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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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review 2017-10-22 03:27
The Tokyo Zodiac Murders by Soji Shimada, translation by Ross and Shika Mackenzie
The Tokyo Zodiac Murders - Ross MacKenzie,Soji Shimada,Shika MacKenzie

The Tokyo Zodiac Murders starts off with a “last will and testament” written by Heikichi Umezawa in 1936. In this document, he detailed his belief that he is possessed and how he came to the realization that killing six of his daughters and nieces would solve his problems. Using their zodiac signs as a guide, he’d take one body part from each young woman and construct Azoth, the perfect woman.

The story then fast forwards to about 40 years later. Kazumi, a mystery fan, is describing the facts of the Tokyo Zodiac Murders to his friend Kiyoshi, an astrologer and occasional detective. The six young women were, in fact, killed and mutilated in the manner described in Heikichi’s will, but Heikichi couldn’t possibly have done it: he’d been dead for several days prior to the murders. In addition to Heikichi’s murder and the Azoth murders, one of Heikichi’s other stepdaughters was also killed. No one is sure whether that murder was related to the others or not.

After Kiyoshi takes on a client with a distant but potentially embarrassing connection to the case, Kiyoshi and Kazumi end up with a one-week deadline to solve a mystery that no one else has managed to solve in 40 years. Diagrams included throughout the text invite readers to solve the mystery along with them.

If you like trying to solve mysteries before a book’s fictional detective does, you really need to give this a try. It’s an excellent puzzle, and the author even interjects a couple times in order to let readers know when enough information has been included to allow them to solve the mystery. Of course, he interjects late enough that readers have more information than they need, muddying the water a bit, but that’s part of the fun.

The first part, with Heikichi’s will, was particularly strong. Heikichi casually describing why he needed to kill his daughters and nieces was incredibly creepy. I promise, though, that that’s as creepy as the book gets. Although the description of how the murders were actually accomplished was horrifying, the book’s overall tone didn’t have much of a feeling of creepiness, horror, or even urgency to it. Yes, Kiyoshi only had a week to solve the mystery, but the only things at stake, really, were his ego and reputation. Most of the people directly affected by the Tokyo Zodiac Murders were long dead.

There were a few times when I started to lose interest as the book became a little too “two guys talking about the facts of the case,” but for the most part those facts were really interesting. I had all kinds of theories about who might have killed Heikichi and how, how Kazue, Heikichi’s eldest stepdaughter, was involved, and who had killed the other women. None of my theories fit all of the facts of the case, and all my theories were torpedoed after Shimada included one particular document.

Kazumi, who was basically Kiyoshi’s Watson, had some ideas of his own that sounded promising, but I was fairly certain that he’d miss the key detail that would bring everything together. By the time Kiyoshi finally announced that he’d solved the murders, both Kazumi and I were thoroughly lost. It got to the point where I felt like Shimada was practically shoving the finished puzzle under my nose and I still couldn’t solve it. It was frustrating and fun at the same time. If it hadn’t been for work and sleep, I’d probably have read the last part of the book, where everything was finally revealed, all in one go. I can confidently say that I’d never have figured everything out on my own. There were aspects that stretched my suspension of disbelief, but, even so, the solution was really good.

All in all, this was a very enjoyable mystery that kept me guessing until the final revelation. It was very deliberately structured like a puzzle that readers were invited to solve along with Kiyoshi and Kazumi, but, despite the author’s two interjections, it still didn’t feel quite as detached as a couple similar mysteries I can think of. Kiyoshi and Kazumi had some life to them and didn’t just feel like pieces on the author’s gameboard. I particularly enjoyed their conversation about Sherlock Holmes and well-known mystery authors, and Kazumi's enjoyment of various locations in Japan made me wish I could visit them myself.

