Wednesday, May 22, 2024

The Way Up to Hades

"I have looked upon all that the universe has to hold of horror, and even the skies of spring and the flowers of summer must ever afterward be poison to me."
"The Call of Cthulhu"

There are good covers, there are great covers, and there are absolutely amazing covers.

When Amy Griffith was young, she used to play with fairies at the prehistoric standing stone monument in her home town. She was caught on photograph talking to a mysterious light by a newspaper reporter, and briefly became known as the Fairy Girl, but later the adults assumed she must have lied or just imagined things. But about a decade later, the Empire has been caught up by a spiritualist rage, and having moved to the capital to make some money for her family, Amy is now known as the Fairy Lady.... but in actuality, she's just a charlatan, using cheap parlor tricks to spice up her seance sessions. When she is visited by Darren Dunglas, a professional assessor of the Imperial Spiritualist Institution, the man immediately sees through her tricks, but for some reason he does seem to think that she can actually talk to fairies, and thus he can not understand why she's relying on parlor tricks. Both of them happen to be invited by the famous mystery writer Lenard Thorndyke to visit the infamous Blasphemy Mansion, which the author recently required. The house stands in a marshland and had been in the possession of the Davenport clan. Two hunderd years ago, Bradley Davenport was head of a secret club that worshipped the devil, and they did everything blasphemous in the house, from black magic ceremonies to orgies. Artists were also given a free hand, resulting in the house not only housing satanistic imagery like a statue of the Sabbatic Goat,  a gigantic Wicker Man in the back garden, but also rather erotic frescos and statues. The secret club is even said to have opened a hole to hell itself two hunderd years ago, which is why the courtyard is now completely sealed off: every door and window originally leading or looking into the courtyard has been bricked up. Bradley was eventually executed, though the house remained in Davenport hands, but last year, the last heir of the Davenports, Seraphina, disappeared, and Lenard quickly bought the house, as he is very interested in both spirits, as well as the treasure of the Davenports which is supposed to be hidden in the house.

For that reason, he has invited a group of spiritualists (as well as Darren) to stay for a few days at the Blasphemy House, with the idea being each spiritualist will head a seance to communicate with the spirits. The invitees include spiritualists with powers like taking ghost pictures, automatic writing, channeling spirits and giving them form with ectoplasm and communicating with spirits via rapping, though Amy is quite sure everyone is a phony, just like herself. Which is why she is very shocked to see on the very first night the first spiritualist Miranda Crandon really managing to give a ghost a material form by oozing ectoplasm out of her nose. The ghost points them to a crack in the bricked up door in the main hall, which leads into the courtyard which had been sealed for two-hundred years. They find a cross with pre-Church imagery at the center, and beneath the cross, they find the remains of a woman, which are still well-preserved, suggesting the woman has only been here for at longest a year, even though the courtyard has been closed off for two centuries! A servant is sent off to call for the police, even though the trip will be perilous due to a very heavy snow storm. The following day however, somebody has set fire to the Wicker Man, having placed the body they found inside, and then someone is killed inside the chapel, even though Amy and Darren were the last to leave the victim in that room and they had been in the drawing room ever since, and anyone going to the chapel needs to pass through the drawing room. With the snow storm going on outside, they don't even know whether the police has been notified, but as the spiritualists start to use their powers to communicate with the ghosts in the house to learn what is going on, they find out something sinister is on its way. But is the murder also the result of the supernatural, or did a living person commit this crime in Teshirogi Shoutarou's Tokushinkan Satsujin Jiken ("The Murder Case in the Blasphemy Mansion" 2023)?

I'll gladly admit the only reason this book caught my attention was the cover art. When it was announced first, I just knew I had to read this book. Of course, a cover doesn't seem much about a book's content, but assuming the cover had something to do with the story itself, the idea of the Sabbatic Goat playing some kind of role in a mystery story was interesting enough. I had never read anything by Teshirogi before, so it was a bit of a gamble, but to start with the conclusion, I was quite pleasantly surprised by the book.

At first I thought the book was going to be like Trick, with a fake psychic/spiritualist teaming up with a more science-based male partner, going up against other fake psychics. Only, that assumption was very soon discarded, as the book makes it clear fairly early on ghosts do actually exists in this world, and yes, there are also real spiritualists who can communicate with the ghosts one way or another. We do see that these ghosts generally can't directly influence the real world: some might sense the presence of ghosts and perhaps hear voices or see ghosts, but we don't actually see ghosts attacking people or moving objects on their own, so the mystery of this book fundamentally still works, as it is clear the answer to the locked room murder isn't just "ghosts did it." Even though it is surprising to see how "normal" ghosts are in this world, though it helps we see things through the eyes of Amy: she alone is the phony psychic here, and she doesn't really believe in ghosts or even fairies anymore, so like the reader, she too is quite surprised to learn at first spirits do exist.

And yes, the fact ghosts exist in this world do lead to some interesting situations mystery-wise. At one point, we even have a set of creepy twin mediums who communicate via rapping with ghosts, and they just decide to have a chat with the victim who just got killed to ask him who killed him. Of course, the mystery doesn't get resolved so easily, but we have several people with different spiritual powers, from ghost pictures to materializing ghosts with ectoplasm to a woman who can actually "time-shift" to the past and witness events that happened centuries ago. Some of these powers are used really cleverly for misdirection, and in a way that only works in this book, because we know the powers are real. In other novels, you might think there's some kind of trick behind them, but here you know you don't have to worry about that, and can focus completely on figuring out the meaning of the various seance sessions in relation to the grander mystery.  There is a a secondary plotline, where the characters try to learn more about the history of the Blasphemy Mansion, and the time when the secret club were having their orgies and doing all their black magic ceremonies, and I really like some of the misdirection that was used here in relation to the seances.

More impossible crimes occur throughout the book, like a woman's decapitated body appearing in a theater of which Amy alone held the key, but I do have to say the actual murders themselves are relatively easy to solve: while the supernatural parts are used very cleverly in terms of design to facilitate these murders, the tricks behind them are ultimately fairly familiar, so you might recognize them early on despite the, otherwise really well-done, dressing with the supernatural. But despite that, I think this book still is a very fun read, as the imagery and atmosphere are really good and you can really feel how the supernatural elements really work with these murders. The ending by the way really moves into cosmic horror avenues, and while some parts are not as strong as other parts of the book I think, like the grander motive behind the murders, it's not something I really mind as it all fits the vibe of the book.

But yeah, I really enjoyed Tokushinkan Satsujin Jiken overall. If you look at it purely as a mystery novel, it might not be as strong as you might hope despite it having some clever uses of its supernatural themes, but as a book that tries to be equal parts mystery and (cosmic) horror, it's a great success I think and I wouldn't be surprised if this one ends up on my favorite list of this year.

