Wednesday, February 24, 2021

How Watson Learned the Trick

"I'm lost without my Boswell."
"A Scandal in Bohemia"

Not sure if anyone reads the page, but I added Turn of the Golden Witch to the Umineko no Naku koro ni playthrough memo.

I love short story collections, but it always takes so much time to write the review...

Ooyama Seiichirou has been churning out incredibly well-written puzzle plot short stories since his debut, so obviously, any news of a new short story collection immediately attracts my attention, even without me knowing what it's about. Though in this case, the premise also sounded so much fun I knew I had to read it. Wato Souji is a rookie police detective assigned to the top investigation unit of the Metropolitan Police Department, which sports an unbelievable rate of solved cases. Unlike his colleagues however, Wato himself is not exceptionally good at his job. Yet, it is absolutely thanks to Wato that his unit does so well, even if his team members don't realize that. Ever since Wato was a little, he has had a weird gift: people in his physical vicinity become better thinkers when faced with a mental problem. When Wato's around, it's as if the mist suddenly disperses and any person becomes capable of infering the possibility of an Atlantic or a Niagara without having seen or heard of one or the other, from just a drop of water. Wato has dubbed his unique talent the "Watson Force" as everyone around him unconsciously turns into Sherlock Holmes. Nobody knows that Wato is making people around him smarter, but his colleagues do notice things go more smoothly whenever Wato's around, so they like having him on the team. While Wato himself is not affected by his power and thus can not become a Holmes himself, he does have a trait only series detectives have: he tends to get involved in random murder cases even outside work. Luckily, the cases are always solved for him by everyone around him. But what if Wato finds himself in trouble without anyone around? Ooyama Seiichirou's  2020 short story collection Watson-ryoku  ("The Watson Force") explores Wato's ability in seven (+one) diverse stories.

In game-lingo: Wato's Watson Force is a passive ability that greatly buffs the intelligence stats of all friendly and enemy units around him.

The first time I heard of the premise of these stories, I just knew I had to read them, because the concept was just so funny. An ability that makes everyone else brilliant detectives, while the series protagonist is destined to play the Watson in each and every story? What's so interesting about these stories that you never know who in the end will end up as the detective. Everyone in the vicinity of Wato receives the temporary mental boost, but that doesn't mean that all the characters arrive at the same conclusion at the same time. Everyone is just getting a mental boost, so they all start forming theories about the murder cases they find themselves involved with, and as these characters present their theories to each other in fierce deduction battles, they slowly work together towards the true solution. All the characters always have something to add in terms of interesting theories (okay, some theories are less likely to be true than others), and the fun in these stories is seeing everyone bouncing off theories until one of them finally figures the whole thing out. But as there's no established series detective, you simply never know who will get it right. I once wrote an article about false solutions and the foil detective, but Watson-ryoku presents a brilliant method to prevent the reader from knowing a solution is fake simply because it wasn't the series detective who proposed it: by not having a series detective in the first place, and creating the possibility that every character besides Wato can be the Sherlock Holmes, you just never know what might come, which keeps the battle of wits and the whole plot exciting until the very end.

Take the opening story Akai Juujika ("The Red Crosses") for example. Wato is enjoying his Christmas holiday at a small ski pension, which has three other guests. On Christmas morning, the guests find that the owner of the pension hasn't prepared breakfast yet, nor is there any sign of the owner's sister, who also works here. The guests check the private rooms of the owner, only to find that brother and sister have been shot to death in their respective rooms. The owner however managed to leave a dying message while he was bleeding to death on the floor: five red crosses are drawn in blood in front of him. Wato reveals to the other guests that he's a police detective and notifies the local authorities, but they aren't able to come due to a blocked road and when Wato also discovers that there are no footprints in the snow whatsoever leading away from the lodge, he determines the murderer must be one of the other guests. At this point, his Watson Force kicks in, and lo, the other guests start their own investigation into the murder, arriving at a surprising answer to the question as to the meaning of the red crosses and the identity of the murderer. The story keeps both the characters and the reader on their toes by having the three guests all become brilliant detectives in their own right, allowing each of them to propose rather interesting theories about the double murder. Some of these deductions are sometimes a bit forceful: they usually turn out to be wrong, but do serve as a point for other deductions to build upon as elements turn out to be true. Having some of these "Holmeses" propose slightly farfetched theories that ultimately do help introduce the final solution works in the context of this series, as all the characters are capable of coming up with fairly original insights into the case. I like the final solution too: it's in the spirit of the Van Dine/Queen school, with a chain of reasoning based on the physical state of the crime scene ("why is this here in this form?"), giving a plausible reason why five crosses were drawn on the carpet and showing you step by step how to arrive at the identity of the murderer from there.

In Ankokushitsu no Satsujin ("The Murder in the Dark Room"), Wato has been given a ticket to the exposition of a famous sculptor. The exposition is held in one of the underground floors of a multi-tenant building. It's still early, so besides Wato, the sculptor himself and the receptionist, there are only two other visitors, but suddenly they all feel a rumble and all the lights in the room go out. It turns out a sink hole has appeared just outside and that broke the sewage pipes. Not only is the elevator disabled, water has also flooded the emergency staircase, preventing the party from opening the escape door to escape through there. Fortunately, rescue is on its way. It's still completely dark in the room as the people introduce each other using their cell phones as light source, but suddenly, they hear another thud, and they find that the sculptor himself lying dead on the floor, having been hit on the head. But why would someone decide to kill the man here and now, while they're all trapped in an unlit room and with no means of escape? Some of the theories proposed do feel like they come out of nowhere, and it's still weird when they turn out to be partially true, as a build-up for the actual solution despite being such daring deductions (guesses), but I do like the idea behind the reason for why the sculptor died: the motive relates to a very specific set of circumstances that happen to be true here and gives plausible reason for why the culprit acted so suddenly.