 

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

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review 2017-10-16 18:03
Great Collection Showcasing Miss Marple Stories
Three Miss Marple Mysteries (The Murder at the Vicarage / The Body in the Library / The Moving Finger) - Agatha Christie

 

The Murder at the Vicarage (5 stars):

The first Miss Marple mystery that showcases a different Miss Marple. I am realizing that for the most part, most Miss Marple stories have another person as the narrator with someone else giving us their thoughts/opinions on Miss Marple. In the first mystery Miss Marple is shown as nosy/gossipy and kind of mean spirited it felt a few times. She comes into her own in the end though when she reveals who the murder(s) are in this one and we have the narrator, the vicar called Leonard Clement who ends up in what I would call a grudging admiration of Miss Marple. Christie in my opinion definitely softens Miss Marple in subsequent books. She is definitely about seeing the murderers in her books brought to justice, though as some of you pointed out, she did take on a Poirot type of sentiment in some of her books. 

 

Taking place in St. Mary's Mead, we have the whole village on pins and needles when someone murders the most despised man that lives there, Colonel Lucius Protheroe. The Colonel is nasty and mean spirited. When the Colonel is found dead in the Vicar's study, everyone quickly starts to suspect the other. Things get even more confusing when two separate people confess to the murder.


The narrator in this story as I already said was the vicar, Leonard Clement. He his married a woman named Griselda who he seems to have some worries over since it appears she may be having an affair. When the vicar starts his own investigations he keeps running into one of the residents, Miss Jane Marple. Slowly but surely we work through the village and wonder which one of them killed the Colonel.

 

What I loved about this book was that the only one who figured out what was going on was Miss Marple. A lot of people had ideas and there are a lot of red herrings to throw things off, but the final solution I found very enjoyable to read. When I first read this years ago I had no idea who had done it. At one time I suspected about every character that we are introduced to.

 

What is great about this first book is that we get introduced to characters we are going to see again in future Miss Marple books such as the vicar and his wife. I am trying to recall if Dr. Haydock shows up again. I do know that Inspector Slack shows up in The Body in the Library. 

 

I did enjoy that my version included a layout of the vicar's study and home so you have to wonder how did someone enter and exit without being seen. I don't know if this one rivals my favorite Christie books "The Murder of Roger Ackroyd" and "Murder on the Orient Express." but it's definitely in my top five Christie books. 

 

After this readers should read "Thirteen Problems" if you want to go in order of the Miss Marple series. 

 

The Body in the Library (5 stars):

The reason why I suggested readers should read "Thirteen Problems" next is that you are introduced to two characters who figure prominently in "The Body in the Library."  When retired Colonel Arthur Bantry is wakened he and his wife Dolly are told there is a dead body in the library. They investigate and find a dead young woman in his library at Gossington Hall. The police show up and everyone starts to suspect Colonel Bantry in being behind the murder. Even though many will not come out and accuse him, the appearance of impropriety is enough to cause the Bantry's to lose their place in society.

 

Dolly calls up her old friend Jane Marple to help. What is nice is that Dolly calls back to Miss Marple solving all of the mysteries put before her in "Thirteen Problems." So you have one character who is aware that though Jane looks like a spinsterish older woman who is called "Victorian" by her pain in the butt nephew, she could put Sherlock Holmes to shame. 

 

What I loved about this book is that it takes you down a really long winding path to get to who is the dead girl and why was she placed in the colonel's library. Eventually the dead girl is revealed to be a missing dancer named Ruby Keene from the nearby Majestic Hotel. We have Miss Marple and Dolly going off to figure out, who at the hotel could possibly want Ruby dead. 

 

We get introduced to a lot of memorable characters in this one and honestly I have to say that I had no idea who did what to who and when all is revealed I went, oh that's so clever. I recall watching the most recent BBC adaptation of this one and wish that they had left it alone. I liked the original ending and thought that the latest Miss Marple's tried to be too sensational with things. 

 

I did notice in this one and the next Miss Marple, Miss Marple likes to set a lot of traps. So there is one difference between her and Poirot. Poirot was all about telling a room full of people who the guilty party was, Miss Marple always brought in the police to ensure a confession. So she was like Brenda Leigh Johnson in the Closer. 

