Friday, August 16, 2019

Le Cercle rouge

One of the tropes most commonly associated with mystery fiction, and one I personally love, is the closed circle situation. For some reason though, I often see it confused with 'an impossible crime' or even 'locked room mystery' even though they are very different concept (they can be used together however). Closed circle situations are also often referred to as the 'island in a storm' or 'mountain villa during a snow storm' tropes, which might make the concept clearer: it refers to a situation when a certain, clearly defined location is cut off from the outside world (in a broad sense of the word), making it impossible to enter or exit said location. This also often includes communication going in or out. Dorothy L. Sayers for example wrote in her '34 review of Christie's Murder on the Orient Express for the Sunday Times "Moreover, the problem is of the perfect “closed circle” type, the entire action being confined within the limits of a single coach on the “Orient Express”, with a snowdrift to cut out interference from the outside world." The term itself seems to be used less in the West nowadays than in Japan though, where it's quite common among mystery aficionados to use the term, which might be a reason why people sometimes think a locked room mystery is a closed circle situation.


The merits of a closed circle situation, from a reader/writer's point of view are various. For example, one of the most important reasons is that it effectively defines the range and setting of the mystery. The reader is presented a specific setting with a certain number of identified characters, and no extra characters can enter this location, nor can anyone leave (alive that is). This helps the intellectual game of detective fiction, as the reader doesn't have to worry about secret assassins coming from the outside world to commit the murder and leave, or evidence being shipped away to Duckburg. Often, the reason why the setting was cut-off from the outside world becomes a factor in the game of mystery: the arrival time of the boat, or the exact time of when the snow storm started etc. all give the reader a better idea of where their deductions should focus on (specific periods of time). Being cut-off from the outside world often also means the police can't come, or in the case a police officer is already on the scene, back-up in the form of more officers or for example forensics is made impossible, which often sets things up for a more pure puzzle plot mystery.

For me as a reader, the fact that a closed circle basically says 'the crime happened here, these were the characters present at that time, go figure out whodunnit' makes it a welcome trope. If a mystery story is a game in which the author challenges the reader to solve the mystery, and this is to be done in a fair manner, one of the more basic things to do is of course to explain the limits of the game. You don't want to hear at the end that a character who was never mentioned or hinted at turns out to be the murderer, but a closed circle situation makes that impossible, as the murderer must've been within the closed circle during the act. The closed circle situation also works great with the impossible alibi story: if there are only X number of characters at the location, and all of them have an alibi for the murder, than nobody could've done it. The closed circle also ensures objects (weapons or other tools) can't be conjured out of nowhere (the outside world), thus making it clear to the reader that everything they should know, exists in the pocket universe of the closed circle. Of course, there are also stories that play with this, for example by making it seem like a closec circle situation when there is in fact a means of escape: some might find this cheap, but as long it's properly hinted at, I'd say using a closed circle situation as a piece of misdirection is perfectly fair game.


In-universe, a closed circle situation can occur due to various reasons. In general, I guess you could categorize them in Artificial Closed Circles, Natural Closed Circles and Others. Artificial Closed Circled are of course when a human hand causes the creation of a closed circle situation. Burning down the one bridge that leads to the mountain villa or setting the only boat on the island adrift. It's often, though not always, the murderer who creates the closed circle, for example to ensure their prey, be it specific person(s) or all people, can't escape. For the reader, it's a source of thrills, as you basically have the Jason-at-the-camp situation, not knowing who will die and knowing there's no way of escape. Natural Closed Circles are of those caused by the forces of nature: heavy snow making it impossible to go outside or for a train to proceed, a storm preventing boats from going or leaving the island, mountain tunnels being buried after an earthquake, the standard examples. Queen's The Siamese Twin Mystery has a forest fire preventing the Queens from leaving house, while in an early Gyakuten Saiban/Ace Attorney episode, strong winds had made a statue break, blocking off a road and effectively creating a closed circle situation. Sometimes, the murderer played the probabilities in hopes of a natural disaster to help out their crime, sometimes it's just pure coincidence and the murderer decided to go ahead despite the storm outside. This often becomes a focal point in the investigation: why did the murderer commit the murder despite this situation? In the category Others, I'd sort the closed circle situations that aren't strictly physically impossible to leave or enter, but where 'other' reasons keep people bound, for example because a mistake or crime in the past will be exposed unless they stay. In the Scooby Doo, Where Are You! episode A Night of Fright is No Delight for example, the potential heirs of Colonel Beauregard Sanders (one of them Scooby) have to stay on a creepy island for one night in order to inherit. In Arisugawa Alice's Jooukoku no Shiro, a murder occurs on the grounds of the headquarters of a suspicious new religion, and Alice and the others are held captive there, and the whole headquarters is locked down because top management fears news of a murder there would hurt their reputation, while they do want to know who the murderer is, making it a self-inflicted closed circle.


Anyway, what I wanted to ask was, what are some of the more memorable closed cirle situations you have come across. Err, as a reader, I guess. Perhaps it was a unique way to create such a situation, or it led to interesting scenes or deductions? To name a few of mine in no particular order:

- Arisugawa Alice's Gekkou Game ("Moonlight Game") had Alice and the other members of the Mystery Club camping on Mt. Yabuki, a dormant volcano which then decided to erupt, cutting them and a few other students on the camp ground from the outside world. It's such a weird and over-the-top way to create a closed circle situation and I'd even say it feels unnatural, but okay, at least you can be sure your cast is seperated from the outside world! If you have read The Moai Island Puzzle ((C) Shameless Self-Promotion), you know Arisugawa loves his closed circle situations for the Student Alice series.

- The South-Korean 2009 movie 4 Gyosi Churiyǒngyǒk ("4th Period Mystery") was set a school, where two students discovered the body of a classmate in a classroom at the end of the third period. Because these mammoth schools are built to keep all students inside during school hours (security cameras, gates, checking who's absent etc.), and outsiders, err, outside the school, the whole school building effectively acted as a closed circle, as nobody could've in or out in the middle of the school day without attracing attention. It wasn't that great a movie though.

- Imamura Masahiro's Shijinsou no Satsujin ("The Murders in the Villa of the Dead" 2017) and Magan no Hako no Satsujin ("The Murders In the Box of The Devil Eye", 2019) were fantastic novels that used the supernatural to create insane closed circles. Shijinsou no Satsujin had the cast locked up in a mountain villa that was under attack by... a sea of zombies, as a zombie outbreak had occured nearby. The novel will see a live-action movie adaptation and a manga adaptation this year by the way, and I am sure it will make its way to the English-language market in some format or another. The sequel had a few villagers creating a closed circle situation on purpose, locking the cast in the village of Magan, because it was prophesied that murders would occur in Magan: in the hopes of keeping themselves safe from the prophesy, they created a closed circle that locked the cast up in Magan.

