[Note about Koike Keisuke: There are quite a lot of people with that name, but I believe this one refers to a mystery critic who publishes his reviews in magazines.]
Ah, the long-awaited revival of the Petit Bourgeois series.
This book, Case of the Summer-Exclusive Tropical Parfait, is the sequel of Case of the Spring-Exclusive Strawberry Tart, published by Sogensha Mystery Bunko in 2004, and is Honobu Yonezawa’s seventh novel.
In terms of structure, this is a full-length work, but the first two episodes, The Charlotte is Mine and Shake Half, preceded the novel, and were published as short stories in volumes 13 and 14 of Tokyo Sogensha’s mystery journal, Mysteries! The prologue and later chapters were written afterward, then compiled with those two stories to form a full-length volume.
The previous volume, Case of the Spring-Exclusive Strawberry Tart, told the story of the first few months since the weird protagonist combination – Kobato Jougorou and Osanai Yuki – entered high school. They contributed in solving the case of the stolen pochette, discovered the reason behind the creation of the painting, and unravelled the technique to make delicious cocoa. The awkward way they handled these mysteries you could encounter in everyday life left a deep impression on me. This sequel depicts their summer holidays after the two of them have moved on to be second-year high school students.
A good bookshop would have Case of the Spring-Exclusive Strawberry Tart right next to (or at least in the same shelf as) this one. If you haven’t read it yet, I hope that you buy it as well. I guarantee that the pleasure you’ll get from reading this book will be multiplied.
The protagonist combination described in this series as “petit bourgeois” are likened to people who live modest lives.
Kobato Jougorou and Osanai Yuki, who have entered Funado High School, a public elite school, received setbacks in middle school as a negative consequence of their respective personalities, so to completely avoid any friction with their surroundings, they swore to aim for a peaceful everyday life, where they wouldn’t draw attention or cause trouble. To that end, the two of them formed a unique relationship, that is to say, a mutually beneficial one in which they could use the other person as an excuse to escape from situations they did not want to be in. There is an unfamiliar sensation produced from this strange relationship that strays far from the established boy-girl relationships, that of love and that of dependence. That, in turn, causes a mysterious atmosphere to linger throughout the story.
With Doujima Kengo, an elementary school classmate of Jougorou who knows of his past, the three of them make up the main characters of this series, and get involved in various cases, phenomena and mysteries.
This series belongs to the genre of classical mystery (or in other words novels which involve solving mysteries and deducing the truth), with Kobato Jougorou playing the role of the detective. It is that detective ability (and probably the high-handed attitude he had at the time) that caused Jougorou to be shunned by the people around him in the past and brought about his trauma.
Speaking of which, the detective in the Classics Club series by the same author, Oreki Houtarou, is also the type to avoid having to make deductions. In the case of Houtarou, who is loath to spare any effort, his friend from the same club who is brimming with curiosity, Chitanda Eru, acts as his activation mechanism to get him going as a master detective. On the other hand, Kobato Jougorou’s partner, Osanai Yuki, aims to become a Petit Bourgeois along with him, and instead acts as an inhibition mechanism. For Jougorou, his disposition to snoop around (or as the person himself puts it, the personality trait of wanting to solve) often leaks out, allowing him to function as a master detective. As a member of the “troubled detectives” led by Ellery Queen1, Jougorou’s unique characteristics can be seen, and looking at it from a different perspective, he stands with Houtarou in the pedigree of “idle detectives”, represented by Mononobe Tarou2, the master detective brought to life by Tsuzuki Michio3 (While they are all idle detectives, it can be said that Jougorou is molded to have a stronger sense of cynicism). For those who are interested, I would like to recommend some secondary reading material, which is the first full-length work in the Mononobe Tarou series, The Bird With Seventy-Five Feathers.
Perhaps mirroring the two protagonists rejecting societal relations and walking on the edges after seeing that they would not be accepted in, this story is less of a straight-laced youth novel series, and more of one that captures the awkwardness of youth. It’s a story that caricatures young people perplexed about the sense of the distance between them and the world. To the two of them, solving mysteries and being involved in cases is nothing other than bridging the gap between them and the world.
