Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Who Ya Gonna Call?

We’re not jealous of you at Scotland Yard. No, sir, we are very proud of you, and if you come down to-morrow, there’s not a man, from the oldest inspector to the youngest constable, who wouldn’t be glad to shake you by the hand.
The Six Napoleons"

Detective Conan isn't just a big mystery series, it is probably the biggest mystery multimedia franchise that currently exists in the world, with many, many forms of media that are being constantly released, ranging from the original comics to the weekly television series, real escape rooms, spin-off series, theatrical films, mobile games and everything. And one thing that is important in a franchise like this, is timing. Ideally, you want the various Conan-related projects to have some kind of synergy. One obvious example is how every April, a new Detective Conan film is released in Japan, which is accompanied by various other projects and releases to coincide with it, and even the original manga releases are usually timed in a way so there's a new volume released in the same week as the new film premieres. In more recent years, author Aoyama Goushou has even made sure that the April release of the collected volumes of his long-running series tie in one way or another with the new film of that year, for example by writing stories that provide some minor background or supporting details to the story of the film, or by having stories that feature on key characters also featured in the film.

Volume 102 of Detective Conan, released in the middle of September 2022, is a volume that is really curious when it comes to timing. Looking at the stories collected in this volume as a whole, I would say volume 102 is not a particularly remarkable volume, as it only features short, three chapter stories that as standalone mystery stories are also quite simple and not really the type you'll remember 100 volumes later, but you can sense this volume should have either released much earlier this year, or a few weeks later. Why? Because all the stories in this volume focus heavily on secondary cast characters of the series who belong to the various branches of the police force. In fact, the promotion surrounding this volume even says this volume features no less than 19 policemen and women, some of them being around since volume 1 of this series, some introduced as recently as the previous volume. The Detective Conan film of 2022, The Bride of Halloween, was released this 2022 and also focuses on the many police detectives we see in series, both alive and dead, and many of them appear in this volume too or are connected to these stories one way or another, so volume 102 really should have been the companion volume to the April release. Oddly enough, the home video release of The Bride of Halloween is scheduled for the second week of November (....after Halloween), while it would have made much more sense to release the home video version just before Halloween, and then have volume 102 release in the same week as the home video. But volume 102, on the whole, falls a bit flat now reading it in October, as a lot of what could've worked, feel a bit underwhelming.

The volume opens with the final chapters of The Case Memos Left by Date, which started in the previous volume. A curious code found in the notes of Inspector Takagi's deceased mentor Date put the gang on the trail of a kidnapping case which actually was still on-going. The Detective Boys, Takagi, Sato and... Amuro all work together to resolve this case, as cafe Poirot seems involved too. A very unremarkable story, even with the bits and pieces we learn about Date, a character who was already dead when he was first introduced in this series. Code cracking stories are seldom the best you'll find in any random Conan volume, and the same holds here. Conan has to crack a few codes and other puzzling messages before they figure out the kidnapping case, but almost none of them are really solvable for the reader. And no, not because they utilize the Japanese language, but simply because a lot of these messages can only be solved if you happen to know about the completely fictional buildings in the city and "well-known" facts that were created solely for this story. So the codes only work in hindsight and even then they're hardly satisfying.

