Book review: 『Wの悲劇』by Shizuko Natsuki

Cover of “Wの悲劇”.
Title: Wの悲劇 (Wのひげき)
Genre:
First published: 1982
Page Count: 344
Translation: Murder at Mt Fuji, by Robert B. Rohmer
新雪に包まれた山中湖畔。日本有数の製薬会社・和辻薬品会長の別荘で、突然、悲劇の幕は開いた!和辻家のだれからも愛されている女子大生の摩子が、大伯父に当たる当主の与兵衛を刺殺したのだ。一族は外部からの犯行に見せかけるため、摩子の家庭教師・一条春生に協力を要請し、偽装工作を…。

This book has been translated into English by Robert B. Rohmer and published under the title Murder at Mt Fuji.

The Japanese title, “The Tragedy of W” is a direct reference to the work of Ellery Queen (The Tragedy of X, Y, Z). There is an afterword by Frederic Dannay in the novel, saying that he gave some advice to Shizuko Natsuki’s novel.

The novel starts like a classic murder mystery with a family reunion, an old patriarch and a lot of money to be had. But if the setting is classic, the way the story unfolds is not, and it is easy to see why this mystery stands out from the crowd.

The story is a duel between the family and the police, with detective Nakazato in charge. Alibi, time of death, motive, clues… every aspect of the murder is an opportunity for playing tricks and expose them, to dupe and be duped.

Even though the reader might think that they have the upper hand in this story, things are much more complex than what it seems at first. The story reveals its complexity by layers, which makes for an interesting structure. However, this structure in layers also led to a lot of repetitions which I found a bit strenuous to go through. For example, the same clue will be seen from different angles, which is usually something that I enjoy, but I somehow found it a bit annoying here.

Another point that I did not really like in the novel is the credibility of the characters’ actions and decisions. All the physical tricks and evidence were fine, but the psychology of the characters was difficult to understand, and I found it hard to believe that they would really act like they did.

When it comes to crime fiction, I prefer reading novels that try to understand the psychology of the people involved in a murder case rather than novels that give more weight to the tricks.

To sum up, I enjoyed reading this book, but I certainly did not like it as much as most people did. I liked the other book I read by this author, 『蒸発』, much more.