Original Japanese title(s): 手代木正太郎『涜神館殺人事件』

Sunday, May 19, 2024

The Haunted Monastery

"Our readers are children! Millions of bloodthirsty little kids, and we give them what they want!"
"Ellery Queen: The Adventure of the Comic Book Crusader"

This might the first time since I started doing reviews of both the Detective Conan manga and films that I managed to get the film review out before the corresponding manga volume...

Detective Conan volume 105 was released in April 2024, timed together with the release of the 2024 film Detective Conan: The Million-Dollar Pentagram and it also serves as the very first volume released as part of this anniversary year, as the manga of Detective Conan started its serialization 30 years ago, back in 1994. While the stories included in the volume themselves don't have any special "anniversary" themes, the physical volume itself does come in two variations: a normal one and a special edition one, which features an alternate cover that mirrors the cover of volume 1, as well as extra booklet with character sketches from when the series was still in the planning phase. Small note for collectors: the detective character introduced in the encyclopedia at the end of the volume is actually different in the special edition from the normal edition. Anyway, the contents of volume 105 itself are your standard fare for the series, so no big anniversary story. The volume opens with the remainder of Why He Became Her Butler, which started in the previous volume. Conan and Ran are travelling with Hattori and Kazuha in the express train, and it happens Hattori's self-proclaimed fiance Momiji is there too, accompanied by her butler Iori. During the trip, Iori is approached by a man, who forces the butler to cooperate, or else Momiji will be hurt. Via his phone, Iori is told to go to a certain seat in the train, where he finds a dead man, and he is ordered to find a USB memory stick this dead man has hidden somewhere. While Iori tries to deduce where the stick is, he also tries to remember where he knows the voice of the man threatening them from, which brings up memories of his time when he was a police officer with Public Security. Meanwhile, Conan and Hattori also notice Iori's acting strange...

A very, very mediocre story. The "where could the USB memory stick be hidden" mystery is just a device to tell the flashback story of Iori and Momiji meeting for the first time, fleshing out the perfect butler's background, but as a mystery, it's incredibly minimalistic and most of it is resolved before the reader gets any chance to even think about it. So a very character-focused story, which might entertain people who have become fans of Momiji and Iori ever since they were introduced around 2016, but not if you're just hoping to read a cool mystery once every five months...

So when I write my reviews of the Conan manga, I get the story titles from the official Shonen Sunday website for the series: the titles of the stories often will be used as the titles for the episodes when they are later adapted for the television anime, but sometimes they are changed, with the manga story titles retroactively changed to the anime story titles. Usually, this site is updated when the new volume releases, but for some reason, the site has not added volume 105 yet, meaning I don't really know the "official" titles for the following two stories.

Anyway, the second story is clearly one meant to tie in with the 2024 film The Million-Dollar Pentagram and set before the film, as Hattori is still planning to confess his love to Kazuha at a spot with a great scenery, and Ran, having learned Hattori's plans, has found the perfect spot: Mt. Washio, which offers a great sunset view. So Ran, her father, Conan, Hattori and Kazua go mountain hiking, but a sudden rain forces them to find shelter at a Buddhist temple on the mountain. Luckily for Hattori, Ran learns there's a great view from the temple too, so they stay here until the rain stops. During their stay, they learn about a monk who disappears some time ago, and that there are rumors of will-o'-wisp sightings here. The gang takes a look at the room where the monk had disappeared from, which is accessed via a small staircase. Later however, the gang witnesses the will-o'-wisp themselves as the fire moves up the staircase, and it is then they realize Mouri himself has also disappeared. What is happening at this temple? Not much interesting here, I'm afraid. What appears to be a potential interesting locked room mystery, provides you with the most unsatisfying solution ever, and while there are other mysterious events at the temple which are connected in the end, the events unfolding at the temple just don't really interest me, while at the same time, you know the Hattori plotline is going to be carried over to The Million-Dollar Pentagram, so none of this story feels even remotely engaging.

The final complete story in this volume features phantom thief KID, who is also a major character in The Million-Dollar Pentagram, so no surprises about him being featured here. Suzuki Jiroukichi has once again set-up another trap using a big jewel as bait to catch the thief. This time, he has rigged a special small exhibition room on the Bell Tree Tower, like a small box attached to the side of the tower. Because of its size and it being suspended mid-air, it's seen as the perfect trap, especially as the only entrance to the room (from the tower) has security cameras aimed at it, as well as other security measures, with the idea that if KID does manage to get inside the room, it'll lock from the outside, making escape impossible. A special team specializing in security has been hired to set-up this system, and they finish up just before KID's announced time of the theft. Conan is of course here to stop KID, and when the time arrives, things start to happen that prompt Conan to run to the security room to confront the thief. When he gets inside the room however, he finds not only KID, but the dead head of security too. Has KID finally stooped to murder? Well, of course not, and Conan too believes the thief didn't kill the man, but the situation doesn't look good for KID, as he was the only other person in the room besides the corpse and cameras had been aimed at the exhibition room entrance all the time, meaning the corpse appeared out of nowhere, and KID is known to be able to conjure up things out of nowhere.... To win some time, KID decides to "disguise" himself as high school student detective Kudou Shinichi (it's not really a disguise, as the two look remarkably similar), pretending to be here at the scene to catch KID too. Together with Conan, he tries to figure out who committed the murder and tried to pin the crime on him, but the duo run into a little, big problem: KID's rival, Hakuba Saguru, has returned from the United Kingdom, and this detective soon starts to have suspicions about "Shinichi's" actions at the scene...

By far the best story of the volume, as it's both funny and has a more robust mystery compared to the previous two stories, though because of the very, very specialized set-up of the room, and the manner in which Conan and KID discovered the body, I have a feeling many will find it easy to at least make a general guess about how the murder was committed, even though cameras had been aimed at the door entrance and they didn't register a thing besides the time KID forced entry into the room. Conan reluctantly doing his investigation while "tolerating" KID as Shinichi is funny, and the mystery does get a bit fleshed out due to the inverted mystery-element of the story: KID and Conan are being detectives as they try to solve the murder, but they are also "the culprits", trying to hide the fact KID has disguised himself as Shinichi, with Hakuba Saguru acting as the detective in that storyline. So you have a two-pronged mystery plot that gives this story some depth. There are some story seeds sown here that get reaped in the film too, so as also shown with the Hattori story, you'd better read this volume before you watch the film.

Oh, by the way, I did read this volume too before I went to the theatre, I just postponed writing this review for some time... They had some neat promotional material in the bookshop by the way: they had a newspaper about the exploits of the phantom thief KID (setting up the story of the film), as well as the newspaper featuring Shinichi on the frontpage seen in the very first chapter of the manga, and always shown in the opening scenes of the animated films each year.

