Friday, September 4, 2015

『ラブは0』

「I'll help you! I'm Holmes' apprentice!」
"Detective Conan"

In 2011, I had the ambitious, but crazy plan of going through the complete Detective Conan manga right from the beginning. It meant reading, and writing something on about 70 volumes and 14 theatrical releases of Detective Conan. I discussed ten volumes per post (fitting in the films with the release schedule of the manga) and it resulted in seven, very lengthy posts. In the last post of the series, I noted that the manga was 'only' at volume 73 at the time, so it would take several years before I could do another of those posts. But with volume 87 released recently, I thought it was about time I discuss volumes 71 ~ 80 of Detective Conan.

Most of these volumes I had only read once and I had forgotten the details of many of them, so rereading them felt surprisingly fresh. Also, I was in Japan from April 2012 to March 2013, so volumes 75 ~ 78 also felt special as I bought them in Japan (and also watched The Eleventh Striker then). So this was also a short trip in memory lane. Many, but not all of the volumes discussed in today's post I already discussed in smaller, single reviews the last couple of years by the way.

These posts do not contain spoilers for the mystery plots of each individual story, but because I consider these posts as one big overview of the whole Conan series, I do reveal story spoilers, like the identities of certain characters, certain important events etc. I also note some clues of the overall story, that are of significance later on in the series. So read at your own risk. Also, while I do discuss the Conan films, I did not include 2013's Lupin III VS Detective Conan here, as it's obviously not part of the main series (that review, you can find here).

Detective Conan manga & movies:
Part 1: Volumes 1 ~ 10
Part 2: Volumes 11~20; The Timebombed Skysraper (1) / The Fourteenth Target (2)
Part 3: Volumes 21~30; The Last Wizard of the Century (3) / Captured in Her Eyes (4)
Part 4: Volumes 31~40; Countdown to Heaven (5) / The Phantom of Baker Street (6)
Part 5: Volumes 41~50; Crossroad in the Ancient Capital (7) / Magician of the Silver Sky (8) / Strategy Above the Depths (9)
Part 6:  Volumes 51~60; Private Eyes' Requiem (10) /J olly Roger in the Deep Azure (11)
Part 7: Volumes 61~70; Full Score of Fear (12) / The Raven Chaser (13) / Lost Ship in the Sky (14)
Part 8: Volumes 71~80; Quarter of Silence (15) / The Eleventh Striker (16) / Private Eye in the Distant Sea (17)
(You will find the links to the reviews of volume 70, 72~76, 78, 82~86, and the films Quarter of Silence (15), The Eleventh Striker (16), Private Eye in the Distant Sea (17), Dimensional Sniper (18) in the library)

Volume 71
Keyhole: Minerva Glass
Cases: Detective Chiba's First Love; The Revelation of Holmes
Police: Miike Naeko (Traffic Division)

By now, we know very well that Aoyama Goushou is almost insanely fond of childhood friends falling in love. In Detective Chiba's First Love, we are told that our favorite slightly overweight police detective also attended Teitan Elementary when he was a kid, and that he had a crush on a classmate. The classmate had to move away, but had left Chiba a message in the audio/video room of Teitan Elementary. He never did find it, but this time, Chiba has the help of Conan and the Detective Boys. A cute story, but a bit weak for a detective story, even if it makes interesting use of memories in it its storytelling. The big story is The Revelation of Holmes, which has author's intent bringing Conan to London, home of his beloved Sherlock Holmes. A riddle message found by Apollo Glass, little brother of Wimbledon contestant Minerva Glass, seems to be suggesting a bomb will be set off somewhere in London and while Apollo didn't manage to find the real Sherlock Holmes, "Holmes' Disciple" is just as good. The story reminds me a lot of the bomb story in volume 36, both being grand-scale stories involving a riddle, people running around town and featuring a romantic subplot. Better remembered for its scale, setting and exciting endgame, than for its puzzle plot.

Movie: Quarter of Silence
Release: April 16, 2011
(See also single review)

Quarter of Silence is the movie I remember for its absolutely horrible guest voicework (by war photographer Watanabe Youichi). Granted, Conan films have had horrible guest voicework in the past too, but Watanabe's appearance was really one of the worst performances. As a detective film, Quarter of Silence is pretty boring too. There's a rather sober investigation into a murder that is never really appealing. Where's the time-bomber?! The serial murderer who killed people with numbers in their names? The only 'special' thing about this film is the snow-setting, but that's it. Oh, and the movie has some of the most ridiculous action scenes of Detective Conan history. Ever since Crossroad in the Ancient Capital, the directors have tried to make the stakes higher and higher with each film and by the time we got by Quarter of Silence, things got really ridiculous with Conan's skateboarding (and snowboarding). Easily one of the worst Conan films.

Volume 72
Keyhole: Apollo Glass
Cases: The Revelation of Holmes; Emergency 252; The Operation Room of Screams; The Desperate Karuta Game; The Blade of the Keeper of Time
(See also single review)

The last chapter of The Revelation of Holmes has something shocking to offer for long-time fans who have invested emotionally in the characters, but it's a shame it couldn't have been collected in the previous volume. Emergency 252 has the Detective Boys playing in an abandonded building, that happens to be the base of operations of two kidnappers. Exciting short story, especially because Conan himself is knocked out early in the game and has to figure out an escape for himself, while also saving the others. The Operation Room of Screams is a rather standard story. Three suspects, a mechanical trick, material evidence: familiar elements that add up to an okay story. The Desperate Karuta Game is fun, because it's a Detective Boys story without Conan (who has a cold). A new boy in Ayumi's apartment building claims unknown people are pretending to be his parents, but the boy is knowing for lying and pulling pranks. Suspecting that this time, the Boy Who Cried Wolf is right, the Detective Boys, led by Haibara, try to figure out what is going on. The coded message that is the centre of this story is absolutely ridiculous though (no way a boy would've come up with that in the spur of the moment). The Blade of the Keeper of Time too is a predictable story: a wealthy, but hated lady celebrating her birthday in her mansion filled with clocks; letters going back two years announcing her murder. Elements we know and love. 

Volume 73
Keyhole: Sera Masumi
Cases: The Blade of the Keeper of Time; Deadly Delicious Ramen; A Deduction Confrontation in the Haunted Hotel; The Detective Agency Lock-Up
Characters: Sera Masumi
Plot: First appearance of Sera Masumi; she purposedly lets Conan (& Shinichi) solve the case. Conan thinks he has met Sera before.
(See also single review)

The Blade of the Keeper of Time is also not a very original story. Granted, this is volume 73, so there's bound to be some overlap, but I think that the dynamics behind the suddenly disappearing murderer have been re-used in Conan way too often. Deadly Delicious Ramen also follows a familiar pattern; an impossible poisoning story, this time set in a ramen noodle restaurant. I love this story though; partly because I am a big of ramen noodles, partly because the trick is so practical and realistic (I'd been murdered dozens of time). Fantastic short story. A Deduction Confrontation in the Haunted Hotel introduces us to Sera Masumi, the female, but boyish high school student detective and definitely my favorite 'new' character of the last 5, 6 years. The story involving what appears a murder commited by a ghost haunting part of a hotel has a rather technical mystery plot behind it. Not my favorite story in terms of puzzle, but not bad. In The Detective Agency Lock-Up, Ran, Sera and Mouri Kogorou are held hostage in the Mouri Detective Agency together with three female writers. The three women had gone to a hot spring resort last month together with another female writer, but the latter apparently commited suicide then. The brother however is convinced it's murder and having taken everyone hostage, he demands the Sleeping Kogorou to find out which of the three women is the murderer, so he can kill her.

