After two misfires, I was a bit hesitant to wrap up the Mystery Land series. After all, Otsu Ichi is not a man known for novels -- in fact, I think this and the Jojo's Bizarre Adventure novel are the only two full length works he's done. It's a good thing I forged ahead, because this is the single best thing he's ever written, and one of the most riveting books I've ever been lucky enough to read.
This is, in theory, a children's novel. It has an annoying lack of kanji, which made several sentences into irritating puzzles, trying to figure out where the fucking verb began. It has a notorious phantom thief who steals famous treasures, and a great detective who all children idolize and who vows to catch the thief someday. Many -- possibly all -- characters are named after kinds of chocolate. (Some are pretty obscure; Royce is apparently a Japanese brand, but I'd never heard of them. On the other hand, the thief is named Godiva.)
But the main character is introduced shopping with his father...as they are told to leave the shop because the shopkeeper doesn't serve their kind. They are visibly Not From Here. Racial hostility is a nigh constant factor in this kid's life. His father is so sick he drops the coins he's counting, and they are so poor they have to use a stick to pry loose the one caught between the cobblestones. His father buys a cheap used Bible, on the grounds he's going to need it soon. When the kid's father dies, he finds a map tucked in the Bible. A map drawn by the phantom thief.
With a world view this harshly grounded, adventure plotting has a way of going very sour. This is an incredibly cynical book, and the heart stopping way shit goes south in just about every conceivable way really makes it a relentless page turner. Otsu Ichi's absolute command of structure and blisteringly refined economy of prose are both on display here, with neither a wasted sentence nor a scene that does not in some way jar you away from what you expect from the genre. It essentially amounts to taking Edogawa Rampo's old Twenty Faces stories, yanking the rug out from under them with a great big helping of neo-realism, and then pacing the fucker like you wish thrillers were always paced.