Kyuukonsha to Dokusatsusha ("Suitors and Poisoners") has Wato be summoned to a remote private island as a potential husband for Sasamori Tsukiko, the daughter of Sasamori Shunsuke, CEO of the renowned and influential Sasamori Electronics. Sasamori once spotted Wato being a kind person to the elderly and determined he was a good candidate as a son-in-law. Sasamori is also a personal friend of the Superintendent-General of the Metropolitan Police Department, who hopes his subordinate will be chosen by Tsukiko. Three other suitors are also summoned to the private island and the idea is that Tsukiko will spend some time with everyone there and make up her mind. The other three suitors are all in career fast tracks at various ministeries and they immediately realize that Wato isn't not a serious rival for any of them, which ironically means they can be friendly with him. The party has just arrived on the island and started on some drinking and dancing when one of the suitors falls dead on the floor: his drink had been poisoned. The trope of multiple suitors fighting for the same girl and one of them being murdered is a familiar one of course, but now the remaining suitors don't just fight it out, but actually use logic and theories to fight each other and figure out who the murderer is. It's a surprisingly complex story, with various theories that focus on questions on when the drink was poisoned and whether the victim was actually the intended target and not (and how to prove that logically). As always, you never quite know who's on the right track until the very end. This story makes very clever use of the concept of the Watson Force, showing how it can be used in a very original way to drive the plot and create a mystery that actually revolves around having all the characters come up with various solutions from different angles.

Yuki no Hi no Majutsu ("Snow Day Magic") is set during Wato's time as a patrol officer. One early morning, he notices a car parked near the construction site of a new house. He decides to check this out, and walks up to the house, when Miyagi, the owner of the halfway house, comes running out. Upon seeing Wato, Miyagi tells him he found a dead body inside. The victim was lying face down on the foundation of the semi-basement floor. The man's been shot to death just moments earlier. There are no footprints in the snow surrounding the site that could belong to the murderer, only those of the victim himself and those of Miyagi, but these footprints show that Miyagi had only just arrived at the house and as he wasn't carrying the pistol on his body when Wato ran into him, Wato determines Miyagi couldn't be the killer. What complicates matters however is the fact that the victim and Miyagi are both members of the same shooting club, and they were rivals in being picked for the Olympics. A deduction battle sparked by the Watson Force starts upon arrival of the victim's family, who are convinced that Miyagi did it. A story which reminds me of Ooyama's The Locked Room Collector, as this too is an impossible murder that is ultimately solved through Queen school logic. It's a story that could've worked as "just" an impossible murder story, without the various characters trying to outsmart each other with their theories, but it's just more entertaining this way, as you see how Ooyama slowly builds towards the final solution, which is a nice one: the method of the murder is interesting on its own, but what's most commendable is how Ooyama arrives at this method through a logical examination of the circumstances of the murder, making it not just a random guess, but a carefully built-up chain of logic leading to the realization of how the impossible murder was done.

Kumo no Ue no Shi ("Death Above the Clouds") is obviously set inside a plane, one that is going from Japan to Los Angeles. It's not a busy flight, so Wato has the three window-side seats for himself, as does the man in the row behind him. Soon after the 'lights out'' time however, the cabin assistant notices that all's not well with the man behind Wato and after calling for a doctor aboard, it's determined the man is dead and that he was likely poisoned on board. Wato reveals himself to the crew and sky marshal as a police detective and they start investigating the murder on the Japanese-American, focusing on the question why the man died on board: was it a suicide or a murder, and why during a flight? Some of the theories proposed are a bit too farfetched this time, but they are needed to set-up the final solution and I guess they work in this particular series because anyone can be as brilliant as Holmes, even if they're going in the wrong general direction. The explanations proposed by the various characters keep the reader engaged as they tackle the problem from different angles, and I like how the final solution builds clearly on an earlier idea that had been discarded first, but which becomes "valid" again due to the introduction of a new fact, changing the circumstances again.

Tantei Daihon ("Detective Script") is one have discussed in the past already, as it was included in the anthology Honkaku Ou 2019. It's written as a homage to Abiko Takemaru's Tantei Eiga and follows the same basic idea, about a playwright who barely survived a fire in his home. What also barely survived the fire is the script of his troupe's upcoming murder mystery play. The partially burned scenario only offers the start of a murder mystery that happens on a remote island, but not the solution. The actors start discussing the script and guessing who the playwright intended to be the murderer in the presence of Wato (who saved the playwright from the fire). As the discussion continues, each actor comes up with a solution that indicates their own character as the murderer. I'll just copy-paste my own words here from the previous review: "Tantei Daihon is still a surprisingly tightly-plotted story with several fake solutions. The final solution is clever: if you just follow the clues "straight", you're likely to run into a wall, but once you figure out the true meaning of a certain passage in the screenplay, everything is turned upside down, allowing you to arrive at the correct solution. I love this type of whodunnit setups, where you can cross out most of the suspects if you simply carefully follow each clue, but there's one final clue that asks for a bit more imagination in interpretation, which can turn everything around. Short, but satsifying."

The culprit isn't the only one who's unlucky in Fuun na Hannin ("The Unlucky Perpetrator"): Wato's on a late highway bus heading for Toba when the bus is suddenly hijacked by an armed man, who's just has had enough of everything and forces the driver to change destination. When one of the passengers doesn't seem to listen to the hijacker's orders, they discover that this man has been stabbed to death with a knife. Wato can't do much about controlling his Watson Force even in an emergency situation, so the passengers and the hijacker start thinking about how this man was killed on the bus while the bus is headed towards its new destination. Interesting situation! It's funny how everyone starts playing Holmes right in the middle of a hostage situation and that even the hijacker plays along. This story does a great job at foreshadowing, placing Chekhov's Guns at the right place and time and finally bringing it all together for the final solution. The base plot of this story does remind of the previous story (murder inside a moving closed circle situation), but the solution is completely different and I like this one better as the various events that occur throughout the story really come together to form a cohesive plot.

While these stories were originally published seperately, the volume Watson-ryoku also includes a overarching storyline presented through special connecting segments that act as intermezzos between the various stories. The book starts with Wato waking up in a locked room. He remembers he was abducted by an unknown figure, and Wato suspects his capture is related to his Wato Force, so he starts reflecting on the previous cases that were solved through the Watson Force, introducing the seven stories discussed above. In the conclusion, it's revealed who captured Wato and for what reason, and it's perfectly possible to deduce who the abductor is based the few theories Wato himself proposes and the details of the previous stories. Interesting to see how these originally unconnected stories manage to form one narrative in the end.

Watson-ryoku definitely didn't disappoint, and the volume turned out to be a very entertaining short story collection, that not only has an interesting premise with the Watson Force, but makes the best of that original idea too: we have battles of the wits with all kinds of theories (false solutions) in all the stories, the reader is kept on their toes as you never quite know who will propose the final solution and while the basic plots of a few of these stories do feel a bit similar, with closed circle situations and relatively 'simple' murders like poisoning or just someone bludgeoned or stabbed to death, the core mystery plots always revolve around very different concepts. Recommended material, and man, I can't wait to see a live-action drama: usually the detective is the greatest star in a series, but now you can have an all-star cast in each episode and have everyone (besides Wato) play the great detective!

