Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Seven Days' Ransom

七日間の身代金 (Nanokakan no minoshirokin, Seven Days' Ransom, 1986) is an impossible crime puzzle by 岡嶋二人 (OKAJIMA Futari). A little late, I've added "impossible crime" to the blog's post labels. Japanese detective stories often use "locked room" to describe impossible crimes which don't involve a locked room, or sometimes even a room.

CHIKAISHI Chiaki (近石千秋) and TSUKISHIRO Younosuke (槻代要之助) are a musical duo. Chiaki writes the lyrics, Younosuke sets them to music, then Chiaki sings the songs accompanied by Younosuke on piano. The two of them are in their mid to late twenties, hoping to get a start in the music business. When we meet them, the two are friends, who have somehow missed the point where they might have become lovers. Chiaki is also the daughter of a senior policeman. It's through her eyes that we see the story.

The novel starts with the video of a ransom demand. An acquaintance, TOBA Sumako (鳥羽須磨子) has asked Chiaki's advice after receiving the video, which shows her stepson, TOBA Kunihiko  (鳥羽国彦), and her brother, TAKENAKA Kazumi (竹中和巳), tied up. In the video Takenaka is reading a ransom note to the camera, with the kidnappers' demands. Rejecting Chiaki's urgings to contact the police, Sumako sets off with the money. With no time to telephone and not knowing where Sumako has been told to go, Chiaki and Younosuke set off chasing after her Porsche in Younosuke's Sunny. Even though a kidnapping is a really unpleasant crime, the tone here is actually almost light hearted. Sumako drives to one café after another, evidently picking up instructions from the kidnappers. By quick thinking, Chiaki and Younosuke manage to discover the place where the next instruction is and inform the police. When Sumako goes to the final destination, an uninhabited island in a lake, connected to the mainland only by a long bridge, the police are waiting. To avoid being spotted by the kidnapper,  they have kept their distance; but there are boats on the lake and policemen watching from cover on the mainland. A little after Sumako reaches the island, the police hear a shot and rush there from the lake and from the mainland. Sumako has been shot, the killer is nowhere to be seen. The gun and the ransom money have gone too.

This is obviously a fairly open impossible crime. Escape via the lake, on the water or under the surface, cannot be absolutely ruled out, although the police seem confident that that would be impossible. Other possibilities are likely to occur to readers familiar with the form. But whatever we may have been speculating gets put aside about half way through, when a discovery removes this impossibility and replaces it with a new kind of impossibility.

The puzzle has an odd form: for most of the story, all our suspects are off scene, since everyone connected with the case is either dead or missing. The lighthearted tone also evaporates fairly quickly. Chiaki starts looking like she might be a typical figure of Japanese popular literature, the attractive young woman who always gets what she wants by self confidence or wheedling or family connexions. But the depiction does not go very far in the "charming but infuriating" direction and treats her more seriously as a young woman deciding what she wants in life. The depiction of the two central characters is perhaps a little weak. Their profession is potentially interesting, but has no relation to the story; and we see very little of it. One could criticise the puzzle on the grounds that some bits are overclued and some underclued. It also demands that the police miss a few things, some understandably, some less so. The two main tricks are good enough for a novella, perhaps not quite for a full novel; but Okajima Futari are skilled at involving the story in interesting episodes.

I nearly left out the illustration here. I like that Japan keeps cover artists in business; and some are lovely. This isn't one of those. I put the picture size to "small".


  1. Hello,

    I enjoy reading your reviews especially the reviews of Japanese detective novels. Your reviews make me want to learn Japanese language so that at least I can READ Japanese detective. I don't mind if I could not SPEAK Japanese.

    Could you please give me a suggestion, where(online) is the best site to learn how to read Japanese? What book(dictionary and grammar of Japanese language in English) is suitable for me?

    Thank you so much for your help.

    Have a great day!

    Best Wishes,

  2. I learnt only from books; and it's not a good method. It would have been much better to take some classes. Even if you only want to read, it helps with Japanese to know what it sounds like (especially since when reading you can't tell the pronunciation of many words printed in kanji - Chinese characters - unless you already know the word).

    I learnt the basics with a German teach yourself Japanese book. I imagine any book of the same kind will do as well. Then I started learning the kanji with the German version of W. Hadamitsky & M. Spahn, Japanese Kanji and Kana. That's a good book, but there may be something better online, or at least cheaper; and J. Halpern, The Kodansha Kanji Learner's Dictionary might have done as well or better. At the same time I got the basics of grammar from J. Bunt, Oxford Japanese Grammar and Verbs. That's a small book, despite the price. It does a very good job of explaining a lot of grammar in a comprehensible way. My edition had a horribly large number of misprints and one small but bad grammar mistake that I spotted. At the same time I was using various "readers", beginner books with help on vocabulary and grammar, to get to meet the kanji in real texts. The best was G. Murray, Breaking into Japanese Literature: Seven Modern Classics in Parallel Text, if only because the stories in it are worth reading (Natsume Soseki and Akutagawa Ryunosuke).

    I really don't know what online sites are best for learning Japanese. I've sometimes searched for a grammar point when I'm at the computer away from my books and found what I was looking for at Tae Kim's Guide to learning Japanese (; but I don't know how reliable it is, or whether it's any good for learning.

    1. Thank you so much for your suggestion.

      I think you are right in saying that we need to attend some classes to learn any languages especially Japanese because of the different pronunciation. I wll try to find some classes or at the very least try to find a tutor.

      Instead of buying The Kodansha Kanji Learner's Dictionary, I've decided to buy Kodansha's Furigana Japanese Dictionary (Kodansha Dictionaries) by Masatoshi Yoshida and Yoshikatsu Nakamura and Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar by Seiichi Makino and Michio Tsuisui.

      Thank you so much, Nigel.

      Have a great day!