I am not making a habit of discussing books that aren’t available outside of Japan. Really. I myself am very aware that it is frustrating to read articles on oh-so-interesting books that aren’t available in a language you can read. But some books need the promotion. Some books must be made known to the outside world, in the hopes that some publisher will take note of it and publish a translated version. Nikaido Reito’s (Nikaidō Reito) The Terror of Werewolf Castle (Jinrōjō no Kyōfu) is surely one of those books.
But why? Well, at the time of its release (1996 -1998), it was the world’s longest classic detective novel and I am pretty sure it is still the record-holder, spanning four massive volumes, each around 650 pages long!
The story starts in the Middle Ages and ends in modern times, spreading across Japan, Germany and France. It mixes in European legends and folklore like the Pied Piper of Hamelin, the Spear of Longinus, and legends of werewolves. It’s almost like those incredibly long fantasy novels! I know of no other crime novel that has such a scale. And you know what: the story itself is superspecialawesome, too.
The titular Werewolf Castle in fact consists of twin castles, two identical castles built deep in the mountains across from each other, separated by a deep river. The castles are located in Elzas-Lothringen / Alsace-Lorraine, an area in Europe that, depending on the era, is part of either Germany or France. As of the post-war era, one castle is located in Germany, the other in France, with the border running right between them.
These two castles are, of course, the stage for a series of horrible murders. At the German castle, a group of prize-winners are invited to visit, but are all slaughtered by some mysterious force. Some victims are poisoned, some are found decapitated in a locked room, and others are slain by a walking suit of armor. At the same time, in the French castle, a party of investors is visiting the owner, but this party, too, is murdered by some unknown force. Like their German counterparts, the victims are found in very peculiar circumstances, such as locked rooms. Combined, about 20 persons are killed in the two castles, but nobody has a clue about what happened. It is up to the Japanese master-detective, Nikaidō Ranko, to solve the case.
Like I said before, the scale of this story is truly unbelievable, something never seen before in detective fiction. The story is split into four distinct volumes, with the first two detailing the unfolding events in the German and French castles. The final volume is completely reserved for the big explanation of all the strangeness in both castles. Indeed, whereas a ‘normal’ crime novel might need about 50 pages for its denouement, this story needs about 650 pages to explain everything that happened.
For people interested in classic locked-room puzzles, I am glad to say that some of the locked-room murders in this book end up regularly in favorites lists made by Japanese authors. But what impresses me the most is that this book wasn’t just written to be the world’s longest detective novel. The writer really came up with a plot that needed this amount of pages.
As a European, I have to admit I was quite surprised to see a European setting in a Japanese crime novel, which is a bit rare. But you know what? That makes it all the easier for a Western publisher to pick up the series. A European setting, mixed in with local folklore and legends, precisely what has been popular ever since The Da Vinci Code boom. A great plot filled with locked rooms and other devious tricks that are sure to make any reader’s head spin. Add in the moniker of “world’s longest detective novel” and you’re all set, right?! Publishers, you know what to do!
The next time I ask someone whether they have read the book, I want to hear ‘yes, luckily it was available in English!’, and not ‘No, I can’t read Japanese’!