The Decagon House Murders
by Yukito Ayatsuji
Students from a university mystery club decide to visit an island which was the site of a grisly multiple murder the year before. Predictably, they get picked off one by one by an unseen murderer. Is there a madman on the loose? What connection is there to the earlier murders? The answer is a bombshell revelation which few readers will see coming.
First of all, I don't claim to be an expert on the Golden Age of murder mysteries, nor have I religiously read works by the well-known writers of mystery either. In fact, I just last year read my first Agatha Christie book.
So, my thoughts are simply that.
To be honest, it was hard not to make references to Dame Agatha's And Then There Were None while reading this book, considering the setting and the circumstances. The only difference was a different kind of emotional impact that I felt throughout both books.
And Then There Were None gave a strangely cozy feel, with an urgent, "Who's Next?" factor. The players were all strangers, but the dramatics where high and I couldn't help but feel anxious to know who would die next, and how. There were scenes that kind of startled me.
With The Decagon House Murders, the narrative was extremely methodical, almost to a point of detachment. The players were all friends from a Mystery Club at university--they all knew each other and hung out together. There should have been a certain amount of high emotion attached to this premise as well, and for a moment at the beginning, there was. But it was brief, and then the rest of the story panned out in a very "game play" type of way. It was like our characters were acting like they were just indulging in a game of Clue, and aside from some of the over-the-top hysterics that one or two of the characters displayed, the truth is, this book was very textbook, very apathetic.
I won't deny that The Decagon House Murders had an extremely cleverly outlined progression for each of the murders, and for our amateur sleuths in their attempts to analyze the killings and the circumstances. I loved how the titular decagon house that our players were staying in played a crucial part in the murder mystery itself. This made the book easy to fall into, and while the beginning was pretty slow to build up, I DID finally come to a point (probably the second or third day on the island), where I couldn't make myself put the book down.
While I found myself more anxious to find out who would be killed next in And Then There Where None, I found myself more inclined towards wanting to know how the murders were committed, and who the ultimate Murderer was. I found myself trying to analyze the events, much like the amateur sleuths on the island were trying to do, and even almost bought into one or two of the theories being thrown out there. And it was also hard not to wonder if a similar conclusion to Dame Agatha's masterpiece would reveal itself as well.
I'll admit, the whole thing with the seven plates--each proclaiming "The First Victim," "The Second Victim," "The Third Victim," "The Fourth Victim," "The Last Victim," "The Detective," and "The Murderer"--was a nice touch to create a sense of panic in our players.
I did, however, question the intentional use of only the Mystery Club members' nicknames throughout the book, and found that I'm not sure how I felt about how this part played into the story's closed circle murders. It's an interesting twist when you realize that not once does the book mention the real names of anyone on the island, even though the fact the characters introduced on the mainland had mentioned once or twice about the nicknames.
Speaking of which, the tangential investigation on the mainland by related players was also a welcome side dish.
In the end, I'm not entirely sure how I feel about this book. The conclusion was definitely NOT what I expected, while at the same time, it fell together quite well. And even after that ending... I still found myself a bit confused, because the very last scene was pretty open-ended.
You know, it's hard to write a review piece for a book about such an intricately thought out murder mystery without giving anything away. And so, with hopes that I didn't include anything I shouldn't have, I might just leave my thoughts at that.
This book was a nice tribute to Dame Agatha's And Then There Were None, though her book was only referenced once in this book itself. But being that our players were all Mystery Club members, all sporting nicknames of famous master murder mystery writers (such as Ellery Queen, Edgar Allan Poe, and even Dame Agatha herself), I didn't find it strange for references to popular murder mystery devices to be brought up. I thought it was a nice touch, as well, for our players to examine the murders with a mind to compare them to similar popular mystery fiction devices.