緋色の囁き ~ Scarlet Whispering
Izumi Saeko returns to the bosom of the illustrious Munakata family and is entered into the prestigious Seishin Girls Academy under the observation of her aunt Chiyo. The rules at this school are strict, which Saeko soon learns when she is punished for wrong behaviour in class, and she wonders about the strange commotion among her classmates.
The girls in her class share a strange bond and everybody seems to be drawn to the beautiful Jouzaki Aya. All but the outsider Takatori Kei, who happens to be Saeko’s roommate. When Saeko asks her about this schools secrets, Kei tells her to not associate herself with someone like her, as she is a witch.
Some nights after this event, Kei is found burnt to death behind the forbidden door, in the room of the witch. And this marks only the opening to a tragedy in deep red.
Has a witch’s curse actually befallen the school? Can Saeko be saved by Kei’s brother Toshiki? And who is that face distorted in the madness of pure red she sees in her dreams?Ayatsuji Yukito, who became famous for his Yakata-Series, also marking the start of the New Orthodox School, also wrote several other novels, most of them heading more towards the horror- or slasher-genre. Hiiro no Sasayaki is yet again a little bit different, as it is written as an homage to someone who directly influenced Ayatsuji’s writing. Everyone who has some connection to the aforementioned genres should know his name, Dario Argento.
Having gained a cult following in Japan, two of Argento’s most famous works Suspiria and Profondo Rosso (being called Suspiria 2 in Japan and Deep Red on it’s US-Release) also had a great influence on Ayatsuji when he saw them on the big screen. This is actually something you can feel throughout all his novels, as some of Argento’s lush visual style is always present in Ayatsuji’s descriptions. Hiiro no Sasayaki shows this very well, although this can be found as a growing method in the Yakata-Series as well, as the descriptive passages tend to play with the depiction of sounds and colours. It’s quite interesting to notice how well the soundtracks for Argento’s movies, especially Suspiria, Inferno, Phenomena and Profondo Rosso, fit the mood and pace of Ayatsuji’s novel. It’s almost as if the novel was written with it being turned into a movie already in mind (sadly this didn’t happen so far).
This novel really reads like a giallo, those Italian mystery-slashers which Argento’s movies were also a part of. It starts out with the unknowing protagonist stumbling upon a secret based on the wrongdoings of people connected to each other by one or several similar sins. It features several morbid, sexual plotpoints, reminiscent of the glorious days of giallo during the 70’s. This is also what makes it quite different from Ayatsuji’s Yakata-Series which is, while still pretty grotesque and fantastic, rather focused on the concept of logic and puzzle-solving.
A funny fact that should be considered is though, that the giallo genre, while it inspired the horror-slasher of American cinema (Halloween, Friday 13th, etc.), drew it’s own inspiration from the literary type of the same name. The giallo, as the name (Italian for yellow) implies, were a series focusing on pulp fiction in Italy. They mostly published translations of famous mysteries by Ellery Queen, John Dickson Carr, Agatha Christie and the likes. I think that makes a pretty interesting network, seeing how all those different inspirations come back together in different genre all around the globe.
For me this novel was a pretty thrilling experience and even though the novel was published in the late 80’s, it didn’t lose any of it’s creepiness or style. Especially the feeling of being in a different world, which, while it can be likened to ours, is much more fantastical and morbid, made this one almost timeless and could as well be written today (apart from some references to contemporary society, discussed by a fellow blogger). The middle part did loose a bit of it’s strength because, as in many slashers, the way a new murder is announced became rather obvious. I still wouldn’t put the book down, but it had it’s drawn out passages as well, especially when it had to go into details about every character again and again. I liked how every victim also had a background and a certain dimensionality, but somehow I wonder if a little less (maybe also one victim less) wouldn’t have been enough.
Also the fact that my guess concerning the culprit were right, made the ending a little less surprising. Even though in case of the motive it was probably more or less a lucky guess, the identity is rather obvious especially if considering how a giallo or slasher is constructed. Don’t get me wrong, the ending was great and everything fell into place perfectly, but it didn’t actually catch me by surprise.
Still I can recommend this novel to anybody who’s searching for a mystery novel that focuses on tension and thrill, rather than logic and puzzles. It’s really mostly entertainment, but it does that pretty well and it reminded me again how much I was missing that feeling while reading some of my other recent novels.
I’m still wondering why this one was never considered to be turned into a movie or a series, considering how Ayatsuji is rather popular and also has an anime and dorama adaption of his recent work Another coming up. While his Yakata-Series would truly prove difficult to put into pictures (at least while maintaining the mystery), this one could become a truly thrilling horror movie.