Book review: 『アリスの国の殺人』by Masaki Tsuji

Cover of アリスの国の殺人. On a bright pink background, a picture of Alice from Alice in Wonderland. She is wearing a wedding veil, and she is surrounded by small objects related to Alice’s universe (cups of tea, trump cards, books…). The Cheshire Cat Is also behind Alice.
Title: アリスの国の殺人(アリスのくにのさつじん)
Genres: ,
First published: 1981
Published: 2021
Format: Bunko
Page Count: 315
Katsuji does not like his job: editor for a manga magazine, he does not like manga and hates working for manga artists. He finds refuge in dreams, where his love for children’s literature finds its full expression and sends him to the world of Alice in Wonderland as Alice’s groom. But murder soon interrupts the ceremony, and Katsuji finds himself in the middle of a murder investigation in dream… and in reality!

Masaki Tsuji is a writer of mystery novels as well as a manga writer and a screenwriter. 『アリスの国の殺人』, which directly refers to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, won the Mystery Writers of Japan Award in 1982 and ranked first in three different rankings.

The novel is divided into two parts: the reality and the dream. In the reality, our protagonist Katsuji works as editor for a manga magazine in the late 1970s. His dream was to work in children’s literature, but he finds himself working for a genre that he dislikes and does not understand, and as if this was not enough, under an abusive superior… who ends up being murdered.

In the dream, Katsuji finds himself in Wonderland, where he is about to marry Alice… but a murder takes place and he is arrested as a suspect.

The chapters alternate between dream and reality, and in both worlds, Katsuji has to find the culprit, though he is not really investigating.

The tone of the novel is very different depending on which part we are in. The reality parts are very realistic and give a good description of the publishing world of the time. The murder case is also a good one, though I found one key detail to be a bit far-fetched.

The dream on the other hand is full of humour and play-on-words and the situations and dialogues are rather fantastic and absurd. I personally found it difficult to follow the humour as a language learner. It took me sometimes so long to understand a joke hidden in a play-on-words that it wasn’t funny anymore.

The book is also filled with references to manga of the time, authors and fictional characters. I looked up the more obvious ones, but I may have missed some, and all in all, the impact is not the same if you have to look up references instead of knowing them.

In the end, I really enjoyed the depiction of Katsuji’s job. It reminded me of another novel, 小説王 by Kazumasa Hayami (早見和正) which was also on the publishing world (and that I DNFed because it was too hard to read in Japanese at the time). It is hard to imagine that editors really had to work that much and be quasi slaves to the writers and artists. The job is even more difficult to Katsuji who does not enjoy manga at all.

Apart from this though, this was not a book for me. The dream parts were too absurd for my taste, and my lack of knowledge of the manga world as well as the language barrier prevented me to fully enjoy the humour and references in the book.