Volume 74
Keyhole: Goro
Cases: The Detective Agency Lock-Up; The Movie Site Kidnapping Case; Conan VS Heiji - Deduction Battle Between The Detectives Of East and West; Poison and the Phantom Design
Characters: Yonehara Sakurako
Plot: Sera Masumi is investigating the people around Conan, especially Haibara; James Black recognizes Sera Masumi
(See also single review)

Despite it being a who-of-the-three story involving a code, The Detective Agency Lock-Up has quite some twist and turns. Add in the hostage situation and you get a rather suspenseful story, that also gives us more insight in the character of Sera. A call on a popular video site for people to appraise a pot Dr. Agasa found leads to the abduction of Ayumi. It is a bit Holmesian, and I think not very difficult for most people to figure out. Conan VS Heiji - Deduction Battle Between The Detectives Of East and West is one of my favorite stories ever as it has everything I like: a deduction battle between two detectives, a story set in a restaurant and where food and eating culture is actually important to the puzzle plot, as well as an emphasis on dialects! It's also a hilarious story. Definitely a must-read. Poison and the Phantom Design is a story I didn't really like when I first read it, but I've reconsidered a bit this time. It's still a somewhat slow, but deep story, as Hattori and Conan have to solve a murder involving a disappearing dying message that happened one month earlier, and a new poisoning case of the previous victim's son. Both cases are not outstanding on their own (the former being hard to 'show' in the comic format, the latter being a decent, but not remarkable story), but Aoyama does manage to weave all these threads into one complex story.

Movie 16: The Eleventh Striker
Release: April 14, 2012
(See also single review)

I have a soft spot for The Eleventh Striker because I watched it in the theatres in Japan, but in hindsight, it wasn't that good a movie. It's a lot like Quarter of Silence, with a themed story (soccer this time), over-the-top action scenes (an insane skateboard scence on top of a soccer stadium) and bad voice-acting. Well, at least the bad voice-acting came from professional J-League soccer players voicing themselves... Interesting is that the last half of the film is set during a soccer match (several simultaneously, actually) and we get a lot of action shots. Detective Conan is usually a rather static anime with the action concentrated in very specific scenes, so in terms of animation, The Eleventh Striker can feel a bit different. The Eleventh Striker is a must-see for Detective Boys fans though, if they exist. The last bit where Conan saves the day is a bit predictable, but oh-so-awesome.

Volume 75
Keyhole: Miike Naeko
Cases: Poison and the Phantom Design; Mr. Kogorou Is A Nice Person; A Joint Investigation With Your First Love; Wedding Eve
Character: Amuro Tooru
Plot: First apperance of Amuro Tooru
(See also single review)

Mr. Kogorou Is A Nice Person is another story with a Kogorou imposter, though this time, it's actually a nice person. The murder case in a small apartment building is not particularly inspiring, as it's rathe basic and plain, but at least the use of a TV as an alibi is still a fun element, I think. A Joint Investigation With Your First Love has police detective Chiba working on a case involving a car vandalizer with Miike Naeko of the traffic division. Because he hasn't recognized her as his first love, the Detective Boys try to nudge him in the right direction (but are hilariously thwarted by Yumi of the traffic division, who doesn't want to be the last one without a boyfriend). The story is very similar to the story in volume 28 ~ 29 involving Inspector Megure's hat, both being car-related and connected to a budding love story set at the Police Department. Wedding Eve is without a doubt one of the saddest Conan stories ever. The mystery of the woman who burnt to death on her wedding eve actually serves as the introduction to new recurring character Amuro Tooru, another young private detective, but man, this story is tear-inducing! In terms of puzzle plot, it's a bit technical though.

Volume 76
Keyhole: Amuro Tooru
Cases: Nocturne of the Detectives; Not Even 1 Milimeter Allowed; A Life-threatening Live Love Broadcast
Plot: Amuro Tooru becomes Mouri Kogorou's No. 1 Disciple; Bourbon is shown to be Sera Masumi, Amuro Tooru or Okiya Subaru
(See also single review)

Nocturne of the Detectives is a great story; it starts off with what appears to be a simple story of a someone hiring Mouri Kogorou to find out what a certain key opens, but halfway through it develops into an exciting kidnapping case with a car chase. Despite that, the original mystery plot is still resolved very satisfyingly. This story also confirms (for the reader) that Bourbon, another member of the Black Organization, is one of the three recent new characters. Not Even 1 Milimeter Allowed is a short story where a couple's fight ends in a struggle against death in the hospital when the husband accidently stabbed his wife while defending himself against her. Definitely not one of Conan's finest. It's a story that can only be solved through pyschological analysis of the characters, but man, if I ever saw unpredictable and hard-to-read characters, it's in this story. There's just no way to predict character X would take action Y. In A Life-threatening Live Love Broadcast, danger-prone police detective Takagi Wataruis is kidnapped and left bound to a plank high up a construction site. A webcam provides a live broadcast of Takagi's pinch, and is viewable through a special tablet delivered to the police.

Volume 77
Keyhole: Date Wataru
Cases: A Life-threatening Live Love Broadcast; Foam, Steam and Smoke; Kudou Yuusaku's Cold Case; The Shadow Closing In On Haibara's Secret
Plot: Amuro Tooru was friends with Date Wataru; Sera Masumi and Okiya Subaru learn more about Kudou Shinichi; Okiya Subaru spies on Conan using his voice-changing bow-tie, Sera Masumi recognizes Conan for someone, footage of an adult Haibara wearing a Mystery Train ring is seen by both Amuro Tooru and Okiya Subaru, who are also both hacking Mouri Kogorou's computer.

A Life-threatening Live Love Broadcast has a great background story (though a bit easy for non-Japanese readers). The actual plot surrounding Takagi's imminent death... not so. In the end, they find out where Takagi is because of trivia, and not deductive thinking, so that's a bit disappointing. Foam, Steam and Smoke is the standard who-of-the-three story: an evil publisher is pushed out his window, and the three suspects all claim they were in the room enjoying their beer, tea or cigarette in their own rooms until they heard the ruckus outside. The fact the beer is still foaming, steam is still coming from the tea and the cigarette is still lit are supposed to show that their alibis are solid, but obviously, one of them is lying. Simple story, nothing particular bad or good about it. Kudou Yuusaku's Cold Case is disappointing; when Ran stumbles upon a deceased man with the word "death" (in Japanese) written in blood next to him, she remembers that when she was a kid, Shinichi's father also walked away from a case with the exact same features, saying this would never happen again anyway. And indeed, the case is very implausible and asks a lot of the readers' will to suspend disbelief. The Shadow Closing In On Haibara's Secret has the Detective Boys (sans Conan) on the run in the forest for a murderer, but is mainly remarkable because it is used as a set-up for the following story. Footage of a (temporarily) adult Haibara/ex-member Sherry wearing a Mystery Train Bell Tree access ring as she is saving some children leaking convinces the Black Organization that she'll board that train to escape the Tokyo area and they plan to kill her on the train.

