Yukito Ayatsuji* 綾辻行人
Yukito Ayatsuji (1960–) is a popular mystery writer whose works are considered orthodox for their tricky and logically airtight solutions. He polished his technique as a member of Kyoto University’s Mystery Fiction Study Group, a well-known club that has produced many successful writers—among them Ayatsuji’s wife, Fuyumi Ono, author of the hit series Junikokuki (tr. Twelve Kingdoms). Ayatsuji published his first mystery, Jukkakukan no satsujin (Murder in the Decagon), while still in college. It became a bestseller, sparking a revival of the conventional whodunit. To date he has written nine volumes in this acclaimed series on serial murders that take place in mysterious buildings.
Murder in the Decagon is an ambitious work inspired by and perhaps even surpassing Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. In March 1986, seven members of the Mystery Research Association of K University get together for a weeklong camp on the sparsely occupied island of Tsunojima. They stay in a peculiar building that appears from overhead to be a perfectly symmetrical decagon. It was built by architect Seiji Nakamura as a detached guest house for his Blue Mansion, but six months ago Nakamura, his wife, and three other people were brutally murdered and the mansion burned to the ground. The students have chosen this site for their study camp out of interest in this as-yet-unsolved murder mystery.
The students call each other “Ellery,” “Poe,” “Agatha,” and similar names of famous mystery writers or sleuths. On the second day of their camp, a cryptic prediction of murder is made, and the following morning “Orczy,” one of the girls, is found strangled. So begins a terrifying sequence of murders. Meanwhile, on the mainland various people receive letters from the supposedly deceased Nakamura claiming that his daughter Chiori, a former member of the Mystery Research Association who died of acute alcohol poisoning at a New Year’s party, had actually been murdered. On the fifth day, everyone but “Ellery” and “Van” dies, and then the building goes up in flames. Six bodies are retrieved from the ashes—the last to die was Ellery. The police decide that he set the fire and killed himself; but the real killer remains at large. This is a brilliant drama of revenge with a thrilling plot that keeps the reader guessing.
The whodunit short-story collection Dondonbashi, ochita (Dondon Bridge Is Falling Down), named after the familiar nursery rhyme and subtitled Dokusha e no chosen (A Challenge to Readers), forces readers to guess the killer. Dondon Bridge crosses a valley by Dondon village, deep in the mountains of Japan. The bridge, a simple affair consisting of wooden slats bound together by rope, is 20 meters long and 30 meters above ground. The valley walls on either side are vertical cliffs. One day the bridge collapses before an annoying child named Yukito can cross to the other side. His big brother Daisuke finds him clinging to the rope, screaming for dear life, and runs to the village for help. But Yukito is pushed off the bridge and falls to his death, crying, “I was murdered!” The story is divided in two parts. Part one, “The Mystery,” presents all aspects of the case, including a bird’s-eye view of the crime scene, while part two, “The Solution,” reveals the surprising truth . . . The stories in this collection are humorous with a touch of pathos.
Besides mystery novels, Ayatsuji also writes horror stories. Furikusu (Freaks) consists of three short works, each set in a psychiatric ward. The title story, Furikusu: 564-goshitsu no kanja (Freaks: The Patient in Room 564), is particularly chilling. The narrator, a mystery writer, is visited by a detective friend who shows him a novel written by a patient in room 564. The friend has him read only the exposition of the mystery, not the solution, and asks him to guess who the killer is. The patient set down as truth the story of the murder of a wealthy capitalist and mad scientist called J.M., just as he heard it from his psychiatrist. J.M., who had a complex about his hideous looks, took in toddlers and performed operations to reconfigure their bodies, creating five freaks: Cyclops, Three-Arms, Hunchback, Scaleface, and the lone girl, Caterpillar. He confined the children in a basement room, abused them, and was killed in revenge. Who did it? Is the patient sane or insane? The novel ends without resolving these enigmas.
* Jukkakukan no satsujin (Kodansha, 1987, 289 pages)
* Furikusu (Kobunsha, 1996, 326 pages)
* Dondonbashi, ochita (Kodansha, 1999, 362 pages)