Detective Conan 105 is not a really interesting volume mystery-wise, to be honest, and that's continuing a trend that's been going on for some time now, so I do find it harder to become really enthusiastic now for each new release. It wouldn't be so bad if we had the older release schedule of a new volume every three months, but nowadays it's basically one volume every half year... The volume does have ties with the film, so you'd better read 105 before watching the film, as you'll see more clearly how author Aoyama does try to "hype things up" for the film in the manga itself too. Anyway, we'll have to wait months again for the next volume unfortunately, but considering this is the 30th anniversary year, I do hope the next volume features a more substantional mystery tale, one that doesn't need to tie in with ongoing storylines or feels the need to flesh out characters. Just a six chapter story solely dedicated to telling a large mystery story. Please?

Original Japanese title(s): 青山剛昌『名探偵コナン』105巻

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

The Hand of God

"The mystery of love is greater than the mystery of death."

I have to admit, I had heard of the term "Dance of the Seven Veils" before, but never knew it came from Salome!

Set in the Taisho era (1912-1924), Yuuki Haruo's Salome no Guillotine ("Salome's Guillotine", 2024) starts with the Dutchman Cornelis van Riemsdijk receiving a letter from the Japanese painter Iguchi Sakuta. Van Riemsdijk hails from a prominent family in the Netherlands, but during his father's generation, the family had some financial problems, forcing them to sell some of the art they owned. An antique table clock Cornelis was fond of had been sold to Iguchi Chuujirou, a Japanese friend of Cornelis' father. Cornelis later became a succesful investor, and now many years later, hopes to buy the table clock back from Iguchi Sakuta, the grandson of Chuujirou. Iguchi doesn't own the clock himself anymore, but is able to contact the current owner and arranges for the clock to be sold back to Cornelis van Riemsdijk during a visit to Japan. To discuss things, Van Riemsdijk visits Iguchi, who has his friend (and reformed burglar) Hasuno interpret for him. During his visit, Van Riemsdijk asks to see some of Iguchi's own art, and stowed away in his atelier, Van Riemsdijk is surprised to see the painting of the back of a woman in an orange dress. To Iguchi's great surprise, Van Riemsdijk tells him he has seen a painting with the exact same composition in the United States recently. Iguchi has never publically revealed this painting, so he doesn't understand how this could be, until he learns the other painting was found among the belongings of Yanase, a wealthy art collector who disappeared to America a few months ago: while Iguchi wasn't too close to Yanase, a lot of the other artists in the artists' assocation Iguchi belongs to did know the man well, as Yanase often borrowed money to artists in need. Iguchi then remembers that while he had been working on his painting, he had one day invited the members of the artists' association to his home, and that was the only time anyone could've snuck inside his atelier to take a look at his painting and plagiarize it. But why would anyone do that? Another mystery is the fact that behind scandalous pictures of a woman were found hidden in the frame of the plagiarized painting in America. Van Riemsdijk does like the painting however, and says he'll buy the painting if Iguchi can prove his painting is the original, and that the other is the plagiarized one.

Iguchi thus suspects one of his fellow artists must have plagiarized his painting and starts poking around together with Hasuno and his niece Mineko, an indepedent girl growing in modern Japan. It is at this time, Iguchi learns some of the members of his artists' association are involved in the forgery of art pieces. Suspecting the plagiarizing painter might be one of the forgers too, he tries to learn who they are, but then the investigation into that of theft, changes to one into murder: first Mineko happens to witness the murder of a woman in an abandoned shack in the outskirts of Nakano, soon followed by the murder on one of the artists outed as a forger. What binds these two deaths together, is Oscar Wilde's Salome: the woman Mineko saw, was dressed as Salome and the murdered artist's body was positioned in a manner to invoke King Herod. While Iguchi and Hasuno continue their investigations, more murders occur, but how are the plagiarized painting and the murders all connected?

I have to admit I was surprised when I first learned of the title of this book. In 2022, Yuuki Haruo published the excellent Hakobune ("The Ark") and in 2023, he published another book with a biblical theme: Jikkai ("The Ten Commandments"). I had expected this year's book to be something like Revelations, so imagine how puzzled I was when I saw the third book was... based on a play based on an episode from the Bible. I read Jikkai last year by the way and already have the review written and scheduled to be published in a few months, but as Salome's Guillotine is a fairly recent release, I decided to post this review first. That doesn't really matter story-wise by the way: while the three books all have biblical inspirations, the stories themselves are not connected at all (Salome's Guillotine isn't even set in the modern day, like the other two books). 

Pre-publication edit: Oh, and between me finishing this book and this post being published, I also learned that Salome's Guillotine is in fact not even the first book starring the pair of Iguchi and Hasuno! After reading this book, I picked another book by Yuuki from the to-be-read pile, which to my surprise starred the painter and burglar too. Turns out Salome's Guillotine was the third one already. So once again, I managed to read a series out of order...

Both Hakobune and Jikkai had very clear and easily understandable story concepts, the first about a group of people trapped in an underground shelter, and the second about people trapped on an island and being controlled through a set of rules, but Salome's Guillotine is very different. I have to admit at first I wasn't too charmed by the somewhat chaotic way the plot unfolded: the initial mystery is "finding out who the plagiarizer" is, but then we learn about forgeries, and then we have a plotline about Mineko just wandering about and stumbling upon a murder scene: a lot happens in the story of Salome's Guillotine, but often scenes seem to come out of nowhere, and the connection between one scene and another sometimes seems non-existent, with some events feeling incredibly random (the Mineko part for example). Even the obi (the strip of paper Japanese book often have with some marketing slogans on it) has trouble presenting a clear story, saying the book is a tale of "The death of a brilliant artist, the secret of a stage actress, cases of plagiarism and forgery and mitate murders (murders made to resemble/themed after something)." Compared to the very focused storytelling of Hakobune and Jikkai which you could explain with one sentence, Salome's Guillotine just felt disjointed. That said, it did invoke the feeling of a Taisho/early Showa-era detective novel like Edogawa Rampo would write, with mysterious or adventurous events happening in rapid succession to tell a more sensational type of story and considering this book is set in that period, I assume this storytelling style was chosen intentionally, but depending on the reader, it might feel like it takes a long time before the story starts to really focus. At the same time, this story is far more open than Hakobune and Jikkai, being set in the city of Tokyo and spanning a far longer period, so it doesn't feel so claustrophobic, and I did like that a lot, as you see more characters going about doing their business.