The Message in the Secret Base starts with Kogorou, Ran and Conan visiting Gunma Prefecture and being asked by Inspector Yamamura to help with a rather vexing case: somebody has been murdered in the parking lot of a hotel, but the man has died on the border of Gunma Prefecture and Nagano Prefecture, and curiously, the body was lying exactly on the line indicating the border between the two prefectures, and now Inspector Yamamura (of Gunma) is having an argument with Inspectors Yamato and Morofushi of Nagano about jurisdiction. The victim, a Youtuber who was staying at the hotel with three fellow Youtubers, was also found in a very curious pose, which seems to indicate a dying message. Yamamura also happens to learn that a childhood friend he lost contact with, is actually the younger brother of Inspector Morofushi, another of those new interconnecting facts in the Conan world whichmakes the world feel a bit too connected and small as everyone apparently met each other in the past one time or another, Anyway, the mystery focuses mostly on why the victim died in such a weird pose, and whether any of his three friends could be the murderer, despite most of them having either an alibi or being found not in the possession of anything that could serve as the murder weapon (a blackjack). The "dying message" is a variant on ideas we have seen earlier in this series, so as a concept it's not really original, and the only thing memorable about this specific iteration is just how outrageous the execution of the idea is. The whodunnit plot is also rather simple, with the blackjack idea probably still the best part of this story: the visual clewing is rather clever: just curious enough to attract your attention, but difficult to really figure out what it means until it's pointed out to you. Conan does this kind of clewing more often, but I think this is one of the better times it was done.

Murder at a Matchmaking Party has Inspector Yokomizo (the younger one) participate in a masked matchmaking event in Tokyo. At the party, he happens to run into Chihaya, a traffic officer from the same police department, who is definitely not looking for a potential husband, but only here planted as a beautiful woman to attract men to the party, and she's getting paid and free food for it too! During the party, Chihaya and another woman (only known as "No. 24") turn out to be the most popular of the female participatns, being the no. 1 pick of several men at the party and they are given special time so the two women can choose with whom they want to go on a date: both Chihaya and No. 24 have four potential dates (Yokomizo being one of 24's picks), and each of the men get 10 minutes of private talking time in a special room to convince the woman they are the best pick for a date.  The men leave the room through a different door than the people entering though, to avoid any problems between the various candidates. Yokomizo is the last of his group, but when he enters the room, he finds No. 24 has been shot, and the pistol is lying on the table. It appears one of the men who went before Yokomizo must've shot No. 24, but this doesn't mean the man before Yokomizo must've shot the woman, because the two men before him could also have been hidden beneath the table and forced the woman to act normally with the other candidates with the gun pointed at her. The direct clue pointing towards the murderer is pretty weak, and is rather similar to ideas we have seen very recently in this series, so not really satisfying. I love the other clue that indicates the murderer though: it's a technique used fairly often in Conan, but the execution is done pretty well, with small, seemingly insignificant events occuring in the background through the various chapters suddenly being connected to form one clear line. We get a few more hints at interconnectivity between the various police-related characters in this story, but nothing too big.

In Kyoto Sweets and Poison, we learn of plans to make a stage play based on Mouri Kogorou and Hattori Heiji, and the two visit the director of the play to discuss the script. Meanwhile, Kazuha and Ran are being driven around Kyoto to enjoy the local sweets, when Kazuha finally realizes that the Ooka Group is sponsoring the play, and that her rival-in-love Momiji is behind having Kazuha "removed" and indeed, Momiji appears at the script discussion. She brings with him Kuroda, the one-eyed managing officer of the First Division of the Tokyo MPD as a consultant for the police-related matters of the script, and Hattori, Mouri and Conan all go through the script together with the director, producer and playwright. While they're having a pizza lunch, the director takes a break and goes to sleep in the room upstairs, but when the group goes to wake up him upon the departure of Kuroda, the director does not reply at all to their loud cries, and while they don't find the door locked, it is blocked by something heavy leaning against the door. This reminds them of the recent suicide of an actress whose body was found by the director, playwright and producer in the exact same way, leaning against the door, so Hattori, Conan, Mouri and Kuroda rush to the other side of the house, climb the ladder up to the balcony of the room and see that the director is indeed lying against the door. They break the windows, but it's already too late for the director, who seems to have taken poison as his way out of life. At first sight, this seems a clear suicide committed in the same manner as the actress, but all the detectives at the scene (sans Mouri) suspect this was no suicide, but how did the murderer recreate this crime scene? As said, this volume only has very short stories, so despite Hattori, Kazuha and Momiji's appearences here this is a fairly simple mystery story. It's not a true locked room mystery, as the door could be opened partially, until they find the body lying against it preventing them from opening it further, but I think the "before" and "after" of the locked room mystery are also a lot more interesting than the actual dynamics of the murderer's main trick: the "preperation" for the murder itself is rather silly, but I like the idea itself which was used to get the victim where the murderer where they wanted him to be, and the aftermath of the murder, where the murderer has to "clean up" for the discovery of the death also features some interesting ideas. But on the whole a rather unassuming story.

