Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Twisted Tale

"Mr. Goshima, I find the spiral to be very mystical. It fills me with a deep fascination nothing else in nature... No other shape... I'm sure you will understand how wonderful the spiral is!! It is perfect, the most sublime art!!"

Disclosure: I translated Higashigawa Tokuya's Lending the Key to the Locked Room,

Juumonji Kazuomi was a brilliant constructor who singlehandedly developed his family firm Juumonji Constructions into one of the nation's big construction firms. He often worked on unique buildings, and this was reflected in his holiday home on the small island of Yokoshima in the Seto Inland Sea. This house had a hexagonal shape, with metallic finishes on the exterior and on top, there was a large dome which served as an observation roof deck, from which it could overlook the island and the surrounding sea. Due to its hexagonal shape, the rooms of the house were all situated in the six sides of the hexagon, with a gigantic spiral staircase in the middle of the building. It was at the foot of this staircase that one morning, Kazuomi was lying dead on the floor. At first it seemed like this had been an unfortunate accident of an elderly man falling down the steps of a long staircase, but the Okayama police surgeon arrived at a very surprising conclusion: yes, Kazuomi did die because of a fall, but not of a fall down the stairs: his injuries indicated a steep drop on the floor from at least three stories high. The little blood found at the scene also suggested Kazuomi hadn't met his demise on this spot, but the police could not find any place on the island where he could've fallen and brought to the staircase, especially as this house is by far the highest building on the tiny island. The police eventually had to give up, and ruled it an accident, despite not being able to find out where Kazuomi had actually fallen.

One of the Okayama detectives working on the case was the not-so-bright Souma Takayuki, who happened to be a faaaaaaaaar relative of Yasuko, the widow of Kazuomi. Some months after her husband's death, she has invited Souma and other people to stay during the summer holiday at the house on Yokoshima, something she does every year. Among the other guests are Nonomura Toshie and her daughter Nanae: they are old family friends and Toshie's husband was a politician who was supported by Kazuomi, but now both their husbands have died, Toshie has stepped into the political world, with Yoshiko as her supporter. Long ago, their husbands also expressed a wish to unite the families, and it has been decided the beautiful Nanae will marry one of Kazuomi's sons, the eldest sons Shinichirou and Masao being from a previous marriage and Saburou being Yoshiko's son. This of course despite Nanae not really being into the idea of an arranged marriage. When Souma arrives on the island, he immediately sees how both Shinichirou and Masao, both a bit older than Nanae, try to woo her, with Toshie obviously wanting to push Nanae into eldest son Shinichirou's arms. Meanwhile, Souma also meets with another guest: Kobayakawa Saki is like himself a relative of Yasuko, and she's a private detective. Both the police detective and the private detective see how especially Shinichirou and Masao seem very intent on winning Nanae's heart, but the following morning, the two of them seem to have vanished, until they find the door at the top of the spiral staircase, leading into the roof observation deck locked from the other side. Eventually it is opened from the other side by Masao, which is when they discover the door had been blocked by the dead body of Shinichirou leaning against the door. They search the four rooms on the observation deck, but only Masao was present there and as the door was blocked by the body, it means only Masao could've killed his brother. The police is called from the mainland, but they can't come due to a storm, and while they are waiting for reinforcements to come, more mysterious deaths occur, forcing Souma and Saki to work together to find out who did it in Higashigawa Tokuya's 2005 novel Yakatajima ("The Island of the House"), which also has the alternate English title The Island of the Silver Tower.

Higashigawa Tokuya is a name that appears very often on this blog, even before I translated his Lending the Key to the Locked Room, but most of the reviews about his work are about series, like the Ikagawa City series and Nazotoki wa Dinner no Ato de. I was originally going to write how Yakatajima is one of those few times I wasn't reading a Higashigawa series novel, but between me reading the novel and me writing this post and me posting this review, a semi-sequel was released in 2022 titled Shikakejima. I'm not sure whether it's directly related, but the titles are very similar, and both books are published by the same publisher and feature similar covers, so at least in terms of "branding" the two books are supposed to form a series. Higashigawa generally doesn't publish books through this publisher (Tokyo Sogen Suiri) by the way, and with a somewhat sobre cover, I was wondering whether this book would have his characteristic comedic tone.

And the answer is yes. It's perhaps not as slapstick comedy like the Ikagawa City series can sometimes get, but you still have somewhat over-the-top characters like Saki (who jumps on a car the first time we see her) and somewhat nonsensical conversations, and of course, as we should expect from Higashiawa, this comedy is also used to hide important clues in rather clever ways. I would say the comedy is toned down a little bit compared to his better known series, but you don't have to expect something that is completely different in style when it comes to storytelling. Comedic mystery is of course Higashigawa's bread and butter, and if you like his other works, Yakatajima will definitely manage to satisfy you there too. I do have the feeling that some parts of the motive fall a bit flat, like it could have worked better if it had been played either more comedic, or more serious, but now it doesn't quite work with me, but your mileage may vary there.

What was a bit different however is how Yakatajima moves away from the often urban settings of his stories, offering a true yakata-mystery, a mystery set in a weird manor or mansion. In fact, last year I read his Squid-sou no Satsujin ("The Squid House Murders", 2022) and I was actually expecting such a mystery based on the title but it turned out to be something quite different. Yakatajima however has a proper strange house, with a hexagonal shape and a gigantic spiral staircase, and of course the locked room on the observation deck roof. Add in the mystery of Kazuomi's "impossible" fall to death and you have the ingredients for a mystery that's quite enjoyable to read, as the book keeps hinting at various mysterious, and that coupled with Higashigawa's smooth writing and funny situations, you'll be through this book in no time.

A lot of the mysteries that occur in this book ultimately tie back to a common underlying idea, and while I like the idea on its own, I think that people who are familiar with these kinds of mystery novels might be able to guess fairly early on what is going on. Once you arrive at the idea, a lot of the problems just vanish right away, so that's a bit disappointing, though again, I like the base idea in general and it's quite memorable. What is perhaps better in execution however is the clewing: the trail of clues that lead to the killer is quite comprehensive and much of the clues are cleverly hidden within comedic conversations and happenings, and if you're used to reading Higashigawa, you're always trying to look through all comedic conversations which actually makes spotting the real clues a bit harder. But I was quite impressed with the Queen-esque clues left throughout the narrative, with the focus not only on physical clues, but very much on concepts of 'who knew what at what time to allow them to do this?". And that works pretty well with the concept of the aforementioned 'underlying idea', which is basically howdunnit, while the whodunnit threads are a bit more subtle and not as universal as the howdunnit idea, but it does add a lot of depth to the mystery.