- In the Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo ("The Young Kindaichi Case Files") story Majutsu Ressha Satsujin Jiken ("The Magic Express Murder Case"), something incredibly funny happens, as pointed out in the parody spin-of series. Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo Gaiden - Hannintachi no Jikenbo ("The Young Kindaichi Case Files Side Story: The Case Files of the Culprits") retells the classic stories from the POV of the culprits, with a comedic tone. At one point, Hajime triumphiantly declares they're facing a closed circle situation and that murderer must've been be one of the persons inside the theater: the castle-like building is surrounded by a moat, but by pure coincidence Hajime had broken the drawbridge earlier, making it impossible for the people inside to leave the theater. The scene in the parody re-telling where the murderer is cursing Hajime all kinds of names in their mind is hilarious because it was Hajime himself who lucked out by creating the closed circle situation he happily talks about in the first place!

But I'd love to hear what your favorite closed circle situations are!

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

The Twin Dilemma

「もう全部あいつ一人でいいんじゃないかな」
『時空英雄仮面ライダー』

"Man, he can probably do everything all by himself."
"Heroes of Time and Space Kamen Rider"

When the releases of the Detective Conan manga slowed down last year, I decided to look at a few of the episodes written exclusively for the anime series (so not based on the manga by Aoyama Goushou). I haven't written reviews on all the episodes I've seen, which in turns means that the episodes I did write about, were stories worth writing about. Noroi no Kamen wa Tsumetaku Warau and Koureikai W Misshitsu Jiken in particular were absolutely fantastic pieces of mystery fiction, among the best visual mystery stories I had ever seen. Both these stories were written by Ochi Hirohito, who is also credited at times as Ochi Koujin and Uonji Chiko for his work on Conan. Ochi is an important figure for the animated Detective Conan series, as he has multiple roles. Storyboarder, artist, episode director and screenplay writer: he's done it all (and for some episodes, simultaneously). With both volume 97 of the manga and the home video release of the 23rd theatrical movie Detective Conan: The Fist of Blue Sapphire scheduled for somewhere in October or perhaps even later, I decided to watch a few more episodes with screenplays by Ochi while I wait for the fall releases.

Detective Conan episodes with scenarios by Ochi Hirohito:
88-89: Dracula-Sou Satsujin Jiken ("The Villa Dracula Murder Case")
184: Noroi no Kamen wa Tsumetaku Warau ("The Cursed Masks Laugh Coldly")
379-380: Hitou Yukiyami Furisode Jiken ("The Case of the Furisode of the Hot Spring Hidden In The Snow Darkness")
603-605: Koureikai W Misshitsu Jiken ("The Case of the Séance's Double Locked Room")
905-906: Nananengo no Mokugekishougen ("Eyewitness Testimony, Seven Years Later")

Episodes 379-380 form the two-parter Hitou Yukiyami Furisode Jiken ("The Case of the Furisode of the Hot Spring Hidden In The Snow Darkness"), originally broadcast on November 22 and 29, 2004. Conan, Ran and Kogorou have a little family trip to the Kotoya Inn, a traditional Japanese inn in the mountains with hot springs. Following the local tradition, all the rooms of the inn are decorated by splendid furisode (long-sleeved kimono). Legend has it that many centuries ago, a woman in the village called O-Hana helped an injured samurai, who gave O-Hana beautiful furisode as a gift. The jealous daughters of the village chief however coveted these furisode, and succeeded in arranging for O-Hana's execution through slander. Thus they manage to steal O-Hana's furisode, but they weren't able to enjoy them for long: one night, both daughters were found dead, wrapped in and covered by the furisode they stole. Fearing it was a curse, the village people decided to worship O-Hana as Furisode-sama to watch over the village, though she also has a vengeful side as a diety as Furisode-Hannya. The village still has a large shrine dedicated to Furisode-sama, but the Kotoya Inn has a small Furisode-sama shrine in the garden too.

At the Kotoya Inn, Kogorou runs into a producer of Nichiuri Television (Kogorou often appears in their programs) and the producer reveals to the gang that they are working on a drama adaptation of a story by the romance novelist Akechi Eri. The producer, Akechi and her publisher's editor have a small meeting here at the inn, together with the three actresses who are to star in the movie: the succesful model Shibasaki Asuka, award-winning artist Anzai Ema and upcoming singer-songwriter Fukatsu Harumi, who all graduated from the same university. Harumi wants a private conversation with Kogorou, and reveals that a friend of her was once accused of drugs dealing and that she committed suicide. However, it appears she was framed and that the real dealers were in fact her two new co-actors in the upcoming drama. She wants Kogorou to investigate the case, but fate strikes first: that night, both Asuka and Ema are murdered under impossible circumstances: Ema is found stabbed lying on furisode in the garden shrine of Furisode-sama, but the only footprints in the snow leading to the shrine are those of Ema herself. The murder weapon meanwhile is found in the hot spring below, together with the body of Asuka, floating in the water surrounded by furisode. In order to enter the hot spring however, one has to pass by the recreation room, which was occupied by Conan and the gang, meaning an invisible murderer must've killed Ema first, left the shrine without leaving footprints in the snow, somehow made it past Conan unseen, and enter the hot spring to kill Asuka, but how's that possible?


While not as strong as Noroi no Kamen wa Tsumetaku Warau and Koureikai W Misshitsu Jiken, this case is pretty good, though I have to say I liked it a lot better the second time I watched these two episodes. As with most episodes by Ochi, the whodunnit aspect is somewhat weak, more like an afterthought with some lucky clue that points directly to the culprit, but the main problem is almost always an impossible one. Two in fact this time: the footprints-in-the-snow problem of Ema's murder in the shrine, and how the murderer managed to get past Conan, Ran and Kogorou to enter the hot spring to murder Asuka. I'm going to use my pet phrase 'synergy' again from my review of Koureikai W Misshitsu Jiken, because that's what Ochi's doing here once again. We have to two distinct situations, but he manages to tie the underlying solution to both problems to one, central idea and use that in several ways to strengthen both impossible situations. Once again, we have two impossible murders that are possible because there are two of them, because both of these situations exist. It's a notion that so very few mystery authors to manage to do right, but Ochi's done quite a few of them by now for Detective Conan. The main idea that ties these problems is at the core very simple and seems even unoriginal at first, but the way Ochi uses it to really integrate the solution to the two impossible situations with the overall story and atmosphere is fantastic, resulting one of the better plotted anime original stories.