Volume 78
Keyhole: The Man With the Scars
Cases: The Raven Black Express Mystery Train; Conan in the Locked Room / Mystery-solving Bourbon; Conan VS KID - Blush Mermaid
Plot: Bourbon's identity is revealed. The man with the scars is revealed to be a disguise of Bourbon, hoping to find if Akai Shuuichi had really died. Sera Masumi says she has a deceased brother called Shuu(-something). Haibara is thought to have been blown up by Bourbon and Vermouth.
(See also single review)

The Raven Black Express Mystery Train is a great story, with a Murder on the Orient Express set-up, but also includes an impossible crime (a whole carriage appears to disappear in seconds!) and adds in the trap of the Black Organization for Haibara. Similar to volume 42's Confrontation with the Black Organisation - Double Mystery under the Full Moon and volume 58's Clash of Red & Black, we have multiple parties trying to outsmart each other while a "normal" murder case is being investigated, and it results in a very exciting and thrilling story that has some consequences for the whole of Conan canon, as it also reveals some minor storylines that had been going on since volume 59, like the identity of the man with the scars, the identity of the Black Organization member Bourbon and explains some of the strange events that had been going on the last few years in the comic. Conan in the Locked Room / Mystery-solving Bourbon is a little locked room mystery where Conan is locked up together with a corpse. The story is nothing special, save for the fact that it basically baffled all readers by having Amuro Tooru (revealed as an enemy agent in the previous story) still hanging around as a friend of the Mouris for unknown reasons (basically because he wants to know more about Conan).

Movie 17: Private Eye in the Distant Sea
Release: April 20, 2013
(See also single review)

A very different film compared to the previous couple of movies. The influence of Aibou scenario writer Sakura Takeharu can be felt throughout, as the plot revolves around a spy running around on the Aegis, a state-of-the-art vessel and one of Japan's main lines of naval defense. The story takes the form of a police procedural, with international politcal implications playing a big part in the story, rather than the whodunnit plots of most of the Conan films. This film is probably best compared to The Phantom of Baker Street, which also featured a non-Conan scenario writer coming up with a very unique and different type of story than we're used to. Private Eye in the Distant Sea is not my favorite Conan movie, but it does feel very refreshing after a long series of rather predictable movies. Oh, and while there's less over-the-top skateboard action from this film on, the producers somehow managed to still make this one of the most action-packed Conan films, with an actual hand-to-hand fight to the death being one of the highlights of the movie.

Volume 79
Keyhole: Hinohara Hikaru
Cases: Conan VS KID - Blush Mermaid; Everyone Saw It; Hattori Heiji and the Vampire Mansion

To be honest, stories starring the phantom thief KID have lost a lot of their allure ever since they became a regular thing. Conan VS KID - Blush Mermaid is an okay impossible crime story, but not nearly as impressive as those earlier in the series. In fact, I mostly remember this story for the awesome panel with both Sera Masumi and KID (you know the one). in Everyone Saw It, everyone saw a man commiting suicide in an elevator (just as the gang was leaving a building where an apparent murder was revealed to be a suicide). An original and very modern story, that shows Aoyama is always keeping up with the times. Not a remarkable story on its own, but these little stories that feature new technology, new social changes and things from 'now' are always welcome. The first time I read Hattori Heiji and the Vampire Mansion, I thought it was a bloated story. This second read, I still think it's a rather long story. It has a family legend about a Vlad Tepes-like ancestor, a head of a family who likes to sleep in coffins and avoids the sun, a mysterious murder in the past and family reunion in an old mansion with fighting siblings. It has horror-elements, it has impossible crimes and more. It feels a bit too busy in this story, that isn't particularly longer than other long stories. The solution is also a bit hard to swallow, as it basically sketches one person as the biggest idiot around. It has one (visually) hilarious solution for an impossible crime though.

Volume 80
Keyhole: Haneda Shuukichi
Cases: Hattori Heiji and the Vampire Mansion; The Sweet & Cold Delivery; The Treasure Box Filled With Fruit; The Neighbour of the Crime Scene Is Her Ex-Boyfriend; Jodie's Memories and the Flower-Viewing Trap
Characters: Haneda Shuukichi 

In The Sweet & Cold Delivery, the Detective Boys are locked inside a cooled delivery van, driven by two murderers. The escape method is kinda only workable in Conan, where there are genius detectives all over town. The Treasure Chest Filled With Fruit is about a box with fruit used in a cooking competition TV show. The box is usually locked twice so nobody knows what's inside except for the one filling it, yet the ruling champion appears to be getting his hands on the information anyway. One of the food judges investigating the case is found dead inside the treasure chest during the recording of the show. Fantastic setting, has some solid deductions, but figuring out how the trick was done is a bit difficult because of lack of clues. In The Neighbour of the Crime Scene Is Her Ex-Boyfriend, Yumi of the traffic division finally gets her own Metropolitan Police Department Love Story, after having played the role of both Cupid and distorter for over ten years. Her ex-boyfriend (who is still in love with her) is one of the suspects of a suicide-that-appears-to-be-a-murder. One of the witnesses is volume 74's Sakurako, who is now a housekeeper at the victim's place and is also revealed to be Miike Naeko's friend since elementary school (being one year younger). (Police detective Chiba actually recognizes Sakurako, but not Naeko...). The murder is rather easy to solve, as it makes (clever) use of something I think a lot of people will have experienced in their daily lives. This volume ends with the first chapter of Jodie's Memories and the Flower-Viewing Trap, in which Conan gives Jodie an update on what happened in volume 78's Mystery Train, but then the two run into a murder of a pickpocket.

Despite having read the series for so many years, and me having already these volumes at least once, I still enjoy the series a lot. These volumes miss a big impact perhaps, with the only really big event being the Mystery Train story of volume 78. Yet, the introduction of Amuro Tooru and Sera Masumi definitely has had impact on the series on a whole, which we'll also see in further volumes. For me, most of the volumes after the overall story in volume 58 marked a 'resting period', and it's only with these volumes that the story started moving again.

As for the mystery plots, I'll admit that volumes 71~80 have few big surprises. Part of it is of course that Aoyama has been going on with it for twenty years, so it does feel a bit repetetive at times. Yet, things like the Mystery Train story or the stories that use new technology show that Aoyama still has a lot up his sleeves.

The same dynamic change can be felt in the films; Private Eye in the Distant Sea marks a change in the tone of Conan films, which had been rather predictable and boring the last few years. The change started with Private Eye in the Distant Sea continues with the following films.