Volume 102 ends with the first chapter of a story set at a family restaurant that of course also has a few police officers (and many other recurring characters too!) appear again, but we'll have to wait until the next volume, scheduled for Spring 2023 to learn more about that. Like I mentioned at the beginning, Detective Conan 102 on its own is nothing special: the stories, taken as mystery stories alone, are very simple, and often utilize ideas and concepts we have already seen in the series quite often. There are some neat ideas here and there that, as always, really sell Conan as a modern-day puzzle mystery (the masked matchmaking party is SO modern-day Japan as are the Youtubers), but I can already tell you I'll remember very little of the events of this volume. There are some seeds planted in regards to character relations, but it's hard to tell whether those tidbits are actually building towards something, or just neat little background details. So the next volume won't be released until 2023, but I will definitely review The Bride of Halloween when the home video releases in November and I've going through some anime originals again, so perhaps I'll find a few episodes that are interesting to write about.

Original Japanese title(s): 青山剛昌 『名探偵コナン』第102巻

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Sugar & Spice, Malice & Vice

There was a man, 
a very untidy man, 
Whose fingers could nowhere be found, 
To put in his tomb.

I read a lot of series here, but I don't really often "finish" series now I think about it...

Disclosure: I translated Yamaguchi Masaya's Death of the Living Dead. What, you haven't read it yet? Go read it!

Kidd Pistols series
The Shameful Conduct of Kidd Pistols

For now, this will be the last time the mohawk-bearing punker police detective Kidd Pistols and his girlfriend/assistant Pink Belladonna will feature on this blog, as the short story collection Kidd Pistols no Shuutai, or as the English title on the cover says The Shameful Conduct of Kidd Pistols (2010) is for the moment the last book released in this series written by Yamaguchi Masaya. The gamebook (Choose Your Own Adventure) The 13th Detective and the first short story collection The Blasphemy of Kidd Pistols first introduced the reader to Parallel Britain, where due to Edward's Law, so-called Masters of Detective are allowed to take over any criminal investigation, which has reduced detectives of Scotland Yard to being mere lackeys of these MD. Kidd and Pink belong to National Unbelievable Troubles Section (NUTS), a section within the Yard which assists MDS like Sherlock Holmes Jr. and Dr. Bull with particularly tricky crimes. Despite his anarchist appearance and sarcastic attitude however, Kidd is actually in possession of a rather sharp mind, and it's usually Kidd who manages to solve the weird cases they come across, because his mind doesn't conform to "rules" and he is used to thinking outside the box.The Shameful Conduct of Kidd Pistols collects the last three stories in this series, which were originally published in 2009 and 2010. Like with the previous stories, these three stories are named and themed after Mother Goose rhymes.

Darashinai Otoko no Misshitsu or The Locked Room with a Untidy Man of a Broken Body opens with a man waking up in a locked study, which looks like it has been ransacked. The man, James Norman, can't quite remember why he's in this room, but eventually he finds a cut up body in a casket in the room, and somewhere else is the cut-off head of the victim. When somebody knocks on the door, he unlocks it from the inside and slowly he realizes what is going on: he woke up in the room of Robert Cohen, a wealthy elderly man of whom he is writing his official biography. Cohen is also quite dead now, with his head seperated from his body, and Norman is of course the number one suspect, considering he was found inside the study/crime scene, which was locked from the inside. The mystery of this story is not as much focused on the how behind the locked room, but more about the curious behavior of the elderly victim before his death, the reason why his study is in such a mess and how come James Norman woke up in the room. The story revolves around a twist which I think is easily guessed at, but I think the execution is pretty good: clever writing and calculated multi-stage misdirection, as well as a nice extra twist at the very end make this a competently written story, even if the major elements feel a bit familiar.  