But overall, I enjoyed Yakatajima as a standalone novel, and it's a competently written mystery that I can recommend any Higashigawa fan. I'm also curious to the semi-sequel Shikakejima, as it ranked in the 2023 Honkaku Mystery Best 10 list (which covers books published late 2021 - late 2022), so it should be quite entertaining too. So perhaps I'll read that book this year too!

Original Japanese title(s): 東川篤哉『館島』

Thursday, March 23, 2023

番外編:The Mill House Murders Released

Back in November, I announced Pushkin Press would be publishing my translation of AYATSUJI Yukito's The Mill House House Murders, at the time with a scheduled release date of late February. Sorry for the wait, as the release was eventually pushed back a month to March. Now!

Two years ago, Pushkin Press re-released The Decagon House Murders, a slightly brushed-up version of the translation I originally made for Locked Room International in 2015.  Fortunately, the re-release seems to have been received well, leading to plans to release the follow-up novel and I am also happy both author Ayatsuji and Pushkin Press wanted me on board again. The Mill House Murders was originally published in Japan as Suishakan no Satsujin in 1988, set once again in an architectural creation by the architect Seiji Nakamura, and yes, people die there. The Mill House is a castle-like structure, home of a wealthy recluse with a unique art collection, and his beautiful young wife. One year before the present, a horrible murder case happened at the Mill House while a small party of guests were visiting visited the house to view the art collection. Exactly one year later, most of the same people have once again gathered at the Mill House, and that is of course the go sign for more mysterious happenings that build towards a surprising conclusion.

The Mill House Murders is the second book in Ayatsuji's long-running series featuring Nakamura's buildings and he recently got started on the tenth book. This second volume can be read seperate from The Decagon House Murders, as basically the only spoiler is the series detective, but of course, those who have read the first book will get some of the minor references and call-backs. People who liked the first book will find a lot to love in The Mill House Murders, as the reader will once again explore an unsettling, closed-off location where curious, bloody murders occur and a surprising conclusion waiting at the end. The Mill House Murders is also a transitional book: The Decagon House Murders was written as a standalone book, inspired by Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None, but its success led to it being turned into a series, and this book does feel like it opens up the world a bit, marking the transition to a series.

One personal memory I have of this book I already mentioned in my review of the Japanese book. I originally obtained a used copy of this book, and near the end, before the final chapter, I found a receipt stuck between the pages. At first I thought it was just something left accidentally there by the previous owner and missed by the employees of the used book shop, but when I turned it around, I found it had a message for me, the new owner: it was a Challenge to the Reader, from A Reader. The note mentions that the murderer would be revealed in the next part, and challenged the reader to try to solve it themselves first before reading the final chapter. It was such a fun, unique present of the previous owner and I still have the note.

Pushkin is based in the UK, which means The Mill House Murders is out this week there, with a US release scheduled for I believe in May. Anyway, if you liked The Decagon House Murders, please try The Mill House Murders too and if not.... try both? The Decagon House Murders was the first novel I got to work on, and when I first started this blog, I of course never had imagined I would be translating all those books I was writing about, so I'm more than thrilled I was able to also work on The Mill House Murders. And as for more books in this series? I guess positive reception is the most likely to ensure more translations follow (hopefully by me, haha), so it'd be great if you'd pick the book if you happen to be looking for a fun mystery novel.

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

What a Night, For a Dark Knight!

"Batman Returns"

Haven't seen that one neighborhood cat roaming around during the winter, hope she comes back with spring...

Mikeneko Holmes ("Calico Cat Holmes") is a long-running series by Akagawa Jirou about the not-so-bright police detective Katayama, his younger sister Harumi and their calico cat Holmes, who is either a brilliant detective, or who just "happens" to always manage to find important clues for her masters or warn them of imminent danger. The books are on the whole fairly light-hearted and with over fifty books, I think you can guess they're not like really complex, intricately designed mystery stories in general, but I still have a weak spot for it because one of the earliest books I read in Japanese was a Mikeneko Holmes short story collection. Still, the only other one I read was the first book in the series, which has a fun idea, but as a complete book I found a bit weird, In general I don't read that much Akagawa Jirou even though he's extremely prolific, but what's always stood out to me was that in all his series there seemed to be couples with an age difference, with a man high up his thirties or even higher ending up with a college student. It is something that happens a lot in Akagawa's stories. his Ghost series, Tantei Monogatari, Satsujin wo Yonda Hon...

So was I really surprised when Akagawa Jirou's 1983 novel Mikeneko Holmes no Kishidou ("The Knighthood of Calico Cat Holmes") started with another of these couples? No, not really. Tomomi, fresh out of college and a new member of the working force, is travelling with friends through Germany when they happen to become acquainted with the somewhat older Nagae Hideya, second son of a big company, but who isn't really interested in the business and has his own dreams to pursue. Tomomi and Hideya hit it right off, and they end up marrying. Tomomi's a huge fan of Medieval castles and Europe, so Hideya decides to buy his new wife a genuine castle in Germany, which with some renovations will be their new home in Germany. While exploring the castle before renovations were done however, Hideya lost his new bride in an accident involving an iron maiden. Three years later, Hideya invites his older brother Kazuya and his family to Germany because he suspects what happened to Tomomi wasn't an accident, and that someone in his direct family, who all happened to be traveling in Europe three years ago when the "accident" happened, might be responsible. Because a request was also sent to the Metropolitan Police Department, Katayama, his sister Harumi, fellow detective Ishizu (suitor of Harumi) and of course Holmes also come along to keep an eye on things. Arriving at the castle however, Hideya voices his suspicions and that he plans to deal with it, but the next day, Hideya himself has disappeared, and when they send out his secretary to call the police, the whole drawing bridge collapses, trapping everyone in the castle. What is going on and will Holmes and her masters make it back alive to Japan?

Well, of course, for these books are, despite sometimes dark backstories, very light-hearted in tone.

As I was reading this book, I kept thinking of stories with creepy old castles in Detective Conan and Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo, because they felt very similar. The closed circle situation with the drawbridge collapsed, mysterious happenings like Hideya disappearing and mysterious music luring people out of their rooms in the nights, a backstory with an accident with a genuine Iron Maiden in the chapel of the castle and of course Hideya's accusation that one of the people present here was responsible for what happened to his bride three years ago, which would of course be a motive to do away with Hideya in the present. Several murders occur during the cast' 'captivity' in the castle, so a lot of the props and story developments feel rather familiar. Save for the appearences of Holmes of course.

