Whoa! I didn’t realize that it’d been over a week since the last one. Whoops.
This time it’s about detective novels. For the record, Yoshi-P is totally writing whatever he wants at this point, and it’s going to be a while before it gets back to FFXIV. Is it even OK to categorize this post under Games? 🤔
#48: “Take Your Time; Don’t Rush”
Published in 2015/12/03 issue
I love mysteries—not the supernatural kind, but the detective fiction kind. I got really into them when Japan was going through its “classical whodunit” craze. I love puzzlers, and I can overlook any flaws as long as the tricks are great.
I often hear people say “I don’t like to read”, or “Reading makes me sleepy.” Unlike television, reading isn’t a type of entertainment that you can enjoy passively. If you want to stop getting sleepy from reading, you might just have to read thoroughly, making sure to understand each and every word. If you can make it through an interesting book in that manner, then I’m sure the next one will be easier to read…
Mystery books—whodunit stories in particular—are read in a different fashion from other books (for some people, at least). Unfortunately, if I explain what they are, I’ll run out of space, so I’ll just say that they’re kind of like “locked-room mysteries” or “decapitation logic”—they revolve around the detective’s logical solution to how the culprit was able to commit an impossible crime, rather than the culprit’s motive.
In some ways, these mysteries are more like puzzles than stories. Mystery authors have to squeeze in all sorts of clues for the reader to keep it fair, while also keeping them subtle enough that they won’t be noticed. So, it’s much more fun to read them as puzzles to be solved rather than regular novels. Let me show you my style of reading.
When reading a classic mystery novel, the most fun part is the “solution” arc, where the criminal is cornered and you follow along, finding out if you guessed right. So, the clues that the author hid throughout the book are crucial. These could be things that characters said, but they are often also mixed in with scene descriptions, so you can’t overlook a single word. Thus, it is important to not rush through the book.
The strategy for reading one word at a time—and this applies to more than just mysteries—is to understand each word and visualize what is happening. If it’s a description then you visualize the scene; if it’s a character then you can substitute the face of an actor or someone you know. This alone will make it easier to read and understand the text. Also, if any scene feels “off” to you, make sure to remember it, because it could be a clue from the author. If something feels contradictory, stop progressing through the book and return to the previous pages until you’ve discovered the source of the contradiction. When you’re satisfied with your answer, you can resume reading. Don’t just leave it at “This is suspicious, but I don’t know why!”—think of it as a puzzle and find your own answer.
After continuing like this for a while, eventually the detective will say a signature phrase—something like “Everything is clear to me now”—which marks the start of the solution arc. Once again, stop reading here. If you’ve come up with your own answer then go ahead and continue. But if you haven’t, be aware that when the author writes this phrase, it means that the mystery is solvable now—all of the clues have already been given. And the biggest clue of all is often hidden right before it!
When reading the solution arc, don’t stop until you reach the end. Some things may confuse you or throw you off, but the author’s answer is the truth, so you’ll have to accept it. If you find yourself thinking “They got me!”, then that means the book was a great puzzle for you. Congratulations.
By the way, my favourite mysteries don’t end there—if anything, the end of the book is where the real journey begins. If I feel vexed after finishing the book, then I’ll reread it from the beginning, with a complete understanding of what was written in the solution arc. Going through all of the clues and seeing the truth behind the places that felt “off” in the first read-through makes you go “Whoa, so that was the key!” and “No way, I didn’t even notice that!”, ultimately making you appreciate the book even more. When I find a mystery book I really like, I usually reread it 3 times or so. Personally, I think this way is better for developing a fondness for books than reading lots of obscure ones.
Now that I’ve explained my way of reading, let me introduce some books that work well with this approach: The Tokyo Zodiac Murders by Soji Shimada, The Labyrinth Mansion Murders by Yukito Ayatsuji, and The Perfect Insider by Hiroshi Mori. All of them are excellent, but I’d recommend The Perfect Insider first for those who don’t like to read. If you like computer games, you’ll probably enjoy Mori-san’s works. I Killed Him doesn’t have a solution arc, so be wary of that one. *laughs*
It’s important to not rush through books. There are many reasons why someone would, but I think people who don’t like to read will rush because they want to get it over with. What’s the point of reading a book in the first place if you want to get it over with as soon as possible? I think this contradiction stems from habit. When your parents forced you to read books as a kid, or when you had to read books for homework, the end result was that you were reading with an “I want this to end” mindset. Just know that no one is forcing you to read these—you picked a book of your own volition, and if you don’t like it, you can stop reading at any time. So, you might as well take your time and read it slowly.
 The New Golden Age of “classical whodunits” (in Japan) began with authors such as Yukito Ayatsuji (who debuted under the recommendation of Soji Shimada), Rintaro Norizuki, and Takemaru Abiko. It started in the late 80s and continued through the 90s. Many orthodox mystery authors debuted during this time.
 “Decapitation logic” is a type of puzzle with a gruesome theme: given a decapitated victim, what is the logical reason as to why the killer had to cut their head off? When you read a lot of mystery novels, you end up with a habit of asking “Why?”
 The paperback edition includes clues relating to the solution, but before it was released, there were fierce debates over the answer. I spent more than 3 days racking my brain over it…