What is interesting is that mainly Iguchi and Mineko do try to present a lot of deductions and theorizing throughout the novel despite the seemingly disjointed events, (Hasuno is more the "I'll tell you when I am sure" type). Because so much happens, their deductions often focus on specific events, allowing for different types of deductions. We have some segments that rely on physical evidence and Ellery Queen-style of deductions, focusing on questions how people would use certain objects. Other parts, we see the detectives focus more on matters like the alibi of each suspect, or in some cases, even the psychology of the suspects. None of these parts usually allow them to point at one specific suspect with absolutely certainty, which can make these reasoning parts feel a bit "useless", but overall, the book does a good job at keeping the mystery reader engaged as it does attempt to show the reader how each part could be a part of the (admittedly rather large) picture.

Halfway through the book, I felt Salome's Guillotine was really the kind of book that could stand or fall depending on the conclusion and how it'd tie everything together, but I was already relieved when I arrived at the start of the conclusion and realized based on the page count Yuuki was going to use almost twenty percent of the total page count to explain everything. And he really did manage to present a great conclusion to the story! Books with such long denouements often tend to be in the Ellery Queen school, as they go over every event, presenting long chains of deductions and showing how each event serves as a clue to the solution, and this process usually ends up being the main focus/the most impressive part, but that's surprisingly not exactly the case for Salome's Guillotine. While it still utilizes some of these Queenian chains, the most memorable aspect of this book is absolutely the motive for the murders, and the way the motive forms the connecting tissue to all the seemingly disjointed events that occured throughout the story. It is a brilliant motive that seems so obvious in hindsight as it is dangled right in front of you throughout the whole novel, but at the same time hidden expertly, making so much of the events feel random at first. What is also impressive is that the motive is proven through Queenian deductions, something you don't really often see. While I think the underlying cause for the motive of the murders does require some guessing on the part of the reader, overall, Yuuki did a really fantastic job of explaining everything through motive.

And it also makes the very end of the book feel even more gruesome. The book's title Salome's Guillotine gains a whole new meaning once you make it to the end...

Salome no Guillotine is definitely one of the more memorable reads of this year. While the story is not as straightforward as Hakobune and Jikkai, the book offers an interesting adventure set in artsy circles in the Taisho era. While the book feels a bit chaotic at time, it all comes together in a surprisingly, but extremely satisfying manner just in time before the blade of the guillotine comes crashing down. 

Original Japanese title(s): 夕木春央『サロメの断頭台』

Friday, May 10, 2024

The Secret of the Knight’s Sword

Meeting you with a view to a kill
Face to face in secret places, feel the chill
"A View to a Kill" (Duran Duran)

This is actually the first post I have written in over four months...

Detective Conan manga & movies:
Part 1: Volumes 1 ~ 10
Part 2: Volumes 11~20; The Timebombed Skyscraper (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)
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 volumes 70, 72~76, 78, 82~104 and the films Quarter of Silence (15), The Eleventh Striker (16), Private Eye in the Distant Sea (17), Dimensional Sniper (18), Sunflowers of Inferno (19), The Darkest Nightmare (20), The Crimson Love Letter (21), Zero the Enforcer (22), The Fist of Blue Sapphire (23), The Scarlet Bullet (24), Bride of Halloween (25) and The Black Iron Submarine (26) in the library or via the Detective Conan tag)
High school student detective Hattori Heiji is attending a major kendo tournament in Hakodate, Hokkaido and he hopes to confess his love to his childhood friend Kazuha while they're in Hakodate, as Hokkaido features several spots with beautiful scenery, perfect for such an occassion. However, at the same time, the wealthy Onoe Takuzou, an Hakodate inhabitant, has received a notice from the notorious phantom thief KID, who declares he'll steal his two antique wakizashi swords, which were once gifted to Hishikata Toshizou of the Shingengumi. While wondering why KID is after the sword, as he usually only targets jewels, Hattori and Conan (high school student detective Kudou Shinichi who has been turned into a child and is hiding his identity) manage to fend off KID. However, Onoe's attorney's dead body is later found in the city, with a characteristic X-slash across his chest. Based on his belongings, the gang deduces the attorney had illegally brought another Japanese sword back from Dubai to Japan on orders of his employee, which now has been stolen. They eventually learn the swords were all made by swordmaker Higashikubo Eitatsu. Onoe Keizaburou (Takuzou's grandfather) had more sets of swords created during the war, as he was a high-ranking supplies official and rumors have it he hid a treasure somewhere in Hokkaido, with the swords serving as a clue to its whereabouts. Besides KID himself and the murderer, who is seen wearing a fox-mask, more parties appear on the scene who seem after the treasure, starting a race against the clock to see who can first obtain all the swords and find Onoe's treasure in the 2024 theatrical film Detective Conan: The Million-Dollar Pentagram.
Wait... a Detective Conan film review... in this time of the year? Yes! This is the first time since 2012's The Eleventh Striker where I didn't need to wait for the home video release, but got to see it in the theatres again! First time I saw a Conan film in 4DX too by the way, and while I do complain about the recent films being so more much action-focused at the expense of the mystery plot, I do have to admit watching the modern films in 4DX is a lot of fun!

Detective Conan: The Million-Dollar Pentagram is the 27th Detective Conan film and marks a return of mystery writer Ookura Takahiro as the screenwriter for the film. I wasn't too big a fan of the mystery plot of his Detective Conan: The Fist of Blue Sapphire (2019), but I consider Detective Conan: The Crimson Love Letter (2017) as one of the best Conan films overall, especially mystery plot-wise, and at the very least, one can definitely say Ookura has an excellent grasp on the characters, often inserting very fun character interaction scenes throughout his films. Like The Crimson Love Letter, Detective Conan: The Million-Dollar Pentagram focuses on the relationship between Hattori and Kazuha, with the film providing a conclusion to a storyline that has been running in the manga for some years now, with Hattori trying to confess his love to Kazuha at a memorable spot. For the character-focused fans of the franchise, The Million-Dollar Pentagram has a lot of great moments, from seeing Hattori finally confronting KID after their first clash in 2019, to the "big secret" of KID which the trailers have been talking about (Thought to be honest I.... don't like the reveal... I really don't) and some cool cameos. What I do appreciate about this film in general is that like The Crimson Love Letter, it's so much more accessible than some of the previous films, which built too strongly on the complicated character relations in the series. With so many character being (double) spies, having their own agendas and complicated pasts, some of the films would demand a lot of a viewer with nil knowledge of Conan, while this film keeps things relatively simple, with a murder mystery/treasure hunt plot, plus a simple rom-com plot of "boy wanting to confess love to girl", and not expecting you to remember that in volume XX, this and that character discussed this together. The previous two films (Black Iron Submarine and Bride of Halloween I both described as films that do "... things I hadn't expected a Detective Conan film to do, but also didn't do a lot of things I expect, or at least hope to get from a Detective Conan film." In that sense, I felt The Million-Dollar Pentagram was much more like a conventional Conan film, being universally easier to see for a wider audience.