Leather Men ga Oosugiru or Too Many Leather Men starts with a flashback, when Kidd, Pink and the MD Beverly Lewis (from The 13th Detective) managed to arrest the serial killer Edward Gormon, better known as "Leather Man" as he kidnapped multiple women, skinned them and wore them. Kidd, Pink and Beverly came too late for some of his victims, in time for others, but with his arrest peace returned. Or did it? One year later, there are still sightings of copycats who think it's funny to impersonage the Leather Man. One day, Jill is out jogging and sees her neighbor Ellen and after a very short talk, they part ways, but from a distance Jill sees a hooded figure approaching Ellen, and the two of them go off towards the abandoned factory. Reminded of the stories of the Leather Man still roaming around, she becomes worried and as she finds Frank, Ellen's husband-about-to-become-ex-husband, the two of them go together, but they don't seem to be able to find any suspicious signs in the factory, though Jill swears she saw the hooded figure take Ellen into a car and drive off from the factory. But when Frank and Ellen later visit Ellen's home, they find Ellen safely at home. More sightings of the Leather Man follow however and eventually, a skinned body is found in the factory. Kidd, Pink and Lewis are put on the case as this appears to be the work of the Leather Man, even though Ed Gorman is in prison. The story is rather long, but probably the best of the collection. Some of the twists regarding the identity and motive of the killer may seem a bit dated (even though the story's from 2009), but I think some of the foreshadowing/clues in this story are really clever: I especially like one early on in the story, that is incredibly easy to miss (I did), but the moment you realize the true implication of the clue, you see how it changes everything. Despite the gruesome subject matter involving a serial killer who skins his victims, I have to say this story kinda feels like an Agatha Christie short story to me, in the sense it very much revolves around a twist that makes you look at previously shown events in a completely manner. Not all elements of the story are as strong as others, but still an enjoyable Kidd story.

Sannin no Saiyaku no Musuko no Bouken or The Adventure of the Three Sons of Disaster on the other hand is easily the weakest story of the three. We start with a scene which seems to invoke Saw, Danganronpa or Zero Escape, with James, Jerry and John each waking up in white rooms, not knowing how they got there or what is going on. As they leave their rooms, they run into each other and find they are in some kind of hospital or clinic. Meanwhile, they also run into Kidd and Pink, who also seem to be roaming inside this building without any exits, but they seem less disturbed by their current situation compared to the three J-named men. But what is going on? The surprising truth revealed at the end isn't that surprising, especially not considering this is a 2010 story, and not the mid 90s. It's a very short story too, so on the whole this feels more like an experiment by Yamaguchi to see what ways he could go with this series and while there is an interesting concept for a kind of whodunnit here, the execution isn't as strong as we have seen in some of the more succesful stories in this series.

The Shameful Conduct of Kidd Pistols is certainly not the strongest entry in the series, and it's a shame the final story in this volume, and at the moment the final story in the series, isn't even close in level to the strong stories found earlier in this series, but I am still glad I have read the book. Overall, I have enjoyed the adventures of the cynical Kidd, the rather chaotic Pink and the various MDs they assist in their investigations, and there are some strong short mystery stories found in the earlier collections, especially those that revolve around the theme of people with fixations/curious ways of thinking, and how that influences their actions. Which is I guess a major theme of the series in general. My recommendations are definitely the first two short story collections and The 13th Detective, and if you like the stories/atmosphere found there, I think it's worth it to read the rest of the series too.

