Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Magic of the Word

Magic of the Word
大丈夫 もしどんな明日に辿り着いたとしても
「Magic」 ( 愛内里菜)

Magic of the Word
It's okay, it doesn't matter what kind of tomorrow we'll arrive at
I can become stronger with just a single word from you
"Magic" (Aiuchi Rina)

I usually write the introducing paragraph as last and it is only now, at the very last moment, that I remember that the TV drama Trick features too features a magician detective rather prominently...

Many moons ago, I wrote a review of Awasaka Tsumao's Kijutsu Tantei Soga Kajou, a short story collection featuring a female stage magician. Unlike Jonathan Creek, Soga was not mostly occupied with impossible crimes, but it was still an enjoyable book. This was partly because the world of stage magic really came alive here: Awasaka was a prolific stage magician (who even won prizes for his performances!) and he made great use of his knowledge when writing the Soga stories. Today's book has a similar history: Clayton Rawson's The Great Merlini: The Complete Stories of the Magician Detective collects all of the short stories featuring The Great Merlini, a stage magician and amateur detective often called in by the police in impossible crimes. Rawson too was an amateur magician and you can feel the influence of that in each and every story in this collection.

I was kinda surprised I already had a Clayton Rawson tag on this blog, as I was convinced I had never read anything by him. But I had indeed read something by him, but written in his function as editor of EQMM. I think this was the first and only time I added a tag for an editor.

When I first looked at the table of contents of The Great Merlini: The Complete Stories of the Magician Detective, I was quite surprised at how many stories it featured. But then I discovered that many of these stories are actually very short stories, some just a few pages. They are quite amusing though and I can absolutely appreciate how minimalist these stories are (I don't love Q.B.I: Queen's Bureau of Investigation for nothing!), but it also means I'm not even going to try to discuss these stories separately: they are just too short and I'd give away too much even with a short description. In general, these stories feature one simple problem and the solution usually hinges on just one single hint or mistake by the murderer. Nothing deep and they feel a bit like Encyclopedia Brown stories at times, but like I said, I quite like this format some times. For those interested, the titles of the stories are: The Clue of the Tattoed Man, The Clue of the Broken Legs, The Clue of the Missing Motive, Merlini and the Lie Detector, Merlini and the Vanished Diamonds, Merlini and the Sounds Effects Murder, Merlini and the Photographic Clues and The World’s Smallest Locked Room.

From Another World is the first 'normal' short story and features that famous variant of a locked room murder which has been sealed with tape from inside. A wealthy financier obsessed wih ESP conducts an experiment with a psychic in his office, which has been sealed off with tape to make sure nothing could interfere. That kinda troubles the subsequent investigation in the man's death though, who was found murdered inside the taped room. The solution... is actually always the very first one I think of when I think of the taped locked room trope, so that was kinda disappointing. There are some minor details that make it a bit more interesting, but in general, this is a rather simple story. I haven't seen that many examples of the taped locked room that really impressed me, now I think about it. Heck, at the moment, I can only remember Arisugawa Alice's Malay Tetsudou no Nazo, and that was just an okay one.

I heard Off the Face of the Earth often mentioned as a fantastic impossible disappearance story and it is! A self-proclaimed alien (who looks like a normal human being) claims he can foretell the future and prophecies the disappereance of a girl, who actually does disappear at the stated day and time. The alien then prophecies another disapperance, that of Judge Keeler, whom has been the subject of a corruption investigation. The police keep the judge under constant observation and on the exact day and time foretold, two policemen see the judge enter a phone booth at a train station. But the man doesn't come out and when the policemen go check, they discover the judge is gone, even though they kept their eyes on the booth all the time! Very well plotted and constructed impossible mystery that very much feels like stage magic being performed. Easily the best of the volume.

Nothing is Impossible, the title says, but aliens entering to an locked office, killing one man, stripping another man of his clothes (without messing up their arrangement) and then walking out through the walls is kinda improbable. But it does seem like that's what happened at first sight. Of course, the Great Merlini shows there might be another possible explanation for this all. That explanation is a bit improbable too however, as it means a risky plan with a rather low effort/gain ratio for the murderer. The fundamental ideas (yes, there are multiple plans going on here) are sorta okay, but they don't seem to be used to their full extent here.

Miracles—All in the Day’s Work has Inspector Gavigan be a fortunate, or unfortunate witness to a locked room murder (he was just on his way for some days of rest), when his friend is found murdered inside the office. The biggest problem of this story is that the solution seems way too obvious from the beginning. Yes, there is more to this story with an ingenious plan of the murderer (ahem) with tricks and gimmicks and gadgets and all, but all of that is meaningless if you can figure out the murderer by just asking a very fundamental question that I'm sure anyone would ask themselves.

All in all, I'd say that The Great Merlini: The Complete Stories of the Magician Detective is a decent story collection. Off the Face of the Earth is a keeper, and there are some okay short shories. I'm actually more a fan of the short shorts in this collection than of the 'normal' short stories, but anyway, I certainly enjoyed my first encounter with the Great Merlini and I hope to tackle the novels soon.


  1. In defense of "From Another World," it was the first use of that type of explanation for a tape sealed room and the trick has been reused by others. Even Aoyama used it for one of his Conan stories!

    The tape sealed room was part of a challenge between Rawson and Carr to see who could come up with the best solution for the problem. You might find Carr's answer in He Wouldn’t Kill Patience interesting, because it offers a completely different explanation.

    And beware of No Coffin for the Corpse! Not the best of locked room mysteries/detective novels.

    1. He Wouldn't Kill Patience is certainly one of the Carrs I've heard mentioned often, so I might take a look at that book soon.

      I have to admit, I was a bit confused as your opening for No Coffin for the Corpse was "it's one of the most entertaining and intriguing locked room mysteries I have read for some time – and if the solutions live up to their expectations, it's easily better than Death from a Top Hat." The second half was less positive :P

  2. I'm surprised you didn't mention that the solution for "From Another World" is exactly the same as one featured in a Detective Conan case

    1. Well, I have to admit: I forget a lot of Conan stories. I've been reading the series pretty much real-time and for over ten years, and with about 12~15 new stories a year, memories of most of the cases usually turn into a messy goo in my head. Even now you explictly mention the case, I can only vaguely remember that such a case happened, but I can't remember any of the detais ^_~