Friday, April 6, 2012


Mystery writer Arisugawa Arisu and his friend and clinical criminologist Himura Hideo are invited to the mansion of locked room writer genius Makabe Seiichi, who during the Christmas party announces that his next novel and therefore his 46th locked room is going to be the last one. The invited writers and editors are shocked but the topic soon changes when strange presents are found in the guests' rooms and an unknown man is seen prowling around the mansion. The situation comes to its peak when Makabe and (apparently) the unknown man are found in two different locked rooms, both burned in fireplaces. In one of them the police finds the remains of what seems to be (now rendered unreadable) notes of Makabe's last locked room trick. Was the Japanese Carr murdered with his own idea?

This damn cold... I don't even know how I managed to finish this book, but I guess it shows how enjoyable it was. I can't assure that this review is going to make sense in any way, but I don't know what else I could do right now instead of going to bed again, which would be boring and unproductive.

While in classical novels like those of Ellery Queen the plot opens with the murders immediately, in neo-orthodox Japanese novels it's often the case that it takes some time time until someone actually gets killed. However especially authors like Ayatsuji Yukito or Arisugawa Arisu have such a lucid and fluent writing style that it does not really matter. The atmosphere created through the snowbound mansion and the strange presents also undoubtedly helps and as anybody would imagine, the discussions of the writers and editors are intriguing as well. The detective figure Himura is also introduced in an appropriate and not too excessive way. But when the locked room murders happen, the fun really sets in.

Arisugawa, together with Norizuki Rintarou and in a rather twisted and unique way also Maya Yutaka, is known for employing distinct Queen-ish factors into his plotting and while the cousins surely weren't famous for impossible crime situations, the Queen-ish influence is still very much perceivable in this novel. The locked rooms are not exactly what you would call astonishing when you only consider the murder method the culprit used, but where Arisugawa's talent shines is in how he scatters his clues and how they are totally fair and point at only one possible solution. The focus on logical deduction becomes clear in a rather funny way when Arisu (the narrator) comes up with a false solution because he was hellbent on the locked room without giving the countless other aspects the attention they must be given to fully unlock the single truth behind everything. And usually I prefer logical and guessable locked rooms to excessive mechanical tricks that are either unguessable or improbable or both.

In general, this novel has the central theme of Arisugawa's love-hate relationship with locked room murders. On the one hand they fascinate him but on the other hand they easily fail at satisfying the reader, since they try to do something impossible and magical after all, so if the solution is not something almost as stunning as magic, some readers get disappointed, even though they want the crime to be solved in a logical and rational manner.

Some might even go as far and say they don't want to see the perfect locked room trick, since nothing new would be created afterwards then, but as we know new locked room mysteries are written continuously, which means there has not been a perfect trick so far and I guess we all doubt there ever will. So we continue searching and I think that's what's so fun for all the writers and readers about impossible crime situations. And that kind of twisted love comes across nicely in this novel. But as I already said, this is not the only recommendable aspect. The construction of the crime and the brilliant fair play already makes this book worth a read and Arisugawa could have just as well inserted a Challenge To The Reader at the end of the penultimate chapter.

My only nitpicking would be that the motive was handled a bit awkwardly (maybe it's just me but somehow I didn't know whether the author wanted me to feel sorry for the culprit or loathe him... and the latter would bother me quite a bit) and the only clue leading there was rather arbitrary. But maybe I was just expecting too much after that tragic denouement in 孤島パズル. But then I still prefer that novel anyway to be honest, as much as I liked this one as well. The setting is so rife with puzzles and the bicycle alibi trick, the reason the locked room ensued that way and the rather unique dying message during the several murders just intrigued me more than the locked rooms of the novel actually reviewed here. Maybe I should really tackle 双頭の悪魔 in the near future...


  1. We're crossing our streams!

    I mean, I've just started in 月光ゲーム. Kinda interested in the dying message, as a Queen fan, but nothing has happened yet ('cept for the in media res prologue). Then again, I'm not reading at a good pace...

    The atmosphere in 46番目の密室 is really like Queen's The Finishing Stroke (and The Mad Tea Party), so you might wanna take a look at those stories too (it's probably mentioned in the book, but it's been too long ago).

  2. I thought the dying message in 月光ゲーム was handled rather well, but then I haven't read that many stories with dying messages (I think they can be found in Queen short stories?). There are some other Queen-ish clues and deductions and the atmosphere also wasn't bad but I found it hard to remember all those students. 孤島パズル is totally awesome though in any aspect, so I hope you don't lose interest after 月光ゲーム (I didn't).

    Yes, The Finishing Stroke was mentioned in the book itself as well, but I already knew about that aspect since I read your review quite some time ago ;) And yes that book and the Adventure Collections are on my plan-to-purchase-list. Before that I still have to read Egyptian and Ten Days' Wonder, but I have to finish 2 papers until the end of this month... and somehow it bothers me that the opinions on Egyptian differ so much between Western and Japanese views.