Original Japanese title(s): 山口雅也『キッド・ピストルズの醜態』:「だらしない男の密室 ―キッド・ピストルズの醜態」/ 「《革服の男が多過ぎる」/ 「三人の災厄の息子の冒険 ―キッド・ピストルズの醜態、再び

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Trouble in Eden

Wishing on a dream that seems far off
Hoping it will come today
"Lunar: Silver Star"

I am probably not the only person here with a sizeable backlog of unread books. In some cases, I just want to finish a different book first, so a book will get its turn soon, but in some other cases, I bought the book like ten years ago and still haven't read it, or I did get started on it, got distracted, and never finished it. And that's not all, as I have probably even more unplayed video games, and ironically, I have also a rather long backlog of... books I have read but haven't written a post about yet for this blog. I'm pretty sure that list is close to twenty titles now...

More than ten years ago, I bought an iPod Touch, and as someone who does play a lot of video games, I was of course also curious to the kind of games available on the hardware. Back then, mobile (smartphone) games were in that period where most games were still much smaller in scale than their console/handheld counterparts and where free-to-play was the most important business model, so the games you could find here were not especially impressive. One title that caught my attention in the Japanese storefront however was the free, mystery-themed novel game Loop the Loop: it was developed by the two-person circle sweet ampoule and it was a title that had also seen critical success on Japanese feature phones before it was ported to Windows and iOS. Seeing the positive reviews, I tried it when it was first released, and thought the premise was interesting... but as I didn't like playing games on my iPod that much, I stopped playing pretty soon. In the decade since however, I've basically gone through the same cycle multiple times. Every two, three years, I recall Loop the Loop and how it was received so well, so I install the game again, play it for one or two hours, and then eventually remove it again because I just don't like playing these kinds of games on my phone. It's actually silly how often I have played through the prologue of Loop the Loop. Meanwhile, the series would occassionally come to my attention again, as it has also seen many sequels, but also a manga adaptation in more recent years and a novel adaptation.

So earlier this year, I decided I'd finally get through Loop the Loop, but I decided to go for the novel adaptation, as I could see me finishing that sooner than the game. Added bonus was that the novel adaptation is written by kate, the original writer/creator of the game, so I could at least be assued it would be as close as it could be to the original game in terms of writing. Loop the Loop - Houshoku no Yakata ("Loop the Loop - The House of Satiation" 2017) starts with the news of a series of disappearances from a small town that has been going on for some weeks now. The most notable disappearance is Saeki Rei, a young, but highly succesful entrepeneur, so the disappearances are big news. Remi, the protagonist, is of course also aware of the disappearances, but never could he have imagined he would be one of the "victims" too: one day he doze off in a park, and the next moment, he finds himself waking up in a curious, Western-style manor without windows. There he is welcomed by Saeki, as well as ten other people: these are the people who have disappeared mysteriously. and they all turned up in this manor, but nobody knows how or why. With people like Karin, a web designer, Yuki, a college student and Jay, a musician, it doesn't appear there's any special connection between any of them, and it doesn't appear they were kidnapped or anything, as they all just woke up in the building, but there's nobody else to explain what they are doing here. Remi is told that they are in a very odd building, and only consists of a dining room below, an entrance hall without windows and doors, and twelve bedrooms, each with a sign of the zodiac. It appears all of them have a different zodiac, so they all have their "own" room. Saeki, who has been in this house the longest, explains to Remi that time passes by differently in this house compared to the outside world: some of them have already lived for months in this house, while judging by the stories they hear from the people who came later, only weeks have passed by in the "real" world. Remi also learns that this house has strange, magical powers, that can provide its inhabitants everything they want. The "owner" of each room can wish for anything they want before they open the door of their own room, and they find the item inside, as long as it exists and it fits in the room. Remi for example is told to think of his own room at home before opening his door, and inside he finds a perfect recreation of his own room, but he could also for example wish for a video game console, or books he hasn't read yet (as long as those books actually exist). The same works for their food: each plate is covered by a cloche, and you can conjure up any dish by thinking of it before lifting the cloche. The oldest members of the group thus assure Remi that life here is not as bad is it might seem at first and it is soon clear that most of the people here get along really well. This is also faciliated by the few house rules created by the oldest members, which are there to ensure everybody at least tries to socialize with each other, like having dinner together or telling people not to stay in their own room all day (something that is alluring to do as you can wish for anything).