As a result, while they aim to become petit bourgeois, they eventually show a glimpse of their hidden talents. In other words, The Petit Bourgeois series is a story about the points in time leading up to the release of their inner beasts. You could even call it a reconstruction of a violent story in the setting of a classical mystery. (Would it be too much of a stretch to call it a Hero’s Journey4?) Taking the “girl of vengeance”, Osanai Yuki, as the subject, that flavor becomes all the more prominent. Whether you view the two of them as being tossed around by fate or unshackling themselves is up to the reader.
Can the two of them grasp the star of the petit bourgeois? Of course, there is the possibility that they fail in their endeavor and instead have their bestial nature laid bare for all to see. This thrilling development becomes even more interesting when seen from the perspective of the characters.
◆ Regarding short mystery stories
The episodes written in Case of the Spring-Exclusive Strawberry Tart contains many instances that make one think of the so-called “everyday mystery”. From the events and things seen in everyday life, an observer (mainly the master detective) senses something “mysterious”, thus establishing the “everyday mystery”. Mysteries and cases don’t come to the characters, but are drawn from the world. Jougorou is actually a person with a disposition to snoop around and likes to solve mysteries, so it can be said that most episodes being in the format of an everyday mystery is extremely natural. There is even some humor in the antinomy between Jougorou’s attitude of aiming to become a petit bourgeois and his personality that makes him attracted to the mysterious.
However, there are also episodes like the first chapter, Sheep’s Clothing, which starts off with a crime that cannot be classified as an “everyday mystery”, so it is not bound to those kinds of stories. Also, for Case of the Summer-Exclusive Tropical Parfait, Yonezawa chose to attempt a classical mystery at his own discretion.
There are two episodes that transpired before the crime which made up the main event, namely The Charlotte is Mine and Shake Half, and as might be expected of stories that were published as one-shot short stories, you will find that they are of high quality even if you read them on their own. Furthermore, since they are a reverse mystery and a cipher mystery respectively, they are works that have a strong awareness of the standard forms of mystery stories.
In the first place, even in Case of the Spring-Exclusive Strawberry Tart, Yonezawa was always approaching classical mysteries from all sorts of directions, like denouements complete with foreshadowing (or hints to the solution), logical deductions and leaps in reasoning. How to Make Delicious Cocoa is a prime example. By prioritizing the characters’ perspectives, it does not shy away from the so-called “whydunnit” (which asks the question of why they did it), then thoroughly progresses into the logical solving of a riddle centered around an interesting “howdunnit” (which asks the question of how they did it), and eventually brings the characters’ human nature into sharp relief in the denouement. This style makes the story nothing but a calculated masterpiece.
That kind of fresh technique was once again demonstrated in The Charlotte is Mine, which is a model of a reverse mystery. Instead of utilizing memorable foreshadowing, the writing is exceptionally flat, which I believe is an invitation for the readers to take part in the quiz. You could try stopping at the 8th line of the 61st page5 and deduce the solution for yourself.
The following chapter, Shake Half, is also a refined cipher mystery carefully put together. This one has subtle foreshadowing, and takes full advantage of the technique of changing the detective’s perspective step by step to make the foreshadowing seem alive, showing of Yonezawa’s strength as a classical mystery writer.
The two short episodes are, even in the sense of the characters’ compatibility and charm, are extremely pleasant works. The showdown in wisdom of the two main characters in The Charlotte is Mine makes it especially easy to emphathize with them to quite a large degree. There must be many readers whose palms get sweaty in a literal sense with every page. Following the previous volume, the story combines the two established characters and succeeds in bringing the classical mystery structure to a closer, more familiar area for the reader.
I hope that you don’t read these stories while splitting them into the categories of character-driven and mystery-driven stories, but simply enjoy the taste you get from such a blend.
◆ Regarding the Full-length Work
In the first chapter, The Charlotte is Mine, Kobato Jougorou, who lost convincingly in a showdown against Osanai Yuki, was added as a partner to the Osanai Summer Sweets Selection, a plan to taste the desserts at sweets stores in town during the summer holidays. Jougorou was reluctant, but many readers would want to participate in it, and of course, so would the present writer himself.