Original Japanese title(s): 大山誠一郎『ワトソン力』: 「赤い十字架 」/「 暗黒室の殺人」 / 「求婚者と毒殺者」/ 「雪の日の魔術」/「 雲の上の」 /「 探偵台本」 / 「不運な犯人」

Thursday, February 18, 2021

The Eight of Swords

"He that killeth with the sword must be killed with the sword"
"The Doomdorf Mystery"

EDIT: Hey, the Famicom Detective Club remakes are also coming west! And with a May release, I really should speed up my Umineko playthrough...

Had to think of that art history professor I once had who had a real Japanese katana and actually walked around campus with the thing to show it off in the lecture room when the topic came up in class one day.

It's a misty afternoon when the clever detective Sharaku Homura and her Watson Yamazaki "Karate Kid" Yousuke make their way back home after school, when they are suddenly attacked by a masked figure with a Japanese sword. Or where they attacked by a Japanese sword, with a masked figure? According to the figure, the Demon Sword Shikabanemaru craves blood and the Demon Sword has now taken control of the mind of some poor man in order to have a wielder of its power. Karate Kid manages to fend off the assailant, who flees, but two men nearby overhear the two discussing Shikabanemaru: Masaki is a fan of Japanese sword who was on his way to the elderly Izawa, who actually owns the Demon Sword Shikabanemaru. Izawa invites Homura and Karate Kid along side Masaki inside his house and tells them the story of the Demon Sword Shikabanemaru, a sword forged decades ago by an insane swordsmith who used the blood of a hundred young boys and girls to create the blood-craving sword. The sword disappeared from police custody after the swordsmith was executed, and since then Shikabanemaru has gone from one owner to another in the underground circuit, but every time, the Demon Sword manages to seduce its owner to go on a killing spree with the sword. Izawa bought the Demon Sword recently, but since then has been tormented by dreams of killing boys and girls, and he fears the sword has possesssed him.

Inside the house, the four inspect the Demon Sword Shikabanemaru, which is kept safely in a glass case. They unsheathe the sword and are relieved to see that it's completely clean: not a sign of blood anywhere on the blade, nor does it look like it was wiped clean of blood moments ago. The sword is placed back in the case, and the four start to talk about Shikabanemaru's backstory, but suddenly, they notice blood leaking from the sheath. They quickly get the sword out of the glass case and unsheathe it, only to find the whole blade covered in blood! But how can the blade of Shikabanemaru's blade suddenly be covered in blood even though it had been put inside a glass case, unless it's really a Demon Blade? Even Homura doesn't know what to make of this grotesque mystery, until she later realizes what really happened in Nemoto Shou's Youtou Shikabanemaru ("The Demon Sword Shikabanemaru" 2020-2021), issue 19 of Kaiki Tantei Sharaku Homura, which can be read at Nemoto's Note site.

Kaiki Tantei Sharaku Homura ("Sharaku Homura: Detective of the Uncanny") is a doujin comic (self-published comic) by professional comic artist Nemoto Shou, which in recent years has also seen a digital three-volume release by a major publisher (reviews of the first, second and third volume here). The series is an excellent mystery comic focusing on impossible crimes and a great example of how to do fair-play visual mystery fiction in general, and they even have formal Challenges to the Reader! While Nemoto has released more issues beyond the material collected in the three collected volumes, there's been no talk yet about a fourth volume. I have however discussed a few of the non-collected issues already: Issue 16, Hagoromo no Kijo ("The Ogress With the Robe of Feathers"), was one of the best entries in the series about an impossible stabbing in a snow-covered field without any footprints of the murderer, while issue 18 Kourei Yashiki ("The House of Necromancy" 2020) presented an interesting impossible disappearance of a diamond. The latest issue too focuses on a non-murder mystery. Well, to be fair, a lot of people do die in the backstory of Shikabanemaru, but the main mystery of this tale is about how a clean, sheathed sword can suddenly become completely covered in blood.

Youtou Shikabanemaru is one of the shortest issues of the series and that is reflected in the mystery: for example, the list of characters is incredibly short, so most readers will probably have an idea who's most likely to be behind the magic of the bleeding blade, and from that point on, it's not that difficult to at least guess what they could've done to cause the blade to be covered in blood, even though it was clean when the sword was sheathed and put away in the glass case. The most obvious solution is luckily immediately discarded by Homura, as she shows that the easiest answer is definitely impossible, and this is properly supported by the artwork, which is always one of the things this series does best. But even so, the jump from there to the actual solution isn't that far, and it's basically a variation on the same idea. While I like the idea of the final hint Homura sees before she solves the case, I think the hinting could perhaps have been more focused on the specifics of what and how the culprit did it, rather than one step beyond: if for example the culprit did action A, for which they also needed to do action B, and for that they needed to do action C, the hinting in this story is focused on C, while it expects you to deduce A from that, which might be a bit too far, even most people will likely have a basic idea of what the solution will likely be. 

Speaking of stories about demon swords that possess people and tempt them to killing other people, I don't think I have read that many mystery stories about this theme, even if it sounds like an appealing concept. In fact, the first thing I had to think of was not a mystery story, but the action series Dororo, where one of the earlier stories is also about a demonic sword possessing a swordsman into becoming a ruthless killer (the PS2 game released in the West as Blood Will Tell is great and also features this story by the way!). I recall one of the short stories of Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo also having a demon sword/knife or something like that and I'm probably forgetting a few I have read/seen, but even so, it's surprising I can't name more of them instantly.

I liked Youtou Shikabanemaru, the nineteenth issue of Kaiki Tantei Sharaku Homura, probably better as a horror story (the epilogue!) than as a mystery story, even if it's honestly not bad. It's a short story, so there's only so much you can expect of it considering the page count, but it has an original impossible mystery and interesting backstory, and while the solution to the mystery of the bleeding blade might be not as surprising as you might hope, it's still a well-written story that most of all tries to be fair at all times to the reader. But I'll have to be honest and say that after two short murder-less stories, I'm definitely looking forward to a longer murder mystery for the next issue!

Original Japanese title(s): 根本尚(札幌の六畳一間)「怪奇探偵 妖刀屍丸」

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Death in the Park

Nor all thy piety nor wit shall lure it back to cancel half a line, nor all thy tears wash out a word of it
 Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám  (FitzGerald tr.)

