Update to Blog + New Discord Community

This is not going to be a long and drawn-out post, and is just a micro-post for an announcement!

First of all, this blog has been updated with an “Authors, Works, and Reviews” page, where every post I made on this blog is recorded in organized fashion so you can easily search for specific reviews and posts! You can find it here, or by clicking the “Authors, Works, and Reviews” button at the top of the page.

However, the more pressing purpose of this post is to announce a new Discord community I’ve created called “The Locked Library”! Discord is an SMS (messaging) application where chats are separated into smaller sub-chats called “Channels”. In this way, Discord is like a texting app that’s organized like old web-forums, where every server is itself like its own forum, and the individual channels are the threads.

The Locked Library is a Discord server I’ve created for the express purpose of discussing mystery fiction, and sharing writing on detective fiction. But for the purposes of making my Discord server stand out from other similar communities, I’ve implemented a new feature called “Detectograms!”

Named after H. A. Ripley’s puzzles of the same title, Detectograms are a texting game where one member writes a mystery story, and other members take turns attempting to solve the story. In this way, I wanted to give members of the community a way to exercise low-stakes, low-stress writing projects in the form of collaborative puzzles/games. If that sounds interesting to you at all, the server can be joined at this link.

Hope to see you there!

The Innocence of Father Brown (1911) by G. K. Chesterton

G. K. Chesterton’s mystery writings featuring the crime-solving parish priest Father Brown stand today as some of the most influential in the entire history of genre. To refer to a plot-point as “Chestertonian” is a term so ubiquitous that even someone who has never read his works understands the paradox of hiding something without really hiding it at all — clues snuggled neatly in the boundary between information which isn’t explicitly made known and information which certainly must exist. With G. K. Chesterton’s writing inspiring crime writers all the world over, from slivers of Chestertonian plotting in Agatha Christie’s Death in the Clouds to entire series inspired by Father Brown’s exploits in Japan’s A Aiichirou, he’s an author who almost needs no introduction.

As one of the founding members of the Detection Club, as well as its first president, G. K. Chesterton was one of the first authors whose stories started to show the seeds of the style of plotting the Golden Age of Crime Fiction came to be known for. Tricky plots and multi-layered misdirection started to replace basic criminal precaution, foreshadowing became more salient, and the “impossible crimes” began to mature past their pre-Golden Age crudeness — it is thanks to G. K. Chesterton that the purely naturalistic, rational mysteries of the 19th century would slowly become replaced with imaginative plotters and clever criminals.

However, though The Innocence of Father Brown can be seen flirting with a kind of plotting that would go on to dominate the puzzle plots of the 1920s to 40s, it cannot be said that the notion of “fairplay” has actually yet fully formed. Often times, Father Brown solves the crimes through information hitherto unbeknownst to the reader, thought processes that sometimes don’t even begin to approach rational or concrete (in one story, Brown argues that a man is innocent of a theft merely because he is a Socialist!), or simply divining the answer from mid-air. Nonetheless, the seeds for the Golden Age are clearly here, and it’s easy to see how Chesterton preempted (or even created) many of the elements of what would become the “fairplay” detective novel half a decade before its formal existence. Many famous Golden Age mysteries, such as Ronald Knox’s “Solved by Inspection”, Agatha Christie’s Death in the Clouds, and John Dickson Carr’s The Four False Weapons have borrowed, adapted, reworked, inverted, subverted, reimagined, and reconstructed tricks from Chesterton’s tales, so much so that it can be said Chesterton invented many of the forms of misdirection for which the genre would go on to be known.

As a weaver of yarns of crime, Chesterton was forward-thinking. Many gimmicks appear in these stories which represent Chesterton and Chesterton alone and, in that way, create so many stories that even 110 years later can be seen as original. Occasionally, a story few of the stories may show their age in such ways as a unique concept clearly mimicked ad nauseum from Chesteron’s oeuvre.