It is this plan that makes the backbone of the book. It is the plot, and is ultimately the largest reason for continuing the stories into a full-length work. Compared to Case of the Spring-Exclusive Strawberry Tart, which can be said to be a series of short stories with no real chapter structure, but this book is clearly split into different thematic chapters. There is no doubt that this is done to emphasize that this work is meant to be a full-length one.
The structure of linking a series of short stories and showing a different face at the end is the specialty of any short story series published by Tokyo Sogensha. As for the Petit Bourgeois series, it takes the structure of having Kobato’s part at the beginning, followed by the appearance of Osanai’s part that has been taking place behind the scenes. It can be said to be a challenge to the preceding technique from a new angle. This method of creating such a flow between the short episodes to produce a full-length work might even be a nod to Awasaka Tsumao6.
In Case of the Spring-Exclusive Strawberry Tart, the mysteries in each short story were placed in calculated positions to suit Jougorou. Because of that, the detective who was keeping a distance from mystery solving gradually revealed his true personality, and that process was played out throughout the entire book. Besides finding the culprit, he has to look through the filter of his relationship with Osanai and the messages they send to each other. In the end, he gets into an unavoidable situation… and thus, Jougorou gradually removes his shackles. Thinking about it from this perspective, a light mystery that at first glance seems as insignificant as a drop of water can cause ripples for the character in the bigger scheme of things. In other words, the plot comes first in a full-length work, and the mysteries serve as a stepping stone for the demands of the story. This is a sequence that goes beyond the chronological order and cannot be exchanged for anything else.
However, that same surface-level meaning cannot be seen with the mystery placement in this book. So, just what kind of intent is concealed beneath? The unexpectedness of that revelation is one of the main selling points of this book as a full-length mystery novel.
It is based on the structure of the previous book, yet does not use that as a fixed style, instead altering and modifying it here and there (It is due to this that I would really recommend reading the first book), showing the spirit of experimentation.
The technique of compiling character-driven short stories into a full-length work has grown even more firm with this book. To be honest, this is on a different level compared to Case of the Spring-Exclusive Strawberry Tart. Why it surpasses the previous book by such an overwhelming degree is that the disposition of a character whose original purpose was to flavor the story with some humor became like a bone that cannot be pulled out of the classical mystery structure (yes, I understand that might not be the best description). Another point is the shock I got when I realized that every single element existed for the purpose of making the classical mystery more complete. So you’ve come this far, Honobu Yonezawa…
Many readers will probably link the inconceivable developments in this book to a particular overseas mystery writer and their work7. It also made this writer recall a work of Yamada Futaro8, but since it is one of the core stories in classical mystery, I shall refrain from mentioning it. In any case, the Petit Bourgeois series is certainly one that makes you feel the rich history of the genre. There will definitely be no mistake in calling it “light”, but I would like to point out that it is also profound, holding layers of history with it.
Now, with this book published, it is almost a given that it will be continued with “Autumn-Exclusive” and “Winter-Exclusive”. How will the characters overcome the unpredictable conclusion of this book? Will the basic plot be adhered to, or will they use different structures? My curiosity is uncontainable.
◆ About the Author
In 1978, Honobu Yonezawa was born in Gifu Prefecture. In 2001, he received an honorable mention in the 5th Kadokawa Gakuen Novel Young Person Mystery and Horror Category Awards for his novel Hyouka (Kadokawa Bunko), and debuted as an author. That work’s prototype was a series of a short stories published on his own internet home page. In his afterword for Andrew Taylor’s Requiem for an Angel (Koudansha Bunko), Matsuura Masato9 mentioned that Hyouka is a “historical mystery with motifs of other fictional characters”. What a discerning eye he has!
In the following year, Yonezawa’s first book since his debut, Credit Roll of the Fool, was published. In it, the characters from Hyouka tries making deductions about the conclusion of an amateur video. It is a novel that adapts the multiple solutions approach from Anthony Berkeley’s The Poisoned Chocolates Case (Sogen Mystery Bunko), and is a masterclass on how to set the foreshadowing. Oreki Houtarou and his friends from the two books, or the Classics Club series as it is called, have taken the role as series characters, and they are in another full-length work set during the cultural festival of Kamiyama High School, Kudryavka’s Order (Kadokawa Shoten), which is currently in print. To match that, Hyouka and Credit Roll of the Fool, which have since been taken in by Kadokawa Sneaker Bunko (Sneaker Mystery Club) are now in reprint for the general public.