At the current rate, volume 90 will be released around summer of next year, and I'm more than excited to see where the overall story is going.

Original Japanese title(s): 青山剛昌 『名探偵コナン』第71巻~80巻 / 『名探偵コナン 沈黙の15分(クォーター)』 / 『名探偵コナン 11人目のストライカー』 / 『名探偵コナン 絶海の探偵(プライベート・アイ)』

Thursday, September 3, 2015

The A.B.C. Murders

I walk to Green Fish to listen to the sound of silence.
A man who plays the harp gently shakes my hand
and he leads me in to the story of him. 
「廃墟のソファ」 ("Sofa in a Ruin") (Akeboshi)

I can't even remember when I read this book, but I think it was a good, two, three weeks ago. Better write this review down now before I forget even more.

Nowadays we might be looking at our smartphones or tablets while we take sips of our beverage of choice with too long a name, but in essence, the experience at a coffee or teashop the last century hasn't changed much. You enjoy a drink and enjoy a read, or maybe have a chat with someone else. And sometimes, that someone might actually be a detecting genius. Polly Burton is a newspaper reporter who often stops by the local A.B.C. teashop. Another regular customer in the shop is an old man who sits in the corner who always seems to be thinking about crime. While putting knots in a piece of string, and untying them, Baroness Orczy's The Old Man in the Corner (1908) tells Polly, and the reader, about the most baffling crimes and the even more shocking truth behind them.

I knew I had to read Baroness Emma Orczy's stories someday, but certain events finally left me with no other choice than to finally do it. Which might make it sound like I really did not feel like doing it. Anyway, The Old Man in the Corner (1908) is a short story collection featuring the titular old man in the corner, with two other collections, The Case of Miss Eliot (1905) and Unravelled Knots (1925), completing the series. Note that while the publication of The Case of Miss Eliot predates that of the book The Old Man in the Corner, the stories in the latter were actually the first to be written.

Overall, I quite enjoyed the stories, often about murder in the more affluent spheres of society, but there is one problem that makes it hard to discuss the dozen stories of The Old Man in the Corner indepedently. That is, most of them are actually based on the same fundamental trick and it is usually very easy to see what is going on once you recognize the pattern. That said, Orczy does manage to present the same pattern in a variety of ways that prevent you from instantly recognizing how the trick is used every time, but in general, a lot of the stories do come close to if you've read one of them, you've read them all. Which is a shame, because the stories themselves are fun to read. It's just that they're practically all built on the same foundation.

I know someone like Christie also often reused patterns for different stories, but it's one thing to have some 'same pattern' stories spread across one's whole oeuvre of books, or just one single collection with basically just one pattern.

The writing is enjoyable though and it read a lot smooth than other writing from the same time, I think. In fact, I had initially thought that the stories dated from a good ten, twenty years later than their actual publication period. The settings might be a bit dated, but the writing feels quite modern.

I liked the armchair detective device of the old man in the corner, but the concept seems a bit underused in this collection. Sure, the idea of an old man in the corner of a teashop solving the most sensational crimes from behind newspaper is fun, but the old man in the corner of this collection always has prepared all the information needed from various sources and has often gone to the crime scenes/trials himself; which kinda means he isn't an armchair detective, in the sense that he is only sitting in his chair after having done all the necessary legwork himself. I like my armchair detectives to be a bit more sedentary. Also, I'd loved a bit more Polly-Old Man interaction.

The Old Man in the Corner is an entertaining short story collection with an armchair detective-ish character, though a lot of the stories in this collection are basically the same. I hope that the other collections feature more variety, because I do like Orczy's writing and her plot construction.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Growing of My Heart

あの日少年の君が大人びて見えて
さよならも言えず傘に隠れた
すれちがいもしも・・・なんてことを
時に忘れ咲き 
「忘れ咲き」(Garnet Crow)

That day you looked all grown-up even though you were still a boy
I was unable to say goodbye, hidden beneath my umbrella
Misunderstandings, what-ifs...
Sometimes these feelings bloom late
"Wasurezaki" (Garnet Crow)

The last couple of years, I've been grouping reviews of the new volumes of Detective Conan together with those of The Young Kindachi Case Files in short short reviews, as their release dates were always on more-or-less the same day. But a slight change in publication schedules has come up, so I'll probably discuss two volumes of Young Kindaichi next month. Anyway, this is the first full-length standalone review of a Detective Conan volume in over a year!

Detective Conan manga & movies:
Part 1: Volumes 1 ~ 10
Part 2: Volumes 11~20; The Timebombed Skysraper (1)/The Fourteenth Target (2)
Part 3: Volumes 21~30; The Last Wizard of the Century (3)/Captured in Her Eyes (4)
Part 4: Volumes 31~40; Countdown to Heaven (5)/The Phantom of Baker Street (6)
Part 5: Volumes 41~50; Crossroad in the Ancient Capital (7)/Magician of the Silver Sky (8)/Strategy Above the Depths (9)
Part 6:  Volumes 51~60; Private Eyes' Requiem (10)/Jolly Roger in the Deep Azure (11)
Part 7: Volumes 61~70; Full Score of Fear (12)/The Raven Chaser (13)/Lost Ship in the Sky (14)
(You will find the links to the reviews of volume 70, 72~76, 78, 82~86, and the films Quarter of Silence (15), The Eleventh Striker (16), Private Eye in the Distant Sea (17), Dimensional Sniper (18) in the library)

With almost 90 volumes out, Detective Conan has become a rather stable factor in my life. Every two, three months I'll check whether a new volume with the pint-sized detective is out, order and read it, and then wait again. Rinse and repeat. The release of volume 87 took a bit longer than usual however, because Aoyama Goushou had to go to the hospital for an operation in March. While usually a chapter is released every week (meaning there's enough material for a new volume every two/three months), the series had to go into a short hiatus (which was filled with reprints of older Conan chapters) in March/April so Aoyama could recover. And with a delayed serialization of the chapters, volume 87 was also delayed slightly. Anyway, volume 87 opens with the last two chapters in the long-running Kawanakajima Murder Case which started the previous volume. As practially always with stories featuring Inspector Yamato and Morofushi of the Nagano Prefecture Police, this is a dark serial murder case: this time a cop-killer is on the loose and Inspector Yamato is the main suspect, as the case appears to be connected to the death of an old childhood friend of Yamato's, who was killed by a trigger-happy policeman many years ago. Meanwhile, Conan suspects that someone connected to the investigation might be Rum, a new Black Organization member.

Overall, I was a bit disappointed in the case actually. The story has some parallels wih volume 19's Naniwa Serial Murder Case, but never becomes really as exciting as that case. The solution to the case is also a bit convoluted: it includes vague mechanical tricks, but also hard-to-solve wordplay based on Japanese (war)-history. Granted; all cases with Yamato and Morofushi have to do with Japanese or Chinese war-history (often thematically), but this time it was going a bit far as the story expected you to deduce the identity of the murderer based on rather extensive knowledge of it. Also; the "could Yamato be a cop-killer (who leaves evidence)" plot doesn't really work here: it's already been established that Yamato and Morofushi are extremely competent and fair policemen who at times can even outsmart Conan. Even if either of them were cop-killers, they'd be much better at it! In the end, the presence of Conan wasn't really even really needed for this story, I kinda wish this had been an exclusively Yamato/Morofushi story actually.

