I wrote about NORIZUKI Rintarou's first mystery, Snow Locked Room (雪密室, 1989), not long after I started this blog, and thought it was an impressive start. 頼子のために (Yoriko no tame ni, For Yoriko, 1990) is another well made mystery.
When Yoriko, the seventeen year old daughter of university professor NISHIMURA Yuuji (西村悠史), is murdered, her father writes an account of his determination to find the killer and take revenge. The diary ends where he has successfully hunted down the man he was looking for, a few moments before he himself commits suicide. The suicide attempt is unexpectedly interrupted, leaving Nishimura unconscious in hospital, while the story grows into a major scandal. Suspicions that the first murder had been covered up set local politicians in damage management mode, suggesting an investigation from detective story writer NORIZUKI Rintarou (法月綸太郎), who has a reputation as an amateur detective. Rintarou, reading the father's account, thinks that there really is something to investigate, and takes the case.
Snow Locked Room bore a strong resemblance in its central problem to the Carter Dickson classic, The White Priory Murders, which it referenced in the story. Reading the account above, a reader familiar with golden age mysteries will inevitably be reminded of Nicholas Blake's excellent The Beast Must Die. This time too, Norizuki mentions the book within the narrative. Blake's combination of a narrative of revenge and a detective story is one of his best books; but Chabrol certainly did well to replace Blake's too sprightly detective with a more straightforward policeman in his 1969 film of the book. The deliberate change of tone between the two parts is hard to take. Norizuki the character is a lot more sober than Nigel Strangeways; so this is less of a problem. The story does seem to lose focus a little, however. In particular the conspiracies of the rich and powerful subplot feels like a waste of the readers' time (and I think that after Snow Locked Room, another manipulative, dominating, sexually voracious older woman uses up Norizuki's lifetime allowance for this character type).
I understand Ho-Ling's not very enthusiastic view of the book. It's certainly true that the solid clues are tenuous and the mystery does not really progress very well in the part between the initial revenge narrative and the explanation at the end. And both clues and deductions only go so far (indeed the better clues only point to something that readers will guess anyway). Many of the final revelations are more a story the author decided to tell than a necessary solution to the mystery. The shape of the story is a little like Ellery Queen's Wrightsville books, though the tragedy is a little more gothic than what Ellery Queen favoured at that time.