NISIOISIN (illustrations by take) | Zaregoto Book 1: The Kubikiri Cycle (Del Rey)

zaregoto-header.jpgThe eventual solution has enough twists and turns in it to make Dame Agatha proud.


352 pages. New York: Del Rey, 2008. $9.95 (paperback)


If Agatha Christie were alive today, and her interests included Japanese pop culture and alienated youth, she’d probably be writing something like Zaregoto Book 1: The Kubikiri Cycle. However, Dame Agatha went to her reward some 30 years ago, and her interests (outside of English country villages) ran more toward the Middle East than the Pacific Rim.

The cover to Zaregoto Book 1 by take. Click for a larger image.No fear, the palindromous author NISIOISIN (NisiOisiN if you prefer) is carrying on two Christie traditions: strangers assembled on an island and murder in a locked room. And while the murder is clearly the central event in The Kubikiri Cycle, the pleasure in reading this novel, as with Christie’s best works, comes from the opportunity to enter the author’s imaginary world and observe the somewhat improbable cast of characters interacting with each other. The world of The Kubikiri Cycle is similar enough to ours that we can relate to the characters and their motivations, yet it’s far more artfully arranged than ours ever will be.

The setup goes like this. Akagami Iria, fabulously wealthy but estranged from her family, lives in a huge mansion on Wet Crow’s Feather Island with her three maids. She invites a select group of female geniuses—a painter, a fortune-teller, an engineer, a chef, and one genius among geniuses—to visit. The engineer brings along a friend, Ii-chan, your basic disaffected college student and decidedly not a genius, who serves as the novel’s narrator.

There’s not a lot of prepackaged entertainment available on Feather Island, so one thing these characters do a lot is talk—about their special fields of endeavor and about their philosophies of life. Ii-chan conveniently serves as the recipient of much of their conversation and shared wisdom, making him a sort of Basil Exposition in reverse.

Everything goes on uneventfully for awhile, apart from the inevitable clashes of ego. Then things start to get strange. First the painter is found beheaded, in a locked room, followed by the genius-genius, also beheaded in a locked room. Then the engineer’s computers are destroyed. Ii-chan undertakes an investigation, a frustrating process since everyone has alibis. The eventual solution has enough twists and turns in it to make Dame Agatha proud.

I’ve read that "zaregoto" can be translated as "a joke," "nonsense" or even "monkey talk:" this may be a clue from the author not to take the geniuses as seriously as they take themselves. Another hint is supplied in the preface, which quotes Nietzsche: "Having one too many talents is even more dangerous than having one too few." | Sarah Boslaugh


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