A Blog Leading to Death is a rather standard howdunnit story: Conan and the rest of Detective Boys meet two actresses in a hotel: the two women are rivals, and co-star in a new TV drama shot at the hotel. Later, one of the actresses is found beaten to death in her hotel room, but her room key is found inside (and there's no auto-lock). Conan suspects the other actress is the murderer, but has to overcome two obstacles: how was the room locked from the inside and where's the murder weapon? This is not a particularly inspiring story, with basically all elements (including the trick) lifted from previous stories. Yet, there's something alluring in the fact as how Aoyama "updated" it all. This is definitely a 2015 story, and could not possibly have been written, 10, 15 years ago. Detective Conan has been running for over twenty years, and it is interesting to see how Aoyama keeps the series close to the modern day society, using concepts and objects from now, and not from many years ago. Still, I wish he had used these 'new' elements in an original story, rather than in a redressed old story.

With 87 volumes, I don't think you'd be surprised if I tell you I think the cast of Detective Conan is slighly bloated, but this is the first time in 87 volumes I had no memories whatsoever of a recurring character. Even after looking up in which volumes/stories she appeared, I still can't really remember her.

The concept of Ran GIRL & Shinichi BOY is also something Conan-fans are familiar with: a story set in the past focusing on the relation between Ran and Shinichi (before the latter was turned back into a kid and had to assume the Conan identity). Basically every Conan movie features some sort of flashback. Ran GIRL & Shinichi BOY is special in the sense that it focuses on the very first time Ran and Shinichi met. It is a cute story set at nursery school and has links with the everyday life mystery genre, with a young Shinichi having suspicions about one of the teachers at the nursery school.

This was a fun story: the plot structure is completely original and something Aoyama has never done before and it works out really great for this story. The mystery itself is a bit underwhelming (which is often with everyday life mysteries), but the storytelling really makes up for it. One big problem I have with the story is with how the kids are portrayed though. There is NO WAY kids at nursery school talk and behave like that. Shinichi in particular is obnoxiously impossible as a kid. I don't read Detective Conan for the realistic portrayal of children (c.f. the Detective Boys), but nursery school Shinichi is reeaaaaaally impossible to believe.

The volume ends with the first chapters of The Secret of the Big Couple, which in theory is about a murder on the owner of a restaurant, but in reality is about a rumor of soccer player Higo and idol singer Youko dating, and the hilarious jealousy of Mouri Kogorou (Youko's number 1 fan) and.... Haibara, who apparently is a really, really, really big fan of Higo. Seriously, I don't even care about the murder anymore, I just want to see more grumpy Haibara.

All in all a more-than-decent volume. Detective Conan 87 does start off in a predictable manner, which isn't really surprising after that many volumes, but Ran GIRL & Shinichi BOY shows that Aoyama still dares to do new things with his storytelling. Just looking at the puzzle plots, I'd say this is a below-average volume, as none of the stories have really shocking plots or tricks, but the second half of this volume shows so much potential for future writing, I can't help but feel pleased with this volume.

Original Japanese title(s): 青山剛昌 『名探偵コナン』第87巻

Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Case of the Missing Lady

風とrainbow 追いかけて
夢見る季節のように 
「風とRainbow」(Garnet Crow)

Wind and Rainbow, chase after them
Like the seasons you see in your dreams
"Wind and Rainbow" (Garnet Crow)

Going through this book took me much longer than expected...

Three small-time ex-jail birds want to put an end to their criminal life by pulling off one big grand job. After deliberation, the three set their hopes on ransom money. They decide to kidnap the 82-year old Yanagigawa Toshiko, better known in Wakayama Prefecture, no, throughout whole Japan as "The Lady". Lady Toshiko owns huge tracts of lands and mountains in Wakayama and is easily one of the wealthiest persons in Japan. Her warm heart and caring for the local people also makes her one of the most admired people in Japan. And to the kidnappers, her fortune and her age make her the perfect target. But things don't go precisely as planned. Lady Toshiko manages to convince the kidnappers to leave her young companion alone in exchange for her full cooperation. Despite her age, the Lady also points out that their plan is full of holes and that the police will be on to them soon. But having promised her full cooperation (and a Lady's word is a lady's word), she agrees to help her three kidnappers in contacting the family and police for the ransom money in Tendou Shin's Dai Yuukai ("A Grand Kidnapping", 1978).

Dai Yuukai carries the subtitle Rainbow Kids, which is also the title of the 1991 film which has been released in North America. Dai Yuukai is also one of the best regarded Japanese mystery novels: in the original 1985 Tozai Mystery Best list, it ranked 12th, but it climbed to the 7th position in the 2012 version. 7th position of all time. So I had pretty good hopes that Dai Yuukai would prove to be interesting.

And it is. It is a very funny novel, as the reader soon finds out that the three kidnappers really aren't up to the job, but because the Lady promised to help them, she is in the end the one who plans out their whole campaign. Note that this is not about Stockholm syndrome: Lady Toshiko made a deal with her kidnappers and to her, her word is everything. In the course of the novel, the reader will also find out that Lady Toshiko's mind is at a much higher level than her social status and the schemes she comes up with to fool the police are quite ingenious. There is a certain chessboard atmosphere throughout the book, as the police and the kidnappers (Lady Toshiko) try to outwit each other and I enjoyed looking at the game as an onlooker, in turn trying to guess what each party was trying.

Dai Yuukai actually has a very unique position in the top ten of the 2012 Tozai Mystery Best: it's the only novel that doesn't feature death (Miyabe Miyuki's Kasha/All She Was Worth (5th) eventually features a death of sorts), while also the only novel that could be considered a humorous novel (some of the other novels in the top ten of course do feature some comedic parts, but aren't 'comedy mysteries'. Except for maybe Dogura Magura. But that book can be everything). So it is quite surprising it ranked so high.

Personally, I think Dai Yuukai is a fun mystery novel, but way too long for its own good. There are basically three important points in the book (the kidnapping, contacting the family and the exchange), but it just takes too long to go through those parts. The narrative would have been better in my eyes with fewer pages. I'm afraid to say I was a bit bored at the end, because the pace was just slow, even though the plot itself was still exciting. But of course, that's something where your mileage could vary.

Dai Yuukai is an entertaining novel, that could need a bit trimming perhaps. The 1991 film Rainbow Kids has been released in North America on DVD at one time, and the few scenes I saw make me I think it's a fairly faithful adaptation (and very well received), so I'd actually recommend going that route if you want to experience the story.