Saeki and Takuto, one of the older members, also try to figure out why they are in this house and what this house exactly is, but unfortunately, they don't seem to be having much success. Still, life in the house isn't that bad, and Remi finds new friends while living with everyone. But one day, the absolutely unthinkable occurs: one of them is found murdered in his own room. But why? Aren't they all friends in this house? And why would anyone kill another in a house where you can wish for anything you want. It soon becomes clear that the friendship of the inhabitants of this house isn't as strong as they initially thought, but with no way out of this house, what can they do to esnure it won't all collapse because of this murder?

Okay, so when I played the game version of Loop the Loop, I never did even get to the murder, I always abandoned the game much earlier! Anyway, the setting of this game is pretty interesting. Colorful people from various backgrounds waking up in a strange, closed-off house without knowing why they are there, and this resulting in a murder might sound familiar, especially in a post-Danganronpa world, but this game actually predates Danganronpa. And there's a lot of potential here, with the idea of a house that can conjure up anything (up to a certain size) just by wishing for it, and also special rooms, which have a few special features that will excite mystery fans, as they can instantly see that those rules will probably be important to the mystery: the rooms are sound-proof in one direction (you can hear people outside in the hallway, but people outside can't hear people inside) and the rooms also automatically clean up any garbage once you close the door behind you, and everything in the room disappears completely if the owner is gone. With rules like these, and the closed circle situation, the reader is obviously made to anticipate an interesting mystery story that involves these fantastical elements...

...But Loop the Loop doesn't really deliver in that regard. Partially, because it soon becomes clear the focus of this book is not on the murder mystery, but more on character interaction, seeing the (fairly fleshed out) inhabitants of the house react to the murder and ultimately figuring out what the motive for the murder could be. There's surprisingly little focus on the actual murder investigation. With the fantastical rules being such an important part of the setting, you'd think the author would try to make clever use of it, but ultimately, it's fairly subdued. Besides a few obvious uses like "well, the murderer could have just wished for any murder weapon, because you can wish for anything in this house", there's perhaps only slightly clever instance where the fantasy rules are used, and even that example is probably just one of the first ways to use the rules to come in mind in the first place, so it's not really shocking. What's worse is when some of the rules you thought were absolutely true, turn out to not be absolutely true, which is a pretty big no-no in mystery fiction with a supernatural element. Though I guess Loop the Loop isn't really meant to be puzzle plot mystery, but more a suspense story. Still, I have to admit I was pretty disappointed to see how a promising setting like the House of Satiation with its unique rules, was ultimately not used for a devious puzzle for the reader to solve. 

The novel version consists of two volumes by the way, and the storyline The House of Satiation ends about halfway the second volume. The rest of the second volume consists of a very brief novelization of Episode 0, a prologue story also set in the House of Satiation. This is pure suspense with no actual mystery solving for the reader to do, and it's an interesting read to learn more about a certain character, but it again wasn't exactly what I was hoping for. The Loop the Loop series is quite long now, with like eight entries or something close to that, so these two books cover the (chronological) first two episodes.

So ultimately Loop the Loop - Houshoku no Yakata wasn't exactly what I had been hoping it would be for over a decade. While it has a very promising closed circle situation reminiscent of Danganronpa with its mysterious house that can provide its inhabitants with everything they can imagine, the application of that concept for its mystery plot is rather limited.  It's not even really a fair mystery by the time you get to the end. The focus of Loop the Loop definitely lies on its cast of twelve diverse characters and seeing them grow into a family, and then seeing how the family slowly breaks apart after the murder. I doubt the manga adaptation is very different, so I don't think Loop the Loop is a must-read in any medium if you're specifically looking for a puzzler. Of course, if that's less of a concern to you, it's a fairly entertaining piece of suspense and the game version is free anyway, so you might as well try it out then. 