Some of you may have noticed it already, but I added an extra temporary page to the site (via the bar on the top of the page on a PC browser) while I'm playing the mystery novel game Umineko no Naku Koro ni Saku to write down random thoughts, because it will probably take me ages to get through all the episodes and I'm bound to forget things about each episode. I've only just finished the first episode and it seems like subsequent episodes will give out more important information, so perhaps it's not even possible to solve the mystery at this point, but it won't hurt to scribble down some random ideas. You could take a look if you've already played the games and obviously you shouldn't look if you don't want to see (ROT13-protected) spoilers. I have switched off comments because I honestly want to proceed in the game completely blind though, so please keep that in mind. I'll probably mention it in the usual posts on the front page if I happen to update the Umineko page/whenever I'm done with another episode and for now, I think I'll just keep the page up until I'm done with the episodes in the Question Arc.

Yamada Fuutarou is best known for basically inventing, and perfecting the genre of historical fantasy novels starring ninja, like the classic Kouga Ninpou Chou ("The Kouga Ninja Scrolls"), which has also been adapted as the anime and manga Basilisk. His epic historical tales where clans of ninja waged war against ecah other with fanciful powers with technique names had a huge influence on not only the popular image of the ninja, but also popular culture in general: series like Naruto and Bleach are basically direct descendants of Yamada's work and would simply not have existed without him creating the popular battle manga formula. Yamada however started out as a mystery writer and he was quite good at it too: Meiji Dantoudai ("The Meiji Guillotine") and Youi Kinpeibai ("The Bewitching Plum in the Vase") are fantastic works in the genre for example.

Tengu Misaki Satsujin Jiken ("The Tengu Cliff Murder Case") is a volume originally published in 2001, the year Yamada passed away, and collects a wide variety of Yamada's mystery-themed stories which had not been collected in other volumes before. The volume is divided in four distinct parts, with each part offering a different view on the kinds of mystery stories Yamada wrote. As there are eighteen stories collected here, I'm not going to discuss them all, also because not all of them are really worth discussing in detail. Not all stories, or even parts are as interesting as others, so while this volume will show a very diverse Yamada, I wouldn't immediately recommend this book as an introduction to his work: the selection is just too wide and some stories are likely not to leave any lasting impression. It's similar in spirit to Oosaka Keikichi's Shi no Kaisousen I reviewed a few weeks ago in that regard.

Part 1 of this book collects the conventional puzzle plot mystery stories, with the title story as its centerpiece.  Tengu Misaki Satsujin Jiken introduces the reader to Shimazaki Hachirou, a middle school student who strangely enough has the tendency to faint whenever he sees something swing around. One day, he's had another of his spells, and his teacher Kurobane decides to accompany him back to his home to make sure nothing's wrong. While Hachirou's sleeping in the next room, his father decides to tell the woman about how Hachirou's mother came to die when he was still a baby. Because he was a sailor, the father was often away from home, and it appears his younger wife was having a secret affair. The Shimazakis home is at the tip of one of the cliffs of a bay: the cliff on the other end of the bay is known as Tengu Cliff and there's a little park there. The wife would always meet secretly with her lover at that park. One day however, while her husband was lying ill at home, she was found stabbed in the back in the park on Tengu Cliff, and witnesses only saw her, and later her lover climb the peak, so the man was of course accused of murdering his lover. As the teacher is listening to this story though, she points out how someone else could've murdered Hachirou's mother without being spotted on Tengu Cliff. As a howdunnit, it reminds a bit of the stories in Meiji Dantoudai ("The Meiji Guillotine") or some of Oosaka Keikichi's stories, with a rather mechanical trick behind it all. I think it's juuust running along side the line of being a convincing idea, or just beyond the realms of possibility, so some readers may think this is a neat idea, and some might find it hardly believable it could've been pulled off in this way. I still don't know what side I'm on. Another story worth mentioning in Part 1 is Kono Wana ni Tsumi Ariya ("A Sinful Trap"), which is a story that invokes Edogawa Rampo's Shinri Shiken (The Psychological Test), where a student is questioned about the suicide by gas of a friend. Feels a bit like Columbo with all the detective slowly pointing out contradictions at the scene. Futatsu no Misshitsu ("Two Locked Rooms") also warrants a mention because it's a weird parody story: it consists of two seperate "locked room" mysteries, one with "Ellery Vance" and the other with Professor Van Dusen "The Thinking Machine", but the solutions to both mysteries are clearly meant to be utterly silly (and even a bit science-fiction). 

To be honest, the reason I didn't want to write something on each story was because Part 2 and 4 were not that interesting. Part 2 in particular is easily forgotten, with Panchuutou Jiken ("The Case of Retribution against Whores Gang") being the 'best' story, about a mysterious gang who have been 'stealing' the belly buttons of prostitutes by basically sealing them off with a piece of skin. Nobody knows who's been doing these mutilations and some of them are even done under impossible circumstances, but ultimately it's a weird story, while Edo ni Iru Watashi ("I'm in Edo") is just plain science-fiction. The stories in Part 4 are regular short crime stories, but they're so short that I feel that even a short summary would be giving away too much.

Part 3 is by far the most interesting of the book and consists of five stories which form collectively the mini-series Onna Tantei Torimonochou ("The Case Book of the Female Detective"). In the first story, we are introduced to a trio of wandering musicians, considering of an attractive female singer Mika and her two companions (an elderly man and a child). It turns out these three are out for revenge due to something that occurred to their home in Okinawa, and the "princess" and her retainers are looking for those who caused the tragedy. Each time, the three manage to trace one of the people they seek, but their targets always happen get to murdered under impossible circumstances, and it's up to the princess to swiftly solve things so they can move on and find the rest. The stories are all very short, but most of them have pretty neat ideas that could also have been used for longer stories. Sadly enough, this series kinda stops halfway in the tale, so there's not really much closure to the whole deal.

And yes, this review of Tengu Misaki Satsujin Jiken was rather brief. There are just too many stories of varying quality here to discuss, and that should also give you an idea about what kind of book this is: it's not an introduction to Yamada Fuutarou's mystery stories, and I'd definitely recommend starting somewhere else first, because this collection is best explored by people who already have some idea of Yamada's detective stories. You won't find his best work here, though I have to say I really liked the five stories with Mika and her entourage.

