Four children go into a room to play a game. The game is based on a scary story about four travelers who devise a flawed plan to keep themselves awake all night -- they each take a corner, then one moves to the next corner, taps the person there, and that person moves to the next, round and round the room. But obviously, this would never actually work. When the fourth person reached the corner where the first person was standing, he would find it empty. But when the children try it, things turn out just like the story. When the lights go on, there are five children in the room. All of them remember there being four, but each of them remembers the other four being there all along.
A zashiki-warashi has joined in their game.
Before they can tell anyone, someone poisons their parents. All the children are visiting the house of a rich relative with no direct heirs -- one of their families stands to inherit a fortune, and someone is playing into some old legends about a curse on the family, trying to scare the parents away. Only the children, lacking both grown-up skepticism and grown-up greed, see what is really happening. So they -- and the zashiki-warashi -- set out to solve the mystery.
Written by Twelve Kingdom's Fuyumi Ono for the 2002 launch of Kodansha's Mystery Land line -- a line of old fashioned hard cover in slip cases that are ostensibly children's literature, but which also claim to be books for adults that remember how much better books for children used to be -- this is pretty much the last thing she wrote before dropping off the face of the god damn earth.
For most of the length, she carries off the throwback writing style and neat twist on a few central mystery novel conceits, and the book is a fairly enjoyable read...but towards the end I'm afraid it not only gets bogged down in excessively tedious conversations in which the children -- who barely have personalities -- attempt to use deductive reasoning to work out who could be behind this. These conversations usually pay off, and I understand that certain mystery fans are quite keen on this sort of exhaustive tediousness, but I've never been able to stay awake long enough to care. There's also an exasperating bit where two characters spend ten fucking pages discussing the god damn moral, suggesting she is aping entirely the wrong parts of old children's books.
I enjoyed the first two thirds of it a lot, so it's a shame that the last third winds up exposing a lot of the flaws in her central conceit, and ends up soft balling a few climactic revelations. Not that horrific illustration placement -- an issue throughout the god damn book -- doesn't spoil a few twists anyway. Seriously, I mean, the art is sort of shit so all the kids kinda look the same, but fucking putting a god damn green glowing mystical dot that isn't even in the actual story in front of the zashiki-warashi four fucking pages before they actually work out who the zashiki-warashi is? Fucking bullshit. Hunh. I think I started this review planning on recommending it despite a few late flaws, but I'm definitely coming down the other way now -- this is a book that had a lot of promise, but doesn't come through in the end. Shame.