Original Japanese title(s): kate 『Loop the Loop 飽食の館』

Wednesday, September 7, 2022

The Ice-Cold Case

Oh, this is the first time I read a book in this series since the publication of the English translation of Lending the Key to the Locked Room. Which immediately brings me to:

Disclosure: I translated Higashigawa Tokuya's Lending the Key to the Locked Room, the first book in same series as the book discussed today.

Ikagawa City series:
Lending the Key to the Locked Room
Misshitsu ni Mukatte Ute ("Shoot Towards The Locked Room")
Kanzen Hanzai ni wa Neko Nanbiki Hitsuyouka ("How Many Cats Do You Need For a Perfect Crime?")
Koukan Satsujin ni Mukanai Yoru ("A Bad Night to Exchange Murders")
Koko ni Shitai wo Sutenaide Kudasai! ("Don't Dump Your Bodies Here Please!")

Watashi no Kirai na Tantei ("The Detective I Don't Like")

The never really succesful private detective Ukai and his assistant Ryuuhei are hired by Komine Saburou, one of the wealthiest men in Ikagawa City. His entertainment facilities like karaoke boxes and batting centres provide the young people with something to do in this otherwise boring city, but Komine has a rather exciting job for Ukai. For Komine has recently received a threatening letter, which speaks of "revenge" among other things. Komine claims he has no idea what the letter is about, even though both Ukai and Ryuuhei suspect there's something shady about the man, but he wants Ukai to act as his bodyguard the coming days. While Ukai isn't really willing to jump in front of his portly client if some assailant would fire a pistol at the man, he agrees to take the job. Komine always spends the days around Christmas at the Squid House, a small hotel set in a secluded and private location as it stands at the very end of Tentacle Peak outside Ikagawa City. The day they drive off to the hotel also turns out to be the day with a tremendous snow storm, and on their way to Tentacle Peak, they find a young man who crashed his car in the storm. They take the unconscious man with them to the hotel and while luckily, one of the other guests here is a doctor, they are now all snowed in at Tentacle Peak for the moment. Ukai and Ryuuhei notice that their client has been acting very differently ever since he learned the name of the unconscious man however, and the following day, they find the unconscious man has disappeared from the room he had been sleeping in. Ukai decides to inform Inspector Sunagawa about these events, who immediately suspects something fishy is going on when he learns that Komine Saburou is involved: twenty years ago, when Inspector Sunagawa was still a rookie detective, he was involved with a gruesome murder case where the victim, Komine Tarou, had been cut in pieces. Saburou was the youngest brother of three, and the middle brother Jirou was identified as the murder suspect, but he disappeared twenty years ago. Sunagawa recounts this old case to his subordinate Shiki while they wait for the snow to calm down, but meanwhile at the Squid House, Saburou gets murdered himself. What is going on and how is the current case connected to what happened twenty years ago? That is the big mystery in Higashigawa Tokuya's Squid-sou no Satsujin ("The Squid House Murders", 2022).

Squid-sou no Satsujin is the long-awaited newest novel in Higashigawa Tokuya's Ikagawa City series, a comedic mystery series set in the titular city with an ensemble cast where we follow the (mis)adventures of private detective Ukai, his assistant/former brother-in-law Ryuuhei, Inspector Sunagawa, his subordinate Shiki and more characters. Koko ni Shitai wo Sutenaide Kudasai! ("Don't Dump Your Bodies Here Please!") from 2009 was the last novel-length entry in the series for a long time, and while it was followed by a few short story collections,  13 years is a rather long wait! While I have reviewed all the novels in the series, I haven't discussed the short story collections here yet, by the way. Some might find this strange, considering my love for the short story format, but some of the short stories I already know through the live-action drama series or anthologies, so the collections aren't really high priority, though I guess now I have read all the novels, I might as well get started on the collections too. Some will know that I really love Higashigawa's work and his distinctive style of combining slapstick comedy with really solid mystery plots and clewing and his work has been discussed very regularly on this blog.