Yonezawa, a so-called graduate of the light novel label, went on to write his first full-length work for the general audience in 2004, Goodbye Fairy (Tokyo Sogensha <Mystery Frontier>). It is a youth mystery novel with a boy-meets-girl theme, a story in which a high school boy meets and parts from a girl from another country, a story where the ordinary and extraordinary cross paths. In that same year, Case of the Spring-Exclusive Strawberry Tart, which aimed to break the boundaries of the label, was published.
Having solidified his position, Yonezawa released two full-length novels in succession, Kudryavka’s Order and Where is the Dog? (Tokyo Sogensha <Mystery Frontier>), and perhaps due to the influence of all the discussion the two works from the previous year generated, his ability as a writer became even more well-known. In particular, Where is the Dog?, which was talked about for its hard-boiled story and its horrifying ending, is a significant work that showed Yonezawa’s broadening of his style as a mystery writer.
From what we have seen, the hallmark of Yonezawa’s works is that they contain many characters who give off the feeling that they are in a moratorium10, but in the round-table discussion (in which Kasai Kiyoshi11, Kitayama Takekuni12 and Tsujimura Mizuki13 participated) of Hayakawa Publishing’s Mystery Magazine (2nd issue, 2006), it was mentioned that Yonezawa was aiming for Bildungsroman14. They were probably thinking of the Classics Club series when they said that. It is indeed interesting to imagine how Oreki Houtarou, who is not depicted as a detective with godlike powers and has clear boundaries for what he can deduce, will develop in the next works. From that viewpoint, it is also fascinating to think about how the characters in the Petit Bourgeois series will deal with their self-consciousness and past trauma. Above all, what kind of mystery-solving will that direction be linked to? I would love to read the next work as soon as possible.
It might be allowed for characters in novels, but delays for skilled authors are unacceptable.
Editors (Tier 2) : Joshua Fisher
Assistants (Tier 1) : Definitelynotme, Rolando Sanchez
Thank you very much for all your support!
- A pseudonym created in 1929 by American crime fiction writers Frederic Dannay and Manfred Bennington Lee and the name of their main fictional character, a mystery writer in New York City who helps his police inspector father solve baffling murders.
- There isn’t a lot of information about this even in Japanese sites, but Mononobe Tarou is apparently a man born into wealth and holds the belief that “those who can survive without working should leave a spot for those who cannot live without working”. Wanting to escape from his father, he works at a psychic detective office opened by his friend Naojirou and solve starange mysteries.
- A mystery and SF writer who is known for writing his own stories for a series he was translating for Hayakawa Shobo’s Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine.
- The common template of stories that involve a hero who goes on an adventure, is victorious in a decisive crisis, and comes home changed or transformed. Luke Skywalker is a very good example of the hero in such a story.
- Or right at the end of part 5.
- A mystery author who was known for works such as Kijutsu tantei Soga Kajo zenshu (The Complete Cases of Magician Detective Kajo Soga) and Midare karakuri (A Trick Goes Awry).
- Unfortunately, I have no idea who he’s referring to. Please let me now if you do!
- A Japanese novel writer, famous for his ninja stories and mystery fiction based on Japanese legends.
- A Japanese politician. There isn’t much interesting information even on his wikipedia page, so I’ll leave it at that.
- A Japanese expression that uses the borrowed term to describe young people who cannot fully adapt to the real world.
- A detective mystery author who won the Kadokawa Award in 1979 and is known for his detective protagonist Kakeru Yabuki, who employs phenomenological speculation to solve his murder cases.
- A Japanese novelist of mystery fiction who won the 24th Mephisto Prize for “Clock Castle” Murder Case and is known as a master of impossible situations with a physical trick behind them.
- A Japanese writer who specializes in mystery novels and received the 2012 Naoki Prize for I Saw a Dream Without a Key.
- A literary genre that focuses on the psychological and moral growth of the protagonist from youth to adulthood, in which character change is important.