Original Japanese title(s): 山田風太郎『天狗岬殺人事件』: 「天狗岬殺人事件」/「この罠に罪ありや」/「夢幻の恋人」/「二つの密室」/「パンチュウ党事件」/「こりゃ変羅」/「江戸にいる私」/「贋金づくり」/「三人の辻音楽師」/「新宿殺人事件」/「赤い蜘蛛」/「怪奇玄々教」/「輪舞荘の水死人」/「あいつの眼」/「心中見物狂」/「白い夜」/「真夏の夜の夢」

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Death of a Butterfly

今すぐ キミに会いに行こう
I'll become a happy butterfly, and glide on the glittering wind
To come see you right away
"Butter-Fly" (Wada Kouji)

Oh man, I have a backlog of more than ten unwritten review posts now. I really should get started on them and not play videogames...

Buddy Collection is an ongoing episodic otome-lite mystery videogame developed by Narutrick, which can be played for free on browsers and smartphones. The overarching story is about Nagisa, a student of a detective high school with the curriculum not only including theory classes on various topics of use for detectives, but also practice classes where the students get to work on real cases for study credits. The school also utilizes a 'buddy' system, with two students always working together. Nagisa and her buddy belonged in the top A Class of the school, but during one of their investigations, Nagisa's buddy went missing and she lost her memory. During her recovery, she's put in the lowest E Class, which consists of three students who have trouble finding a right buddy due to personal problems. Each episode in this series has Nagisa working with three possible E Class buddies on different cases, while she also slowly uncovers more about why she lost her memories and where her own buddy has gone to.

In 2018, an enhanced version of the first episode was released on Switch with the title Buddy Collection if - Shukumei no Akai Ito- ("Buddy Collection If -The Red String of Fate-") and while it was a short and simple game, I did find it entertaining and was looking forward to more of this series be released. As I am writing this post, three episodes are already playable for free on PC/smartphone, but it seems developer Narutrick has some problems getting these regular episodes out on Switch. That's why they created a completely original Buddy Collection entry exclusively for the Switch, as a side-story occurring somewhere during the events of the main episodes. Buddy Collection Extra - Kochousou no Kimyou na Gonin ("Buddy Collection Extra - The Curious Five Persons at the Butterfly House") starts with Nagisa being sent off on a case with a buddy of her choice, but to the duo's surprise the case is solved almost immediately. They make their way back to the train station, but all trains have stopped running due to the storm, and it's impossible for the two to find a hotel. Luckily for them, their client contacts them: with the storm going on, it's too dangerous to ask them to come back to their place to stay for the night because it's too far, but she arranges for Nagisa and her buddy to stay at the place of someone she knows who lives near the station. The two high school detectives are picked up by Outarou, a somewhat shifty man who lives in the Butterfly House, indeed not far from the train station by car, but still located right in the middle of a lonely forest. He tells his two new guests that he has three other guests staying at his house that evening too: friends of his sister Ageha who died exactly one year ago. She committed suicide one year ago by setting fire to her room, but while her brother arrived before the fire really got going on, she had already passed away due to the smoke. During the evening, Nagisa and her buddy notice that there's some tension in the room and that there's more to this gathering of Outarou and Ageha's three friends, but the two detectives couldn't have known that the following morning, they'd find one of them would be murdered. Due to the storm and the very sturdy exterior lock, it's unlikely the murderer is an outsider, so who of the remaining people in the Butterfly House is the murderer and why?

The Buddy Collection games are a combination between novel games (digital Choose-Your-Own-Adventure games) and otome games (story-driven videogames targeted towards women that usually focus on a protagonist developing a romantic relationship with one of the eligible characters): in the first episode, picking a certain buddy meant you'd spend more time with them, learn more about their backstory and even slightly alter the mystery plot because each of the buddies had different talents. Buddy Collection Extra builds on this idea in an even more entertaining manner: at the start of the game, you get to pick who your buddy will be, and each buddy actually leads to a completely different murder mystery set at the Butterfly House: all the scenarios feature different murder victims, they're killed in very different circumstances and the clues leading up to the confrontation are also all different. So you're basically getting three different stories that happen to be using the same basic setting. I started the game with Haruka as my buddy for example, and the victim in that scenario was someone who lived in the two other scenarios. The different scenarios also make good use of the various talents/characteristics of the various buddies: Shingo for example has an instinct to just make correct guesses and while that puts him on the trail of the murderer of his scenario very soon, he has trouble finding actual evidence to support what his gut feeling is telling him, while Haruka has trouble getting things done because he can't physically stand seeing blood.

Also: you know something is going to happen in the Butterfly House because for some reason all the rooms lock automatically. Why would anyone have autolock in their own home?!

So basically, you're presented three different murder mysteries in this game. None of them are really long (an hour or so), and the plots and gameplay are therefore not that complex (a few story-changing choices that either lead to the next chapter or a game over, but you can redo them immediately), but they are fun enough and while the three stories do use the same basic setting and characters (the personalities/backstories of all the characters remain the same throughout the three different story variations), the mysteries are different enough to not make it feel like you're just playing through color variations of the same idea. The Butterfly House is named so because both Outarou and Ageha loved butterflies, and there are also butterflies and butterfly models kept throughout the house and the three scenarios all utilize this theme of butterflies in different ways. What's also interesting is that each scenario will reveal bits and pieces of the common back story regarding Ageha's death, but not everything. For example, my first playthrough with Haruka eventually revealed how certain members of the cast really though of each other, but that relationship is not explained in the other routes and left vague. It's only by playing all the scenarios that you'll truly get a good idea of what really played between Outarou, Ageha and her three friends. This is also seen in the manner in which the game collects clues for you: some clues are put in a route-specific menu, other information is put in commonly shared data pool, as those clues pertain to the backstory all routes share. 

When you have played all three seperate routes, you'll unlock one final route where you visit the Butterfly House not with one buddy, but all three of them! It's the grand finale to the game, finally revealing what really happened a year ago with Ageha, but I like how the game works on a meta-level too: a lot of information pertinent to the case is known to the player, because they have played the game with three seperate buddies and uncovered a lot of information through those routes. The final route expects of the player of course that they have that knowledge now, but that wouldn't make sense for the in-game characters who visit the Butterfly House for the first time. However, the story does a good job at changing the events just ever so slightly due to the presence of three buddies, explaining how the characters learn the information the player had already learned through previous playthroughs. The final story is a good ending that brings the three seperate routes together in a nice way.

So in all in all,  Buddy Collection Extra - Kochousou no Kimyou na Gonin was fun to play. It's not a long game by any means, but it tells a nice story by making clever use of the concept of having three distinct buddies/scenarios to tell three different murder mystery stories, and also rewarding the player for playing through all three scenarios, as you learn more about the underlying story as you go through them one after another. I certainly hope that the main episodes of Buddy Collection will also be released on Switch in the future, as a side-story, this one did not disappoint at all.

