Wednesday, November 21, 2018

The Case of the Distressed Lady


"I might be speaking out of line, ma'am, but you're simplemindedness is basically the level of kindergarten"
"How About A Locked Room On Holy Night?"

I very seldom read books by the same author one after another. No matter how much I might like a writer, or for example when I suddenly become hooked on a certain series, I almost always wedge another book in between. I guess I just like to have some variation, and not stick with an author for more than one book at a time.

Nazotoki wa Dinner no Ato de series
Nazotoki wa Dinner no Ato de
Nazotoki wa Dinner no Ato de 2
Nazotoki wa Dinner no Ato de 3
Nazotoki wa Dinner no Ato de (first impressions TV drama)
Nazotoki wa Dinner no Ato de (theatrical release)
Nazotoki wa Dinner no Ato de (audio drama)

Today's book is therefore a rare exception. Last time, I reviewed Higashigawa Tokuya's Nazotoki wa Dinner no Ato de, an excellent short story collection of which I knew the contents already from the 2011 TV drama adaptation. I had bought the book long, long ago, but it remained on the to-be-read pile because I wanted to forget most of the details of the drama before reading the original stories. After reading that book however, I decided to continue with the sequel, which I had bought together with the first volume back in 2012. Nazotoki wa Dinner no Ato de 2 ("Mystery Solving Is After Dinner 2", 2011) continues the adventures of the female police detective Houshou Reiko, who unknown to her fellow officers, is in fact also the insanely rich heiress of the Houshou Group. Each day after work, while she's enjoying a luxurious dinner, she likes to lament about her well-meaning, but not particularly competent superior Inspector Kazamatsuri and the difficult cases she's saddled with, but her mysterious butler Kageyama always manages to solve the cases simply by listening to his mistress' stories. Unlucky for Reiko is that Kageyama also has a very sharp tongue and he doesn't hold back his (polite) comments about his mistress'  intelligence as he explains how it was done. This collection features another six of these mysteries to be solved after dinner.

It shouldn't surprise the reader that this second volume is simply 'more of the same'. Each story follows the same rough outline of Reiko and Kazamatsuri coming across a new murder and them questioning everyone involved, and at the end of the day, Reiko tells Kageyama everything, who solves the case like the armchair detective he is (even though he remains standing of course, as he's a butler). The stories do have a tendency to feel a bit alike after a while (especially as I read the first two volumes after another), and often revolve around a crime scene with something out-of-the-ordinary (a naked body; a victim who had her hair cut after the murder; a victim who had her boots on in her apartment even though that's not done in Japan). Usually there are three suspects, and the key to solving these stories is figuring out why the crime scene turned out the way it did, and from there deduce who it was. For those who saw the drama: I think every story here was also adapted for the series (together with the stories from the first volume), but if I remember correctly, some of the stories were mashed together for the two-part finale.

Alibi wo Goshomou de Gozaimasuka ("Would You Like An Alibi?") has Reiko and Inspector Kazamatsuri working on the murder of a 35-year old woman, who was found in the staircase of a largely empty tenant building. The coroner's report, and a sighting of a neigbor who saw her leave the apartment building, put her death between 19:45-21:00, giving the victim enough time to get from her apartment building to the place where she was killed. The main suspect is her ex-boyfriend, who dated her for seven years, but suddenly dumped her so he could date, and soon marry, the daughter of an executive of his company. The man has an alibi though, as he spent the early night with an old colleague, after which he spent two hours in a cafe, as vouched for by the owner of that coffee shop. Kageyama's explanation for how this alibi was created has some really good ideas, and some less inspired ones. The way Kageyama explains why it is very likely that the suspect is indeed the murderer is absolutely brilliant: the hint for this is hidden both in your face, but also subtle enough for anyone to read across it (I know I did). But once pointed out, you realize how obvious it should've been. The way the alibi was actually done however is far more crude, and a bit disappointing considering how good the set-up was.

Koroshi no Sai wa Boushi wo O-Wasurenaku ("Don't Forget Your Hat During A Murder") has Reiko and Kageyama vistiting Reiko's hat shop, as she's working on a case that is connected to hats. A woman had been killed in her bath tub, and it was discovered that not only the victim's phone and computer were missing, but also her hats from her closet. But who would want to steal a woman's hat collection? This is a very tricky story, but the moment Kageyama explains why the murderer would want to take the hats with them is fantastic: the explanation is logical, convincing and one can see that Higashigawa did his best at setting everything up, though it still requires a bit of imagination on the part of the reader. Once you know why, the story turns into a whodunnit, and while it's a simple one, it's expectly plotted, even complete with a false solution! Definitely one of the best stories in this volume.

