Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Make Me A Perfect Murder


"My lady, you really are good for nothing if you need to puzzle over a problem of this level."
 "What Was Stolen From The Lady?"

Man, I love these stylized covers.

Nazotoki wa Dinner no Ato de 3 ("Mystery Solving Is After Dinner 3") is the third volume in Higashigawa Tokuya's popular armchair detective series. In the past, I've written about the TV drama adaptation (which was based on the first two volumes) as well as the motion picture, but this is the first time I wrote about the original books, I think (I do have all of them). Anyway, the third volume is at the core precisely the same as the previous two volumes. We follow the adventures of Houshou Reiko, a young police detective who, unknown to her collegues, is actually an insanely wealthy heiress of the gigantic Houshou Group. Every day, after a hard day of work, she enjoys a luxurious banquet, during which she often spews complaints about how difficult her cases are. Luckily for her, her butler Kageyama can usually point out the truth behind each case just by listening to her stories. Unlucky for Reiko however is that Kageyama has no qualms whatsoever about ridiculing and insulting his mistress' intelligence while explaining everything. The bunko (pocket) version of this third volume (released in January 2015) collects six stories, as well as one bonus short short not included in the original release.

Reiko and her boss Inspector Kazamatsuri investigate the death of an old man in Hannin ni Doku wo Ataenaide Kudasai ("Please Don't Provide Poison To The Murderer"). The man died of some arseneous acid, but it is unclear whether it was murder or suicide. At one hand, the family appears to have enough motive to want the man dead, on the other hand, the victim is also said to have been depressed lately because of the disappearance of the family cat. Kageyama however points out a very neat solution. This story is not brilliant or anything, but is a good showcase of Higashigawa's MO: he is very experienced in leaving little hints in the story (often 'dressed' in a comedic manner) and then connecting everything in good order. These stories are actually quite solvable for the reader if the reader tries a little. In a way, it feels like Higashigawa's writings often reward the reader with the feeling of "I solved it!". They're never too difficult or easy. 

Kono Kawa de Oborenaide Kudasai ("Please Don't Drown In This Rivier") is one of the better stories in the volume and deals with a drowned corpse found...just a little away from the river. Everything points to murder and Reiko and Kazamatsuri manage to discover that the man had lately been living off a distant (and wealthy) relative. The police discovers everyone had a motive to do the man in, but also that the family has an alibi for the time of the murder, as they were holding a party at their home. The solution Kageyama points out to is not particularly surprising, but again, the solution is not screaming-in-your-face obvious and requires a little effort from the reader. The hints are elegantly hidden and overall, this story is a very solidly constructed plot.

Kaitou Kara no Chousenjou de gozaimasu ("Presenting A Challenge by A Phantom Thief") is the only story where Reiko doesn't act in her role as police officer, but as her heiress self. The phantom thief Legend declares he is going to steal the "Golden Pig", a piece of art owned by Reikos father. Her father tells Reiko to call their family detective (something like a family attorney) and they try to prevent the theft... with some success. For Legend doesn't manage to steal the "Golden Pig", but does get away with the "Silver Pig", the counterpart to the "Golden Pig". But why did Legend steal the wrong statue, and more importantly, how did he manage to steal the thing from inside a locked room? A large part of the story is quite obvious, and sadly enough, the solution to the locked room is not really satisfying because it's not really well hinted at. As shown in the other stories of the volume, Higashigawa is quite good at hinting and hiding those hints in plain sight, but it doesn't really work here.

Satsujin ni wa Jitensha wo Goriyou Kudasai ("Please Use A Bicycle For Murder") is my favorite story of the volume, and involves a case where Reiko and Kazamatsuri suspect a man of killing his aunt, but he has an almost perfect alibi. On the night of the murder, two friends visited him, but he was out for 15 minutes for a smoke. And the only way he could've made his way to the murder scene was by bike, but that would mean he would have needed to go a steady 40 KM per hour to pull the thing off. The basic trick of this story is very similar to another story in this volume and I think the solution is also a bit more obvious in this story than the other one, but I like this story better because the narrative is simply more fun to read.

The title of Kanojo wa Nani wo Ubawareta no de Gozaimasu ka ("What Was Stolen From The Lady?") asks the most important question in the newest case Reiko and Kazamatsuri are investigating: a college student has been killed, but for some reason everything she was wearing besides her clothes (belt, shoes, etc) was removed. Reiko soon guesses that the murderer only wanted to take one thing, but took everything as a camouflage, but what was the real object? Kageyama points out a solution that takes a little jumping in logic, but overall a well-constructed mystery that involves logic you actually seldom see in detective stories. At least, it's not something you'd see in Golden Age stories, but it is something we've come to expect from modern, Japanese stories and especially Higashigawa, who is always very modern and his mysteries are often very close to 'everyday life mysteries'.

The title of Sayonara wa Dinner no Ato de  ("The Farewell Is After Dinner") is actually about the epilogue of this story, which deals with a farewell. But the main mystery is about an old man who was beaten to death in his house. It appears to be the work of some burglars who have been making their rounds in the neighbourhood at first, but a chance witness changes the case. Kageyama's solution is really fun, as it really turns all previous ideas around, yet still remains quite plausible. One of the best stories.

The pocket version of Nazotoki wa Dinner no Ato de 3 adds a "bonus track" in the form of a very special crossover: Tanteitachi no Kyouen ("The Banquet Of The Detectives") brings Reiko and Kageyama together with... Detective Conan! In this short short, Reiko and Kageyama make their acquaintance with Edogawa Conan and Mouri Kogorou at a party held by publisher Shogakukan (the actual publisher behind both Detective Conan and Nazotoki wa Dinner no Ato de). Because Conan is basically a Walking Death God, it doesn't take long for a corpse to appear: a policeman, known by all as the Columbo of Takao, was found stabbed outside on the emergency stairs. But just before he died, he managed to say one thing: Kamsahamnida ("thank you" in Korean). The solution Kageyama and Conan arrive at is...well, you have to read this one for yourself. The story is a short short and really nothing more than a little bonus, but okay.

I'd say that Nazotoki wa Dinner no Ato 3 is more of the same. It differs not at all from the previous volumes, which can be taken as both a good and a bad thing. There's no really excellent or outstanding story in the volume, and nothing that makes it memorable, but on the other hand, it was always an entertaining and well-constructed read. I think any reader will have a good time with this volume, even if it's not especially inspiring.

Original Japanese title(s): 東川篤哉 『謎解きはディナーのあとで3』: 「犯人に毒を与えないでください」 /  「この川で溺れないでください」 / 「怪盗からの挑戦状でございます」 / 「殺人には自転車をご利用ください」 / 「彼女は何を奪われたのでございますか」 / 「さよならはディナーのあとで」 / 「探偵たちの饗宴」


  1. I've only read this series in manga form, which seems to be taking ages to finish adapting all the short stories. Given the quality of the mysteries, I suspect I would enjoy them better in the manga, and not the written, format...

    1. Maybe it's because I've read quite a few of his books and seen a lot of the drama adaptations, but I think his mysteries work very well in both mediums. While a lot of mysteries feature something physical (tricks and hints) which might be easier to visualize in a more visual medium, the narration in the novels usually does add another layer to the plot.

  2. Gah. I really want to read Higashigawa someday, this sounds amazing.

    -The Dark One (Yep, me again.)

    1. I translated two episodes of a radio drama based on one of Higashgiawa's short story collection; you can find it in the side bar. His dramas are also fairly popular, so while I can't directly link you to them here, I can /assure/ you can find subtitled versions of the TV adaptations.