Ochi Hirohito wrote another two-parter last year with episodes 905-906, originally broadcast on June 23 and 30, 2018. Nananengo no Mokugekishougen ("Eyewitness Testimony, Seven Years Later") bring Conan, Ran and Kogorou to the Dove Flute Lodge, a small guest house that lately has become popular thanks to the recommendation by the "Beer Prince" Minakitaya Ootarou, an entertainer with an extraordinary love for beer. The unique selection of beer offered by the Dove Flute Lodge makes it a paradise for beer lovers like Kogorou and it's no wonder they aren't the only guests there and the Beer Prince himself happens to be one of the other guests that day. During a conversation with fellow lodgers, an old sentai show called Masked Comet Byun is mentioned. Seven years ago, the show became news when two robbers wearing masks of characters from the show killed a man.

After dinner, the lodge is visited by the police, who found a corpse earlier that day down the river that passes behind the lodge. It is unclear whether the man died because of an accident or by the hands of another party, but he carried a card with Masked Comet Byun, and when shown a picture of the victim, Minakitaya identifies the man as Shuujirou, his old comedy partner before they dissolved their duo three years ago. Shuujirou was working as a shady entertainment reporter nowadays and had visited the lodge too, asking about Minakitaya. Later that night, the lounge room of the lodge is ransacked by someone. The commotion wakes everyone but Minakitaya, so they all go to his room. When they finally break the bolted door open, they find the corpse of Minakitaya lying on the floor, surrounded by empty beer bottles and bottle caps. While he might've simply slipped and fallen on his head, the drawing he made on the floor with his blood, reminsicent of the logo of Masked Comet Byun, suggests foul play. But how could the murderer have bolted the room from the inside, and what has Minakitaya's death to do with the death of his former partner Shuujirou?


Overall, this story is not nearly as intricately plotted as the previously discussed one. There's quite a bit of coincidence working in the background, as unsurprisingly, almost all the characters present are revealed to have some connection to the deadly robbery seven years ago and they just happen to be here at the lodge at the same time. The death of Shuujirou isn't really important, only acting as a motive. The main problem, the murder of Minakitaya in the locked room, is okay: it has a neat solution that is hidden from the viewer through nicely thought-out misdirection, while the hints that point in the direction of how it was done (the direct means and the clues that originate from the way this means was obtained) are somewhat standard in spirit, they work well and give the viewer more than enough of a chance to solve it themselves. It's also a locked room trick that works well in the visual format. The identity culprit is unsurprising however, and as often with Ochi's stories, the clue chain that leads to the murderer is a line separate from the howdunnit line, which is something I find really disappointing considering the care Ochi shows when doing the howdunnit angle. In comparison, his whodunnit reasoning chains always seem like an afterthought, like "oh, better make sure the culprit also makes this one unneccesary mistake after pulling off a super complex plan, a mistake that points directly at them or else Conan can't solve it". The dying message too is rather rough.

Of the two stories discussed today, Hitou Yukiyami Furisode Jiken is definitely the better one. While not as strong as Ochi's best two efforts (Noroi no Kamen wa Tsumetaku Warau and Koureikai W Misshitsu Jiken), this two-parter still provides a well-plotted impossible murder mystery that once again sets an example of how to do multiple mysteries within one story to create synergy. Nananengo no Mokugekishougen is not as strong, but is entertaining enough if you just want to see an anime original story.  As far as I know I have seen all episodes with screenplays by Ochi by the way, though I haven't reviewed all of them. Episode 22 (TV Drama Roke Satsujin Jiken / "The Television Drama On Location Murder Case"), episode 596 (Tenraku no Tenraku / "The Alibi for the Fall") and episode 665 (Giwaku no Initial K / "The Suspicious Initial K") are a lot simpler and smaller in scale compared to the other Ochi stories I reviewed, but for those interested in Ochi's writing, it might be worth checking those episodes out too.

Original Japanese title(s): 『名探偵コナン』379-380話「秘湯雪闇振袖事件」, 905-906話「七年後の目撃証言」

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Strike-Out Scare

過ぎ行く春を惜しみながら
僕らの幕開けたあの夏
「心絵」(Road of Major)

While lamenting the passing of Spring
Our curtains were raised in that Summer
"Picture of the Heart" (Road of Major)

Huh, who'd have thought I'd be doing another Tantei Jinguuji Saburou ("Detective Jinguuji Saburou") review this year? The long-running detective adventure videogame series had two releases in 2018: Prism of Eyes was the eighteenth entry in the main series, while Daedalus: The Awakening of Golden Jazz was a new prologue spin-off, about a young Jinguuji as he set his first steps in becoming the hardboiled private detective we know from the main series. Neither game was perfect, but as a fan of the series, I'm always happy to see a new entry, as while the brand name is fairly well-known due being around for over thirty years now, none of the games are tremendous sellers or anything like that, so you never quite know for sure whether the series will continue or not.


The Tantei Jinguuji Saburou series started out on game consoles and handhelds and that's still where the main entries are released, but in 2003, a secondary series was introduced with the mobile applications, games designed for garakei feature phones in Japan.  If one were to call the main entries "novels", these Tantei Jinguuji Saburou mobile apps were definitely the short stories: far smaller in scale and bringing a linear experience that told hardboiled detective story of about two hours in four acts. This mobile application series was fairly popular: they released twenty-four of them between 2003 and 2010, following their own numbering seperate of the main series. While as "games", these applications were quite limited, the stories they told are usually quite entertaining as human drama-based hardboiled detective stories and there are even some big industry names connected to it: Nojima Kazushige of Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy X fame for example wrote a few scenarios for this series, and Kodaka Kazutaka, who would later create the Danganronpa game series, more or less started out his career as a game scenario writer with the Jinguuji Saburou application series. These mobile applications were also later included with the DS and 3DS entries of the Tantei Jinguuji Saburou series, and Prism of Eyes actually consisted mainly out of HD-remakes of these mobile applications. The last of them (Yurameku Hitotose) was released in 2010, so they basically stopped making these games when use of smartphones became widespread.

