. Furthermore even with this kind of setting, Nishizawa manages to insert contemporary societal topics I would otherwise expect in other crime fiction genres, which proved me yet again that (neo-)orthodox detective novels don't ignore these issues, they just include and treat them in a different way.
It seems like Nishizawa's novels are highly diverse in setting and style so it's kind of difficult to get to know him as an author overall compared to authors with particular series like Ayatsuji Yukito, Kitayama Takekuni, Mori Hiroshi, Nikaidou Reito or classical authors like Ayukawa Tetsuya, I liked this novel a lot so I'll have to check out more of his stuff in the future. Even though I'm not in the mood to read a double-columned 600 pages hardcover book spanning over a huge timeline right now, which is one of the two books by Nishizawa piled up in my room... Maybe I should just start with his debut series someday when it's easier for me to get my hands on new books and read Japanese faster.