Sunday, 25 August 2013

The Island Puzzle

I talked about a book in ARISUGAWA Alice's "Writer Alice" series last week, here. Now I've finished reading one of the "Student Alice" books, 孤島パズル (The Island Puzzle, 1989), the second in the series (and the only one I've read). In this series Arisugawa is a member of the Eito University Detective Fiction Research Club, and the detective is the club president, EGAMI Jirou (江神二郎). The club has a new female member ARIMA Maria (有馬麻里亜), and at her invitation Egami and Arisugawa are going to the Arima family's house on an isolated island. Maria's grandfather had had a great love for puzzles; and he had hidden a fortune in diamonds for whoever could solve the clues and find them. The last person to try, Maria's cousin ARIMA Hideto (有馬英人), thought he had got a good line on them; but on the same day that he said this he was found drowned in the island's bay, apparently in a night swimming accident. The club members' search starts as a pleasant island holiday, but is soon interrupted by murder, as two members of the Arima family are found shot in a room closed with a latch from the inside, although the rifle that shot them is not in the room.

As in the other series there are a lot of elements familiar from Ellery Queen: a dying message; a challenge to the reader; a solution depending on a chain of deductions. Come to think of it, treasure hunts are a rather common feature of Ellery Queen's stories if I remember rightly. This one certainly adds to the amusement. The locked room is not a very Queenish element of course. It's not much of a locked room either (quite often reading Japanese detective stories, I feel I should add a "locked room of sorts" label to the blog tags). I like Ellery Queen's complex deductions a lot, even if I never feel convinced that they're all that watertight. I was not such a fan of the one in this book. Part of the problem is that it's a little dull. Before we even get to the murder in question, our minds have been focused on the various ways of getting around the island. And then, the various elements are so artificial: you can get from A to B in x minutes rowing, y minutes cycling, z minutes walking; the three bicycles were seen at this hour and this hour and this hour, only two of them were seen at this hour etc.

Another mild irritation was what you might call the orphaned clue. I mean the kind of clue which only becomes a clue in combination with another piece of information, which we then don't get until the culprit makes their confession.

Reading this, it sounds like I didn't enjoy the book very much, but I wasn't bored reading it or dissatisfied at the end. You can see someone else's opinion of it here. (Update: Oh, and another one here.)

I started to make the list of characters I usually make for reading detective stories; but then I noticed that the publishers for once had done it for me (except for those members of the club who only appear in the preface).

Incidentally I suspect a western reader's largest puzzle reading the book will be, 'How come the female characters are doing all the housework?'

[UPDATE 2016: There is now an English translation by Ho-Ling Wong, published by Locked Room International, The Moai Island Puzzle.]


  1. (Thanks for the link)

    This is definitely my favorite Arisugawa. Sure, it might all feel a bit artificial, but the way the hints link, the way one clue develops into a deduction, into another and the avalanche effect it results into is just fantastic, I think. It has the feeling of an extended 犯人当て, I admit, but when it's done like this, I have no complaints.

    1. Hmm, hannin ate? Another gap in my vocabulary. Some kind of "Guess the killer" concentrated puzzle short story format?

      I like this better than the three "Writer Alice" books I've read. (I didn't dislike any of them). I may try the next in this series some time.