The famous highlights of the stories, however, are not merely the tricky plots, but also the prose, which is defined by its whimsy, humor, and most prominently those “paradoxes” for which Chesterton is so famous. Sometimes these “paradoxes” are more like “dichotomies”, but regardless of how you classify them they stand out in Chesterton’s writing as the most straightforwardly evocative, often relying on contrast or irony to convey a lot of information in very little space. Lines like “bad clothes which were too good for them” are often quotable.

These paradoxes also inform the most unique aspect of Chesterton’s mystery plots: those “intuitive reasoning” stories where the exact form the mystery takes isn’t quite apparent until the denouement. These tales differ from most detective stories in that they don’t focus on a well-defined criminal problem, instead dealing with Father Brown’s investigation into apparent paradoxes of character, nature, or behavior, and offering a decidedly reasonable explanation from his intuition. Such examples include the pre-eminent “The Queer Feet”, in which Father Brown must figure out the mystery behind “feet which run in order to walk” and “walk in order to run”, and “The Honour of Israel Gow” , in which Father Brown is called upon to explain the bizarre behavior of a man who may or may not have lived and may or may not have died. These stories stand out as the most unequivocally “Chestertonian” in the Father Brown canon.

But the series is not perfect and without flaw. A major percentage of the charm in these stories can be found in their religious preoccupations. The stories concern themselves intimately with themes of religious proselytizing, with practically every murderous culprit being an atheist who simply needs to see the graces of God and Christianity, with humanity often explored through the lens of Roman Catholicism. Those who find this charming will be sure to enjoy the stories, but those who aren’t religious may find themselves forced to reckon with the fact that the author clearly thought that people like themselves were statistically guaranteed to be murderers. The series’ perspective on religion and humanity can be argued to occasionally be naïve in that uniquely religious way. For stories wherein the large portion of the appeal is in those musings, those who find themselves at the butt-end of Chesterton’s theocentric moralizing may feel somewhat alienated.

But, putting taste aside, I can’t help but respect Chesterton for his typical brilliance. The man was clearly imaginative in the extreme, and even the social commentary can be alienating, when I manage to look at the heart of his best tales I can see why Chesterton’s name has lived on in respect to detective fiction, and not just for his theology…

The Blue Cross” has “The Greatest Detective in the World”, Frenchman Aristide Valentin on the trail of the world’s greatest thief Flambeau. Flambeau is a man who, although notably over six feet tall, was a master of disguise and a thief of great (and often humorous) exploits, such as picking up two policeman and running down the street with them under his arms. Detective Valentin has tracked Flambeau to London, and suddenly starts to find various bizarre occurrences like a priest throwing soup at a wall, smashing a window and then immediately paying for the damages, swapping the signs for the nuts and the oranges in a storefront and the containers for the salt and sugar in a restaurant… all of which he suspects will lead him to Flambeau.

Originally published as “Valentin Follows a Curious Trail”, this clearly relies on the subversion of you believing that this is a Valentin story, with Valentin standing in as “the Great Detective” like Auguste Dupin or Sherlock Holmes, when it is in fact a Father Brown story… a pretty open secret in a collection of short stories with “Father Brown” plastered all over the cover.

This is the first story with the very Chestertonian problem of “mysteries with an unclear form that don’t make sense until the end”, though the solution doesn’t work as well with the foreknowledge that this is a Father Brown story. A good introduction to the principle cast of Father Brown, but as a mystery story it only functions as intended if you read it when published and absolutely no later. Still, there is quite a bit of cleverness here establishing Chesterton’s fondness for paradox in the mechanics of the crime.

