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review 2017-11-02 04:34
The Moai Island Puzzle by Alice Arisugawa, translated by Ho-Ling Wong
The Moai Island Puzzle - Ho-Ling Wong,Alice Arisugawa

Alice Arisugawa is the third Honkaku Mystery Writers Club of Japan author I’ve tried. I thought Arisugawa would also be my first female honkaku mystery author, but I didn’t bother to research that and, as it turns out, the author is actually male.

He also wrote a male character named after his pseudonym into The Moai Island Puzzle. I don’t like when authors write themselves into their own books, even if all they and their character have in common is their names, so this was a bit of a red flag for me, but I figured I’d let it pass. I was really hoping this book would be as good as the one that led me to it, Soji Shimada’s The Tokyo Zodiac Murders. Or even Yukito Ayatsuji’s The Decagon House Murders, which had some issues but was still decent.

The Moai Island Puzzle starts by introducing readers to the members of the Eito University Mystery Club. The club’s only female member, Maria Arima, invites the other members to take a week-long holiday at her uncle’s villa on a tiny island. Only Alice Arisugawa (the narrator) and Jiro Egami are able to join her, but that doesn’t mean they’re alone: ten of Maria’s family members and family friends also take a holiday on the island at around this time every three years or so.

Alice and Egami arrive at the island with every intention of having fun. In particular, they’d like to solve the puzzle that Maria’s grandfather left behind. Before he died, Maria’s grandfather had several wooden moais, statues similar to the ones on Easter Island but much smaller, installed all over the island, each facing in a different direction. These statues are somehow the key to finding a treasure that Maria’s grandfather left behind.

Hideto, Maria's beloved cousin, was supposedly close to solving the puzzle three years ago but drowned before he could locate the treasure. Maria would like to finish what he started. Unfortunately, just as a typhoon is about to reach the island, a couple people are found shot to death inside a locked room. Was it suicide, or murder?

First off, I would like to say that I was frustrated with how determined these characters were to believe that a double suicide was a possibility in this situation. One of the victims was shot in the chest, one of them in the thigh, and there was a blood trail across the entire room. The window was closed, and the door was locked with an overly tight latch. Both victims were shot by a rifle, which was nowhere to be found in the room. Several characters kept theorizing that one of the victims shot the other victim, then themselves, and then somehow threw the rifle out the window and then shut the window. It took ages for someone to finally ask whether the rifle was even outside somewhere - no one had bothered to look. Granted, it was raining and a typhoon was coming, but I doubt a dying person would have been able to throw the rifle very far.

I suppose you could argue that they all clung to the “it was a double suicide or murder-suicide” theory so hard because they didn’t want to believe they were on the island with a murderer, but so many of the facts just didn’t fit. And I just shook my head at the characters’ behavior. Even past the point they should’ve started keeping a better eye on each other, they were busy getting drunk or spending time on their own. That was one of the book’s weaknesses: too many characters had no alibi.

You’d think that should have helped muddy the waters, but it was combined with the fact that there were also few clear motives. All I had to do was think about a likely motive that Arisugawa (the author) was very carefully not bringing up, and I basically figured out the identity of the murderer. I had hoped that I was wrong and that the motive I suspected was actually a red herring. Unfortunately this wasn’t the case.

I wasn’t able to figure out how the murders were committed on my own, but part of the problem was that I didn’t care. I didn’t care about the characters, I had trouble caring about their family/relationship drama, and their conversations bored me. The final revelations didn’t change my mind about any of that.

The second part of the moai puzzle made sense to me, but the stuff the characters had to do to get to that part seemed like a stretch. And I didn’t buy that Egami was able to figure out everything about the murders the way he did, all on his own. His explanation for the locked room portion of the mystery, in particular, angered me more than shocked me. Without including spoilers, all I can say is that I had trouble believing the character would have done something like that, especially considering the way their relationships had been described.

All in all, this wasn’t worth the effort it took to read it. Very disappointing.

Additional Comments:

I noticed a few editing errors in the first 50 or so pages - sloppy verb tenses, and an instance of “peak” instead of “peek.”

The thing that bugged me the most, though, was the book’s very first illustration, a map of the island. I had thought it was the same map the characters had received, but they kept referencing marks on the map that indicated the locations of the moais, and the book’s illustration had no such marks. I still don’t know whether this was an error or whether it was deliberate on the author’s part. In the end, the marks wouldn’t have helped any (they were included later, albeit separate from the map), but the fact that they weren’t there made it feel like the author was keeping basic information from readers, and it was annoying.

Oh, and unrelated to all of that: I’m pretty sure that a normal, living snake wouldn’t feel sticky to the touch.

 

(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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text 2016-01-30 16:34
January Reading Wrap-Up & Book-of-the-Month Selection
Puppet Graveyard - Tim Curran
Japanese Tales of Mystery & Imagination - Rampo Edogawa,James B. Harris
The Postman Always Rings Twice - James M. Cain,Stanley Tucci
Click-Clack the Rattlebag - Neil Gaiman
Three Moments of an Explosion: Stories - China MiƩville
You Shall Never Know Security - J.R. Hamantaschen
Flesh and Coin - Craig Saunders
Come: A Short Story - E. Lorn,Edward Lorn
Hell House - Richard Matheson

January was a stellar month for reading. I finished a lot of fine books this month (but didn't necessarily read every page of every one of these in January). Here's the list:

 

Puppet Graveyard, by Tim Curran - This novella is quick and nasty, with great imagery. It was leavened with humor. And, of course, it had creepy puppets. Who doesn't love creepy puppets?