So I was quite surprised when I learned that the mobile application series would continue on iOS and Android this summer. The new app Tantei Jinguuji Saburou New Order ("Detective Jinguuji Saburou New Order", 2019) was released on the last day of July to provide a main hub in which the new stories are distributed, and of course, the first game was also relased on the same day. It's been nearly ten years since the last Jinguuji Saburou mobile game, but when you play Giwaku no Ace ("The Suspicious Ace", 2019), it's like no time has passed. It follows the familar four-act set-up of the short stories and the development team behind the game also consists of familar names (including a veteran Jinguuji Saburou writer who also wrote Ghost of the Dusk, and character designer Junny). One evening private detective Jinguuji Saburou happens to become acquainted with Hayasaka Masumi on the streets of Shinjuku. Masumi is not only an employee of the baseball club Blue Kicks here in Shinjuku, she's also the (secret) girlfriend of Majima Naotaka, a starter of the team. Majima was praised as an ace two years ago, but since then fallen into a slump. He has been acting suspiciously lately, so Masumi wants Jinguuji to tail Majima to see what is going on. Jinguuji learns that Majima has been seeing Fuwa lately, a former team mate who had to quit baseball after an injury. Fuwa kinda disappeared after his early retirement, so Jinguuji is not only surprised to learn Fuwa is still around, but he also realizes Fuwa has a tie with Katagiri of the Matsuishi Group, a yakuza organization that specializes in illegal gambling. Meanwhile, an anonymous letter has also accused someone in the Blue Kicks of doping, which brings another light on Majima's suspicious activities.


Like I said earlier, these mobile application games are quite limited in scale in terms of story, so there's not very much to write about without spoiling everything. The experience is quite linear and passive compared to the (old) main series entries and the player is mostly just choosing discussion topics or selecting where to go next. The most 'thinking' you'll do is figuring out a PIN code twice. That said, I did enjoy Giwaku no Ace as an accessible, short hardboiled mystery story that uses its four-act set-up in a good manner. New events and clues keep popping up at a steady rate that keep the reader, well not guessing, as the story is fairly simple, but it's definitely enticing. You just wanna know what's really going on at the Blue Kicks, and the story does a good job at keeping your attention for the hour-and-half, two hours you'll be playing this, with each act bringing some new clues and questions. It's certainly nothing more than the old mobile application games brought, but nothing less either. If you're wanting for an old-fashioned Tantei Jinguuji Saburou experience, Giwaku no Ace is exactly what you're looking for.

So no, Tantei Jinguuji Saburou New Order: Giwaku no Ace is nothing special. This is the twenty-fifth entry in the mobile application series and they have always been following the same pattern, so no surprises here. That said, I found the two hours I spent on the game amusing, and it's certainly a worthy entry in this series in terms of storytelling. Giwaku no Ace's baseball setting is a fairly original one for the series (they had one about professional wrestling once) and while the application series has always been more focused on human drama than the main series, I think this entry has one of the more relatable casts of this series. I do hope that in the future, they'll release all of the New Order stories in one package on the Nintendo Switch or something like that, because it's really weird they decided to publish New Order in an episodic format after doing exclusively handheld/console releases since 2012!

Original Japanese title(s): 『探偵神宮寺三郎 New Order』「疑惑のエース」

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Till Death Do Us Part

"I'll bet this is the first time anyone's been buried twice in the same grave."
"Batman: Lord Death Man"

Okay, I'll admit, I'm writing this review almost two months after I read the book. So, yes, the details are a bit vague, and yes, I have little interesting to say about this book.

Ross Harte, PR-man, author and journalist, has made an enemy in millionaire Dudley Wolff, by exposing a scandal that even has the Senate interested and luck has it that the girl he intends to marry happens to be Kathryn Wolff. Dudley uses every trick in the book to make sure Ross won't marry Kathryn. Despite these machinations however, Dudley does not lose sight of his primary goal in life: to examine death, and more importantly, figure a way to postpone the inevitable. He's open to everything, which is why he finances both an experimental biologist who tries to cheat death in a scientific manner, and spirit mediums who attempt the job in a supernatural way. Lately however, some odd incidents have been happening in the house and renowned stage magician The Great Merlini is asked to make sense out of it all (and it just so happens Ross is Merlini's assistant...). The mystery involves a man who has apparently will not stay dead and can appear and disappear from rooms at will, a spirit photograph, the murder on Dudley, a disappearing murder weapon and even an attempt on Ross' life. It's up the Great Merlini to explain the trickery behind all this magic in Clayton Rawson's No Coffin for the Corpse (1942).

I have reviewed Rawson's The Footprints on the Ceiling and The Headless Lady earlier this year (and the short stories in 2015), but No Coffin for the Corpse is the final novel of The Great Merlini series (I have not reviewed the first novel, Death from a Top Hat and don't know if I will because I already saw the film many years back). The basics of No Coffin for the Corpse are very similar to other The Great Merlini stories, with Merlini being asked to determine whether an ostensibly supernatural phenomenon is in fact supernatural, or just a result of human trickery (and often, the supernatural option is preferred). There's an abundance of suspicious characters like pseudo-scientists, mediums and of course parlor magicians who of course also act as suspiciously as possible, and Rawson is sure to use his own background as a stage magician to come up with all kinds of little events and set pieces to entertain the reader.

But I can't help but feel that No Coffin for the Corpse is kinda underwhelming. The main plot, which revolves around the 'man who can't die' and the trickery he performs, including a disappearing weapon, does make up for a tale that manages to pique the reader's interest, and Rawson certainly is able to constantly add new events to keep the tension up. However, ultimately most of the tricks played by the culprit are extremely obvious to see through, exactly because Rawson uses magic tricks and other concepts from the business to create his mystery plots. Of course, that's what he always does, but this time the smokescreen is far too thin. The part with the disappearing murder weapon is signalled far too obviously, especially combined with the crude clewing in this novel and even then, it's not even signalled well, because the logical chain still expects you to make a jump yourself that is founded on nothing but a baseless guess ("character X can probably do action Y that is needed to accomplish act Z, because that would solve the mystery in a clean way"). The mystery of the man who won't die is another of those tricks which might've worked better in any other book, but in a Rawson book, in a novel that is filled with spirit mediums, circus artists and more of those performance artists, it's far too easy to guess what's going on, and there's not much of a mystery, and the mystery that is here, doesn't feel really satisfying, as at times, it almost feels like Rawson's just saying "Oh, and by the way, they know a magic trick so they could definitely do that."

That said, I liked a second, minor murder in the latter half of the novel much better. Merlini has to determine whether a car accident was indeed just an accident, but the clewing here is really good and this super-short part is far better plotted as a mystery I think that most of the rest of the book.

Like I mentioned in the introduction, this has been a rather short review, though I don't think I'd have been able to write much about No Coffin for the Corpse even if I had written this post right after reading the book. Perhaps I shouldn't have read these books relatively close to each other (yes, 'months' is relatively close in my reading diet), but I found No Coffin for the Corpse simply underwhelming, with tricks and ideas that seemed rather obvious, especially if you know you're reading a Great Merlini novel with a certain type of setting and characters. Had the clewing been better, I might've been more impressed, but that too was not exceptionally inspired.

