姑獲鳥の夏 ~ Summer of the Ubume
In rainy summer nights, when even the insects stop to listen, you can hear the wailing and crying of an infant somewhere amidst the rain. When you least expect it you can see her stumbling through the rain, crying and lamenting, blood dripping down the linen cloth around her waist, holding the infant close. This is when you encounter the Ubume.
Tabloid writer Sekiguchi Tatsumi looses his grip on reality when an old friend vanishes in a locked room and his wife won’t birth their child even after 20 month. He asks an old upperclassman, Chuuzenji – Kyougokudou- Akihiko, for help but the only thing he has to say is, that there are no strange things in this world.
Can this be really true in the old Kuonji obstetric clinic, where old legends of possession seem to be still alive and a detective encounters an infant that looks like a toad.
What abominable secret lies in these walls, can Sekiguchi save the beautiful Kuonji Ryouko and her everpregnant sister from a curse that endangers them all and can he remember in time what his strange memories imply?
In his debut novel ubume no natsu (Summer of the Ubume) Kyougoku Natsuhiko lays all the groundwork for his 百鬼夜行シリーズ. He introduces us to his five major protagonists and their individual approaches towards the strange incidents that plague a young modernity which has dawned upon Japan. Right after the 2nd World War the age of mystery, gods and demons was supposed to be over and a time of rationality was welcomed by most people. Yet something seems to be holding them back and the otherworldly threats of the past keep emerging in the twilight between yet and then.
The case of his first novel seems rather simple at first. A husband vanished from a locked room in the middle of the night. While it is hard to solve it seems to be rather classical detective fare and you expect for the next incidents to happen and be more intricate. Yet it is the details which emerge and make the incident seem more and more like the work of the supernatural which really makes this into a thrilling ride.
Don’t get me wrong, this is no novel for those who expect fast paced action and bloody murder. Most of the gruesome parts only emerge very late in the story, but they are so much more horrifying when they come. What the story is really about is the careful deconstruction of reality and perception through its main protagonist Kyougokudou. The more you advance the more you learn to pay attention to even the slightest details and you will slap your head, realizing that you were also constructing the reality we believe to live in.
I will refrain from spoiling any of the solution, because it is a really big part of the enjoyment coming with this novel. It really invites you to guess along and use the advice and ideas of the central characters. Don’t mind that it is much more difficult to deconstruct a locked room of the mind than a corporeal one, but when you go along with it you can really have fun trying to guess what the solution may be.
I was able to get most of it, yet many parts of the whydunnit still escaped me and believe me they shocked me to no ends when they came. And like his second work in the series, which was made into an anime and a movie, mouryou no hako (Box of Goblins) the tragedy will move you once you know the full account of what transpired in what seemed to be a simple locked room mystery.