Book review: 『点と線』by Seicho Matsumoto

点と線 (てんとせん)
Title: 点と線 (てんとせん)
First published: 1958
Page Count: 262
Translation: Points and Lines by Makiko Yamamoto and Paul C. Blum / Tokyo Express, by Jesse Kirkwood, 2022
A couple is found dead in the Hakata bay (Fukuoka), and everything points to a double suicide. However one small detail troubles detective Torigai who starts an investigation of his own, only to discover even more curious facts. When young inspector Mihara takes over the case, Torigai’s suspicions will serve as starting point for Mihara’s investigation.

点と線 is a very short railway mystery and the first novel I read by Seicho Matsumoto (I only read short stories before). I enjoyed every aspect of this novel, from the use of trains and timetables in the plot, as well as the motif of the rock solid alibi that the police has to break (the アリバイ破り genre), to the fact that the culprit is known very soon, the investigation consisting in finding how the murder was possible rather than looking for the murderer.

I was afraid that 点と線 would involve a lot of timetables, but it turns out that the novel is very easy to read. Every time an element key to the investigation is introduced, it is repeated several times in different circumstances or by different characters. There are actually so many repetitions that I had to wonder if the author had to recap the main points regularly because the novel was first serialised, but I don’t think it is the case because most of the novels I have read in Japanese were also first published by instalments, and I never read one that is so repetitive. I guess it is just a feature to make the book easier to read, compared to some other mysteries that almost necessitate to take notes to follow.

I find that detective novels that involve time and space to either fabricate or break an alibi can be very complex. But complex does not necessarily means clever. 点と線 is actually very simple, there’s not a ton of stations and hours to go through and compare. Rather, it relies on a lot of tricks that not only use timetables but are built on human psychology, how we are conditioned to think a certain way or jump to certain conclusions.

Unfortunately though, I found that some key elements were obvious from the start. The reason is certainly because I have read novels with similar plots before. It did not prevent me from enjoying the book though.

One thing that I found a bit strange is how the end felt suddenly rushed. The question of the motive is not the focus of the novel which is mostly a howdunit and the alibi is what we are really interested about, but it is a bit disappointing to not explore the motive more.

Other books by this author:
顔・白い闇 (かお・しろいやみ)
ゼロの焦点 (ぜろのしょうてん)