Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Lending the Key to the Locked Room

Since last year, when I rediscovered the pleasure of reading locked room mysteries, a favorite of mine from when I first began reading mysteries as a teenager, I've used Locked Room International, the small publishing house started by John Pugmire, as a resource.  Over the last several years, he's published an impressive, and growing, catalog, of novels centered around a locked-room or impossible crime.  You can check out the LRI list of books here if you're interested: http://www.mylri.com/books/.  

What I especially like is that many of the books published by LRI are books written since 1980, whether by Frenchman Paul Halter or by one of the Japanese practitioners of modern honkaku (authentic or orthodox mysteries).  The locked-room mystery novel is alive and well, and I enjoy reading these kinds of stories set in the more contemporary world than the Golden Age Mystery world, wonderful as those classics often are.  Browsing through the list of LRI books recently, I decided on one that sounded like fun, and it turns out I was not disappointed.  Lending the Key to the Locked Room by Tokuya Higashigawa, originally published in 2002 and translated last year, kept me both suitably puzzled until its solution and quite amused.   

In brief: Ryuhei is an aspiring filmmaker who just been dumped by his girlfriend.  When she gets murdered, drunken threats he made to kill her turn him into the main suspect.  He has an alibi, but it's shaky.  He claims he was watching a film with his friend at his friend's home movie theater.  The two avid cinephiles made a night of it, watching a crime film, drinking, eating.  But his alibi is shaken because on the same night as the screening, his friend is stabbed to death in his bathroom, with the door to the apartment locked with a door chain.  Nobody but Ryuhei was in the locked apartment at the time of the killing, and Ryuhei had been passed out during the actual murder.  He wakes in the morning to find his friend's dead body.  With all the evidence against him, Ryuhei panics and flees the scene, which doesn't make him any less suspicious to the police.  

Lending the Key to the Locked Room has a tongue in cheek tone and an amusing eccentric detective who gets involved in the case.  But the mystery itself is genuinely tricky and plays fair with the reader in all the ways a "fair play mystery" should do that.  It's also something of a treat for film lovers, since a lot of the plot revolves around discussions of genre films and different cuts of certain films.  For escapism and the exact type of mental workout I love from these books (not that I ever figure them out), it delivered.  I'm really getting into these Japanese locked room mysteries, with their air-tight and baffling plots and their emphasis on the puzzle itself.  So far the ones I've read have not taken themselves too seriously, and that's all for the better.  Thanks to Locked Room International for making a bunch of them available in English translations.

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