Original Japanese title(s): 『Buddy Collection Extra -胡蝶荘の奇妙な五人-』

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

The Clue in the Old Album

 "In the name of Fermat!" 

I honestly first heard of Fermat and his last theorem from watching Trick.

Special events were organized in both the United States and the United Kingdom in 2006 to celebrate the centenary of the meastro of locked room murder mysteries John Dickson Carr, but Japanese fans were of course also thrilled to learn the special occassion wouldn't go unnoticed in their country too. One of the highlights of the special exhibition scheduled for Japan is Carr's own personal copy of Introduction to Unsolved Mysteries, a book gifted to him by the Carr Society. This journalistic work discusses several cases which were, at the time, unsolved because they seem utterly impossible. As a writer of impossible crime mysteries, Carr enjoyed reading this book, and he also loved trying his own hand at solving these real impossible mysteries himself. Whenever he was sure he got the right answer, he'd scribble some vague hints in the margins of the book. While Carr kept his answers mostly to himself, some of the cases discussed in Introduction to Unsolved Mysteries were actually solved with the help of Carr, who sometimes realized the truth was too important to keep hidden for the sake of the survivors. Four cases are known to have been solved with the help of Carr's notes: two during his lifetime, two after his death. But one case with Carr's notes remains unsolved to this day: while Carr knew the answer, the truth was taken with him to the grave and nobody has been able to decypher his cryptic notes yet, leaving the so-called 1938 East End Spontaneous Combustion Case still a mystery. Why did a notorious arsonist suddenly burst into flames and why was the carpet he had been standing on left completely unscathed? The cryptic hints Carr left behind are now known as John Dickson Carr's Last Theorem.
A group of seven has gathered in the holiday villa of the Tomosaka family, a major sponsor of the Carr exhibition in Japan. Son Yuuya himself is a great fan of John Dickson Carr and has persuaded the owners of Carr's Introduction to Unsolved Mysteries to lend them the book to study it for a day, before the exhibition starts. The study group is arranged as an officially college-sanctioned project, and Yuuya has invited a few of his study mates from the Science faculty, as well as Professor Taylor, an American who will help the students read the book and act as the supervisor. And of course, these people are all great John Dickson Carr fans. But tragedy strikes in the late afternoon, when everyone has a few hours for themselves: Yuuya is found dead in the Japanese garden in the inner court of the villa, and he's been shot to death with a harpoon. The harpoon was brought here by one of the students for when they would go diving. It appears Yuuya was shot by the murderer with the harpoon in the pool room, and because death had not been instant, Yuuya had tried to escape through the French windows into the garden, where he died. As the harpoon was found lying in the pool room, and no other footprints are seen in the pebble stone covering the garden, it's assumed the murderer just let Yuuya die in the court, but they soon learn this is impossible: workers had been busy in the hallway that afternoon due to a leak, and the two men swear nobody went in or out the corridor that led to the pool room while they were working there, meaning the murderer couldn't have escaped the pool room after killing Yuuya! John Dickson Carr may have solved several real-life crimes in Introduction to Unsolved Mysteries, but will his notes, and his Last Theorem also come in handy in solving their new crime in Tsukatou Hajime's 2020 novel John Dickson Carr no Saishuu Teiri, which also has the English title John Dickson Carr's Last Theorem?
Last year, I reviewed a short story collection by Tsukatou Hajime that was inspired by Ellery Queen: this time it's a novel inspired by John Dickson Carr. Though you may also have heard of the short story of the same name. Back in 2006, a special anthology was released in Japan to celebrate the centenery of John Dickson Carr, and Tsukatou Hajime wrote John Dickson Carr's Last Theorem for that book. Tsukatou extended that story into a full-fledged novel last year. I haven't read the original, but I assume the core ideas are the same.
Though I assume that a lot has been added, because this mystery novel is really packed, with no less than three impossible murders. Two of these are from Introduction to Unsolved Mysteries and were originally solved by Carr himself. The first involves a pistol which is said to slay only the wicked and that the bullet will always finds its target. One afternoon, the elderly owner of the pistol shot at her window, saying she couldn't resist the pistol's call anymore and that evil had to be killed. At the same time, the confidence trickster who tormented her husband and caused the familys financial ruin is found to have been shot to death while lying in the hospital. It is determined that the bullet did indeed come from the magic pistol, but the victim couldn't have be shot by this pistol: the hospital lies in the complete opposite direction from the window from which the widow shot, and you even have to cross the bridge across a river to get to the hospital. And the only window in the victim's hospital room wasn't even looking at in the direction of the widow's home. So how could she have shot him? The situation is alluringly complex, so it shouldn't surprise you that the solution also involves more than a few steps and I have to admit that personally, it felt a bit too contrived because of that, with too many 'moving parts' (which add more risk) all just to engineer the scene of a magic bullet for the reader. It's a clever, practical solution to the initial problem, but it can feel rather forced. I can also easily imagine lots of people loving this story though. Just don't count on using Carr's hints to solve this crime. They are far too vague, and even after reading this book and knowing what the hints are about, I still think it's impossible to infer the truth based on what Carr scribbled in the margins.
The scribbles that make up John Dickson Carr's Last Theorem are also not really handy if you want to solve the East End case yourself, as they are far too vague, but I do like the basic idea of this case. How come the victim was found lying on an intact carpet, even though some moments before, people saw him standing on that carpet while literally being in flames. The solution to this is surprisingly simple, but what makes this an interesting story is that a notion that features in the solution of this case, also applies to the current-day murder on Tomosaka Yuuya. So by solving John Dickson Carr's Last Theorem, you also gain an important clue to the real-time case. I'm personally a big fan of such ideas, with parallels between cases but not just simply 'hey, this murder was committed the same way as that other murder", but with more abstract mirroring of dynamics/concepts/etc. The same also holds in a way for the magic pistol tale, though not as strongly (I suspect the "first'" case was not part of the short story version of this novel).
The current-day murder is the most fleshed-out case in the novel of course, and it's a very nice conundrum! You have the impossibility of how the murderer escaped even though the hallway was under observation and there were no footprints of the murderer in the pebble garden in the courtyard (and there's only one other exit from the courtyard anyway). There's also the powered-up harpoon as a unique murder weapon, results in the grotesque scene of the harpoon being plunged in the victim's body, but that it's still connected through a line to the shooting apparatus lying in the pool room. The mystery is set-up in a fairly large manner, which allows for a few characters to try and come up with their own theories about how the murder was committed. It results in some interesting discussions where theories are proposed and discarded and ultimately even fairly elaborate (false) solutions are presented. I'm a bit torn on the one "major" false solution: the starting point for this theory is good, and it's great how this contradiction actually does lead to the correct solution if taken into a different direction, but the false solution features a lot of elements that are rather shoddy ("and then he somehow managed to arrange for that to happen, and then..."), so it's hard to take it really serious. The final solution is fun though! Like I mentioned, it has some parallels with the unsolved cases from the past, but applied in very different manners and while imagining it makes it look a bit silly, it's actually very well thought-out, with especially the major contradiction that at first seemed to lead to the false solution being brilliantly turned around to explain what really happened in the garden. Definitely the highlight of the novel.
I have to say the motive for the current-day murder, and the way the book ends doesn't really work for me. A lot is left rather vague, which may have worked in the short story version, but now it feels underwhelming and almost cheap in the sense that it avoids giving you any clear answer about what next. Perhaps more fanatic Carr-readers might like the ambiguity of this ending, but I'd have preferred more closure to the tale.
But any John Dickson Carr fan will probably have a blast with John Dickson Carr no Saishuu Teiri. It's brimming with (actual accurate) references to the writer, as well as an interesting fictional backstory with the Last Theorem and other cases he supposedly solved and the main murder also serves as an interesting impossible locked room mystery. I have a feeling I might've preferred the short story version perhaps, but I think most will absolutely love the parade of impossible mysteries put on display here.
Original Japanese title(s): 柄刀一『ジョン・ディクスン・カーの最終定理』