Saturday, August 3, 2019

The Triple Hoax

“Who in the world am I? Ah, that's the great puzzle.” 
"Alice's Adventures in Wonderland"

Hm, it's been some years since I last did a short short post, when I want to do discuss several mystery-related media without having to write a full-length review.

First off, a small preview of The Beautiful Kyoto Flower Arrangement Practioners Murder Case, the newest story of Kindaichi 37-sai no Jikenbo ("The Case Files of the 37-year Old Kindaichi"). The first half of this story is collected in the recently released fourth volume, which makes it impossible to write a full review on the story, though I can already reveal I kinda like the main problem. Kindaichi is sent to Kyoto by his PR company to work out a new package tour for foreign tourists, where they'll have the chance to visit a famous family of ikebana practictioners, the traditional art of Japanese flower arrangement and attend a course. The Kyougoku family is the head of the Akaike-style of ikebana, and previous collaboration projects already made it clear the head of the family's infamously hard to work with, a fact Kindaichi and his assistant Hayama also find out the moment they arrive in the Kyougoku home in Kyoto. The current head of the family is actually not a gifted ikebana pracitioner himself, and only became the head of the family after the death of his brother. His twin nieces Kaoruko and Sakurako are the talents of the family, although Sakurako left the house to become a modern flower artist (though she's back now to help ou). Kindaichi and Hayama stay for one night at the house, but in the middle of the night, Kindaichi discovers the dead body of Sakurako lying in the rock garden. The carefully raked pattern in the gravel (which takes up to 6 hours to do) only show Sakurako's own footprints as she walked to the middle of the rock garden to apparently commit suicide on top of the rocks, and she has a motive too as revenge porn pictures of her were posted on social media some weeks earlier. It's hard to say where this story will bring us at the moment: more murders follow, but there's surprisingly little investigation conducted into this neat variant of the footprints-in-the-snow at this stage of the story. I do hope that volume five will contain the conclusion to this story (though I can't imagine it won't).

And as for the main reason for wanting to write a short short today: lately I've been into reading classical shoujo (girls) manga from the sixties-seventies. In my review of Takashina Ryouko's Piano Sonata Satsujin Jiken, I wrote:

(...) the puzzle plot mystery manga's roots could be traced to the uprise of female manga artists in the 70s who would leave an everlasting impression on the industry. The 70s provided a space for experimentation within the manga format, and it was especially daring female artists who did incredible things there. A while back, I reviewed the animated feature They Were Eleven! for example, based on a comic by industry legend Hagio Moto which incorporated mystery, science-fiction and human drama. The horror genre in the manga format has also been long associated with comics for female readers, as that too flourished in the 70s under the auspices of female manga artists. From there it's not hard to see how horror artists would work their way to mystery manga, as the two genres have much in common.

So I've been delving more into this period of mystery manga. One of the more interesting titles was Yamada Mineko's Alice series. Yamada's one of the members of the so-called Year 24 Group, a group of female manga artists who were groundbreaking in their genre-breaking approach to female-oriented comics in the 70s (see also Hagio Moto mentioned in the quote). The group is named after the fact most of them were born in or around the year of Showa 24, or 1949. Yamada is best known for her science fiction series Saishuu Sensou ("Final Wars"), but she also wrote horror and mystery stories. I believe that most of her mystery-related output is concentrated in her Alice series, which was published from 1974 until 1978 in various magazines. The first story, Run Alice, introduces us to the young girl Alice, whose rich parents (who were never around anyway) have recently died. Her uncle and aunt want to inherit the immense family fortune, and hire assassins to kill their niece. What follows is a comedic adventure with Alice ending up at an all-boys school and become friends with a boy there called Dick Tracy. At this point, it's hardly a mystery stories, but the second story, The Stolen Jewel, is definitely an orthodox mystery story, where at a school party, someone's jewel is stolen. The plot is borrowed from G.K. Chesterton (which Yamada herself explains in a note at the end of the story), but it's a first step into a more classical mystery series.


What makes this series interesting for the reader is that Yamada used the characters of Alice, Dick and their friends in a very diverse manner. Yamada wrote for multiple magazines with different target readers, but Yamada would constantly adapt her characters for whatever story she wanted to write for the magazine. The pilot story is a comedic, slapstick inspired adventure that is very cartoon-like, while the fourth story, Where Did Our Summer Go?, is a pretty deep psychological thriller completely unlike the pilot story. Each of the nine Alice stories is completely unique in terms of atmosphere and as Yamada's artstyle also changed drastically in these four years, most of the time the stories don't even look like they belong together. You have a few classic murder case stories, but also theft cases and a few more psychologically-oriented thrillers. Heck, the very last story is actually a crossover with the science fiction Saishuu Sensou series, resulting in a really weird series 'finale' (it's best read as a spin-off). Overall, the mystery plots of the Alice series are seldom really impressive, but as perhaps one of the earliest proper mystery manga series with recurring characters and setting, it's definitely an interesting title in terms of history. All the Alice stories are collected in the volume Alice to Sannin no Futago ("Alice and the Three Twins"), though I think there's an older volume with the exact same title (other cover) that may not feature everything (and you can also find the various stories spread across different collections, to further the confusion).

One series that has definitely made into the history books on manga is Patalliro! by Maya Mineo. This shoujo comedy series that has ben running since the late 70s is about a short, arrogant and money-grabbing guy called Patalliro, who also happens to be the king of the really wealthy kingdom of Malynera. The core of this series is slapstick comedy, revolving around the wacky adventures of Patalliro, his friends Bancoran (a MI6 agent), Maraich (handsome assassin who married Bancoran) and Patalliro's personal army of "Onions" (handsome men whose uniform/hairdo makes them look like onions). The series is immensely popular with over a hundred volumes, an anime adaptation and was even recently made into a live-action movie-musical (based on the musical that ran before the movie).

Like The Simpsons, Patalliro! can take on many genres: sometimes it's just comedy, sometimes it's science fiction, other times they have occult adventures and of course, there are quite a number of mystery stories. There are in fact so many mystery stories, they have exclusively mystery-themed volumes of Patalliro!. They were on sale a few weeks ago, so I picked a few of the mystery volumes. Considering that Patalliro! isn't mainly a mystery series and that these detective stories are more like And Now For Something Completely Different episodes, I have to say I was quite amused by them. Sometimes the stories take some time to really move beyond the slapstick prologue and get on with the plot, but the story gets going, you'll come across the classic tropes like impossible thefts, locked room murders and whodunnits. None of the stories are truly brilliant, but they're also better than they have any right to be considering that Patalliro! isn't even a mystery series at heart. The plots are admittedly often simple and the experienced mystery reader can definitely quickly pick them apart, but they're well-constructed and they're perfectly fine as a mystery plots in a non-mystery series. For those interested, I know that at the very least, volume 29, 35 and 45 of the bunko releases are touted as mystery-themed volumes and there may be more of them.