 

Japanese Tales of Mystery & Imagination, by Edogawa Rampo - This was an impulse buy. I got it on the cheap from Amazon mainly because I liked the cover. While reading the introduction, I thought the book was some sort of hoax when it claimed the author's pen name was basically a phonetic spelling of the name 'Edgar Allen Poe' spoken with a Japanese accent. I immediately looked the dude up and found out that he was the real deal and very influential in Japanese mystery fiction. Sorry, Japan. I did not know. And, man, I'm sure glad I know about this author now. His story "The Human Chair," which kicks off this collection, is simply fantastic. The remainder of the tales were very good, too, surreal and mysterious. I'll be reading more from Rampo.


The Postman Always Rings Twice, James M. Cain - I listened to the audiobook version of this classic noir tale, read by Stanley Tucci. Highly recommended.


Click-Clack the Rattlebag, by Neil Gaiman - This was a short freebie I downloaded long ago. If you downloaded it from Audible, a donation went to charity. It was a pleasant enough little horror story, but Gaiman's narration is a bit too treacly for my taste. (Note: This doesn't appear to still be available from Audible.)


Three Moments of an Explosion: Stories, by China Miéville - This was an excellent collection. After reading Miéville's first collection, Looking for Jake, I thought that perhaps he just wasn't a short story guy. This one proved me wrong though. I love Miéville for his imagination, his original ideas, and the way he's able to communicate some of the craziest concepts so effectively through prose. This book won't be for everyone. Some of these stories are experimental, many are abstruse, and many more are like wonderful unresolved mysteries. 


You Shall Never Know Security, by J.R. Hamantaschen - This is the second collection I've read by Hamantaschen in two months, which should tell you something. I enjoy the author's unique voice and the unrelenting hopelessness of his tales. They are so bleak that you have to throw up your hands and surrender with bewildered and uncomfortable laughter. I think of his stuff as being a sort of cross between Sam Pink and Laird Barron.


Flesh and Coin, by Craig Saunders - I am envious of Saunders's Spartan prose. It's always efficient and often poetic. I'll be reading all his stuff. Oh, the story? Yeah, yeah, that was good, too.


Come, by E. Lorn - A vicious little piece of viscous, passive-aggressive nastiness. 


Hell House, by Richard Matheson - I've been meaning to read this one for years. I shouldn't have put it off. Was it scary? Not really. But I  didn't expect it to be. Nor did I expect it to be so fantastically lurid; I was pleasantly surprised. 

 

My pick for Book-of-the-Month? It's exceedingly hard to decide, but I'll have to go with Miéville's Three Moments of an Explosion: Stories. It wins by the sheer brute force of imagination on display. 

 

 

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review 2014-10-26 14:11
Excellent :)
Japanese Tales of Mystery and Imagination - Rampo Edogawa,Patricia Welch,James B. Harris

Japanese Tales of Mystery and Imagination is a collection of assorted short stories, ranging from straight-up crime stories to detective tales and even some oddities that aspire toward the man who inspired his pen name.

 

The stories were varying levels of engaging, and none ever bored me or prompted me to skim or skip. I don't quite feel up to taking them one by one in this review since a few of them are deceptively simple. But I'll flag a few of my favorites.

 

The Psychological Test gives us a young man with a criminal bent who thinks he knows how to outsmart the police if he commits a crime. But he finds out that all his prep can't make up for a lack of one basic thing. I loved the way his smug self-confidence slowly eroded as he began to realize he might have been outmaneuvered despite all his preparation.

 

The Cliff sets up a story of manipulation and betrayal. But by the end, the question becomes who was the betrayer and who was betrayed. It was fascinating for the way it set up expectations and then twisted... and twisted... and TWISTED until things were pointed in the complete opposite direction.

 

Other favorites: The Hell of Mirrors and Two Crippled Men, but as I said, I liked them all and I think I'll be returning to this book regularly.

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review 2013-08-27 00:00
Japanese Tales of Mystery & Imagination - Rampo Edogawa,James B. Harris The author was clearly influenced by Edgar Allan Poe (in Japanese it is pronounced Edogawa Rampo. I had to repeat it a few many times to connect the names). These short stories are very well written, almost of all them in 1st person. Most of them are mystery, about crimes, and all the characters are insane.

Very gripping stories, dark, weird and a bit creepy. I loved the Human Chair story, about a man living inside a big chair. And that twist! Sugoi.
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review 1982-01-01 00:00
The Mystery of the Japanese Clock
The Mystery of the Japanese Clock - Frit... The Mystery of the Japanese Clock - Fritz Leiber This is an unusual book for the author, mainly known for his fantasy and science fiction, as it is an essay on understanding how a cheap digital-display Japanese clock works. Leiber does not take it apart but simply observes it using his reasoning to decipher its mystery. It is a brief but splendid look at cognition and logic. The introduction is written by his son, Justin Leiber, who is a philosophy teacher. It is an odd but poetic work that seems to have a special meaning between father and son.
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