Saturday, 11 June 2016

The Scream Castle Murder Case

絶叫城殺人事件 (zekkyoujousatsujinjiken, The Scream Castle Murder Case, 2001) is the title story of a collection of six short mysteries by ARISUGAWA Arisu or Alice (有栖川 有栖), first published in magazines between 1996 and 2001.

Arisugawa has two main series, the "Student Alice" series, in which the narrator is ARISUGAWA Arisu, a student and budding detective story writer, recounting the deductions of his fellow student EGAMI Jirou, and the "Writer Alice" series, in which the narrator is ARISUGAWA Arisu, a professional detective story writer, recounting the deductions of his friend, criminology professor HIMURA Hideo. You might guess that the two Arisugawas are the same person at different points in their life; but there are hints in the "Student Alice" series that the "Writer Alice" world is the creation of student Alice, and in the "Writer Alice" narrative that "Student Alice" is a character in the books written by writer Alice. There are far fewer "Student Alice" books; and they include some of real world Alice's best regarded books. Any moment now, you should be able to try one of his best known early works in English translation, 孤島パズル (kotou pazuru, The Island Puzzle, 1989), published by Locked Room International as The Moai Island Puzzle. It makes an interesting comparison with the first Japanese novel from the same publishers and translator, The Decagon House Murders. At first sight the two are very similar (serial murders on an isolated island), but their approach is the polar opposite.

To come back to this collection, like the title story, the others all have titles of the form: [building name] "murder case". This is a very standard title for traditional detective stories in Japan (much like e. g. The White Priory Murders in English). In one of the stories the policeman in charge comments that Arisugawa would call it that in one of his stories, and (narrator) Arisugawa remarks that in fact he never had used such a title. That seems to be true for real life Arisugawa too. In fact there is a deliberate slight discrepancy between the image the title conjures up (like an English country house or isolated mansion murder) and the actual subject matter in the stories.

The first, 黒鳥亭殺人事件 (kokuchouteisatsujinjiken, "The Black Bird Villa Murder Case") is the nearest to the classical setting. Himura and Arisugawa visit the lonely house of an old friend from university. The friend lives alone there with his five year old daughter, having inherited it from an aunt who bought it cheap after the previous owners died in a murder-suicide. Now however, it turns out that the suicide part had been a fake, as the supposed suicide has been found, recently killed, at the bottom of the garden well.

壺中庵殺人事件 (kochuuansatsujinjiken, "The Retreat in a Vase Murder Case") is a locked room mystery. The victim had a cellar study, humorously called "retreat in a vase" after a Chinese folktale about a man who makes his home in a pot which is larger on the inside. The witnesses find the victim hanging from the ceiling, with the only exit (the hatch in the roof) barred from the inside. Most strangely, someone has put a vase on his head.

In 月宮殿殺人事件 (gekkyuudensatusjinjiken, "The Moon Palace Murder Case") Arisugawa takes Himura to see an unusual building he had discovered near the road they are taking, the tower like house built without permission by a homeless man out in the woods from discarded building materials. When they get there though, they find that the building has been burnt and the owner killed.

雪花楼殺人事件 (sekkarousatusjinjiken, "The Snowflake Tower Murder Case") takes place in the shell of a multistorey building, built in real estate speculation as a resort hotel, but then abandoned. A young runaway couple and an older unemployed man are squatting in different parts of the building. The young man has apparently fallen from the roof of the building; but he died not from the fall, but from a violent blow to the head. On the snow covered roof, the only footprints leading to the edge of the roof are the victim's.

紅雨荘殺人事件 (benisamesousatsujinjiken, "The Red Rain Mansion Murder Case") has a murder case somehow connected to a movie filmed in the title house, a romance of which Arisugawa was a fan.

絶叫城殺人事件(zekkyoujousatsujinjiken, "The Scream Castle Murder Case") is the longest story in the book, over a hundred pages. Himura pursues a serial killer, whose murder seems to be connected to a horror video game, in which young women are chased by an unknown killer through the corridors of a castle in which they are imprisoned.

The stories are mostly good, some very good, although the "footprints in the snow" impossible crime was one the least convincing versions I've read, and the solutions to one or two of the better stories were perhaps a little obvious.


  1. I haven't read the book, but I've seen/listened to adaptations of several of the stories collected here. Overall fairly good, but I have to admit I didn't think the ones I saw/listened to were particularly memorable, considering the gigantic body of short stories available with Himura & Alice.

    1. I noticed that there was a new television series with Himura and Alice, but I haven't seen it.