As a mystery film however, The Million-Dollar Pentagram is really not especially memorable. While technically it is a murder mystery, the plot is mainly focused on the treasure hunt aspect, with all the parties trying to figure out 1) what Onoe's treasure was and 2) where the treasure is. While fortunately, the treasure hunt isn't reliant on one of those wordplay riddles you often see in the series, the actual puzzle-solving aspect of this film isn't really interesting, and you'll probably just be passively watching everything unfold, rather than really trying to solve any of this yourself. The mystery of the murderer is fairly simple too, partially due to a very small pool of viable suspects, and while there's a very minor piece of misdirection I feel is executed quite well on screen, I won't be recommending this film on its mystery merits. Fortunately, I was watching this in 4DX, so I did physically enjoy all the outrageous clashes between the various parties while chasing after the treasure!

Still, I do wish we have we get a more mystery plot-focused film soon again... I really loved The Crimson Love Letter, as I think it struck a great balance between the plot and the modern focus on action. As always, we already got a sneak preview/teaser of next year's film at the end of The Million-Dollar Pentagram, and while it honestly could go anyway, the teaser did suggest a focus on a set of characters that usually come with pretty robust mystery plots...

I happened to have been watching the 2008 Gegege no Kitarou animated film before this film, where they did a lot of local tourism PR by having Neko Musume visit various places briefly in the film, and I did think The Million-Dollar Pentagram felt a bit like a PR film at times. When the Conan films are set in Tokyo, they are usually set in fictional Beika, or use fictional landmarks like Touto Tower and the Bell Tree Tower instead of the Tokyo Tower and the Skytree. This film however features a lot of real Hakodate (and Hokkaido) landmarks, and with modern visuals, these sights are presented photo-realistically, as compared to the more drawn style we see in the earliest Conan films. Not really a bad thing per se, but seeing a hyper realistic Hakodate in this film did feel a bit weird as usually, real-life locations are drawn in a more stylized fashion in the television anime series.

Oh, and while not really related to this film, but I might as well mention it here: I did visit the special Detective Conan 30th Anniversary exhibition that's travelling across Japan now. Pretty interesting to see the original drawings and all of that. While it is understandably very character-focused, so not especially interesting for those who are only interested in Conan for the mystery stories, there were some fun displays for the mystery fans too, like this showcase of the various murder weapons used. Would be fun to see more of these mystery-focused exhibitions. Imagine how fun it'd be to visit sets of murder scenes of famous mystery stories!

Anyway, Detective Conan: The Million-Dollar Pentagram is a film that is probably best enjoyed by long-time fans of the series, who want to see characters like Hattori and KID interact with each other (and the conclusion to Hattori's attempts at confessing his love to Kazuha), while also being somewhat involved in a murder mystery. The film is better enjoyed for its action scenes than the mystery, but at the very least, it's a lot more accessible than its immediate predecessors as it does work as a standalone rom-com too.  That said, I do hope next year's entry will be a bit more substantial mystery-wise.

Original Japanese title(s): 『名探偵コナン 100万ドルの五稜星』

Wednesday, May 8, 2024

The Pale Horse

All living things
Into the spiral
"Spiral" (Garnet Crow)

And that wraps up another series...

Over the course of about a year, I have reviewed the spinoff novels of Spiral ~ Suiri no Kizuna or Spiral ~ The Bonds of Reasoning, a mystery(-themed) manga created by writer Shirodaira Kyou and artist Mizuno Eita which ran from 1999 until 2005. Each of the novels I had discussed until now followed the same structure: one novella, featuring a completely original adventure with series protagonist Ayumu, and two shorter stories which were originally published online, which focused on Ayumu's big brother Kiyotaka, who disappears at the start of the main series. These short stories were set in the past, and were about Kurumi, a sixteen year old heir to a wealthy and influential family. Her grandfather wants her to marry Kiyotaka, who at that time is known as a prodigy in the Tokyo police force, but Kurumi of course refuses, and declares she'll beat Kiyotaka in solving police cases to show she's better than him and can thus marry someone else. Of course, in the short stories we saw included in volumes 1 until 3 of this spin-off series, Kiyotaka was always the better detective. Spiral ~ Suiri no Kizuna 4: Koufuku no Owari, Owari no Koufuku ("Spiral ~ The Bonds of Reasoning 4: Ending of the Happiness, Happiness of the Ending" 2004) is the final spin-off novel and unlike the previous books, focuses solely on this storyline revolving around Kurumi, wrapping her story up and setting the pieces ready for the start of the main series. 

Interestingly, this book also follows a different structure because it is the ending. In the previous three volumes, we had first the original novella with Ayumu, followed by two extra prequel stories with Kurumi and Kiyotaka. Which made sense, as they were just extras. These stories had also been posted online before. In this volume however, things are turned around: the book opens with the two stories which were posted online previously, but ends with the original novella.

The two short stories the reader first encounters are called Kinkyou Houkoku ("Update") and Kudan wo Korose ("Kill the Kudan") and are fairly short, and don't follow the same two-chapter structure of the previous short stories. In the first, we learn about a woman who has been killed, but in her stomach a handwritten note was found with the name "Kiyotaka" as well as Kiyotaka's phone number at the police station. While it is not likely he killed the woman and that she wanted to leave a clue to indicate her killer, Kiyotaka turns out to have a connection with the victim, as they used to date in college. But why did the victim have that note in her stomach? This is a fun The Nine Mile Walk-esque story where they speculate about why she'd have swallowed that note before being killed, and while the answer comes very soon after the introduction of the problem, it does fit with the humanistic angle this series sometimes takes. This story also has Kurumi meet with a younger Ayumu for the first time (he's still in elementary school in this story), who turns out to be quite clever like his big brother. In Kudan wo Korose ("Kill the Kudan"), Ayumu's old teacher confesses to killing her husband with a statue of a Kudan (a yokai with the head of a man and the body of a cow),because she believes the prophetic powers of a Kudan will only lead to misfortune. Ayumu however has information that seems to put the matter in a different light. Again, the story is very short, so you don't really get much time to think about this yourself too much, but it's an okay story considering the page count, and because of the yokai links and the type of deductions made, it does make you wonder whether Shirodaira was already playing with ideas for Kyokou Suiri/Invented Inference when he wrote this tale.