Saturday, February 6, 2021

Sabotage at Sports City

All that glisters is not gold
"The Merchant of Venice"

I've always had a weakness for murders mysteries where the crime occurs during a public event like a sports match, though I guess I haven't seen many where the crime occurs during the award ceremony...

Defense attorney Naruhodou Ryuuichi enters the Judicial Olympics as a contestant because his assistant Mayoi has set her eyes on the special tour of entertainment parks all around the world awarded to the gold medalist. The Judicial Olympics are organized by the International Judicial Federation to determine the ace attorney-at-law of the world. Naruhodou is surprised to see that his old opponent, the prosecutor Godot, is head director of the Judicial Olympics, but also to spot other familar faces among his fellow participants, like his rival Mitsurugi Reiji and the whip-carrying prosecutor Karuma Mei. Naruhodou learns from Mitsurugi that there have always been shady rumors about the International Judicial Federation and that he's making use of this special event to investigate the Federation. The contestants compete in several weird competitions like a rap courtroom battle and dance-offs, and after several days, the winner of the Judicial Olympics is finally determined. But right after the winner is given the gold medal, one of the contestants is murdered on the ceremonial stage. At first, it appears clear as day that the protestors against the IJC who jumped on stage with the knife in her hand committed the murder, but Naruhodou isn't quite convinced. The IJC too wants to play an open hand and it's agreed that the suspect's trial will be broadcast live on television, with Naruhodou as her attorney. Can he find out what really happened in the 2019 stage play Gyakuten Saiban: Gyakuten no Gold Medal ("Turnabout Trial - Turnabout Gold Medal")?

If you read this blog often, it's impossible to not know the Gyakuten Saiban/Ace Attorney franchise, as it's featured a lot here. While it started out in 2001 as a comedic mystery adventure game series starring a defense attorney defying unsurmountable odds in crazy trial, it's grown to be a multimedia franchise, with spin-off games (like this and this one), an anime, mangamusicals, novels, drama CDs, and stage plays. Three stage plays were performed between 2014-2016, being Gyakuten Saiban – Gyakuten no Spotlight (“Turnabout Trial - Turnabout Spotlight”), Gyakuten Saiban – Saraba Gyakuten (“Turnabout Trial – Farewell, My Turnabout”) and Gyakuten Kenji -  Gyakuten no Teleportation ("Turnabout Prosecutor - Turnabout Teleportation"): all three of these plays were produced by the same company and featured more-or-less the same cast. Gyakuten Saiban: Gyakuten no Gold Medal however features a new cast and also feels quite different from the previous three plays.

With so much spin-off material available, it shouldn't surprise when I tell you that some of this material is designed to attract new audience, while other media is pure fanservice that'll mostly only appeal to existing fans. The live-action film and the manga for example are obviously designed to appeal to a wider audience, hoping to capture new viewers from a new medium and bringing them back to the original games, but the stage plays have always been produced with existing fans in mind, which is pretty logical considering the limited number of viewers a small stage play can attract. The stage plays were full of inside jokes, with familiar characters being put in new situations to entertain the viewers and motions or scenes made to invoke the feeling ofthe original games. But still, I'd say the previous stage plays were also workable as standalone mystery plays (especially the first and third one), with plots that were relatively focused on the core story and not just character interactions.

Gyakuten Saiban: Gyakuten no Gold Medal however seems more focused on fanservice than the previous plays, resulting in a play that might be entertaining for existing fans of the genre, but it's not going to be that interesting for those who are primarily looking for a mystery stage play. The play is a bit over two hours long, but the first hour is basically just fanservice: the Judicial Olympics are just an excuse to see the familiar characters in situations you'd otherwise see them in, like a rap battle or a catwalk competition. While I'm a fan of the franchise, I've always been more interested in Gyakuten Saiban as a mystery franchise rather than as a character-focused drama, so while the idea of Naruhodo rapping might be fun, I was utterly bored for the first hour or so because basically nothing of importance occurs in regards to the mystery plot. One or two scenes might've been okay, but an hour long of 'hahaha, look at our characters in these wacky scenes!' is too much for me.

The murder finally happens during the award ceremony of the Judicial Olympics, but the mystery plot this time is not particularly interesting, to be honest. Gyakuten Saiban is at its best by pointing out little contradictions one after after, the argument slowly crawls towards a grand reveal. What made the games fun was that the contradictions were solvable by the player themselves using the evidence available to them and that that it showed how by even solving relatively easy contradictions, you could eventually reveal a greater picture. In Gyakuten Saiban: Gyakuten no Gold Medal however, a lot of the deductive moments that could have been more memorable, fail to be really impressive, as often, the 'evidence' needed to contradict a point is either kept completely out of sight or tucked away in a tiny corner on the set, so when Naruhodou suddenly says that something's wrong and shows the evidence to back his story up, the viewer is not impressed by his deductions, but just wondering where the hell that evidence just came from because it surely hadn't been shown to the viewer yet. At other times, the story tries to be clever with 'in plain sight' clues that just fall flat because the logical jumps to them cover too much ground. Ultimately, when you look solely at the mystery of the man who got stabbed at the ceremony and the circumstances leading up to that, it's disappointingly minor and easy to see through.