Original Japanese title(s): 天藤真 『大誘拐』

Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Long Way Down

「親方! 空から少女が!」
『天空の城ラピュタ』

"Boss, a girl came falling from the sky!"
"Laputa, The Castle in the Sky"

Note to self: don't forget annual viewing of Laputa, The Castle in the Sky.

The first death was thought to be a normal suicide. A lonely young man, living on his own, who jumped out of his apartment room. Sad, but not uncommon. The one thing that was uncommon was a sign that was drawn with lipstick on his forehead, resembling the Greek letter θ (theta). The second death raised questions. A nurse had jumped from the hospital's roof. Once again, not uncommon when viewed as a seperate incident, but there was a scarlet link: the sign was also found on the second body. By the third time somebody jumped from a high building with the sign on his body, the police knew these deaths were all linked, but how? Nishinosono Moe's interest in the case is piqued when she is told about it her friend Ai (her university was asked to analyze lipstick samples) and like always, she uses all of her connections and friends to get hold of the truth in Mori Hiroshi's θ wa Asonde Kureta yo ("θ Played With Me"), which also bears the English title Another Playmate θ (2005).

θ wa Asonde Kureta yo is the second book in Mori Hiroshi's G series, a spin-off to his more famous S&M series. But this book might as well have been just been part of the S&M series, because the plot of this novel is mostly driven forward by characters from the S&M series (especially Moe), while the proper protagonists of the G series (the students Megumi, Yamabuki and Kurage) have to be content with staying mostly in the back in their second book.

In fact, I'd say that to enjoy this novel to its fullest, the reader would need at least some of knowledge of the characters, especially those who hail from the S&M series. The cast this time is fairly big and they're basically all recurring characters from different Mori series (the S&M series, the V series and the G series) and while θ wa Asonde Kureta yo is readable even if you don't know anything about the series and its characters, you might have trouble keeping an eye on all those characters and the relations between them. I for example know nothing about the V series, but one part of the novel was obviously alluding to events and characters from that series and it felt like I was missing something. The previous book, φ wa Kowareta ne, wisely focused on its own protagonists, but this time the gloves are off and Mori throws recurring character upon recurring character at the reader. The reader is warned.

As a mystery novel, and specifically a missing link story (a mystery plot focused on finding a link between multiple victims), I was slightly disappointed in θ wa Asonde Kureta yo. The plot was very similar to a certain episode of a famous Japanese mystery show I won't name and while a bit of redressing can help, θ wa Asonde Kureta yo resembled that episode just too much, so it was quite easy to figure out the missing link (that said, I think that the mystery was simple enough that even without that foreknowledge, any reader could have guessed the truth behind the missing link). Like in the previous novel though, I liked how the plot developed through the discussions of the many, many characters. I've always been more of a 'theory' person than an 'crime scene investigation' person when it comes to mystery fiction.

Like φ wa Kowareta ne though, 'details' like motive and other little things are left vague on purpose in θ wa Asonde Kureta yo. Partly because it's just the way Mori's plots often develop: a big cast of characters all play amateur detective, discussing the case over and over, until the 'real' detective (Saikawa in the S&M series and Kurage in the G series) state their definitive theory. Theory, as both Saikawa and Kurage don't have any interests in solving the case in the sense of the police getting their hands on the culprit and figuring out all the details and logistics. Saikawa and Kurage just pose hypotheses based on the available information that can explain all mysteries. This is something I don't have any trouble with. But there are also other details that are clearly left open to be picked up in later entries in the series (or even other series?), which is a bit annoying, as I already think the G series feels a bit heavy on background lore. As a standalone work, θ wa Asonde Kureta yo does not satisfy.

While I quite enjoyed the first book in the G series, I thought that the second effort was a bit disappointing. θ wa Asonde Kureta yo is as a mystery not particularly exciting and it feels a bit alienating at times with characters from different series popping up. If you're well-read in Mori Hiroshi's series, I think θ wa Asonde Kureta yo offers great fanservice, but the downside is that it makes less accessible to the uninitiated. I hope the next volume is more enjoyable to read as a standalone mystery novel.

Original Japanese title(s): 森博嗣 『θ(シータ)は遊んでくれたよ ANOTHER PLAYMATE θ』

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Lady in Waiting

星のかがやきよずっと僕らを照らして
失くしたくない少年の日の夢よ・・・
「星のかがやきよ」 (Zard)

Oh starlight, always shine upon us
On the childhood dreams I don't want to lose..
"Oh Starlight" (Zard)

Today a writer of whom I've read almost all his published works without me even realizing it.

A visit from the college student Aya means the end to the lack of clients for private detective Jinguuji Saburou. Aya is looking for her boyfriend who disappeared a couple of weeks ago. The only clue she has is a phone call she got after his disappearance, saying he was alright, but that he was being chased by some dangerous people. Fearing for her boyfriend's safety, but also wanting to protect his plea of not calling in the police, Aya decides to hire Jinguuji to find him. Jinguuji quickly discovers that the boyfriend was caught up in some kind of drugs racket, selling the stuff in secret as an extra to his part-time job in a club. The detective also finds out (the painful way) that a group of foreigners is also hunting for the boyfriend and realizes that he must work fast if he wants to bring the boyfriend back to Aya alive in Kodaka Kazutaka's Tantei Jinguuji Saburou - Kagayakashii Mirai ("Detective Jinguuji Saburou - A Bright Future", 2007).

Tantei Jinguuji Saburou is a long-running videogame series I've written about quite often on this blog. Since the first game in 1987, private detective Jinguuji Saburou has been solving cases mostly around Shinjuku, Tokyo on a myriad of game systems, always accompanied by a pack of cigarettes and jazz music. Kagayakashii Mirai is one of a handful of novels based on the series, originally published in 2007. Writer Kodaka Kazutaka is nowadays mostly known as the scenario writer for the Danganronpa game series, but he was also the scenario writer for the Detective Conan & The Young Kindaichi Case Files DS video game and several of the Tantei Jinguuji Saburou mobile phone games (some of the best, actually). Kayakashii Mirai is Kodaka's second attempt as a novel writer: he had written another Tantei Jinguuji Saburou novel one year earlier. Kodaka is mainly a video game scenario writer, which explains why all of his novels are based on video game series (two Tantei Jinguuji Saburou novels and Danganronpa/Zero).

As a detective novel, Kagayakashii Mirai is nothing special, but it also does nothing really wrong. It is really just what you'd expect from a Tantei Jinguuji Saburou story: a case that starts out simple but is soon revealed to be much more sinister. Like in many of the games, the case is linked with yakuza groups and the foreigners-in-Japan angle is also one occasionally seen in the games. I'd say that this is also what makes and breaks this novel: for the Tantei Jinguuji Saburou fan, it's quite fun to see the familiar settings and the familiar faces in this new and reasonably amusing Tantei Jinguuji Saburou adventure. It feels like a genuine Tantei Jinguuji Saburou story and I can easily imagine how this story would have been as a game. For readers who have not played any of the games and go in this novel without any kind of attachment to the series however, Kagayakashii Mirai is just an okay, maybe even boring mystery novel with little to offer. The original characters of the novel are passable, but little is shown about the recurring characters and that the reader might feel that they miss something. Kagayakashii Mirai does very little to attract new readers.

