Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Make Me A Perfect Murder


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

Man, I love these stylized covers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 17, 2015

The Angel Wakes

「君の思い描いた夢 集メルHEAVEN」 (Garnet Crow)

If I can slide into your heart
I'll take away your sad memories
So you can make your way without any hesitation
To the place you dream off
"The Heaven That Gathers The Dreams You Imagine" (Garnet Crow)

I've been holding up writing this review for almost a month! And even now I have trouble writing my thoughts down. Anyway, once again a good lesson I should occasionally learn a little about the books I'm going to read.

A whole new life starts for Sakamoto Yuuko, when she finally enters the Junwa Girl Academy, a prestigeous convent-style boarding school. The absolute queen of her new environment is Asakura Maria, a third-year student who is the head of the student council and the idol for basically all at the school. Yuuko too becomes entranced by Maria, and is thus the more schocked when one day, Maria is found dead in her room. She appeared to have been pregnant and had a miscarriage, the blood loss causing her death, but for some reason the fetus was not found in her room. Meanwhile, Maria's parents hire private detective Rindou "Black Cat" Mineko to investigate Maria's death: Maria's big sister, Yuria, had actually died under the same circumstances, including the missing baby. Both Mineko and Yuuko discover that someone or someone called "Jack" is involved with what happened to Maria and some other mysterious events at the academy and the search for Jack is the main catalyst for the plot of Inui Kurumi's J no Shinwa ("The Myth of J"), also carrying the English title J-Girls Mystery.

Inui Kurumi debuted as a writer with J no Shinwa in 1998, having won the fourth Mephisto Prize with the novel. And as always with the Mephisto Prize, opinions on the book are quite varied (for more about the Mephisto Prize, see this review). The winners are usually mystery novels in a very broad sense of the word, some "normal" detective novels, while others lean more towards horror/entertainment. Of the few Mephisto Prize winning books I've read, J no Shinwa is definitely the first one where I really hesitate calling it a detective novel.

The story starts out as a detective story with an okay, be it a bit predictable horror vibe: an all-girls school with mysterious meetings in the night, the nuns walking around, the mystery of "Jack" and all. And Mineko starts off with a fairly normal investigation in the deaths of Maria and Yuria and the disappearances of the fetuses. J no Shinwa is an okay, but not particularly inspiring read in this first quarter of the book.

But then the book very quickly moves to the horror and science-fiction side of things. The solution to the deaths of Maria and Yuria is basically science-fiction, and sadly enough, not in a good way. Science-fiction can work perfectly well with the detective novel, like Asimov proved. But J no Shinwa gives the reader something close to "aliens did it and that explains everything". It is not in the least satisfying. The same goes for the horror aspect. Gothic horror has always been best of friends with the detective novel, but when it goes into Resident Evil-territories, you need to be at your A-game if you want to preserve a good balance between the logic of a detective novel and the insanity of a horror novel. It doesn't work here. The detective plot gets crushed between the horror and the science-fiction. And to finish things off, there's a good dash of the erotic novel to be found in J no Shinwa too.

I know a lot of people describe Inui Kurumi's novels as making them feel uncomfortable (kimochi warui as the Japanese would say) and indeed, the other Inui Kurumi book I read, Shitto Jiken, turned into something unexpectedly dark at the end, leaving a bad aftertaste. In a good sense of the word: a lingering taste of despair obtained from a piece of mass entertainment. I guess that one could say the same for J no Shinwa, but it's a bit more extreme here and I myself did not enjoy it very much.

In short, J no Shinwa is more a horror novel than a detective novel, and read as such, it's okay I guess, though Inui is doing his best at making you feel uncomfortable reading the book. Which I guess is the idea of horror. I myself didn't really like the book, but that's perhaps because I had expected a traditional detective novel from it. Go in with the right expectactions, and J no Shinwa might well be an enjoyable horror novel.

