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.
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.)