OZの迷宮 ~ The Labyrinth of “OZ”

Being a private detective is not a job but a way of life.
Being a master detective is not a way of life but destiny.

One victim is found shot by an arrow in a sealed locked room, another drowns in a painting of a river he had drawn himself…
A culprit commits a murder while being confined in a locked room and one walks through the thickest snow without leaving footprints at all…
Such unearthly mysteries pile up in front of the master detectives who challenge their destiny. But will they be able to solve them in the end?

In this short story collection by Tsukatô Hajime it is all about impossible and grotesque crimes. It is a fabulous collection of tricks inspired by the great works of the Golden Age, but with some neat new twists and a connection that only few will be able to foresee.

It’s also the first collection of short stories, or 短編集, I’m going to review. I enjoyed them quite a bit and have read some before (even one by Tsukatô) but I find them quite hard to review. In the case of OZ it’s a bit less difficult because they have a more or less coherent plot instead of being just some stories collected on a whim of the publisher. Normally what’s nice about short stories is, that you can put the collection aside after just one story and pick it up later or after another book, but this one should be read in one sitting, as I imagine it would spoil the fun if you forgot some of the finer details.
Still, I’d like to introduce the individual tales as well and rate them based on how much I enjoyed them:

密室の矢 ~ The Arrow and the Locked Room
This story is inspired by Carter Dickson’s Judas Window though it is not a direct adaption. Washiu Kyôichi’s interest is stirred when a famous essayist is found murdered in his study. He was shot by an arrow, but no murder weapon can be found. How was the culprit able to shoot the victim through a solid wall and remove the evidence…and why was there any need to do so in the first place?
It was a really nice way to introduce to the overall mood of the collection and though the story is originally from 1994 it is as though it was written as an opener to this collection. It’s a short but pretty sweet who- and howdunnit and sets a nice guess-along-mood.

8 of 10 points

逆密室の夕べ ~ The Evening of the Reversed Locked Room
Another locked room mystery. This time, two brothers are found in a sports club, one murdered near the locker, one unconscious in the showers. Both rooms are locked and the keys are found outside. How did they get in and more important, how did the culprit get out?
A very classical locked room mystery with a larger trick factor than the first story. I didn’t like this one as much, because it contained many parts that seemed to be in there just to make it longer (though it’s the same length as the first story), especially the parts about financial situations. But I really enjoyed the meta-frame of the story, which made Washiu into a real armchair-detective and the solution was neat as well.

7 of 10 points

獅子の城 ~ Fortress of the Lion
My least favourite story in the collection and I don’t even know why. It’s also the first real plot twist of the bridge story, just if you’re wondering when the connection becomes important. Close to the restaurant Random (蘭駄夢) where Washiu Kyôichi works, a man is found murdered and thrown into a river. One suspect has an alibi which connects him to a nearby restaurant, but there is another suspicious man, Gekka Jirô, who seems to have some connection to the case…
It was a nice turning point, but the story progressed a little slowly on those 80 pages. Though it was great when something happened (especially on the final pages) and the imagery and metaphors were chilling, it made my tempo drop for the first time and I actually put the book aside for a while.

5 of 10 points

絵の中で溺れた男 ~ The Man Who Drowned in a Picture
This story takes us and a new detective to the US-state of Virgina and into the house of a famous recluse artist. He is too stubborn to leave his atelier, even though a body was recently found in the river close to the mansion grounds and animals have been mutilated in the past. The silence is broken when one evening he is found dead, locked in his room. Everything wouldn’t be as strange, if it weren’t for the fact that he was found drowned in front of his picture of a landscape with a river, destroyed by an ominous black spot…
This one made me pick up speed again. It was a nice and chilly locked room mystery, very much in the style of Carr with a little nod to Agatha Christie. The solution was pretty hard to guess and I assume I wasn’t the only one who found it a little hard to believe. Still for a puzzle and a battle of wits, this was a pretty nice story and it ranks among my favourites in the collection.

8 of 10 points

わらの密室 ~ The Straw Locked Room
And another locked room. Yes, this collection is packed with them, so if you enjoy them, I highly recommend it to you even though many of the tricks are probably variations of widely known tricks. We witness a culprit planning out the perfect murder which has to be committed to be free, the rest of the story we try and outsmart our enemy and find the true culprit. With suspects in locked rooms and unshakable proof against the seemingly innocent everything has to be turned upside down in order for the culprit to fold…
This is not as easy as it sounds and I had a pretty hard time to figure out what actually happened. In the end it was too late, but not for the pretty surprising ending to hit me in the head. This was a pretty great story and is probably my No.1 favourite in “OZ” because it really messed with my head and I didn’t know how to pin my suspect down.