I picked this specific book because I was looking for recommendations for this series beyond the first novel (and I sure wasn't going to read all 50+ of them) and Mikeneko Holmes no Kishidou seemed a popular title and I think that in terms of readability, and suspense, I can definitely see that. The book reads very easily with events happening in quick succession, never ever really becoming boring or slow, and with the added tension of the castle setting, it's a fun few hours to read, even if, and I think you can guess where I am heading, this isn't a really surprising mystery story on the whole. In a way, I think it's a story that seems very much envisioned as a thrilling adventure which would do well on television, with spooky things happening in an equally spooky castle, people die, and in the end Katayama and Harumi manage to figure out everything with a lot of help from Holmes, explaining why all these enigmatic events occured and of course who did it. It's all very... light, and that's not a bad thing per se, but I can't feel like very engaged with it, neither positively nor negatively, because it's just a story that was over in no time. I wouldn't call the truth behind the deaths or mysterious events super clever or anything and certainly the last death points far too obviously at one person, but the whole book is written in a way that's easy on the eyes and mind, and I enjoyed as a light read between longer books. And surely for younger readers, this would just be a fun, adventurous read with some creepy elements.

Even if the motive for all that happened can be surprisingly dark. While these books have a lot of comedy and feel light-hearted on average, at times they do feature elements that make them not really feel like YA or children's literature, so I always wonder what the exact intended audience was...

Surprisingly, there's a GameBoy adaptation of this novel. The original GameBoy, the dot-matrix grey brick! There aren't that many video games that are full adaptation of an existing mystery novel, and when it comes to mystery novelists involved with games, you actually see the "based on the works of..." pattern more often, or even these novelists writing completely new stories for a game, but straight adaptations are less common. And then consider this was done on the original GameBoy! I haven't played it, but it's supposed to be fairly faithful to the book and that's quite impressive on the old grey brick. And the spritework is actually quite decent!

If Mikeneko Holmes no Kishidou is a high point in the series, I wouldn't say the series actually reaches memorable heights, but with the understanding that it's just more meant as an 'entainment-type' novel that is supposed to appeal to a very wide audience, both in age as in taste, it's an okay-ish adventure suspense story with a comedic tone. The first novel makes a lot more impact as a mystery novel with a locked room murder, and this one is definitely written more like a suspense story, so that may be why it's relatively popular. But in the context of this blog, hardly a must-read, and perhaps I might even point to the GameBoy game as being more interesting on its merits of being an early mystery handheld game.

Original Japanese title(s): 赤川次郎『三毛猫ホームズの騎士道』

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Secret Seven Adventure

Seven little Soldier Boys chopping up sticks;  
One chopped himself in halves and then there were six.
"And Then There Were None"

Semi-regular "hey, there's a Honkaku Discord server" message. 

Hmm, the review of the first book in this series I posted last summer, even though it had a winter theme, and now I'm posting the review of the second book now at the end of winter, even though it has a summer theme...

It has been three years since Japan saw its first criminal trial on a locked room murder. While the police and prosecution were convinced the defendant was the murderer, they just couldn't figure out how the locked room murder was committed. Their argument in court was that it was a moot point: everything else pointed at the defendant and because it was clearly not a suicide in the locked room, but a murder, obviously commited by a third party, it meant it shouldn't matter they couldn't prove how the defendant escaped the locked room, because it remained a fact a murder did happen. The judge however didn't go with this story: the prosecution being incapable of proving how anyone could've committed the murder and escape a locked room basically meant every single person on the planet had an alibi. If it was impossible for anyone, why would it be possible for specifically the defendant? The defendant was declared not guilty, but this trial was the start of the Golden Age of Locked Rooms: would-be murderers realized they could get away scot-free as long as they committed a locked room murder the police couldn't solve. Each year saw more locked room murders, which in turn led to the rise of specialists in locked room murders both within the police, but also as private detectives and even cults that worshipped locked room murders started to arise.

After the murders in the House of Snow, high school student Kuzushiro Kasumi and childhood friend Yozuki are invited by Ootomigawara Aoi to her private island Kanaami Island. Ootomigawara is a young, but incredibly succesful entrepeneur and fan of mystery fiction, and last year, she bought Kanaami Island, which used to belong to the famous mystery author Richard Moore. Moore used his vast fortune to indulge in his passion for mystery fiction on the island, building cottages here and there that he could use for experiments for locked room murders, and he even had the complete island surrounded by a thirty-metre high wire mesh fence, hence the name Kanaami (wire mesh). In the previous two years however, two real locked room murders, in which the victims were decapitated occured in one of the cottages on the island. Moore himself has since died, and thus the island, and everything on it, was up for sale. Ootomigawara Aoi has now invited a few people to her newly acquired island for a murder mystery game, offering a fortune to the winner. Kuzushiro Kasumi is invited due to his involvement in the events at the House of Snow, and other guests include a mystery Youtuber Poirozaka Kousuke, mystery musician General Otozaki and... Kurokawa Chiyori, former judge who gave the sentence in the first locked room trial in Japan, and whom by many is seen as the "cause" of the influx of locked room murders in the country. Another guest is Kuzushiro's friend and classmate Mitsumura Shitsuri, who... was the defendant in the first locked room trial. Ootomigawara Aoi's game involves drawing lots, with one person having to create a locked room "murder" (of a doll) and the others trying to solve it. If the "murderer" gets away, they get 5 points, if someone guesses how it was done, they get 3 points and this game is repeated over the course of a few days. The first day goes as planned, but on the morning of the second day, the people on the island are shocked to find that two people have really been murdered, and in locked room situations too, one in a locked basement and another in one of the guest cottages. With the phone lines cut, it will take a few days before the scheduled boat arrives, but because the island is literally surrounded by a thirty-metre high fence with cameras, it seems likely the murderer must be one of the persons on the island... Furthermore, clues left behind at the crime scenes seem to indicate the murderer is... The Locked Room Encyclopia, a legendary assassin-for-hire who supposedly knows all locked room murder tricks. Can they figure out how The Locked Room Encyclopdia did all this, and who they are before they all end up dead in Kamosaki Danro's 2022 novel Misshitsu Kyouran Jidai no Satsujin - Zekkai no Kotou to Nanatsu no Trick which also has the English title The Murder in the Age of Frenzy of Locked Rooms: The Solitary Island in the Distant Sea and the Seven Tricks on the cover?

