Sunday 10 November 2013

Snow Locked Room

I read 雪密室 (Yuki Misshitsu, Snow Locked Room, 1989) by 法月綸太郎 (NORIZUKI Rintarou, born 1964) a while ago. So this is really just an account of my impressions from reading it.

Police superintendant NORIZUKI Sadao (法月貞雄) is one of several guests invited to the guest house Getsushokusou in the mountains in midwinter. The invitation is the work of a woman who takes pleasure in discovering other people's secrets and blackmailing them into dancing to her tune. When she is found hanged in the separate house in the grounds, the local police want to treat it as suicide, especially since there is untrodden snow all round this annexe and the only key a murderer could have used seems to be inside the annexe. But Norizuki is sure that this is murder. Locked rooms are beyond his abilities, though. So he calls in the help of his son, detective story writer NORIZUKI Rintarou ( 法月綸太郎).

The locked room puzzle here probably sounds familiar; and Rintarou himself mention's Carter Dickson's The White Priory Murders (1934) as soon as he hears of what had happened. The solution there does not work here, though, as Rintarou's policeman father remarks. On the other hand, one could say that the solution when we do find it uses elements from this and another mystery with a similar setup. It's perhaps not surprising that Ho-Ling in his review thinks that 'the locked room is not very original'. I actually like it a lot. Most locked rooms in the end are a matter of clever new combinations, and this one seemed very satisfactory. It's also very neatly constructed, so that the reader can have the pleasure of solving half of the trick without necessarily getting the full solution. More than that, we accept the solution to most locked room mysteries, because it's the only one that explains the impossibility. Norizuki here manages to have a solution that is reached by deduction, which in turn leads to a further deduction which allows him to identify the criminal, very much in the style of early Ellery Queen mysteries.

The similarities to Ellery Queen will probably already have struck you as you read the plot description: a team of policeman father and amateur detective son; an author with the same name as the hero. This is a deliberate homage of course. The father son team is very reminiscent of Ellery Queen novels and is really very well done.

There are things I don't like in the book. In some respects it feels overegged, with an abundance of side plots and the provision of a tragic backstory that fits very uncomfortably into the book. But it was one of the Japanese mysteries that most made me want to read more from the writer. Strange that I haven't got round to it yet. I have The Adventures of Norizuki Rintarou waiting on my shelf; I just need to get the energy to read a set of short stories.

There's a J'lit page on Norizuki Rintarou here.

1 comment:

  1. Norizuki's early short story collections are excellent and I generally enjoy them much better than his novels. You want consider reading ふたたび赤い悪夢, which builds on this novel (though you might want to read 頼子のために first before that for some context on Rintarou's mental state...).