The main story is Koufuku no Owari, Owari no Koufuku ("Ending of the Happiness, Happiness of the Ending") which might also be the longest original novella of this four-volume series. It is also by far the best pure mystery story of the four, focusing on a clear murder mystery and using the extended page length to present a robust novella. Kurumi challenges Kiyotaka one last time, and this time, they are working on the murder of a wealthy man, who was very much into horse racing. Each Sunday, he'd bet on horses, but whenever he lost, he would write down the names of the two horses he lost to, and fold a very intricate origami model of a devil figure with head, arms, legs, fingers and wings, which takes hours to fold even if you know exactly how to do it. This Sunday, he was killed, but he had finished his origami model, meaning he had died some hours after losing his horse bet. During the race, his son, illegimate daughter and another son-in-law, who all had reasons for wanting to kill him for his money, were all with him at his house, but they all left after the race and had tea together, meaning they all have a perfect alibi for after the race, when the victim was working on his origami model. Because the names of the winners of that race were indeed written on that model, it means it couldn't have been prepared beforehand, because you can't know which two horses exactly would win that week. Ayumu helps Kurumi this time to see if they can beat Kiyotaka together.

As a problem, this is probably the most "normal" murder mystery we've seen in the novellas in this spin-off series, and it's a pretty good one. Nothing mind-blowing mind you, but it's a solid "which of the three suspects is the killer" type of story. They all seem to have solid alibis because they were together after the murder, but could any of them have somehow prepared the origami model beforehand, even though you could never guess which horses would win that week beforehand and prepare an origami model so complex it even takes a veteran hours to create? You can't prepare the model beforehand, fold it open, write names in and quickly fold it back, because the pen markings would be different writing on folded paper, and the model is so complex having folded paper would only make it more difficult to fold it back into the devil. The solution is close to the type of reasonings you'll find in Shirodaira's later Kyokou Suiri, in the sense that they very much focus on what a person would do to commit a murder, looking into hypotheses more than in actual physical evidence, though I'd say the foundation for the deductions is fairly sound here. I quite like the answer to the origami problem as a proof of alibi actually, being something I had not seen before, and the answer is just crazy enough to be fun, but also quite logical even from the POV of the murderer. 

I also think that for fans of the series, this volume is probably the most interesting. The previous novellas were all set extremely early in the main series (like, two chapters in), so they seldom felt like Spiral stories, while the short stories were about Kurumi (who doesn't appear in the main series), Kiyotaka (who barely appears in the main series) and Madoka (Kiyotaka's surbordinate/later wife), who fortunately does appear in the main series a lot. Still, they often didn't really feel like Spiral. Ayumu however appears in all three stories in this volume and interacts with the other characters, so give an interesting look in his younger years and the way he thinks, the way the other stories didn't do as well I think (especially when it comes to him and Kiyotaka's relation).

And that means I am done with the spin-off novels of Spiral. Not all of them were as good as others: The second one is memorable as it has a crazy story, but also because of how it works as a proto-Kyokou Suiri, focusing on deductions and not the truth per se. The final volume Spiral ~ Suiri no Kizuna 4: Koufuku no Owari, Owari no Koufuku has the best selection of stories when it comes to conventional murder mystery stories, and you could even read this without any knowledge of the main series and still think it's a coherent volume, whereas the other volumes are a bit more chaotic as they have stories set both in the present day of the main series, and the stories set in the past with Kurumi and Kiyotaka. Anyway, I'm glad I have read these now because I had been aware of them for many years, but never got around to them until last year.

Original Japanese title(s):城平京(著) 水野英多(イラスト) 『小説 スパイラル~推理の絆4 幸福の終わり、終わりの幸福」

Wednesday, May 1, 2024

Outrageous Fortune

Chance chance
Chance Chance
Catch your dream tonight
"Chance"(Kamiya Akira)

This is one of those books I got "started on" like three different times, every time reading the same first few pages again and me only really getting into the right mood the last time, but it went pretty fast once I got past that first part.

Disclosure: I translated Yamaguchi Masaya's Death of the Living Dead.

Mystery novelist Hiwatari Miyabi is one day driving along the highway, when there's an explosion at the nearby nuclear powerplant in Komaura. While he is quite some distance away, he can't help be somewhat worried whether he was affected by the leaking radiation, though he does not have himself checked. Three months later, he finds himself visiting a casino with his editor to discuss his planned book. It is the eleventh of September 2011, and they happen to catch the news of the terrorist attack in the United States while at the casino. There Hiwatari notices a man with a distinctive yin-yang-patterned tie, whom he remembers having seen twice before this week while outside, though he doesn't know him. They watch the yin-yang tie man, who is losing money continuously at the craps table: a little person is throwing the dice, but for some reason this man has managed to throw sixes consistently after each other: the other man keeps betting against that, but the double sixes won't stop coming. Baffled by how the little person could've beaten the odds of throwing so many double sixes one after another, Hiwatari hopes to interview the man, but the latter tells him to try another day. Later that night however, Hiwatari spots the yin-yang tie man again outside the casino building, but at that exact moment, the gigantic neon dice on top of the building break off, dropping straight on top of the man... throwing double sixes. That same night, Hiwatari suddenly loses sight in one of his eyes, which might be connected to him being near the nuclear power plant three months ago. Having lost sight in one eye, Hiwatari becomes desperate, as he needs his eyes for his work, but at the same time, he reflects back on the last few days, and realizes he had been witness to a lot of coincidences, culminating in the death of the yin-yang tie man. But was it really all a coincidence? What is coincidence actually? That is the matter of Yamaguchi Masaya's 2002 novel Kiguu ("Coincidentialea").

In the past, I have reviewed Kokushikan Satsujin Jiken, Dogura Magura and Kyomu he no Kumotsu, which are known as the sandaikisho, or The Three Great Occult Books, which are considered the pinnacle of the anti-mystery genre in Japan. The three books take on the form of a mystery novel, but at the same time show the limits of the genre, often by taking the genre conventions to the extreme or simply using a detective story as a device to go off on tangents. The term Three Great Occult Books is actually a play on the Four Great Classics from Chinese literature, but give another meaning to the word ki: In Chinese, the same word is used in the context of "outstanding", but in this Japanese instance, the word is used in the meaning of "strange", "occult" or "deviant". Oguri Mushitarou's Kokushikan Satsujin Jiken (1934) for example is in fact Philo Vance on crack, being a "detective story" that uses the murders as an excuse to discuss topics including (but not exclusively) occultism, mysticism, criminology, religions, astrology, astronomy, psychology, heraldry, medicine and cryptography. It basically ridicules the concept of solving crimes based on evidence and logic by presenting incredibly farfetched deductions based on obscure trivia and symbolism of said themes. Yumeno Kyuusaku's Dogura Magura (1935) simply removes a sense of reality, as the protagonist might or might not be a mental patient is presented with contradicting documents, records and accounts about a murder case that might or might not have happened. Finally, Nakai Hideo's Kyomu he no Kumotsu (1964) utterly deconstructs the notion of logical reasoning as a means to arrive at the truth, by having a group of people deduce the most fanciful, yet convincing theories about a death that might not even be a murder, and about a series of hypothethical murders that may or may not happen in the future. All because they think serial murders in faction are fun, so they want the tropes of mystery fiction to apply to real world too. Takemoto Kenji's Hako no Naka no Shitsuraku ("Paradise Lost Inside A Box", 1978) is often considered the fourth book in this series, as it builds on the themes of the aforementioned three books, and it would influence a lot of writers in the shin honkaku movement (of whom most at the time of the publication of this book would just not quite have made it to university yet).