As mentioned above, I read Kamosaki's debut work last year, and while the concept was a bit underutilized, I really liked the idea of the Golden Age of Locked Rooms, the whole premise of an age where so many murderers commit locked room murders the government even publishes an official "locked room lecture", so I was looking forward to returning to this world. The second book is very similar to the first book in many ways, as you may have guessed from the cover (which too resembles the first one a lot). Whereas the first book was a pretty stuffed story with six impossible murders, this one goes beyond that and features seven locked room murders (some of which part of the mystery game, but most of them real murders). This story too features a closed circle situation, with everyone trapped on the island, and even the character naming style is the same, with most characters having names that references their role or occupation in very literal ways. I'm not really a fan of the dialogue sections where the characters themselves explain out loud for for example the butler Shitsugi sounds like the Japanese world shitsuji (butler), because it's a bit overkill, but I guess it does make all these names easier to remember. Like the first book, the fact this is a closed circle situation also means you don't get to see much of the "larger" society coping with the Age of Frenzy of Locked Rooms, though this book does improve a lot on that by having both the defendant and the judge of this first trial appear together, and have the judge comment on the current state of Japan brought forth by her ruling.

Anyway, so we have seven locked room murders (some game-murders) happening in this story, and let's make this clear at once, the book is in general more about quantity over quality, though that doesn't mean they are all bad locked room murders. In fact, some are really good, but especially the ones that appear early in the story are not really memorable and too simple. Because this book is so insanely packed, most locked room situations don't last really long in the narrative: the scene is discovered, and sometimes it only takes one "investigation" scene in between to immediately move to the solution. It does feel like this book is more about showing off locked rooms, so if you're more interested in solving them yourself, the book might feel far too hasty. Like Kitayama Takekuni, it is clear Kamosaki loves mechanically constructed locked room solutions, and the more mundane ones are the early ones that just feel like variations of tricks you have likely seen elsewhere, similar to a string and needle trick. You know they work, but it's not really surprising, so you end up shrugging at them. Because these ones mostly appear early in the story, and they follow each other up so quickly, I would understand if a reader would give up early, though some of the later ones are far more fun. And with just the right amount of ridiculousness, similar to Kitayama's work. While not going as far, some of the tricks here have a welcome notion of madness the first book didn't really have, making these tricks more memorable.

I think the more memorable locked rooms in this book, concentrated in the latter half, share a few similar traits in terms of set-up and execution in terms of narrative. That is, the mechanics behind the tricks are different, but they are similar in the sense that Kamosaki is very careful to stress the impossibility of each situation, but that when it comes to setting up clues to lead to the solution, it's sometimes a bit sloppy or just too haphazard. Him being very meticulous in stressing the impossibility of situations is also seen in the way he assures the reader there is no third party on the island, by stressing 1) this is an island, 2) with a thirty metre- high fence around the island, 3) with alarms that sound if someone would climb it, 4) cameras monitoring the single entrance in the fence, and an computer AI macro that checks who gets in and out, 5) assuring nobody has been hiding on the island before this security system was made because of police searches conducted when the decapitation murders were committed earlier and... 6) camera's placed on top of the fences, pointing upwards to the sky to check whether nobody is coming from above. One of the later locked room murders involves a key to a locked room, being held in a box, which is locked by a number of different keys held by different people, and the box being held in another locked room. Yeah, that seems quite impossible. This book improves on the previous book at some points by having more connections between some of the locked rooms, so they're not all discrete situations and there's one moment where that's actually brilliantly used. The decapatitations that occured inside a cottage the last two years on the island also have a very memorable solution, though I hate the way how it is "clewed" and how the detectives figures it out, because it was pushed so unnaturally. And the last impossible crime, which also involves a decapitation, is.... it's nuts, and it's definitely not my favorite situation of the book, but kinda funny to imagine. Though I have major doubts about whether things would actually go that way.

I do like the way the whodunnit aspects of this series is set-up. While the books are very much about locked room murders and how they were committed, both the first book and this book have trails that remind of Ellery Queen's style, with deducing what the murderer did and how that allows you to eliminate suspects and finally arrive at one name. While the chain here isn't long at all, and I think the Big Clue is telegraphed a bit too obviously, I do like that at least here, Kamosaki does a better job at setting up the clue-to-conclusion process more carefully and allowing the reader more time, compared to the hasty locked rooms.

I feel Misshitsu Kyouran Jidai no Satsujin - Zekkai no Kotou to Nanatsu no Trick is extremely similar to the first novel, almost feeling like a remake, but at certain points he did manage to improve himself, showing a bit more interconnectedness between the various locked rooms, and some of the murder situations also being more innovative and memorable. It's a book that is clearly written by someone who absolutely adores locked room murder mysteries and mechanical tricks, and while not every one of them is as good as the other, Kamosaki's enthusiasm seeps through the pages and makes this an entertaining novel as a whole.

Original Japanese title(s): 鴨崎暖炉『 密室狂乱時代の殺人 絶海の孤島と七つのトリック』

Wednesday, March 8, 2023

Delicious Death for Detectives

「フージョン はっ!」
"Fu- sion! Ha!"
"Dragon Ball"

Aaand I managed to finish this game just in time for its Western release!

The whole country has been horrified by a series of murders caused by a mysterious figure calling themselves the Quartering Duke. With over a hundred victims across Japan and the police still unable to catch the illusive criminal after months, the Detective Alliance has decided to hold a special emergency meeting at their home base on Morgue Island, where the best minds of the Alliance, combined with the research and other support staff of the Detective Alliance will figure out who the Duke is and how to stop them. Wato is a young detective assistant who aspires to become a detective himself too in the future, but as a fledgling, he is far removed from the world of the Detective Alliance. Or is he? One evening, he's approached by the Senior Detective, one of the veteran detectives of the Alliance, and he informs Wato he has been recruited for the Detective Alliance. The old man basically abducts Wato and when Wato wakes up, he finds himself on Morgue Island, just in time for the important meeting on the Quartering Duke. Morgue Island is basically a giant caldera, with large cliffs on the edges of the island, protecting it from outsiders and in the middle stands the manor that serves as a base for the Detective Alliance. Wato makes his way there, but there he finds him confronted with a small group of the elite members of the Detective Alliance, like the Workaholic Detective, the Techie Detective and the Armor Detective, all in the possession of specific skills that allow them to be the best among the best. These detectives were not made aware of Wato's sudden recruitment, and are quite suspicious of this unknown boy who suddenly appeared at the manor, especially as it turns out they have been trapped by the Quartering Duke on the island: killer robots have been set loose on Morgue Island, targeting the detectives and the support staff has already been killed. The detectives are now all locked inside the manor with one of the robots roaming outside, with no way to communicate with the outside world. When they discover one of the detectives has been killed inside the manor, it's only natural they suspect 1) the newcomer Wato who was suddenly brought here by the Senior Detective who since has disappeared and 2) that Wato might be affiliated with the Quartering Duke. But Wato is trusted by the leader of the Detective Alliance, the Ideal Detective Holmes, and she allows Wato, who is now dubbed the Incompetent Detective, to investigate the murder to prove he's innocent. But how will the Detective Alliance escape this trap of the Quartering Duke and will they be able to catch them in the 2021 mystery adventure SRPG Tantei Bokumetsu ("Elimination of the Detectives")?