From a purely mystery plot angle, there is little remarkable about Kagayakashii Mirai. It's focused completely on the hunt for the missing boyfriend and I noticed a bit late that Jinguuji Saburou's presence in the plot is actually not that vital: he finally does something really important at the end, but for most of the investigation, he's actually not even needed as the plot would go the way it goes even without his interference! I was kinda disappointed that the plot was all about the search and there was little detecting or puzzle solving: the Tantei Jinguuji Saburou games that Kodaka wrote often featured puzzle plot mysteries and tropes like locked rooms and I had hoped that Kagayakashii Mirai would also be like that, but alas.

Something that bugged me was the third person narration. The games are always narrated in the first person. Occassionally you get to control someone different from Jinguuji, but it's always in the first person. Kayakashii Mirai however is written in the third person and it just feels wrong. The story also jumps between Jinguuji and the boyfriend, which also feels strange, for this never happens in the games (even if you get to control a different person, it's always someone on the investigating side). Of course, Kagayakashii Mirai is a novel so Kodaka can do differently from the presentation in the games, but still, I wish that he had at least wrote the novel in the first person, for that really adds to the whole Jinguuji Saburou atmosphere.

Overall, I think that Tantei Jinguuji Saburou - Kagayakashii Mirai is an okay Tantei Jinguuji Saburou novel, that for the most part manages to emulate the atmosphere of the games quite well, but I doubt it would really impress people who have never touched the games, nor will it convince them to try the games. But speaking as someone who has played basically all of the games, I can say I thought it was an amusing read.

Original Japanese title(s): 小高和剛 『探偵神宮寺三郎 輝かしいミライ』

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

A Clue for Scooby-Doo

Warning: I wrote this post pretty much without any planning, so it might sound a bit chaotic. I probably should stick to 'safe' reviews.

What is a mystery story? I've always been partial to Edogawa Rampo's definition. "A mystery story is a type of literature that focuses on the amusement derived from solving a complex mystery (usually of the criminal kind) step by step, in a logical way". This definition addresses all the points I find important: the story must feature some kind of mystery to be solved, it is solved in a logical manner and it is fun. The definition also leaves room for variation: like Van Dine I'm always in for a body or two, but if the mystery itself is interesting enough, a lack of dead people certainly doesn't ruin my enjoyment of a mystery story. Logic is also relative and as long as the reasoning is sound within the confines of the story, elements like magic and unknown technology can still result in very good mystery fiction. As you can guess from this definition, I am a fan of puzzle plot mystery stories: "orthodox" mystery stories about giving the reader an intellectual Challenge to solve.

Fair play is often mentioned together with orthodox mystery stories. Fans of the genre have probably heard about Ronald Knox' Decalogue and Van Dine's Twenty Rules For Writing Detective Stories; sets of rules that are intended to make sure any mystery story is actually fair to the reader (i.e. it can be expected from a person with average to above average intellect they can solve the cases based on the clues in the story). Personally, I've never been really convinced by Knox and Van Dine. The only rule that should matter for a puzzle plot mystery story is whether it is fair, and while that is a very subjective criteria, I don't think a hard quotum on twins or hidden passages will help make a mystery story more fair intrinsically.

It is for this reason that for me, Ellery Queen is the pinnacle of the fair play mystery story. His early books features Challenges to the Readers: he would simply stop at a certain point in the story, address the reader directly and state that at that point, all the necessary clues to logically deduce the identity of the murderer were given to the reader. This action alone was more important to making detective stories fair than the Thirty Rules above. Here was an author who made it clear that all the puzzle pieces were in place at that point and that the reader wouldn't need to worry anymore about important clues dropping down from the sky at the last second. The reader could turn back the pages and go over everything again just to make sure. The Challenge to the Reader gave the reader a defined range and all the puzzle pieces and that relief of mind appears to me to be of more importance than knowing no Chinaman would appear.

But I think that Queen's Challenge to the Reader on its own wouldn't have been nearly as impressive without the types of clues and hints Queen utilized in his novels and I think that's a topic seldom addressed. His types of clues were perfect for the fair play model, because at the core, it was basic logic and inference. With Carr and Christie, you often need sudden genius insights or psychological analysis, both means which are not particularly 'fair'. With Queen however, the mystery stories are constructed as fair puzzles and if necessary, it's actually possible to solve them with simple determination, rather than a genius mind.

In early Queen novels, solving the crime = identifying the culprit usually boiled down to two basic questions:
1) What are the attributes of the culprit?
2) Who of the suspects answers to all of those attributes?
Sounds simple, and it is actually. Suppose you have a corpse who has been strangled to death by a pair of big hands, and all suspects but one are armless, you have a pretty good idea who the murderer is. Suppose two of them have arms, but you also know the murderer must have entered the crime scene through the little window in the bathroom, you know it was the midget and not the giant man. This method of determining the murderer is very simple in design and absolutely fair. No fantastical ideas or deep psychological analysis. You can just cross off a list of attributes.

Obviously, the trick behind the Queen novels is that is not that easy to figure out what the criminal's attributes are. Let us suppose for this text, that "a clue" is something that came to because of an action, or in-action of the criminal. "Something" is taken in the broad sense of the word, so it can be a phsyical object, but also a state or situation. There's tons of Locked Room Lectures out there, and I've even read essays on all types of mystery stories or typologies of motives in mystery stories, but I still have to read one on clues. So I sorta had to come up with one by myself  just now (probably full of gaps, but it'll do for the moment). Clues can roughly be categorized in these four groups:


The clue can be the result of an action, or in-action of the culprit. And these clues were left either intentionally, or unintentionally by the culprit (for convience's sake, we also assume the culprit acts logically and has a sense of self-preservation). Let's try to build on the example above (with the arms) to see how these clues lead to the murderer. Say the ringmaster of a circus was killed in his office room on the second floor of their sleeping/working quarters. Also, because of security measurues we know the murderer must be someone connected to the circus (because that's a lot more convenient).

1) Action/Intentionally: The handmarks left on the neck of the victim. The action is obviously the strangling and in this example, the murderer left the marks as is. We can assume the murderer left the clue=marks as were intentionally: if they really wanted to mask the fact the ringmaster was strangled, they could have cut the neck off and even if suppose there was nothing to cut the head off with at the crime scene, we can assume the murderer was aware of the fact marks were left on the neck and thus left it so knowingly so (even if under different circumstances, they might've cut the head off).

2) Action/Unintentionally: Let's use Holmes' curious incident of the dog in night-time. The ring master kept a dog in his office that hardly does anything dog-like, except for barking at everyone except a select few. The dog was still on the crime scene when the murder was discovered. Nobody heard the dog bark during the time of the murder. Thus the action of the culprit entering the room, plus the fact the dog did not bark, means the dog was on friendly terms with the assailant.