“The Secret Garden”, then, is the cleaning up of “The Blue Cross”‘s subversion to make room for Father Brown to formally take over the series as feature sleuth. The Great Detective Aristide Valentin is hosting a dinner party where the guest of honor is Julius K. Brayne, a man who seems to belong to all religions, an indecisive agnostic who donates moneys to all movements of all churches. However, the festivities are interrupted when a corpse is located in the garden by another dinner guest, decapitated with the head is nearby. The man is unrecognizable to everyone, which creates something of an impossible problem: the front door of the house was guarded by a servant, the garden is entirely enclosed and can only be accessed from within the house, therefore… how did this murder victim get into the garden without being seen by anyone? Julius K. Brayne goes on to vanish from the house under similarly impossible circumstances, conspicuously establishing his own guilt…

It’s a very atmospheric and Carrian decapitation plot, but when you boil it down to its central trick, the decapitation trick is basically the two classic decapitation tricks put together into one story, making it pretty predictable (I’d be shocked to hear that the seasoned reader was fooled by this story for even a second). However, to the story’s benefit, I’ve never seen these tricks be utilized to create an impossible problem in quite this way, so even today it still stands a pretty clever variation on the idea in principle, even if none the less obvious for it.

The killer is the subversive element of the story, though I found the religious motive to be pretty random for what role the character was supposed to be playing in this series… It’s also pretty ludicrous, based on the idea that atheists are as religious about their atheism as theists are in their faith. No real human would ever commit murder for the reason provided in this story…

Gripes aside, it really is an inspired idea for an impossible crime. The mechanics of the decapitation themselves are old hat and predictable, but to see it employed not just for identity obfuscation but to create a genuine impossible crime is a really smart idea on Chesterton’s part. Sits firmly in the “obvious but clever” category.

I wonder, actually, if this is the first appearance of this particular decapitation trick…

“The Queer Feet” has Father Brown at a hotel that is exclusive for the sake of being exclusive, taking the unknown confessions of an employee who has fallen ill… While locked into the room he’s been provided to do his writing, he’s harassed by the sounds of footsteps out in the hallway which seem “to run in order to walk” and “to walk in order to run”…

This is another of that uniquely Chestertonian problem of “the exact nature of the mystery isn’t quite clear until the end”, and the explanation really is brilliant. This is the first appearance of Chesterton’s favorite gimmick of “congruous invisibility”, and I think this one works better than other, more famous examples of this trick in the Father Brown canon. The congruity is explicitly established early in the story by the palpable social satire, and requires active effort on the culprit’s part to perform (as opposed to simply relying on an unreliable quirk of language).

If there’s a gripe to be had with this brilliantly clever story, Father Brown’s detection of the crime would’ve been more impactful had he revealed it before the crime was made known to the audience — having Father Brown solve a crime which we, the readers, didn’t even know had occurred until he explicitly explained his reasoning? Would have been something else entirely!

Still, great story with a perplexing riddle, and Father Brown’s final line is great…

The Flying Stars” sees Father Brown as a guest at a Boxing Day dinner where the family puts on a masquerade play to entertain themselves. Only, of course, crime follows, as The Flying Stars, jewels as well as the patriarch’s gift to his daughter, are stolen from a man’s pocket during the proceedings! Father Brown immediately divines the solution.

A pretty standard theft elevated by the thief’s clever use of the improvisational play makes this a fun comedy-cum-detective story. However, though the thief’s “trap” is brilliant, it’s also perfectly unnecessary and clearly done for no better reason than the thief wanted to do some kind of flashy trick. The narrative admits that he easily could’ve stolen the gems with equal efficacy and gotten away scot free while doing half as much work, and that the thief knew this, and was simply having fun with it. So much so that the impact it had on his plan continues to elude me entirely…

Well, the idea for the trap is nonetheless brilliant, so it gets a pass. Kind of an inversion of “congruous invisibility” — making an incongruous person perfectly congruous by sheer nature of all the incongruity surrounding him. Decent story.

“The Invisible Man” is G. K. Chesterton’s most famous story. A woman rejects two “ugly” “freaks”, telling them that if they wish to marry her they must make something of their lives on principle. While the first of these “freaks” — a borderline-dwarf — succeeds in making autonomous servants, the second seems to merely be stalking the woman, promising in threatening notes to murder the dwarf if she marries him… all while appearing to be invisible! Naturally, this comes to a head as the invisible man truly does commit the murder he promised to commit… in front of four witnesses who swear that nobody walked into the victim’s house, despite the fact footprints show otherwise.