Kiguu is, at least going by the blurb on the back of the book, seen as a fifth book in this series, though there is much less consensus in the mystery world about whether this is the fifth great book, or even whether there is a fifth one in the first place. At any rate, whether one considers it the fifth or not is not really relevant: the matter is that this book at the very least does fit the pattern of the previous mentioned four books, being steeped in anti-mystery themes, and thus being a book that takes on the form of a mystery novel, but isn't really one. So if isn't a mystery novel, what is this book about? Well, I assume it's clear by now: it's about coincidences.

Coincidences and mystery fiction don't really mix well. Van Dine says "The culprit must be determined by logical deductions--not by accident or coincidence or unmotivated confession", Knox too poses "No accident must ever help the detective, nor must he ever have an unaccountable intuition which proves to be right" and for the most part, most readers of puzzle plot mystery, of mystery novels that are solved through logical reasoning, probably don't like the idea of luck in a mystery novel, as luck or a coincidence aren't topics that allow for logical reasoning. But is that really so? That is the question Yamaguchi asks as he takes the reader on a journey riddled with chance, "the forbidden trope" for mystery fiction, and attempts to tell a mystery story solely about coincidence.

We follow Hiwatari Miyabi as he recounts the many coincidences he has experienced lately, from seeing the same man a few times in one week, to people he gets to know having similar names, to dice falling on the same numbers, or small accidents leading to him bumping into the people he wanted to meet that exact moment. He discusses these coincidences with the many people he meets, from the little person to his editor, his roommate Silphy and a fellow patient at the hospital after he had his eye examined. These discussions on coincidence and luck are the meat of this book, and what this book is really about. The concept of coincidence is discussed in many, many forms, and up to great length, ranging from historical views on coincidence, anecdotes about accidents, philosophical views on coincidence, probability mathematics, synchronicity, quantum theory, yin yang philosophy, and so, so so much more. Yamaguchi basically researched the concept of coincidence from various angles, from social sciences like history and philosophy, to the role of coincidence in "hard" scientific fields, and he shows the reader that in this book. Often, this does lead to really captivating subjects to read about, but personally, I do think very often, the discussions went on far too long, which made this book sometimes a bit tiresome to read. I understand it's probably also intentionally done like that to invoke a certain atmosphere for the book, but I personally would have liked a slightly trimmed down version, for I do think the many ways to look at coincidence are really interesting.

As the book progresses, Hiwatari gets involved with an almost cult-esque organization, and "coincidentally", more people involved with this organization die in seemingly freak accidents. But are they really accidents? While Hiwatari gets more and more entranced by the idea of coincidence, he also can't help but suspect something else might be at play here, especially as a few clues he picked up ( chance) seem to indicate something might behind all of this after all. This culminates in what is essentially a locked room murder, when two people are found dead in a room that is mostly sealed (the door had been cemented tight, but there was a small ventilation on top of the room, and there was a AC unit). Can this locked room mystery be solved with pure logic, or should Hiwatari somehow just consider the deaths a coincidence? Ultimately though, this locked room murder is of course not the crux of the book: it is just a device to talk about coincidences even more. A few logical solutions are proposed to explain the murders, though physical proof can not be produced now at this stage, but at the same time, how could coincidence then explain how the deaths occured? While we never learn how much is true or not in Kiguu, I do have to say I like the last proposed solution to the locked room mystery in the context of the book. Obviously, coincidence does play a role in this solution, as you can guess from the whole theme of the book, but I genuinely like the set-up to provide for this solution, but it is something you can really only pull off in this book. Memorable however, it certainly is.

Kiguu is certainly a unique read: the book intentionally takes on the challenge of telling a detective story based on coincidence, accidents and luck and the result is a captivating read. It certainly isn't a book you're going to read if you want to read a straighforward, conventional mystery story focusing on logical reasoning, but as a book about coincidence, it's absolutely stunning as the concept of coincidence is examined through so many angles, resulting in a very educative and entertaining read. I do think many of the discussions go on for too long, and while I personally think the locked room murder has a memorable solution, one shouldn't read Kiguu with high expectations for it as a pure mystery story alone. But it's definitely worth a read, and is highly recommended, if you want to try something different for a change.

Original Japanese title(s): 山口雅也『奇偶』

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

The Upper Flat

“I learned (what I suppose I really knew already) that one can never go back, that one should not ever try to go back—that the essence of life is going forward. Life is really a One Way Street, isn’t it?” 
"At Bertram's Hotel"

Now I think about it, it's been a while since I last stayed in a hotel...

It was Kujuu Masanosuke who made the Palace Side Hotel into one of the biggest and most succesful in Tokyo. While the hotel started out modestly as the Palace Hotel with only about fifty rooms, Kujuu's aggressive, but inspired leadership led to the organization growing into a gigantic 35-floor hotel, with two-thousand rooms and seventy event halls. Recently, the Tokyo Royal Hotel had been catching up, and even overtook the Palace Side Hotel's at the top, but Kujuu managed to arrange for a deal with Clayton International Corporation, routing their international visitors to Japan to the Palace Side Hotel to create a very steady stream of income. The deal is almost signed and done, though there are some internal objections to the deal within the Palace Side top management. So when Kujuu was found murdered in his private suite room on the 34th floor, the police had plenty of people to suspect: was it someone on the Palace Side Hotel side, or perhaps someone of the competition, who feared the CIC deal? But what puzzles the police even more, is the double locked room situation in which Kujuu's body was found in Room 3401. His suite consists of a living room and a bedroom. Obviously, the door connecting to the living room to the hallway was locked, but the connecting door betwen the living room and bedroom was also locked from the bedroom-side. The hotel room key was found on the bedside table, while the other known spare and master keys, in possession of the housekeeping captain of the 34th floor, the hotel manager or kept in the key safe, were confirmed to no have been stolen during the night, when Kujuu was killed. Hiraga, one of the detectives on the case, happens to be dating Fuyuko, who is Kujuu's private secretary and the person closest to Kujuu, as he had no other relatives. It is therefore not strange that Fuyuko becomes a suspect, but she has a perfect alibi for the murder, as she had spent the night with Hiraga when Kujuu was murdered. Early on, the police however manage to solve how the murderer managed to kill Kujuu in the double-locked room, a method which also needs an accomplice. The police don't know yet who the murderer could be, so hope the accomplice will confess everything, but the accomplice is found dead in a hotel room in Fukuoka almost immediately after an arrest warrant was issued. Finding a half-faded note in the toilet, the police eventually manage to identify a man whom they suspect killed Kujuu and the accomplice, but the man has an alibi for the murder in Fukuoka: he checked in before noon at a hotel in Tokyo to work in his room, and checked out late that night. He has no real alibi for the time he was in his hotel room, but at the same time, it would have been impossible for him to commit the murder in the fourteen hour gap, as the police can not find any trace of him having taking the train or plane from Tokyo to Fukuoka, and time-wise it would be nearly impossible in the first place. Can the police still capture this suspect in Morimura Seiichi's Kousou no Shikaku ("The Blind Spot in the High-Rise" 1969)?