Tantei Bokumetsu was orignally released in the summer of 2021 for Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4, but is scheduled for a 2023 April release in the West with the title Process of Elimination: the game had been on my radar ever since it was announced and I even played the demo when it was released in 2021, but I only got the game late 2022, and still didn't really got started on it until March, just in time for the Western release. The game caught my attention immediately, because it was such an original concept: most mystery games are, understandably, adventure games, whether it's a classic command-style adventure game or a novel game or whatever. An SRPG (in western terms usually strategy role-playing game, in Japanese terms usually simulation role-playing game) is simply not a genre you'd usually associate with a mystery story. For those not familiar with the SRPG genre: it's a variant on the normal (J)RPG, where you move your own units, who all have character-specific statistics or abilities, on a grid-based map to do battle with enemy units.These battles are turn-based, and on the whole, the idea is very similar to chess. One of the better known SRPG series of the decades or so is of course Nintendo's Fire Emblem, but Tantei Bokumetsu's developer (and publisher) Nippon Ichi Software is of course also one of the best known creators of SRPGs with series like Disgaea. Interestingly, Nippon Ichi Software also has a few mystery adventure titles in its catalogue, some of them which are only published by Nippon Ichi Software, but others are developed by Nippon Ichi Software themselves (Hayarigami for example). So if there was one company that would go on creating a SRPG mystery adventure game, I guess it'd be Nippon Ichi Software, but how is the result?

Well, before we get there, let's address the other elephant in the room first. Yes, Tantei Bokumetsu feels very similar to Danganronpa. In fact, I can easily imagine the planner and writer of this game, Joubana Kento, going to his superiors, literally just pitching "Danganronpa, but made by Nippon Ichi Software." It's not only the idea of a group of detectives with very specific fields of interests or having a defining character trait and the often comedic banter between them, but add in the closed circle situation, the idea of a murderer lurking among this group of detectives, the Quartering Duke who as a mysterious force who toys with the detectives and even appears in post-episode segments addressing the player directly, an overarching story that deals with the past of several of the main characters and the overall light banter-focused approach of the game, and you have a game that isn't shy about its inspirations. I imagine that a lot of people thinking of trying this game had already noticed the similarities and if you're looking for something close to Danganronpa in terms of tone, you're close: Tantei Bokumetsu is, in comparison, a lot more subdued, and not as crazy and meta-jokes-reliant, but the somewhat outlandish detectives like the Mystic Detective and the Bookworm Detective certainly feel like they woudn't stand out too much if they were ever to appear in Danganronpa. There is also a slight supernatural/occult theme to Tantei Bokumetsu, though I didn't think it was too intrusive in regards to the mystery part, though it didn't add much either. The game is also apparently set in the same world as another Nippon Ichi Software game (from the same writer): 2020's Bokuhime Project, though I have absolutely no idea what the connections are.

Tantei Bokumetsu is divided in several chapters, and in basically all chapters you'll eventually investigate a murder. The set-up of each chapter is also usually the same, starting with a long visual novel part where the characters discuss the events of the previous chapter, the story delving deeper in the mystery of the Quartering Duke and how and why they are being held on Morgue island and focus on their attempts trying to escape. Occasionally, the player is asked to make a choice in these segments: usually these choices have no bearing on the story, but in few rare cases, making the wrong choice here will lead immediately to a game over.  But most of the time, you'll just be reading text box after text box until inevitably, a murder will occur. Similar to games like the Gyakuten Saiban/Ace Attorney and Danganronpa series, the game then moves to an investigation phase, where you have to gather evidence. This is the SRPG part of the game, the unique, defining element that sets Tantei Bokumetsu apart from other mystery games.

It is also the worst part. 

In the SRPG parts, you have a limited number of turns (usually 5-10 "hours") to find all clues on the map and analyze all of the evidence. Evidence can only be obtained by examining a spot, and often an obtained piece of evidence also needs to be analyzed to understand it completely. In gameplay terms, this means sending one of your detectives to a spot to examine a clue ("defeat an enemy unit"), and once you've obtained that clue, another detective can analyze the evidence. However, not all detectives are equally good at these core skills like Analysis: a detective with Analyzation stats (2), won't be able to analyze a piece of evidence that's worth (5) points for example. As you find clues and analyze the evidence, you'll also encounter Mystery Points: these are big pieces of evidence/clues ("bosses"), and detective have to tackle these MPs with their powers of inference. Here detectives can cooperate, so even if a single detective's Inference stats (the "damage" done to an MP) are not sufficient, a detective (with good stats in Assistance) can act as support, allowing them to "defeat" (solve) a Mystery Point more swiftly. Once you have collected all the evidence and solved all Mystery Points, the story moves on to the finale of the episode, where you have to explain who committed the murder and how.

Only... why did this need to be a SRPG? There's literally no reason gameplay-wise that makes this a better or more interesting mystery game by turning the 'clue gathering' phase of the game in an SRPG. First of all, there are no customization options whatsever in regards to the RPG-elements. Characters don't level up, they don't learn new skills, and you can't select a team yourself for each episode, you are always given a selection. So everyone's stats are always fixed, with some being able to move further, and others being better an analysis or inferences, but they don't level up, and because of the tight deadline in turns for each stage, the SRPG parts basically are nothing more than optimization puzzles: how do you use your units as efficiently as possible to gather all the clues and solve all MPs within the turn limit? Because you can't customize your units in any way, or for example decide where their starting position is or anything, these parts are basically... very slow segments where you just have to gather evidence. Which, in a normal mystery adventure, would be done in a more streamlined manner, and often in a manner that allows for a bit more freedom in storytelling. In Tantei Bokumetsu, all the relevant evidence for a case has to be found within the SRPG parts, within a turn limit, and because there's no freedom in terms of the units you use anyway.... it just feels very meaningless. Even the few times where something like an enemy unit appears (which you have to defeat or avoid) don't really change much, because the tight deadline usually means you don't have that much freedom to decide how to use your units: these segments with the instant game overs feel even more like puzzles, having to figure out the best path to collect all the evidence without triggering the game over flag. 