A sequel to this play, with the same cast, was originally going to be performed in spring 2020 by the way, but it was put on hold due to the pandemic. For the moment, it seems they still plan to do it whenever it's possible, but the story introduction at least makes it sound they'll stick to the more fanservice-focused approach with that play too...

So unlike some of the previous stage plays in this franchise, I'd say Gyakuten Saiban: Gyakuten no Gold Medal is really just for the existing fans, and not worth watching if you're not familiar with the franchise and only looking for an interesting mystery play. As a detective story, there's just too little that manages to impress, with too much distractions going on that, resulting in something that's just so uninspired and contrived you're wondering why it also needed an hour of fanservice as a set-up. Your mileage may be very different if you're a fan of the characters of the series and want to see them thrown in all kinds of crazy situations, but even then it's hard to deny the core mystery plot feels like it's playing second fiddle to the fanservice

Original Japanese title(s): 『逆転裁判 逆転のGold Medal』

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Open-Door Murder

The more the merrier! When the number of suspects is continually increasing, and the number of corpses remains constant, you get a sort of inflation. The value of your individual suspect, of course, becomes hopelessly depreciated.
"The Woman in the Wardrobe"

Hey! Hey! I finally got started on Umineko no Naku koro ni Saku. With a bit of luck, I'll have a review by the end of the year! Also: an old man crying out the same name over and over again is no way to start a game!

If possible, I usually prefer to read a mystery story in its original language. But this is not always a viable option, even if the book was originally released in a language I can read. The most obvious reason is of course when the original book is out of print and going for a hefty price on the used market, while a translated version is easily available and/or cheaper. Roger Scarlett's Murder Among the Angells was one of those books for me, which I first read in Japanase. It would take another five, six  years after I read that book, before it and other Scarlett books became easily available again in English.

The same almost happened with Peter Schaffer's The Woman in the Wardrobe (1951). I first read about this book in some Japanese publication about locked room murder mysteries and while the Japanese translation was still available then, it appeared that was not the case with the English editions. It kinda fell of my radar then, but last year, I noticed a somewhat familiar-looking name on the release list of the British Crime Library Classics. Somewhat, I say, because as far as I knew, the author was called Peter Anthony, not Shaffer. Turned out that Peter Shaffer originally published the book under the name Peter Anthony, and that this was indeed a brand new release of the book I had read about earlier. So I decided to pick this release up to see what it was all about. The story is set in seaside Amnestie, at the Charter Hotel, which has a somewhat dubious reputation due to the couples who come here to spend the weekend. Private detective Verity has a villa in Amnestie and one early morning, he goes out for a swim when he sees someone climbing out of a bedroom from the window, into another bedroom. Verity goes out to inform the hotel manager of this rather unusual way to exit one's room, but then that same man comes running down to the lobby, saying someone's been murdered. They make their way to the room indicated, but find that it has been locked from the inside. When they finally get in, they find the victim lying on the floor, shot twice in his back. But they also find that not only the door, but the windows had also been locked from the inside, meaning this was a locked room and furthermore, inside the wardrobe, they find the titular woman: the hotel waitress was loosely bound and stuffed inside the wardrobe. Inquiries quickly lead to the conclusion that the victim, a Maxwell, was a blackmailer and that everyone in the hotel had something to do with him, but how did the killer escape from a locked hotel room?

I have to admit I find it hard to express my thoughts on The Woman in the Wardrobe in a way that does justice to both the core ideas of the novel as well as my own experience of it. To start with the conclusion: I think it's a fun novel, with a memorable core idea for the locked room situation, but it's also incredibly stretched out despite its relatively short length, and the plot would've worked much better as a short story. If you're looking for a fun, breezy read, The Woman in the Wardrobe is what you want, as it's a short and pleasant read with a grander-than-life character in the detective Verity and most of the cast is quite colorful too (though the person who thinks he's the rightful heir to the Throne didn't seem to add that much to the plot). But despite how smooth the book reads, I couldn't help but feel like half of the book could've been easily ditched for a more satisfying mystery plot.

The core locked room murder situation has a few interesting points: why was the room locked from the inside after the witness had left the room to warn the people in the lobby? What was the waitress doing in a locked wardrobe? Why were multiple people seen climbing in and out of Maxwell's room? Why did nobody hear the gunshots in the early morning? Schaffer throws all these questions and a lot of red herrings at the reader, but it didn't really work for me, because most of the smokescreen is just abritrary, contrived writing. It's having everyone in the cast doing all kinds of things at the exact right time solely to make the investigation more complex for the reader: it's one coincidence after another, like one person deciding to go to a room just around the exact time another character decided to do that too, or having another person stroll by to witness that "by accident", or having a accidental witness for one event that realistically could've totally unnoticed while another incident should've been heard by everyone else in the hotel and yet it just happened only one person did.  After a while, you realize Schaffer is just stretching everyhing out with events that are just there to make things seem more complex, but they just feel like arbitrary additions to a core idea, with next to no synergy with that core plot. They're filler. 

And it's a shame, because I do like the core solution to the locked room. You can explain what happened in the locked room with one single sentence, and it's this core explanation that makes The Woman in the Wardrobe a memorable novel: it's a variation on a rather familiar trope in locked room mysteries, but it still manages to surprise here, and the implications of the trick are right in line with the funny tone of this novel. But that is also why I'd have preferred a short story version of this idea, that focused solely on bringing this solution: now the plot is just meandering for the sake of meandering and I also think it weakens the moment the truth is revealed, as so much of the novel feels just like one contrived event after another. 

Though I suspect most people will not have any problems with that, and enjoy The Woman in the Wardrobe for the entertaining novel it certainly is. Many readers will probably have no problem with the way the story is structured, as it's a fun book to read and I definitely wouldn't want to discourage people from reading novel. Missed potential or wasted potential are terms I would find too strong myself too, but even now as I'm writing this review, a few days after I finished the book, I can't help but feel that The Woman in the Wardrobe is an amusing mystery novel with a good locked room situation, but it could've been an even better short story.