Anyway, that's it for this Short Short. I'm still busy exploring the world of 70s mystery and horror manga, so I might return to this topic in a more extensive post in the future, and as for Kindaichi, the next volume is scheduled for October (as is the home video release of Detective Conan: Fist of the Blue Sapphire by the way!), so I'll probably review the full story then.

Original Japanese title(s): 天樹征丸(原)、さとうふみや(画)『金田一37歳の事件簿』第3巻; 山田ミネコ 『アリスと3人のふたご』; 魔夜峰央 『パタリロ!』第29巻

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Once Upon a Crime

"Be a detective and examine everything to unlock the doors of the mystery of time and space."
"MOTAS: Mystery of Time and Space"

Huh, apparently there are a handful of mystery novels in Japan about Escher...

After the Meiji Restoration in 1868, Japan opened up its ports for trade after centuries of closure, but that didn't mean foreign traders were free to go anywhere they wanted. Foreign settlements were opened at select places across Japan, most notably in Yokohama and Kobe. The foreign settlement in Osaka was located in Kawaguchi, and it also provided the home for a certain Dutch civil engineer called George Arnold Esher (who has a son called M.C. Esher...), who was hired by the Japanese government as an advisor, overseeing hydraulic projects like the restoration of the Yodo river in Osaka. One night Escher returns to Osaka after overseeing the harbor in Mikuni, when he is kidnapped and stuffed in a hansom coach. The threats by his assailants make it clear they're actually not after him, but a tradesman called Hans Boemler, but attempts at clearing up the misunderstanding fail. The blinded hansom doesn't allow Escher to see much, but he notices that his kidnappers brought him to the Kawaguchi Foreign Settlement (which is where he was heading anyway), and he's brought into a room, where he finds... the body of Boemler, who apparently had already been found and killed by his kidnappers' boss. With a body on their hand, and a mistaken abductee, the fiends decide to burn the place down, but Escher is miraculously saved from the fire. But in the subsequent investigation, one problem arises: Boemler's body was never found. Escher and his comrades try to figure out what happened exactly that night, but none of their theories work, and Escher would eventually leave Japan.

Morie Shunsaku takes up the case of Mr. Shioji in 2001, who is accused of murdering Udou, a businessman who together with a few other men beat Shioji up at the golf course, after Shioji assaulted them first. Shioji used to be a police officer, but he was basically crippled by Udou and his friends back when they were students and participating in the student riots in the 70s, giving Shioji enough of a motive for murder. Udou had been strangled on the street at night, and with witnesses stating they saw Shioji tailing Udou, and even someone who saw the murder happen from across the street, Shioji's guilt seems clear, but he swears that he never touched the man and that Udou was assaulted by some invisible ghost, as he saw Udou suddenly struggling and falling down on the street even though there was nobody around. This alone sounds like an impossible crime, but Morie also learns that in 1970, Udou's circle of friends was involved with a mysterious murder. The friends had been drinking near the warehouse district, when Hikura headed back home. He made his way through Ajigawa Tunnel (a deep, long tunnel running beneath the Aji River) and at the other end of the tunnel, he discovered the body of Toomi, one of the friends he had been drinking with. While Hikura had not seen Toomi when he left (meaning Toomi could've come here before him), Hikura did see Udou and the others before he left and none of them could've overtaken him to arrive at the tunnel earlier and commit the murder, as there is only one single road to the tunnel. Morie has a nagging feeling that the Ajigawa Tunnel Murder has some similarities with the George Esher case he read about in a pamphlet, and he decides to try to solve these cases too in Ashibe Taku's Toki no Misshitsu ("A Locked Space in Time", 2001).

Toki no Misshitsu is the tenth entry in this series starring the defense attorney Morie Shunsaku, who more often than not ends up amateur sleuthing. And as you can gather from my feeble attempt at a summary, it's also a very ambitious work, that tries to do a lot. I do have to say that the title can be a bit misleading, as while they talk about sealed spaces and locked rooms all the time, most of the situations aren't really locked room mysteries. The 1876 Escher case for example is called a sealed space because the Kawaguchi Foreign Settlement is a "sealed space" (extraterrorial ground) from which Boemler's body disappeared. The Ajigawa Tunnel murder is considered a "locked room murder" because the suspects were all located at one side of the tunnel and none of them could've made it to the other side of the tunnel without being seen by the reliable witness (i.e. the area between the witness and the victim was "a locked space" for the suspects, but the murder was possible for anyone on the other side of the tunnel). There is another problem presented in the prologue, where Morie is riding on the Aqua-Liner aqua-bus with a certain package, but he can't figure out how his opponent is going to retrieve that package and escape from the police, as the canals and rivers of Osaka basically make any quick escape impossible. The only real impossible crime situation is that of the Udou murder, where the defendant says Udou was attacked by a ghost, and a witness says he saw the defendant assault the victim, but even then it's not really a locked room mystery. So the title is rather misleading.

To be honest, the four "sealed space" mysteries are not likely to make much of an impression if taken alone. The solutions for both the Aqualiner mystery and the Udou murder are fairly simple to guess and I wouldn't be surprised if you had seen similar answers elsewhere. The Escher and the Ajigawa Tunnel cases are more interesting, as their underlying trick is the same if the execution is different, and Morie manages to solve the Ajigawa Tunnel case only because he figured out the Escher case. It has to be noted that once again, their base idea is nothing particularly inspiring, but at least the synergy is here between these cases, and it is interesting to see how two completely different situations, set in very different times, are ultimately built around the same notion, and the way it ties back to M.C. Escher (who makes an appearance as a kid) is pretty neat. I actually thought this novel to be packed way too full (besides the four "sealed space" mysteries, there's even a code cracking section, and more), and personally, I think a novel only focused on the Esher and Ajigawa Tunnel cases would've worked better, as the other elements in Toki no Misshitsu feel far less integrated compared to these two parts. There is not that much synergy between the various parts, so at times the novel does feel like a collection of various mysterious events, rather than one cohesive story (especially as there's just so much going on in this novel across various time periods).

