Friday, 27 November 2015

Jack the Poetical Private

MORI Hiroshi (森 博嗣) started his career as a novelist with すべてがFになる (subete ga F ni naru, The Perfect Insider / Everything Becomes F, 1996), featuring SAIKAWA Souhei (犀川創平), a lecturer and researcher in a university architecture department, and NISHINOSONO Moe (西之園萌絵), the orphan daughter of a wealthy family, a student in the same department. The story was notable for its daringly unexpected locked room mystery and high technology setting; it won the Mephisto Prize and has been adapted into a manga, a television drama, and most recently an anime series. No-one would deny the daring of its approach to the locked room mystery; but I must admit that I thought the book wrote itself a large blank cheque in the assumptions behind what was plausible both for the characters and for the set up.  

詩的私的ジャック (shiteki shiteki jakku, Jack the Poetical Private, 1997) is a much more conventional detective story in the same series. It too has a locked room mystery, or rather several, as a series of victims are found in locked rooms in different universities, all stripped to their underwear with mysterious marks cut into their skin after death. So, as well as a locked room mystery, this starts looking like a "find the connexion" serial killer mystery. In fact the first two locked rooms are not taken very seriously as a puzzle for the reader, and the links between the various murders are also established early. The final locked room is kept as the main puzzle, although it is really hardly a locked room at all. The attention of the police and the amateur detectives is soon drawn to a drop out student at the university, now a rising pop star. The lyrics of one of the songs on his new album have a strange similarity to the crimes.

Like The Perfect Insider, the book reads easily; but I never felt much engagement with the characters. There was a little more Ellery Queen style deduction in the answer this time. Some of it (as often with this style) was not quite convincing; but there were also parts where Saikawa could offer a plausible, but not considered, explanation for oddities in the various crime scenes. The puzzle aspect of the book was very similar to what one might find in one of the more trick oriented golden age writers.

The book had a puzzle of a different kind. As in The Perfect Insider, Mori provides a list of characters, a very useful feature if you're reading Japanese and have difficulty with name kanji. But in both, the only characters listed are those in universities or research institutes. Other characters, such as policemen or servants, are not listed there. I think the first book did the same thing; and it seems very odd to me. Is there some reason for it?

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