Thursday, 26 January 2017

One More Red Nightmare

Before you read ふたたび赤い悪夢 (futatabi akai akumu, One More Red Nightmare, 1992) by NORIZUKI Rintarou (法月綸太郎), you need to decide whether you want to read the two earlier books in the series 雪密室 (yuki misshitsu, Snow Locked Room, 1989) and 頼子のために (Yoriko no tame ni, For Yoriko, 1990). Events and characters of both of these books are important background to this one; and Norizuki supplies readers with enough information to understand the story even if they haven't read those. That means that they get a good deal more information about the mysteries than they would ideally want before reading them. He doesn't go so far as to give away the whole mystery; but when I think of the trouble I go to avoid spoilers, I feel that authors could make a bit of an effort in that direction too. In this case I accept the inevitable and add the warning that this review, like the book it discusses, will show a little bit more than you might want about at least one of the previous books (but less than the author does).

Detective story author and amateur detective NORIZUKI Rintarou (the character with the same name as the author is an Ellery Queen homage that several Japanese writers have maintained) is suffering from the memories of his investigation in For Yoriko. He has lost any sense of purpose as a detective, and that crisis of confidence has also spread into his writing career, leading to a one year long writer's block. Trying to puzzle out a way forward he finds himself meditating on mid to late Ellery Queen novels that feature a similar mental trial, particularly Cat of Many Tails (1949).

He is partially shaken out of his self absorbed inaction by a call for help from young singing star, HATANAKA Yurina (畑中有里奈), looking for Rintarou's father, the police superintendant, who had promised to help her if she ever needed it in the first book, Snow Locked Room. Yurina has been attacked with a knife, apparently by an obsessive fan, in a store room of the radio station where she had been invited for an interview. Her memory is that she felt the knife stabbing her and fainted; yet when she came to she was covered in blood, but without a scratch. Meanwhile in a nearby park the attacker has been found stabbed in the stomach, although he was apparently unharmed when he left the radio station.

Accompanying Yurina's fear of her responsibility in the killing, there is a secret in her past which weighs on her: her mother had apparently murdered her baby brother and father, before committing suicide, when Yurina was a baby. So the investigation involves two mysteries, the stabbing of Yurina's attacker and the murder of her family in the distant past.

All in all this is an odd book. When I write that the investigation involves two mysteries, in fact the various mysteries also break down into smaller parts, which are solved bit by bit, sometimes by deduction, sometimes by revelation. Those puzzles which allow the reader to solve them are fair enough, but generally not very compelling; one trick where I was led quite astray was very effective (the real solution made more sense than the red herring but was still a surprise). But there are some odd problems of balance in the book. Rintarou's self doubt is far more the theme of the book than the actual mystery (much more so than in the related Ellery Queen books). The mystery however seems too unrealistic for such a novel. And the narrative sometimes slows almost to a halt: a monologue of many pages, which accompanies a guided tour through the radio broadcasting building, feels like it should have something relevant in it; so does a chapter long timeline of popstar marketing in Japan. It almost makes you suspect that some plot points were not quite fixed when the earlier chapters were written.

I could add quite a bit to the things that didn't quite seem to work in the book; but I didn't especially dislike it. You can read Ho-Ling's review of the book here, if you'd like a second opinion, though I didn't notice much that I'd disagree with.

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