9 of 10 points

イエローロード―承前 ~ Yellow Road – Continued
The introduction of yet another detective, who might be familiar to readers of some of Tsukatô’s other works. Minami Mikikaze is waking up from a nightmare and trying to get to his senses by taking a nice walk. While recounting his life up until now and his future chances, he decides to step forward unto a yellow brick road…
I won’t rate this one because it is merely an interlude meant to introduce a new character and leads directly into the second part of the story.

イエローロード―承運 ~ Yellow Road – Another Destiny
The continuation of the former story. Minami Mikikaze is involved in the discovery of a man’s corpse found by an OL in a river nearby. The only thing found on his body are some documents and an odd amount of small change, which fascinates the young magician. Though she is scared by his otherworldly and secretive behaviour, the OL follows him on his quest to find the true culprit.
This is a traditional hunt for the culprit without fancy tricks and constructions. I thought it was nice, because it introduced us to our new detective in a way that fit him, but it had the same weak points which make me dislike many Sherlock Holmes stories. It’s more or less a presentation of Mikikaze’s wit and not really a fair challenge to the reader. It was a fine story, but it’s not among my favourites.

5 of 10 points

ケンタウロスの殺人 ~ The Centaur Murders
This story was a great way to end this short story collection, though it is pretty different from the way it started. But it perfectly combines the three elements of mystery and deduction featured in the stories and thus creates a cool climax. Mikikaze has travelled to the US and is asked by a doctor, who he met under certain circumstances, to investigate in the case of a strange skeleton found at the base of the nearby mountains. The remains are that of a man’s upper body, growing out of the neck of a horse: A centaur. Who is this mysterious creature and how does it connect to the murder of a woman three years in the past? Was it this creature who was seen outside in the snow that night?
It’s a nice way to close the stories before the epilogue and give our detective a worthy finale. The story is more or less a locked room scenario, depending on your point of view, and the case of the centaur-corpse is a pretty nice puzzle as well. The solution was not only very intricate, but also almost too fantastic to believe and thus showed a nice conclusion to the descent into the unbelievable during this collection. This, and I pretty much liked the grisly and grotesque side of the solution.

8 of 10 points

美羽の足跡 ~ Miu’s Footprints
Minami Mikikaze is back in Japan and on recovery, but he still has some spare time, to help a little girl find her stuffed animal and deal with the loss of her parents.
It’s more or less the epilogue and serves as a way to tie everything together and spell out the message created by all those stories. It also shows the progress into the fantastic and made it clear that many parts were meant to be anti-mystery at least in some parts. It’s either a very great way to close everything up or a pretty crappy mystery, depending on how you look at it. I prefer the first one, though I twitched at the solution at first as well.

7 of 10 points

Though many of the ratings are in the middle field, I liked this collection of short stories pretty much, more than I liked Tsukatô’s “The Intent to Murder to the Right Side of the Sugar” (which I still have to review). Though it was a collection of puzzles as well, I liked how the stories were connected by more than only it’s characters, but by a progress of atmosphere and a changing way of approaching a mystery (also marked by the changing detectives).
I’m considering to read more by Tsukatô Hajime in the near future, though I’m glad I got to finish another review at all again. I’m really sorry that I didn’t have the time to update at all, but university had me quite busy during the last 2 months. But it should be moving uphill for my reading and writing from now on.

~ by seizonsha on 2011/05/29.

3 Responses to “OZの迷宮 ~ The Labyrinth of “OZ””

  1. Hmm, it does really sound interesting, so I’ll be sure to pick it up sometime.

    Which won’t be in the near future though. I’m going to try to finish all my Japanese book this summer, so I have placed a purchase restraint on myself for at least until fall ^_~’

  2. Ha! I’m still foolishly making attemps at putting restrains on myself, but my success rate has been laughable at best.

    Thanks for continuing to review these books! I can’t read them myself, but I’m convinced that, somewhere down the line, they might play a part in getting these treasures translated and published here in the west. So keep ’em coming!

  3. @Ho-Ling: I should put such a restraint on myself as well, but it’s just so hard. Especially when you’ve got a corner in your university, where they dump used books from the 日本Foundation…including some mighty strange Suiri stuff. I just can’t leave a Ranpo or translated example of unknown French mystery author lying around. XD

    @TomCat: Yeah, I really hope that I’ll get the chance to translate any of those babies later on. It’s a real pity that, though I’m researching that field during my studies…as much as I introduce it, there’s simply no easy access to this kind of literature in the West.
    Especially stuff by Tsukatô or Ayatsuji could get some attention, because opposite from Kyôgoku, who had 2 of his novels translated already, they are readable without a massive interest in meta-fields.

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