 

The Moving Finger (3.5 stars):

This one ended up not working for on a lot of levels. I think it's cause I didn't really like the narrator for this, Jerry Burton. Jerry and his sister move to Joanna move to the village of Lymstock in order for Jerry to recover from the injuries he suffered from a plane crash. As soon as the siblings move in, they receive a poison pen letter accusing them of being lovers and not siblings. Apparently the whole town (just about) has received nasty letters accusing them of some nefarious thing. 

 

Jerry finds himself growing fond of (or something) of the local solictor's step daughter named Megan Hunter. Megan is dealing with the fact that she is not wanted at her home now that her mother has remarried and had children with someone else. Her mother, Mrs. Symmington is a hard woman and doesn't seem to know what to do with Megan. Megan also puts the awkward in socially awkward. 

 

When Megan's mother is found dead by her own hand after receiving a letter accusing her of an affair that resulted in the birth of one of her sons, Jerry becomes more involved and he does a not great investigation into who could be behind the letters. When the Symmington's maid is found dead, it seems that perhaps the poison pen writer has decided to cover his/her tracks. 

 

I don't know, maybe it's just me. I found Jerry and Joanna both to be off-putting. Joanna decides she's in love with the local doctor, and Jerry all of a sudden realizes Emily is attractive when she gets new clothes and her hair cut. It's definitely a "She's All That" moment and it made me hard cringe. 

 

Image result for shes all that gifs

 

Also I am going to complain here, there's not a lot of Miss Marple in this one. One of the characters (the local vicar's wife, no not the one I talked about earlier) calls up Miss Marple to help out. She meets Jerry in one scene and it just felt very long. We just quickly go back to Jerry and his suspicions and that's it. 

 

Also when you get behind the why of things I had a hard time with the premise. It seemed quite far-fetched to me that someone would go to all these lengths for what is revealed by Miss Marple. But then again I have been watching a lot of Forensic Files and there apparently a lot of people who murder each other for like $10,000 so what do I know. 

 

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review 2017-10-09 17:14
The Snark Was A Boojum - Gerald Verner,C... The Snark Was A Boojum - Gerald Verner,Chris Verner

There is a minor element of locked room mystery in this story but it's sorted by the detective quite quickly, almost as if the author was trying to play with the expectation of locked room and subverting it. This was apparently a story found in Gerald Verner's papers and finished by his son.

Featuring the eccentric Simon Gale and told from the perspective of a junior solicitor who Simon inveigles into helping him (with some excellent moments of terror on a motorcycle, without a helmet!). It does still feel somewhat unfinished but the twists and turns were interesting with each character having reasons to kill the various people who turn up dead. I enjoyed it and look forward to more by this author.

 

I'm going to use it for locked room as it subverts it nicely (the detective works out the how, while the cops look on in awe). It would also qualify as a cosy mystery, country house mystery, murder most foul, terror in a small town, amateur sleuth, there's an element of romantic suspense here too.

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review 2017-10-07 17:33
Bwahahaha!
Murder of a Lady (British Library Crime Classics) - Anthony Wynne

I found this book to be delightful and the ending made me laugh out loud with glee. The solution to the "impossible crime" was absurd and contrived - as these impossible crime solutions often are - but not such that I was annoyed.

 

I didn't guess whodunnit. I was pretty sure throughout the entire thing whodidntdunit, and I was right about that, but I focused on the wrong character. 

 

Specifically, I thought for the longest time that Duchlan had finally gotten fed up and murdered his horrible sister. Then, towards the end, I started to suspect that possibly Eoghan's mother wasn't actually dead, but was horribly disfigured and had been living in a hovel on the loch somewhere plotting her revenge.

(spoiler show)

 

The victim, Mary Gregor was an odious woman. She reminded me a lot of Mrs. Boynton, from Appointment With Death, which remains one of my favorite Christie mysteries. Some people go unmourned for good reason. The second inspector sent to investigate, Barley, was a blooming idiot with a bad case of confirmation bias - he decided who did it, and then try to squash the evidence into agreeing with him.

 

The book did drag a bit - this I cannot deny, and I agree with Tigus that the talky-mc-talkerson grew tiresome. I was totally astonished by the THIRD murder, and by the fourth, I was dying to get to the end! Overall, this ended up being one of my favorite of the BLCC reissues. 

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