Before I played the game, I had hoped this game would be closer to for example Sakura Wars, which incidentally is also an SRPG with visual novel parts. But there, there was interaction between the two parts: picking certain choices in the visual novel parts, would make certain units in the SRPG parts stronger (stat boosts). And that combined with leveling, and the fact you'd be rewarded for using certain characters often, by for example getting exclusive scenes with them, made Sakura Wars so fun, as the visual novel and SRPG parts were connected in terms of gameplay. But none of that in Tantei Bokumetsu. You get a group of detectives to control each time, but it doesn't really matter who you use or who get to work together or anything: as long as you get the job done and collect all the evidence within the time limit, all's fine and you won't get punished, or rewarded for that. But because all you do is literally just collecting evidence, it feels like they might as well have made a normal mystery adventure game, because they give me no reason to feel like this SRPG part is in any way vital to telling this story and in fact, for the most part, I felt like the SRPG segments got in the way of telling the story the game wants to tell.

For there are lot of "standard" elements usually found in mystery adventure games that are missing here, and it's just incomprehensible. There's no evidence inventory for example, so you can't read up on the evidence you found once you're done with the SRPG segment in each chapter. I absolutely don't understand why, but you'd better have a good memory or not stop playing between the SRPG segments and the conclusion of each chapter, for there's simply no way to take a second look at all the evidence you found in the SRPG parts. A lot of the deductions are also made for you in the SRPG parts: because the gameplay there revolves around "beating" the evidence and Mystery Points with the detectives, the inferences in this segment are always made by the detectives themselves, leaving little room for the player to consider the evidence, or for example to really lay out red herrings. When you arrive at the climax of each episode though, in the denouement scene, the player is tested via a series of questions to see if they solved the mystery, but because you 1) can't look up the evidence anymore and 2) you never were asked to really consider the evidence yourself in the SRPG parts, if you really have no idea about how the murder was committed and by whom at that point, you're in big trouble. Had the game allowed you to at least check the evidence again in the finale of each episode, that would've made a world of difference, but it certainly doesn't help that all the inferences made in the SRPG part are a passive experience, which then is suddenly changed in an active testing in the segment immediately following it, but there's no point in between to test whether you really think you understand what has happened. Because the evidence is all found in the SRPG parts, it also feels like you just get a box full of evidence dropped on you at once, so there lacks a good build-up going from a piece of evidence to the logical conclusions based on it, and ultimately the truth.

Strangely enough, there are parts in the story where you'd think using the SRPG presentation would've been great, like when the group is first attacked by a killer robot on the island and they try to fight back. Why not present that in SRPG form and have you try battling the robot only to see in gameplay you can't defeat it? 

Okay, so it took me a long time to finally get to the important matter of the story of Tantei Bokumetsu, or to be more exact: the mysteries. But I felt I had to explain first I thought the SRPG segments didn't really help the storytelling of the mysteries, because the evidence are all found in those segments. In general, I do like the individual chapter mysteries of Tantei Bokumetsu: the middle chapters have cases that are interesting, with semi-locked rooms and other impossible situations, but I do feel a lot of these stories are held back because the way the gameplay loop works, they had to place all evidence and clues in the 5-10 turn-long SRPG parts. Had these stories been told in a more classic adventure manner like in Gyakuten Saiban/Ace Attorney or Danganronpa, they could've spread out the clues a lot more across scenes and events, and deepened some parts of the mystery much more. The third chapter in particular is one I think that is quite amusing now, but could've been much better had it been presented in a different manner, allowing them to make things just one step more complex. Extremely few mysteries within the game also benefit from the fact the one thing the SRPG segments show so much potential for: visualization of the crime scenes! Each crime scene (and its surroundings) are shown as a map, so you can really see how every room is connected to each other in a clear way, but there's basically only one moment in the whole game where this is relevant (it's a good one though!), but otherwise, the game makes criminally little use of how it so clearly presents each location almost like a diorama  (especially as you don't get to see a map in any other segments of the game or even as a floorplan as evidence...). So on one hand, it seems to me the SRPG segments limited the way the core mystery plots could've been deepened, while on the other hand, the potential the SRPG segments *do* have, are hardly ever used. Which brings me back to the question of "Why an SRPG?" again.

The overarching story has a few interesting points with the way it lays out its clues. Large parts of the large mystery, involving the past of some key characters and the role of the Quartering Duke, are less 'fair-play' mystery and more, 'just roll with what is revealed to you as things develop' I did like the clues that ultimately point to the final culprit of the game. I do repeat the fact this part of the mystery would probably have felt a bit better if we had some kind of database to easily look up previous events and evidence, as some parts here basically rely on your memory of things, though I guess that's "helped" by the fact the (very long, tedious) final confrontation is an extremely passive experience for the player, as Wato basically solves everything for you (because all the player had to do was collect the evidence in the SRPG parts...). Some parts of the story also feel very undeveloped, like certain characters who die far too soon, or how in the end, we learn very little about what the Detective Alliance exactly is and how things work. 

I don't think Tantei Bokumetsu is a bad game by the way, but it's a game where it's so easy to see the untapped potential, but it never seems to go beyond the concept phase, beyond the basic pitch of "hey, what if we made an SRPG mystery adventure game!" and if they didn't quite know what to do with this pitch. The result is a story that is interesting, with chapter-mysteries that on the whole are okay too and at times show very clever ideas, but at the same time feel underdeveloped because for some reason, this had to be an SRPG too. I can easily imagine how this would've been a better mystery game, if they had not gone the SRPG route, given them more freedom to focus on the presentation of clues and the resulting chain of logic leading to the climax. And at the same time, they don't use the SRPG parts for anything meaningful either. If you had been able to level the stats of your detectives for example, allowing them to take on bigger mysteries as the game goes on, or forcing you to use certain character-specific skills ("only the Techie Detective can analyze this") or any of that, and you'd have a more engaging SRPG segment, but now it's nothing barely anything more than a Professor Layton puzzle. Square-Enix's Sigma Harmonics on the Nintendo DS was a mystery RPG and the effort was hardly a perfect product, but at least there was meaning to that game being both a detective game and an RPG, as the difficulty of the chapter bosses would scale according to how well you'd solve the murder of that specific chapter. In Tantei Bokumetsu you have segments where you make choices, but those never influence the SRPG parts, and in the SRPG parts, you only gather evidence, but the way you do that there is not reflected in any way in the denouement scene of the chapter.

