Sunday, March 11, 2012


World-famous painter and sculptor Shirakashi Munenao and his family finally appear in the media after Munenao began accepting interviews and building their strange mansion in the depth of Kyouto's Mt. Hiei. The Shirakashi were mostly living in secrecy before and their inbred family tree draws the public attention. When journalists Kisaragi Uyuu and Anjou Norisada visit their mansion for an article about Munenao's new painting, Shirakashi Akika's severed head is found on her piano. Due to unbroken snow surrounding the mansion, only one of its inhabitants could be the murderer. However, due to huge digital clocks in every room making their movements perfectly rememberable, all of them possess alibis for the hour in which the murder must have been committed!

Reminiscient of train mysteries and their complex timetable puzzles, but happening inside a mansion with every character having a perfect alibi, which almost makes this an impossible crime situation. So this should be very fun, right? To be honest, the question is rather tricky. 

In an interview Maya Yutaka stated that he actually wanted the alibi puzzle to be so overly complex and intricate, that he would not let the reader solve it. And goddammit is this horrifying. I don't know whether I want to applaud or strangle him. Let's sum this up:
1) We have 1 victim and 8 suspects. All their names are horribly confusable since they all include only 2 kanji which are all composed out of the same 8 kanjis. 
2) Not only the names are hard to remember and look at, the timetable is also friggin SMALL. Remembering who did what where in the mansion at which point in time was just as nearly impossible.
3) And to round things up, they just don't stop moving. Seriously, how much can a family run around in one hour?!

So strictly speaking, I found the puzzle a bit hard to enjoy because Maya made it so deliberately difficult. He's known for expecting a lot from the readers, but this went a bit too far for my taste. The narration does not really help either. The easiest way to try to figure things out would actually be to ignore the explanations and thoughts of the deducing characters and just look at the damn table with its numbers and deal with the names like ciphers as well, since most of the persons behind those don't even have a description of their outward appearance or personality anyway. So you begin to ask yourself why you are reading a novel instead of just looking at a puzzle, which is never a good thing.

Maya also stated in that interview that he made the puzzle so ridiculously complex and difficult because he wanted to make clear to the reader that this is not he main point of the novel and that there's no need in trying to solve this anway. And I'm glad I knew that beforehand, so I could skim that part, but usually you don't know about this kind of things when beginning a novel.

The main question of the mystery is indeed something different; namely what is the family's secret and why was such a complex crime situation necessary and possible? The solution for the murderer's identity is actually revealed in a rather unspectacular manner. Around page 200 the murder happened, the first table shows up and the characters start deducung... and around page 300 you already know who did it. With another 150 pages following until the end of the book. This would not be such a delicate matter if it was not for two reasons:
1) The solution is based on the overthrowing of one of the assumptions this puzzle was built around. It certainly isn't unrealistic or anything, but you wonder if it's actually fair making the reader think that assumption can be included in your deductions as a given fact just to discard one of the puzzle's basic foundations eventually.
2) The truth behind the family is fairly hinted at and I suspected it rather early in the book. However, it's not really enough to justify suspending the novel's outcome any more and it somehow renders the puzzle irrelevant once you think about it... here Maya goes again with one of the anti-mystery principles.

I like mysteries that play in a distinct setting with a unique kind of logic behind everything, but this time that logic was rather bland for Maya's standards. But maybe I've just gotten too used to his maliciousness...

Overall this is not a bad book by any means though. The mystery and how it's integrated into the plot is a rather delicate matter, but maybe that's just my personal... and many other readers' opinion. Otherwise the novel is certainly intriguing. Anjou, who overheard his parents when he was younger and found out he was adopted (more or less...), suspects to be the lost son of the Shirakashi due to his ring and a corresponding symbol he saw in a photo of the Shirakashi mansion's interior, so he tries to get closer to his supposed sister Akika and as already said eventually visits the mansion together with Uyuu. The latter's character is finally comparatively developed after the two preceding works in this trilogy of sorts and with Anjou's search for the truth, Uyuu's and Touri's marriage plans, the Shirakashi family and their distinct religious outlook, the reader is provided with a fascinating novel about family and religion; especially the rather unsettling or even frightening issues connected to these fields. The narration is also rather enthralling most of the time since we have Anjou's, Uyuu's, detective figure Kisarazu Yuuya's and several other perspectives and points of time to keep the reader interested. 

Just don't read this before the other two works told by Uyuu and Maya's debut novel since otherwise you'll be heavily spoiled!!
All in all, this is not the worst Maya novel I've read, but it's definitely not the best either. If I don't lose the impetus I might sum up/rank/revise the Maya readings sometime, but right now I should take another nap... and after that on with other western classics!


  1. Your description of the murder impressed me as something from a bad 1910/20s mystery novel and taken to the extreme. Did the family drop any "clues," such as a monogrammed handkerchief or an engraved lighter, during all that running around in the house?

    Looking forward to reading your thoughts on the western classics.

  2. No they don't drop any clues. Too lazy to take an example directly from the novel, but they are all along the lines of:
    Character X was reading a book until 20:12, went to see his grandson in the room on the 3rd floor until 20:21, went to the gaming room and played billiard until 20:32, spoke with character Y in a room nearby until 20:40, returned to his room to begin reading again until 20:49 and then went to see someone else until the head was found at 21:00.

    On top of that one of the characters kind of plays a maid's role and runs around the floor constantly to serve coffee and collect used cups. And most of the time none of the characters is alone in a room and you would need at least a quarter of an hour to go to the music room, severe the victim's head and ring finger, pull the body to the basement and stuff it into the furnace and then return to the main floor and pretend nothing's happened until the head is found on the piano.

    This goes for 8 characters. The names and actions are almost impossible to remember and the puzzle is too complex for its own good, which leaves only one method to make the crime possible and narrow it down to one murderer, namely discarding an aspect assumed to be a given fact.

    I think I'm finally getting around to reading The Plague Court Murders :)