Satsui no Party ni Youkoso ("Welcome To The Party With Murderous Intent") starts with Reiko arriving at the hotel where the sixtieth birthday party of the father of her friend/rival Ayaka is held. Ayaka, Reiko, as well as two other heiresses, were all members of their university's seasonal sports club, and have kept their friendship/rivalry alive all the time. During the party, the daughter of the owner of the hotel (who was also acquaintances with Reiko and her friends) is assaulted in the glass house on the roof garden of the hotel. The only thing the victim could say before she was taken to the hospital was that was assaulted by a woman in reddish dress, who she didn't know, but looked familiar. Besides Reiko and her three friends, there were only three other women who answered to the description of the attacker, but who of them was the assailant? Again a story that has strokes of true genius, but also elements that feel a bit underwhelming. One part of the mystery is basically only solvable if you know a certain piece of trivia. A different clue in regards to the identity of the attacker is very tricky, and perfectly executed here. The setting of this story is used to its fullest to make this trick possible, and it's quite easy to imagine how this would've gone. It requires the most careful of readers to even get an inkling of what is being played here.

Seinaru Yoru ni Mittsutsu wa Ikaga ("How About A Locked Room On Holy Night?") has Reiko in a somewhat bad mood on the morning of December 24th, especially after Kageyama asked what her plans were for the night. She takes the bus to her work, but runs into a woman who says her friend was killed. The victim was living in a small house, which save for the entrance was encircled by a concrete wall, with everything covered in the snow of the night before. The only tracks leading to the entrance were the foottracks to and away from the house made by the friend who discovered the body, and a bicycle track made by the victim when she came back last night. At first sight it seems the victim might've fallen from the loft, but the neighbor's testimony of having seen someone's shadow after she heard the fall that would've killed the victim, seems to suggests it was murder. But how did the murderer escape the house without leaving any traces in the snow? Like Koroshi no Sai wa Boushi wo O-Wasurenaku, this story can be tricky, as it requires you to deduce the existence of an object that has not been mentioned explictly before, but I think it's much easier in this story. Once you get to that point, it's almost a straight line to figuring out how the murderer escaped the house. The whodunnit is simple and short, but surprisingly well done, with subtle hints that allow you strike you out the people who certainly couldn't have done it.

Hanayagi Electric Appliances was a household name, even before the scandal, and then the tragedy became the talk of the town. Hanayagi Kenji having a mistress was a scandal: him dying in a traffic accident was a tragedy. But tragedy never comes alone, we learn in Kami wa Satsujinhan no Inoch de Gozaimasu ("Hair Means the Life of a Murderer"), as one morning, the housekeeper of the Hanayagi household wakes up to find something burning in the living room, where she finds a dead body. At first, she mistook the body for one of the family, but it turns out the victim was Yuuko, Kenji's niece, who often came to visit the Hanayagi home to visit her cousins. Usually, the housekeeper would recognize her of course, but for some reason, Yuuko's beautiful long, black hair had been cut and burned in the fireplace. Strangely enough, I've read a couple of stories about bodies of whom the hair was cut (here and here for example), and this one is another interesting one. Deducing why the hair had been cut can be a bit difficult, I think, though there are a couple of nice clues that hint at something big behind the missing hair. This story is definitely not plotted as tightly as previous ones, but still an okay story.

Kanzen na Misshitsu nado Gozaimasen ("There Is No Such Thing as a Perfectly Locked Room") is about the death of an artist: on the day of his demise, his niece and a freelance writer were about to enter his atelier, when they heard him cry out and something loud fall: inside the atelier, of which the wall was covered in a gigantic fresco, they found the artist with a knife in his back and a stepladder which had fallen over. At first sight, it seemed like he was working on the wall with the knife when he fell over, but it seems unlikely he could've stabbed himself in the back then. But if it was a murder, how did the murderer escape, as the two who first discovered the victim were standing in front of door of the building when they heard him scream, and there are no other windows in the atelier through which the murderer could've escaped. A story on which your mileage will probably vary a lot: I really liked the way the escape route of the murderer was hinted at, but I didn't like the escape route itself.  So the way Kageyama arrived at the solution, I thought much more interesting than the solution itself.

So while Nazotoki wa Dinner no Ato de 2 was not surprising in terms of story format, this volume was quite entertaining once again. Despite the short length of each of these stories, Higashigawa manages to come up with very intricately plotted whodunnit plots, with excellent clewing and also alluring crime scenes. Some of the things he manages to pull off here are really tricky, with some hints that are almost screaming in your face in hindsight, but always go undetected by the reader the first time. For people who have seen the drama, I'm afraid only the third volume has stories you don't know yet.

Original Japanese title(s): 東川篤哉『謎解きはディナーのあとで2』:「アリバイをご所望でございますか」/「殺しの際は帽子をお忘れなく」/「殺意のパーティにようこそ」/「聖なる夜に密室はいかが」/「髪は殺人犯の命でございます」/「完全な密室などございません」


  1. I love so much the episode with the hats. It has such an inspired and inventive solution.

    1. That episode is one of the best of the drama, and actually slightly different from the original story, as it adds one extra layer to the solution at the very end regarding the identity of the culprit.