So overall, Tantei Bokumetsu (or Process of Elimination) is a game I don't quite know what to think about. It's not a bad game and on the whole, I did have fun with the story and mysteries of Tantei Bokumetsu: I certainly do not regret buying the game or spending time on it. But there are just so many missed opportunities and factors that just don't seem to make much sense, because they don't really make for a better mystery story or gameplay experience for the player. As if they had a very detailed outline of the story finished already, but never considered what kind of game it was supposed to be until very late in the process, because there are just too few moments where you feel there was much meaning to this being a partial SRPG. Even as an attempt to cross the audiences of Nippon Ichi Software, to bring the fans of their mystery adventure games together with the fans of their SRPG series, this seems like a rather weird attempt. It's certainly not a game I would recommend without reservation, but as I did, on the whole, think it was an interesting, if flawed attempt, I'd say it's still okay to try for those still curious about this experiment.

Original Japanese title(s): 『探偵撲滅』

Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Dead Man's Tale

’Tis strange,—but true; for truth is always strange;   
Stranger than fiction; if it could be told
"Don Juan"

This review had to be posted after another one I had already written and scheduled, otherwise I might have just pushed this one ahead and posted it the moment I finished writing. But I didn't want to mess up the order scheduled posts too much...

The Kannagi Uromu series was a series of succesful non-fiction books by high school student Mitsurugi Masaru based on the real adventures Masaru had with his childhood friends Kannagi Uromu and Hoshikawa Kaguya. Uromu was an absolutely brilliant detective who managed to solve many seemingly unsolvable crimes. Masaru himself considered himself only an "observer", writing down these adventures, but Kaguya, and their later allies Watarase Suzune and Minamori Izuko proved themselves to be very capable detectives themselves too as they assisted Uromu. Uromu however was a very people-shy person and never appeared in public, which was why Masaru wrote down their adventures as fair-play mystery novels. The Detectives and their Observer had one nemesis whom they would encounter in several of Masaru's accounts: the "King of Phantom Thieves" Kuonji Sharaku, also known as Demon's Gate Syndrome. He and his five Disciples would commit the most baffling and surprising impossible crimes, though they never hurt anyone during their crimes, which only added to the sense of entertainment of these confrontations between the Detectives and the King of Phantom Thieves. This legend of Kannagi Uromu however fell apart soon after the publication of The Last Case of Kannagi Uromu, which was a record of the final confrontation the Detectives had with the King of Phantom Thieves, which started with an invitation by Kuonji Saharaku to the Detectives to his secret hide-out the Musical Box House. At the end of their adventure, both Kuonji and Uromu had disappeared. The Last Case of Kannagi Uromu was an anomaly in the series, as the truth behind the mysterious death that occured in the Musical Box House was not revealed in the book and with Uromu gone, nobody really knew what happened there. But not long after the release of The Last Case of Kannagi Uromu's release, the rumors started: Mitsurugi Masaru was accused of being a fraud and that there never was any Kannagi Uromu. With Uromu being immensely people-shy, he was never seen by outsiders, fueling these beliefs and as online message boards were the main form of social media back then, these rumors quickly spread through BBSes, accusing Mitsurugi of having fabricated all these stories. Mitsurugi and the other Detectives however did not fight back against these rumours, and the publishing world immediately pulled away from these books and from their author Mitsurugi Masaru. The books became out of print and a thing of the past, and Kannagi Uromu would turn into an old internet rumor people would hear about once in a while.

Almost two decades almost later, and Shinonome University students Hakuto and Shiki are walking together on the streets. Not because they're dating, Hakuto assures the reader, even if he would very much like that, but even though they are always hanging out together, take turns cooking every night, he helps her with her studies and they also joined the same club, Hakuto sadly enough has to admit they're, in the end, simply neighbors in the same building. But while walking together, they see a woman collapsing on the street and they bring her back to Shiki's room. The woman was also carrying a book, which turns out to to be The Last Case of Kannagi Uromu. The woman introduces herself as Mitsurugi Yui, a fellow Shinonome University student and the daughter of Mitsurugi Masaru, the man who was accused of being a fraud, and of Hoshikawa Kaguya, one of the Detectives, but her mother left Yui and her father when she was young. She explains that the adventures her father had as a high school student with  Uromu, Kaguya and all the other people were real. Yui wants to learn what really happened in the last confrontation between the Detectives and The King of Phantom Thieves, but due to circumstances she can't ask her father (the writer) about it. Yui asks Shiki and Hakuto if they happen to know someone who can help her, and as it happens, they do. As both Shiki and Hakuto are (involuntary) members of the Detective Club, led by Kongouji Kira. Kira hails from a rich family and may seem like a spoiled brat, but she's actually really intelligent too, and has solved many cases. She does act exactly like she owns everything and everyone though, and when Yui asks Kira to find out the truth, Kira decides to order the members of the Detective Club all to come up with a solution to The Last Case of Kannagi Uromu. They are all to read the book, while Kira will use her "special means" to get more information from official sources, and they all have to find out what really happened in the Musical Box House two decades ago. But as each of the members try to come up with a solution to the problem, it's only Shiki who wonders whether Yui should really know the truth, and whether a plausible solution isn't better for her sake. But what answer do the members of the Detective Club arrive at? That's the big question in Konno Tenryuu's Kannagi Uromu Saigo no Jiken ("The Last Case of Kannagi Uromu" 2022).

I had previously read Konno Tenryuu's two Alchemist novels, as well as Cinderella-jou no Satsujin ("The Cinderella Castle Murder" 2021), all entertaining mystery novels featuring fantasy elements, so I was quite pleasantly surprised when I noticed his Kannagi Uromu Saigo no Jiken had taken the ninth place in the Honkaku Mystery Best 10 ranking for 2023 (which covers books published late 2021 - late 2022). The book was released in the summer of 2022, and I had been eyeing it for a while, but I hadn't expected it to get picked as one of the best honkaku reads of the year. I was a bit surprised that unlike the other mystery novels I read by Konno this novel didn't use fantasy elements. What surprised me the most however was the dedication found at the beginning of the book. For it was a reference to Spiral ~ Suiri no Kizuna 2: Koutetsu Banchou no Misshitsu ("Spiral ~ The Bonds of Reasoning 2: The Locked Room of the Steel Gang Boss"), a book which had been out of print for almost two decades, but which I happened to have read only two weeks before starting on Kannagi Uromu Saigo no Jiken, so it was a complete coincidence I recognized the reference at once and that I was reading these two books in order! This obviously felt like destiny, so while I originally bought the book and was only planning to look inside to see how long it'd be etc. and then read it later, I decided to move it up the reading list right away.