3) Inaction/Intentionally: A button was found lying next to the body, and it did not come from the victim's clothes. The location of the buttom makes it very unlikely the murderer missed it on the way out, so it was left intentionally. Apparently, it is a button from the jackets performers of the circus troupe wear and because of their line of work, it's actually quite common for them to lose buttons all the time. In fact, police investigation showed that everyone with a jacket was missing at least one button (and some of them recent). In this case, the murderer figured that leaving a button wouldn't be enough to identify the murderer (I ignore the possibility of it being a fake clue for convenience's sake).

4) Inaction/Unintentionally: Investigation showed the murderer didn't enter and leave simply through the office door, but through the bathroom door. Which in hind-sight, was a good move, because it just happens that that day a security camera was installed in the corridor. But only a select group of people knew it was being installed. So by avoiding the camera, the culprit also let us know he was in possession of that certain piece of knowledge.

So in our practice case, we've now got four clues that tell us about the attributes of the culprit. 1) The murderer had hands. 2) The murderer must have been on friendly terms with the dog. 3) The murderer was one of the performers (with a jacket). 4) The murderer must have known about the security camera to have acted like that. Note that 1, 2 and 3 are about physical and typical attributes of the murderer. 4 on the other hand is about knowledge of the murderer. In our case, it happens that there were only seven performers with a jacket on the circus site around the time of the murder. Only four of them were on friendly terms with the dog. Only two of them knew about the camera. And only one of those final two had arms. Ergo, the midget was the murderer!

Note that attributes of the other characters aren't clues an sich. Some might be called some form of foreshadowing, but the fact that the midget has arms isn't a clue on its own. It only becomes a clue in combination with the realization that the murderer must have had arms. Note that sometimes, it takes several more logical deductions from the initial clue to reach the correct attribute of the murderer (i.e. a dying message left by the victim could be an Inaction/Unintentionally clue, but you'd need to solve the dying message before it becomes a clue pointing to an attribute).

And the above was a simple example of how clueing and deductions work in Queen(-inspired) novels. There are thus two distinct phases: one is identifying the attributes the culprit must have. The second one is comparing those attributes to those of the suspects and eliminating the suspects until the murderer is left. Note that most of the time, clues tell the reader something concrete about the murderer. The murderer was left-handed! The murderer was color-blind! Or also very popular: the murderer must have known certain facts! The latter in particular is in my opinion a very rewarding type of clue. It usually takes another extra step to deduce the knowledge the murderer must have based on their actions, so when you do realize the murderer must have known about X because they did, or did not, do action Y, it feels very satisfying.

For me, Queen's method especially works because at the core, it's such a simple concept. You don't need Papa Poirot's insight in human psychology. You don't need the genius insight capable of figuring out two impossible crime situations and the identity of a Hollow Man. You just need to determination and a piece of paper to write a little list on. What did the culprit do? What does that tell you about the murderer? Who else has the exact same characteristics? Compare lists, cross off people who don't fit the profile and you're done. You know the murderer is left-handed? Go back through the story and make a note of all the characters to see who is left-handed. The culprit must have been at least two meters high? Check what is noted about the height of each of the characters. In my opinion, these kinds of clues (and method of mystery solving) are about as fair as you can get, as it mostly about combining facts in steps, and doesn't ask for leaps in thinking from the reader.

The thing about Queen novels (and of other people in the Queen school, like Arisugawa Alice and Norizuki Rintarou) is that to determine the culprit, you usually have to combine a lot of these attributes together in order to solve the case, resulting in long chains of deduction. You can guess that with each extra attribute, a story becomes more complex (and boy, these authors can come up with complex plots!), but the building stones of these deduction chains are always of the same variety and while it thus can ask a lot of patience of the reader, these puzzle plots can definitely be solved by going through it one step at a time. A clue of the sort of the slip-of-the-tongue ("Only the murderer would know that!") might be a lot more easier to comprehend, but is not nearly as satisfying as when you managed to combine facts A, B and C to infer X, Y and Z and in extension, the identity of the murderer. To me, this is an extremely fair way to do a whodunit story, because it's essentially a variation of the most basic whodunit possible: One person was killed by a left-handed person. A is left-handed. B is right-handed. There's no discussion about strength of motive here, or about whether someone has the 'mindset' to kill. Just means and opportunity.

On the blog I've often written about the whodunit / guess-the-criminal games at the Kyoto University Mystery Club (where many contemporary Japanese mystery writers originate from). Readers are given the first part of a whodunnit mystery story which ends with a Challenge to the Reader. Participants are challenged to find out who the culprit is before the time limit (usually an hour) and have to explain how they arrived at their answer logically. Most often, these whodunnit scripts follow the method as explained above, for the simple reason it is a very fair way to do a mystery story. Usually, you go through the text hunting for clues the murderer left behind intentionally or not, deduce the set of attributes the murderer must have and then compare that list to the attributes of each of the suspects. While it might sound a bit repetitive, the model has more than enough room for variations and there's nothing that beats that feeling when you've correctly identified all the attributes of the murderer and can logically declare that only X could be the murderer and nobody else.

Obviously, this method of clueing doesn't work well with all mystery stories. Impossible crime stories in particular often ask a bit of daring imagination of the reader, while in the clueing method above, imagination isn't nearly as important as simply being careful in noticing all the attributes. Though it is certainly not impossible to combine the two. Arisugawa's Sweden Kan no Nazo for example features an impossible crime, which is solved by the clueing method above. However, it is a rare example.

Recently, I've been thinking about The Decagon House Murders (for obvious reasons), which is modeled after Christie's And Then There Were None. The latter is a masterpiece of mystery fiction, but is it completely fair? The epilogue refers to three hints, but I'd say that at least two of the three are at the best very vague hints, while the remaining one would still ask of some (uncertain) imagination of the reader. Similarly I've seen people comment that The Decagon House Murders too might be not fairly hinted. True, I too was not sure whether it was completely fair when I first read the book, and unlike And Then There Were None, The Decagon House Murders does not end with a recap of all the important hints. But as I was translating the book, I realized it's probably a lot more carefully hinted than most people (including myself) would suspect at first. Sure, there are no obvious hints like handkerchiefs with initials or deflated balloons lying around, nor are there people who make a fatal slip-of-the-tongue, but The Decagon House Murders's main mystery can be solved by applying the deduction method explained above. By focusing on the actions the murderer took and the knowledge they showed they have, it's absolutely possible to solve the case, as the story is almost surprisingly detailed in its clues (as expected from author Ayatsuji, who wrote a lot of whodunit stories at the Kyoto University Mystery Club). The Decagon House Murders does not follow the method 100% and does ask of a bit of audicity in thinking at one certain point in the deduction chain, but you'd surprised at how much of the truth can be logically deduced by combining and comparing the attributes the murderer must have. The thing is; this is never mentioned within the story itself, so readers are very likely to miss it.

This post has become way too long as is, even though there's still a lot I could talk about: from the way this method of hinting/solving a crime works as a rough guide to mystery story writing to the significance of the 'fake/planted' clue; but I might do that another time. Anyway, clues, good. Any types of clues you particularly like or clues that made an impression on you?