水車館の殺人 ~ Murder in the Waterwheel Mansion
Like the ever turning wheels of the majestic castle like estate of the Fujinuma family, history seems to repeat itself in this chilling tale about art and murder.
One year ago two people died and one person vanished in this house and again people come flocking to this house, hoping to find the famed last work of Fujinuma Issei, which is said to be a painting among paintings and worth a lifetime’s fortune.
The masked host and his lovely fiancé welcome art critics and famous amateur detective Shimada Kiyoshi into their home, but something seems off in the walls of this mansion. Strange scratching sounds are heard at night and the impossible murders of one year past are still haunting the corridors of the Waterwheel Mansion.
Can Shimada solve the mystery behind the disappearance of a friend in time before destiny repeats itself and a horrible tragedy befalls them all?
In his unexpected second installation of what has now become the 館シリーズ, Ayatsuji Yukito weaves a classical tale of mystery and murder in a closed circle, with an interesting new twist. We are being told both present and past and therefore both incidents that haunted the suishakan at the same time and it is up to us as well to solve the murders, before it is too late.
Compared to his debut work jukkakukan no satsujin it is much more a classical golden age mystery. This time around, the reader has a fair chance to solve the mystery as well and can decide himself, whether he wants to leave it up to Shimada to explain the case or if he wants to join in. I myself found that much more enticing than just waiting for the solution to come, especially because in the end, there were still things that surprised me.
This is also the work that hardened some ground rules for later works to come. Like the attraction factor of Nakamura Seiji’s mansions, which all share one common factor, that is the existence of a secret chamber, door or path, which adds the element of an amusement parks haunted house attraction to the novels.
At the same time buildings became a much more important part in Ayatsuji’s works from this point on, as he followed the rule, that the house should also reflect the personality of the one who own’s it. This laid important groundwork for many later novels in the shin honkaku genre.
Speaking of which, this was also the first novel to be actually marketed with the tag 新本格 so it’s also historically important to the literary evolution o the genre, as it became a role model for many later gothic inspired detective mysteries.
This is a very classic book, make no mistake, so if you want something new like you never read before, this is maybe the wrong work to pick. Yet it is so good and so refreshing because it invents many traditional elements new and makes them usable in a more modern context. Closed circle, cut off from civilization, locked rooms and many other things are what became en vogue again during this time and was reinvented to be used again. For that alone it’s worth to give suishakan a try and as long as you like classical mystery stuff along the lines of Agatha Christie, I bet you will like this book.