Morimura Seiichi was a novelist who started out writing business books originally, but eventually moved on to mystery fiction: Kousou no Shikaku was his debut work as a mystery novelist, with which he won the 15th Edogawa Rampo Prize in 1969. I had heard his name before, but I have to admit I never looked up his work until he passed away about one year ago. That is not to even imply he was a minor novelist though, in fact, he was one of the most succesful mystery novelists in Japan. He was a member of that oh-so very exclusive club of mystery novelists who had over a billion copies of their books in circulation. To put in perspective, an extremely succesful modern-day writer like Higashino Keigo finally managed to reach that milestone last year. Other people on that list would be Nishimura Kyoutarou, Akagawa Jirou and Uchida Yasuo, writers I know and have read, but Morimura was a blind spot in my reading until now. I don't think all of his works are puzzle plot focused, but I at least knew this one was, so there was no better place to start that this book.

I have to admit this book surprised me a few times plot-wise. I had heard about this book being about a perfect alibi, so I was first surprised with a double-locked (hotel) room murder... and then I was surprised again when that double-locked room murder was solved basically two or three chapters later, after which the book focuses indeed on an alibi-cracking plot. The book opens with a cool floorplan of the 34th floor of the Palace Side Hotel, which is designed like an elongated three-pointed star... but because the locked room is solved so early in the book, you basically never page back to this floorplan, as it's not really relevant to the whole book. A weird choice, because it would have made more sense to just insert that floorplan in the early chapters, instead of at the start of the book. The locked room is solved fairly early, and as you can perhaps guess, the trick is fairly simple. In fact, it was so simple it caught me off-guard. You see, Morimura really goes into detail in his explanation of how hotel doors work, their auto-lock functions, the whereabouts of the spare and master keys and who keep watch over them and all of that, but the solution is in comparision incredibly straightforward, in comparison to the meticulous analysis of the many other (wrong) possibilities. The solution to the how will probably not impress anyone, though I have to say that Morimura's very detailed examination to write off the other possibilities was surprisingly impressive, even if the conclusion is so simple.

It was at this point, I started realizing this was very much like a Freeman Wills Crofts-inspired police procedural. The book moves very, very slow and deliberate, examining each minor step carefully and showing you one thing at a time, before moving on to the next item on the list. I also learned that Morimura in fact used to work at a hotel, which explains why his descriptions of the workings of a hotel are so detailed, which again, factors in how meticulous his investigations are when it comes to hotel affairs. He has great knowledge about procedures in a hotel, how different staff sections work with each other, the manner in which shifts being taken over, how spare and master keys are being supervised, check-in and check-out procedures, guest-staff interactions, even the way how employees from different hotels would interact with each other, all of that comes into play in this book, and each time, the descriptions and explanations are detailed, yet clear. These depictions of hotel workings are definitely a highlight of the book.

Once we arrrive at the Fukuoka murder, you get a book that very much reminds of Matsumoto Seichou's Ten to Sen for very obvious reasons, as there too a murder occurs in Fukuoka, but the main suspect is in a complete different part of the country. In this case, the alibi of the suspect isn't absolutely perfect, as they are only seen checking in and out of the hotel before noon and before midnight, but the police can't find any traces of the suspect having taken the plane from Tokyo to Fukuoka, not even with a fake name. While there are indications of what the murderer must have done after the murder, they don't seem to match the timeline the police try to make for the suspect, as they couldn't have done and still make it back to the hotel to check out (and be seen by someone who knows him). What follows is a very slow, Crofts-esque chipping away at the alibi of the suspect. This process is slow, and is basically always two steps forward, one step back. Each time, the police think they have a brilliant idea of what the suspect could've done to go to Fukuoka to commit the murder, but then they learn it couldn't have been accomplished in that specific way, so then they have to figure out another way, leading to another new idea, and once again learning it doesn't quite work that way. This jerking around takes quite some time, and while you do feel the police are very slowly making progress, it's definitely a police procedural style, where you see that a lot of police work is just... repeating motions and slowly, but surely crossing out possibilities. The murderer's plans are muti-phased and quite complex, and I quite like that, because that explains why the police keep thinking they've got it, but then have to adapt again, but a lot of the steps taken by the killer in this book, are quite outdated. Obviously, this book was published in 1969 so I assume it would have worked like that back then, but 99% of what is done here, would not fly in 2024, and some things, I may have heard once in my life about, like I know things worked like that back then, but I had no active memory of that, so while it didn't feel unfair (that's just how things go with older books), Kousou no Shikaku is definitely a product of its time (in fact it feels very much like a Showa-era story). It's a feeling I also often have when reading Crofts, but Crofts' books are of course much older than this one, and I read plenty of books written in this period, but because this book, like Crofts' work, is so methodical and focuses so much on the details and exact workings of the infrastructure and service industry, sometimes you feel the differences in time more than other books written in the same time, but don't go in as much detail in such things.

Not a big fan of the way the accomplice was portrayed in this book at all by the way, a lot of the actions of the accomplice only seemed to help the killer, but not the accomplice, even at a time where it was clear the killer was also going to kill the accomplice after Kujuu... 

Overall, Kousou no Shikaku was pretty entertaining. The depiction of how a hotel works is the highlight for me of this book, but the methodological manner in which the crime is solved is definitely going to appeal to people who also enjoy Croft's slower police procedurals where an alibi is slowly, very slowly, but surely cracked. I definitely found this an interesting first encounter with Morimura's work, so I might read more in the future.

Original Japanese title(s): 森村誠一『高層の死角』