I've mentioned in earlier reviews of Ashibe's work that he loves weaving historical and literary research into his stories: the pastiche stories with famous fictional detectives in his The Exhibition of Great Detectives series (Part 1 and Part 2) are excellent examples of how Ashibe not only shows great understanding of the works he imitates, from writing style to publication history, but you also see how he does a tremendous amount of research in world history, as he also makes connections between his fictional tales, and real world events. His work is always brimming with historical references and explanations, which can also backfire a bit: I thought Satsujin Kigeki no Modern City  was going a bit overboard with its explanations of basically everything in 1930s Osaka. With a story set in the three distinct time periods (1876, 1970 and 2001), you're sure to find plenty of references and historical explanations in Toki no Misshitsu too, though I didn't find it as intrusive as with Satsujin Kigeki no Modern City. You are sure to learn a lot while reading this book, but the way Ashibe uses the historical A.G. Esher for his mystery for example is pretty neat and a good example of how to do a historical mystery. It's also clear that Ashibe loves the city of Osaka, and as always, you're always seeing a lot of the Water Capital in various forms. The amount of research in the city's history can sometimes a bit overwhelming and distract a bit from the main mystery plot, but readers into atmosphere will definitely love Toki no Misshitsu, and Ashibe's in general, I think.

I might not be the ideal reader of Toki no Misshitsu, as I freely admit I'm a reader who focuses more on the core mystery plot and less on "story". Personally, I think a tale focusing solely on the two most interesting situations, the Escher and Ajigawa Tunnel cases, would've worked better than the way it is now, with a lot going on. The idea of using Escher and the Kawaguchi Foreign Settlement is quite original though and the idea of a "sealed space" mystery with the tunnel is also interesting, even if the "locked room" moniker is a bit misleading. I do think that people who really like to read "an epic story" will like Toki no Misshitsu as Ashibe really went all-out here, with so much mysteries to be solved in the city of Osaka, spanning a period of more than a century.

Original Japanese title(s): 芦辺拓 『時の密室』

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Famous Mistakes

「いろりろおききするのが、私の仕事でして」
「失敬な人だな。いったいどこの局?名前と所属を聞いておくよ」
「名前は福家です。所属は警視庁捜査一課です」
『相棒』

"It is my job to ask questions about everything."
"Do you know how rude you are? What station are you working for? Give me your name and your department."
'My name is Fukie. My department is the Metropolitan Police Department, Division 1."
"Partners"

Now I think about it, I don't really read many inverted mystery series. Sure, Conan and Kindaichi Shounen have some occasionally, but I haven't actually read a whole series that consists solely out of inverted stories... (with the Columbo and Furuhata Ninzaburou novels/short stories being exceptions, but not really series on their own in the first place).

Earlier this year I reviewed Ookura Takahiro's Fukuie Keibuho no Aisatsu, the first volume featuring the inverted mystery stories starring Lieutenant Fukuie of the Metropolitan Police Department. Ookura had in the past written several official Columbo novelizations for the Japanese market and the inspiration the Lieutenant Fukuie series takes from his grand predecessor are quite easy to pick up. Fukuie is a youthful-looking, small woman with frameless glasses who is often mistaken to be a college student, reporter, secretary or anything but a police detective, but she is in fact one of the sharpest officers in Division 1, in charge of homicide investigations. The first impression of most people is that of a scatterminded, clumsy woman, who has a knack for losing track of her police badge, but the real criminals soon learn that Fukuie is more than meets the eye, as the efficiency with she works, as well as her eye for fine detail usually put her right on their trail. Fukuie Keibuho no Saihou ("The Second Visit of Lieutenant Fukuie, 2009), which also carries the alternate English title of Reenter Lieutenant Fukuie, contains four stories told from the perspective of the criminals as they're being cornered by the Lieutenant, from a popular screenwriter who comes up with an elaborate fake abduction to secure his own alibi to one half of a comedy duo who takes drastic measures in order to break up his partnership.

Not much time passed between me reading the first volume and this second volume in the series, which usually indicates that this is a series I enjoy, obviously. And it is! Granted, the stories are all relatively short and because each of these stories follow the same inverted style, they eventually feel somewhat alike as most of the time the set-up of the core plot is rather similar (criminal comes up with perfect plan to commit murder, unforeseen happening during the crime allows Fukuie to solve the case), but nonetheless, this is great entertainment, and like an episode of Columbo, much of the joy comes from seeing how Fukuie slowly but surely manages to creep up to the murderer with evidence. Part of the fun also lies in the diverse backgrounds of each of the stories. In one story, you'll be reading up on the world of vinyl figures and counterfeit toys, the other is about a manzai stand-up comedy duo and the entertainment industry. Each story touches upon completely different worlds, so at least in that aspect, this series never disappoints. Like many of the Columbo episodes, the criminals are usually people who have been succesful in their lives (or at least in the past). Different however is that most of the murderers in this volume are driven to their crime because they're being blackmailed for a past mistake. Only one story features a motive that is closer to the "immediate gain"/"removing an obstacle" motive often seen in Columbo.

I didn't mention it in my review of the first volume, but the Lieutentant Fukuie also resembles Columbo due to the comedic undertones. Fukuie being mistaken for all kinds of people, the way the forensic investigator Nioka always ends up having to tag along with Fukuie as she goes off on a hunch of hers and the numerous hints to Fukuie's private life all bring some lighthearted moments. Fukuie makes no hints about her husband or any private relations, but she reveals herself to be a big fan of stand-up comedies and even children's action hero series, and it's a mystery how she manages to watch them as she never sleeps whenever she's working on a case. A lot of comedy is also derived from the many, many side characters who appear each story. Each story is usually divided in about 10 segments, and often, four or so of them are about related parties, like acquaintances of the victim or culprit or just the waiter from an often-frequented restaurant, getting a visit of Fukuie. These segments are usually very short, five or six pages, each featuring characters who only make their one appearance then, so while the stories are relatively short and the core crime fairly compact, you'll always see quite a few characters pass by as you follow Fukuie's investigation. These characters are also surprisingly well-defined despite their short time on the stage, and they too often lighten the mood.

