Book review: 『乱れからくり』by Tsumao Awasaka

Cover of 乱れからく. The cover design are drawings of different mechanisms, a house that looks like a toy, a statue with a key and some mathematic formulas.
Title: 乱れからくり (みだれからくり)
Genre:
First published: 1977
Published: 1993
Format: Bunko
Page Count: 366
玩具会社部長の馬割朋浩は隕石に当たるという奇禍で命を落とす。その葬儀も終えぬ内に彼の幼児が睡眠薬を過って飲み死亡する。さらに馬割家の人々のあいだで不可解な死が連続して……。ねじ屋敷と呼ばれる馬割家の庭に造られた巨大迷路に隠された一族の謎とは? 伝法肌の女性探偵と新米助手の活躍が楽しい、日本推理作家協会賞受賞作。

First published in 1977, this detective novel won the Mystery Writers of Japan Award in 1978. It has been adapted into film the same year.

Review

Even though I can see the appeal this book can have for some readers, it was not compelling enough to me. The story has everything to drag me in: a private detective investigating mysterious murders occurring inside a well-known family of toys manufacturers… I am here for that! But two things prevented me from enjoying the book.

First, this story is filled with information about the history of mechanical toys. The topic is interesting, but the amount of information we get was a little bit too big in my opinion. Characters would sometimes start explaining something at length, which would dramatically slowing the pace of the novel and creating frustrating digressions in the middle of the investigation. A whole chapter diving into the life of a toy maker felt very long and seemed unrelated to the case.

Overall, the tricks, mechanisms and devices are the central part of the novel, not the murder investigation. If our private detective is face with a murder on one side and a labyrinth on the other, she will choose to investigate the labyrinth. I found that the novel was full of these frustrating and awkward moments where the characters take strange decisions.

This leads us to my second point: the characters’ reactions sometimes do not make sense. For example, would you invite private detectives into your family, share family secrets and anecdotes with them if you knew that they had been following and observing you? The way our detective and her assistant are accepted into the family and almost treated like members of the family felt very strange.

Even more unexplainable is the reaction of the family members to the deaths occurring. Some characters should obviously be very affected, but they don’t seem to care or sometimes even take notice of what happened. One character in particular starts an exposé about mechanical toys at a time in the story where this feels very unnatural.

If no one cares about the murders, I don’t see why the reader should. I don’t really like detective stories that show the murder as just a puzzle to be solved, without showing how it affects the characters.

Finally, I should also add that I disliked our protagonist, the young and newly recruited assistant of an ex-police officer who now works as a private detective. The novel does not provide a lot of information on him, we don’t know much about his life and personality. I found that he takes foolish decisions throughout the story and found it frustrating to have to follow him.

I can imagine that if you enjoy mechanisms and the history of toys, you will certainly enjoy this novel more than I did.