Thursday, 4 December 2014

Three Sisters Investigate

AKAGAWA Jirou (赤川次郎, born 1948) is a very successful and very prolific Japanese mystery writer. He has written many stand alone novels, and many different series. The two best known series are probably the Tortoiseshell Cat Holmes series (三毛猫ホームズ, mikeneko Holmes) and the Three Sisters Detective Club series (三姉妹探偵団, san shimai tantei dan). The Tortoiseshell Cat Holmes series started in 1978. The first in the 'Three Sisters' series came out in 1982, with the same name as the series, 三姉妹探偵団 (san shimai tantei dan, Three Sisters Detective Club, 1982); and that's the book I've just been reading. It's one of the few Japanese mysteries with an English translation, Three Sisters Investigate translated by Gavin Frew (1985).

The three sisters of the title are older sister SASAMOTO Ayako (佐々本綾子), a nineteen year old university student, middle sister Yuriko (夕里子), a  seventeen year old high school student, and younger sister Tamami (珠美), a fouteen year old middle school student. Ayako is feeble, unfocussed, clumsy and shy. Yuriko is energetic and responsible, and has been looking after the family since their mother died some years ago. Tamami is sarcastic, pessimistic and miserly. In this book, the only really active character most of the time is Yuriko; and Tamami in particular is hardly characterised beyond the basic traits mentioned above.

Yuriko wakes in the middle of the night to find the family house in flames. Hurriedly, she wakes her sisters, who sleep in the same room, and they escape through the window. The house burns down completely; but luckily the only other occupant, their father, is away on a business trip. The police however, suspect that the fire is no accident, a suspicion confirmed when they find the remains of a dead woman in the burnt out house. When the father's employer denies sending him on a business trip, suspicion settles on him. The three children, now lodged in the houses of helpful neighbours, decide to investigate to clear their father's name.

An Akagawa mystery does not come with a high expectation that it will be a fair play puzzle. The amount of actual detection varies from book to book. Readers are more likely to be interested in the protagonists or in the humour of the narration. In this case, there is a fair amount of reasoning and deduction in the first half, not very much in the second half. By the middle of the book readers will probably have picked who they think is the killer, though they won't be able to explain everything. The problem is that the complications to the story and the explanations for the various unexplained mysteries mostly make very little sense and are not really deducible either.

The comedy is mostly a matter of unexpected dialogue and styles of thinking, and it can be quite funny. But in this book Akagawa has a tendency to point to his own jokes, which makes the whole experience a bit like cheesy Japanese television, with inset reaction shots and captions. Also, for a book that is largely humorous, the subject matter is a little odd. All three sisters are threatened with violence (the youngest is hospitalized) or rape, and the mystery they are investigating also turns on rape, as well as sexual blackmail and the murder of a pregnant woman.

No comments:

Post a Comment