Like I mentioned in the other review however, I do find it hard to write down my thoughts on the individual stories, as it's so easy to spoil too much about them. Their inverted nature mean that the reader will always know more than the Lieutenant and that much of the underlying mystery plot is revealed right from the start to them: from the way the murderer committed the crime to the lines of defense erected by them to divert suspicion. Most of the time, the mystery for the readers revolves around two points: how did Fukuie first start to suspect the true criminal, and how will she manage to prove her target did it? Usually, the trail is born because some unforeseen event occured during the crime, for example because the victim fought back or something else happened at the same time as the crime, and it's up to both the reader and Fukuie to deduce what that event is. This is also the case in the opening story, Max-Gou Jiken ("The Incident On The Max"). Harada Akihiro is the director of a home security company who who is an often-seen guest on television as an expert on his field, and his security company is preparing to do business in the States too. That is why Harada is desperate to hide the fact that long ago, when he started out as a private detective, he blackmailed people: it was this money that eventually made him the man he is now. His partner in crime then was Naomi, a freelance investigator. She too used her money to open her own business, but her bar has now folded, and with gambling debts too weighing her down, she turns to Harada "for old times' sake", with some audio tapes with incriminating conversations as her insurance. Fearing she'll forever keep him on a leash, Harada decides to kill Naomi. He invites her to the Max, a small leisure cruise ship that's usually carrying guests from Muroran, Hokkaido (Northern Japan) to Hakata/Fukuoka (Southern Japan), but  this time, the Max has been chartered by a tour operator for a overnight trip to the islands south of Tokyo back. Harada's plan is to kill Naomi and make it seem like another of her victims is the killer (as one of their men was sent to the Max too to keep an eye on Naomi). What Harada couldn't have guessed however that Lieutenant Fukuie would accidently become a stowaway on the Max (having lingered too long on the ship for a different investigation). Most of the mystery is already revealed to the reader, though it's a bit of a stretch of how Fukuie managed to guess that Harada would be present on the ship in the first place. The clue that proves that Harada is the killer however is done splendidly, with you knowing that something must have happened that neither Harada nor the reader know, but which Fukuie manages to deduce based on the same things both the killer and we know.

Ushinawareta Tomoshibi ("Lost Light") reminds slightly of the Columbo episode Negative Reaction, as it concerns a fake kidnapping. Toudou Masaya is a succesful screenwriter for both the silver screen and television, but nobody knows his hit debut work was actually stolen from a childhood friend who died young. Well, nobody except for a shady antiques dealer who happened to come across the same script when the friend's parents were selling the contents of their old storage. Toudou comes up with an elaborate plan to kill the antiques dealer. Mimuro Kanji is a unsuccesful actor who is a big fan of Toudou and even comes close to being a stalker. Toudou tells Mimuro he wants him to play the role of the kidnapper in his upcoming production. The final call is on the head of the director and the producer of the movie, so Toudou says he'll secretly go through the play together with Mimuro so he'll nail the audition. The two leave in secret to Toudou's villa in the forest to practice the role, but in reality Toudou's been secretly recording all of Mimuro's lines as a kidnapper. Later, he knocks Mimuro out, and uses the recordings to call his own secretary to fake his own abduction. Of course, Toudou kills the antiques dealer during his "abduction" and after his return to the villa, Mimuro is also silenced, with the scene looking as if Toudou killed Mimuro in self-defence. This is the longest story of the volume, with two murders no less, and it's certainly also one of the better stories in the series. Fukuie's suspicions are first pointed towards the curiosities at the abduction site. The clues are relatively "insignificant", but taken together really show Fukuie's suspicions are justified, like how the order of the shoes in the entrance was wrong, or how strangely enough, Toudou's laptop's battery was empty despite him having been captive for the day. The way Fukuie eventually manages to trap Toudou on the murder on the antiques dealer depends on a very old trope in inverted mystery stories, but the way this is set-up is good: Ookura leaves several incomplete and seemingly insignificant clues throughout the story that when taken together indicate a certain happening that forms the key to solving the case.

Aibou ("Partners") is about the manzai stand-up comedy duo Yamanote Nobori / Kudari, veterans in the trade but lately not doing as good as in the past. Half of the duo, Tachiishi Kouji, has been offered a chance to go at it solo, but his partner, Utsumi Tamao, is not willing to disband, at least not until the anniversary of the death of their mentor. The offer for Tachiishi however will not last for so many months. It also frustrates him that these last months, Utsumi has clearly been winging his gigs with Tachiishi, sometimes forgetting his lines or mistiming them, so Tachiishi decides the only way out is to eliminate his former partner. The plan is to lure Utsumi to their secret hide-out, a house they bought together long ago in the outskirts of Tokyo where they could practice their sketches. Knowing that Utsumi, who has lost his key, will try to climb the tree in the garden to get the spare key hidden in the potted plants on the balcony on the second floor, Tachiishi awaits Utsumi there to push him from the tree. He succeeds, but Fukuie, a fan of manzai comedy, quickly notices something's off. The greatest mystery here lies in the fact that Utsumi had taken a few weird actions before coming to the house (like dressing up in the clothing from when Yamanote Nobori / Kudari debuted). This is a riddle to both Tachiishi and the reader, so in that aspect, you're on level ground with Fukuie, who is still likely to figure things out swifter. Once you know why Utsumi did those things, it still takes a bit of imagination to arrive at the clue that will prove that Tachiishi killed his partner, but overall, this is a short, but nice enough story.

The final story is Project Blue. Arai Nobuhiro is the director of Swamp Imp, a project planning bureau that specializes in toys, coming up with toy designs, promotions for toys etc. 15 years ago however, Arai made money by manufacturing counterfeits of rare vinyl kaiju/monster figures. Nishimura, a toy modeler, has finally found proof of Arai's shady past, but Arai quickly eliminates this threat, and dresses the scene to look like an accident, with Nishimura "apparently" having been hit by his own car with bad brakes after he had parked it on a slope. When Fukuie first visits Arai, we learn his alibi for the murder: he claims he had been working on a model figure of the new version of Blueman. The hero of the show that is now airing will have a powered-up form next year, and final decisions on the design were only made last night by the TV production team: they immediately mailed the design to Swamp Imp, and Arai made and painted his prototype that same night, giving him the alibi. It's not particularly hard to guess how Arai managed to prepare his alibi, but the manner in which Fukuie eventually manages to prove Arai was at the crime scene at the time of the murder is again slyly done, with several smaller incidents that don't seem to mean much on their own, indicating an important event that had gone unnoticed by both the murderer and the reader until it's too late.

Fukuie Keibuho no Saihou is perhaps not very different from the first volume: here too you'll find four well-plotted inverted mystery stories that admittedly can feel somewhat similar in structure and in the way Fukuie manages to catch the culprit, but the stories are all really well done and the whole volume is a very solid read overall. It's very consistent in its quality, and I think for me, it'll be one of those 'safe reads' when I don't know what to read next and simply want something I know will be good.

Original Japanese title(s):『福家警部補の再訪』:「マックス号事件」/「失われた灯」/「相棒」/「プロジェクトブルー」