The common points between the two books are of course very easy to recognize: just like Spiral ~ Suiri no Kizuna 2, Kannagi Uromu Saigo no Jiken is a story where a crime happened in the past, and where a record of this crime (in this case, the novel The Last Case of Kannagi Uromu) is used to come up with an interpretation of what happened so long ago. Both books also revolve around the concepts of multiple solutions, which in this book is done by having Kira command her club members to all come up with a solution themselves for the events in The Last Case of Kannagi Uromu because that's more fun, and there's also the notion that the truth isn't the most important factor in this story, but that there should be a solution that is the best for Yui herself, because the truth might not be what she really wants to know.  Kannagi Uromu Saigo no Jiken follows a two-part structure, with the "contemporary" narrative starring Hakuto and Shiki at times interrupted by whole chapters and some excerpts from The Last Case of Kannagi Uromu, which incidentally is clearly written very differently from the contemporary narrative, so it does really feel like a different 'novel-within-a-novel.' Apparently there are quite some readers who first got acquainted with the concept of multiple solutions in a mystery novel through the second Spiral novel, which explains why Konno added that dedication.

The Last Case of Kannagi Uromu, as a novel-within-a-novel is quite interesting to read, as while it's supposed to be a "non-fiction" book about the real adventures Masaru, Uromu and his friends had as a high school student, it reads a lot like a grand Great Detective adventure novel, with mysterious manors, Disciples who serve the King of Phantom Thieves and some characters even carrying named weapons like they were in an RPG. This story has Uromu and his friends invited to the residence of the King of Phantom Thieves as he has a surprise for them. While Masaru and the other Detectives are very suspicious of Kuonji's motives, Uromu decides to accept the invitation to see what will happen. As a "security measure" music plays in every room in the Musical Box House whenever a room door is opened after midnight. Each room has its own specific tune, so you know immediately which room door is opened. During the night, everyone is awakened by a sudden tune and they all go out in the hallway. Only one person doesn't appear, who has a room on an upper floor. It was of course their room tune that played, and when they open the locked door, they find that person dead inside their room, stabbed in the stomach and no weapon inside the room. But because a tune plays immediately once the door is opened after midnight, everyone in the house seems to have an alibi because they all appeared in the hallway from their own rooms immediately after the tune of the victim's room upstairs started playing.

Within the narrative of The Last Case of Kannagi Uromu, there are all kinds of small details that pique your interests and other clues that aren't explored in the novel itself, and those are the things the members of the Detective Club focus on in the modern day while building their solutions. What is satisfying about this novel, for example in comparison with The Poisoned Chocolates Case, is that each of the solutions is truly based on the same base information (the chapters quoted from The Last Case of Kannagi Uromu). The Poisoned Chocolates Case may be famous as a mystery novel about multiple solutions, but there each member of the Crimes Club usually did extra research themselves to get "exclusive" clues and information, and used that to create their solutions. That's not the case in Kannagi Uromu Saigo no Jiken, where everyone is playing with the same puzzle pieces, but they still arrive at very different solutions. And that's even if they focus on the exact same puzzle pieces as the fundamental parts of their theories. What is the most fun about Kannagi Uromu Saigo no Jiken is how sometimes the same exact clue is referred to in each solution, but still interpreted in very different manners, leading to very different solutions. Some are the good kind of ridiculous, others seem a bit too mundane, but very doable, and there's quite some variety despite this not being a super long novel. Still, it's impressive to see multiple viable solutions to an impossible crime set-up (and there are some other mysteries in The Last Case of Kannagi Uromu too that need to be addressed), all using more-or-less the same clues. Don't expect to be able to figure out all the different solutions beforehand though: as said, many of the clues are used in multiple solutions, so even if you notice an important clue, it's unlikely you'll guess all the uses, and of course, the exact order of the solutions presented in the book is impossible to predict beforehand. The final solution presented (which is of course considered the "best") has a few moments where I thought there's no way the reader is going to deduce exactly that based on the clues, but overall, it's a very satisfying novel and a great example of how to do a mystery novel with multiple solutions. The interesting thing is of course none of these solutions are by definition false solutions, as the The Last Case of Kannagi Uromu doesn't have a proper solution, so even when one solution is followed by a different one, it never feels like the first solution was unnecessary.

One of the reason I like Queen-school chains of deduction is the way it focuses on the importance of clues and how they combine together leading to hypotheses, and I think Kannagi Uromu Saigo no Jiken is a good example of that. While the chains of deductions in this book aren't like those in a Queen novel, as in, identifying characteristics of a culprit and then eliminating suspects, the way it focuses on the interpretation of clues and weaving a web between various clues is definitely like you'd expect of a Queen novel, only now used to create multiple chains of deductions which all lead to different solutions. 

Oh, by the way, at the end of the book it's mentioned how this book was originally submitted to two different debuting author awards: first the Mephisto Prize in 2012, where it was one of the titles noticed by the editors but didn't get picked eventually, and again, with a new title, for the 29th Ayukawa Tetsuya Award, where it made it all the way to the final jury round, but lost to Houjou Kie's Jikuu Ryokousha no Sunadokei ("The Hourglass of the Time-Space Traveller", 2019). Sometimes, getting a book published via an award for debuting authors also involves a lot of luck and timing...

Kannagi Uromu Saigo no Jiken is a novel I enjoyed a lot. Perhaps part of it was reading it right after Spiral ~ Suiri no Kizuna 2 and seeing its influence on a book published twenty years later, but I'd say that the book is excellent even without that context. It's a very good take on the mystery story with multiple solutions, and you know, I think both sides of the story have potential become a series: I'd be interested in both earlier adventures of Kannagi Uromu and his band of detectives, as well as more of Hakuto, Shiki and Kira of the Detective Club. Anyway, very likely this will end up on my list of favorite reads of this year!

Original Japanese title(s): 紺野天龍『神薙虚無最後の事件』