Original Japanese title(s): 乾くるみ 『Jの神話』

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Down the Mountain

flying fall down 
「flying」(Garnet Crow)

flying fall down
Taking flight I come falling down
To your side
"flying" (Garnet Crow)

Man, that's some awesome cover art, I thought as I was pondering about what to write as the introduction of this post.

Dutch lawyer Willy Hendriks is invited by his good friend Geoffrey Gill, the famous English detective, for a walking holiday through the Alps. They are of course not the only people with such plans and during their trip Hendriks and G.G. also meet some fellow mountaineers at the local inns and lodges. One of these mountaineers is found dead one day, having fallen from a cliff and while the deceased was not a particularly nice man during life, Hendriks, G.G. and another man who had spent the last few days traveling with the deceased help the police in arranging the whole business of getting the remains back to his homeland. While G.G. says nothing to the police, he is actually convinced the fall of the man was not just a simple accident and he slowly unravels the mystery that surroundes the death of the mountaineer in Ivans' De medeplichtigen ("The Accomplices", 1918).

Ivans, pen name of Jakob van Schevichaven, is often considered the first Dutch professional mystery writer who started his rather prolific detecting career in 1917 with De man uit Frankrijk ("The Man From France"), which introduced the world to the renounced international detective Geoffrey Gill (G.G. to his friends) and his friend Willy Hendriks, a Dutch lawyer who acts as G.G.'s Watson and the narrator of the stories. The debut book and the second book (Het spook van Vöröshegy or "The Ghost of Vöröshegy", 1918) are quite entertaining to read, as Ivans keeps pushing the plot forward and the reader is kept guessing, but the mystery plots are not very strong: the impossible crime angle of Het spook van Vöröshegy for example is very weak, while the whodunnit plot of De man uit Frankrijk is a bit unbelievable.

De medeplichtigen is the third book in the G.G. series and I enjoyed it a lot more than the first two books. The deductions are actually fairly interesting (and don't feel like they're coming out of nowhere for a change), and while the plot has some similarities with De man uit Frankrijk, I'd say that De medeplichtigen is easily the better version of the same idea. Also, G.G., as the Sherlock Holmes-character, is often in possession of a lot more information than Hendriks in a lot of the novels (he usually drags Hendriks along with one of his investigations, but does not tell him everything), but in De medeplichtigen it's good to see him actually investigating the case and the mystery right from the start, rather than seeing him "Yeah, I already know everything and all, but I can't tell you until the end of the book".

Interesting about the G.G. series is that there's actually a fairly strong focus on character development. Hendriks meets his not-yet wife in the first book, is married by the second, has adopted a daughter by the third. Several friends and acquaintances met in earlier adventures also return in later adventures (which also happens in De medeplichtigen). It's not really neccessary to read previous adventures, but it's funny to see how Ivans slowly fleshed out the world. The G.G. series is also surprisingly internationally oriented. Ivans is a Dutch writer and we have a Dutch lawyer as the narrator, but most of the adventures are set in other countries like France, Hungary and Germany.

De medeplichtigen is the first G.G. novel I really just liked, without any real complaints about the mystery-side of the plot. I have to be honest though and say that of the four, five novels I've read, this was the only one that succeeded in that. The G.G. novels are always fairly entertaining reads (in terms of thrills and little mysteries thrown at the reader), but often the pay-off at the conclusion turns out to be quite disappointing with rather weak explanations for everything. De medeplichtigen however was fun. 'Nuff said.

Original Dutch title(s): Ivans "De medeplichtigen"

Friday, September 4, 2015


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

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

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

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

Detective Conan manga & movies:
Part 1: Volumes 1 ~ 10
Part 2: Volumes 11~20; The Timebombed 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 volume 70, 72~76, 78, 82~87 and the films Quarter of Silence (15), The Eleventh Striker (16), Private Eye in the Distant Sea (17), Dimensional Sniper (18) in the library)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 3, 2015

The A.B.C. Murders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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