Anyway, so back to Squid-sou no Satsujin. With a title like that, you're of course expecting something like Ayatsuji Yukito's House series: a closed circle mystery set in the titular Squid House with secrets and dark pasts. And early on, we are told about a past case where a body got cut up in six parts, and in the present, we're presented with situations that seem impossible at first sight, with the unconscious man disappearing from the hotel grounds and later Komine Saburou too disappearing from his cottage only to be found murdered later, and his murderer even manages to disappear even though Ukai chased them in the woods. I seldomly read story descriptions, so perhaps I was expecting too much simply based on the title of this book, for I was really expecting a classic country house style mystery, and I have to admit that at first, I was pretty disappointed when about half-way through the book, I realized that Squid-sou no Satsujin wasn't even trying to be anything of the things I described above. The "impossibilities" only seem like that for a few pages, but are immediately proven to be not impossible situations at all and the book doesn't even try to present them like that. The Squid House, while in possession of "a past", isn't really the super-atmospheric location with hidden passageways and some horrible dark secret you'd expect it to be based on the title and is... a pretty normal hotel all things considered. 

But in the end, I really did enjoy Squid-sou no Satsujin as a mystery novel, and it basically accomplished that by doing everything this series has always done in a great way, and not straying far from what you'd expect and want from an Ikagawa City novel. Like most stories in this series, the book follows a dual structure, with chapters alternating between the adventures of Ukai and Ryuuhei at the Squid House, and Inspector Sunagawa telling about what happened twenty years ago. Part of the msytery lies in realizing how these two events are connected exactly. For yes, Komine Saburou is the connecting factor, but what exactly happened twenty years ago, and how does that affect the current case? What works really well here is that a lot of the connections will seem rather obvious at first, but it's those small parts that don't really seem to fit that really start to bug you, and you know *something* isn't quite right, but it is difficult to identify exactly what. Elements like the unconscious man appear to be troublesome puzzle pieces that don't quite fit in either puzzle and this sense of uneasiness, where the "big picture" seems to fit save for some details, but you also know that's those details that are most important, can be felt throughout the book. The book therefore has a slightly slow start, as a lot of the mystery isn't immediately obvious to the reader, but as the book goes on and the two narratives slowly reach their respective climaxes, this sense of mystery, of knowing you don't know what is going on, becomes more tangible. And the explanation to all of this is great, and exactly what I'd expect from this series. There's some brilliant misdirection going on in this book and as always, a lot of clewing is hidden cleverly in the comedy. The moment you finally realize how those puzzle pieces that didn't seem to fit actually look like, is absolutely fantastic, as that's also when you see how those "sometimes long-winded comedy sections" were actually meant to point you in the right direction as a clue, and you simply completely missed the big shiny pointer. In essence, the "big puzzle piece" that connects the two cases is fairly simple, but it's executed great here and despite my earlier disappointment with this book not really being about an impossible crime or really using the country house murder format, I think this book manages to present a great mystery story.

So Squid-sou no Satsujin might not be exactly what you'd think it be based on the title alone, but taken on its own merits, and as an entry in the Ikagawa City series, it's a very solid entry, doing everything you should expect from this series in a great way, and ultimately even presenting a rather surprising solution that is both a bit silly (as you may expect from this series), but also cleverly clewed and in hindsight using a rather impressive act of misdirection. For those who have enjoyed the series before, Squid-sou no Satsujin is definitely a must-read.

Original Japanese title(s): 東川篤哉『スクイッド荘の殺人』