As I’ve hinted at above, I simply do not enjoy this story or consider it even remotely possible — not merely implausible, but I believe this story would never work out the way as described in real life. It utilizes Chesterton’s well-worn trick, but in this case brought to the point of absurdity so to not even be conceivable. It ultimately relies on a false premise that Chesterton tries to explain away as a quirk of language, but all I know is that the way Father Brown claims people answer questions is not the way I answer questions, that’s for certain! The solution could’ve involved the killer paying off everyone in the city to lie on his behalf, and I’d find it more believable and more enjoyable than the solution Chesterton gives us here. Hokey and overrated.

“The Honour of Israel Gow” sees Father Brown at a Scottish castle, investigating the life of a man who may or may not have lived, and the death of the very same man who may or may not have died. Brown’s newly reformed friend, former thief and current genius amateur detective, is up the wall with oddities surrounding the life and death and person of the Earl of Glengyle. He left out snuff with no snuffbox, had candles with no candlesticks… and from just this, and a conversation with the late Earl’s groundskeeper Israel Gow, Father Brown can expound on the mysteries of the house of the Earl of Glengyle.

Another of those intuitive reasoning stories with no apparent criminal element, same as “The Blue Cross” and “The Queer Feet”, “The Honour of Israel Gow”‘s solution is perfectly natural given the provided information, so long as you can find the missing link; it is, perhaps a less inspired, but more credible deduction than the one seen in “The Queer Feet”! There is a long series of false solutions at the beginning which are very pleasantly clever.

Sometimes Chesterton likes to do soft style parodies, with “The Honour of Israel Gow” clearly and evidently having fun at the expense of the stories written and inspired by Wilkie Collins. The characters in the story themselves lampshade this by calling their conundrum a melodrama straight from the mind of Collins himself. Much to be enjoyed here; these intuitive reasoning stories tend to be highlights.

The Wrong Shape” has Flambeau and Father Brown appearing at the summons of a writer of oriental romantic poems. The odd artist has a fascination with all things Asian, with his furniture being a complex hodgepodge of various Asian crafts, and the man even having an odd Indian visitor in his home. And so, when he winds up dead in his locked and sealed atrium with a note nearby reading “I die by my own hand, yet I die murdered”, it’s wondered if maybe this odd Indian visitor used hypnotism to compel the author to kill himself…

I am going to choose my words tactfully, because this topic seems to cause questionable debates in certain circles where pointing out racism in classic mysteries gets you labeled a “revisionist woke liberal”. No, I do not think this story should be censored, yes I think this story deserves to exist (as all art does), no I do not think that it should be rewritten in any way. That being said, it is still flagrantly racist. “The Indian” is referred to in exactly those terms throughout the entire story; he is not given any other name, unless you want to count “n****r” as a name. The presentation of the impossibility relies on multiple people who are otherwise rational and supposedly kind-spirited (why is Father Brown calling people “n****rs”?) to not only be incredibly racist, but so cruelly mean-spirited it overwrites all of their rational human beliefs to even for a moment believe that Indian people have access to mind-warping voodoo powers. As someone who reads these stories for enjoyment, and does not enjoy racism, I think it’s fair to say that the racism impeded my ability to derive the maximum amount of enjoyment from this story. It is free to exist as it does, but I am also free to not enjoy that it does so. On this one point, I do not care if you disagree; do not tell me.

Anyway, as concerns the investigation; I didn’t like this story when I first read it, because the mechanisms of the impossible crime are ostensibly quite crude for someone as forward thinking as Chesterton. But on closer inspection, I realized that the misdirection deflecting away from the solution was actually quite crafty, with a typically Chestertonian “congruity” clue hiding it all the while. The presentation of a paradox to mull over was a smart red herring and distraction, the sort I don’t think I’ve seen very often; I almost feel like this clue would’ve functioned even better in a visual medium, like a television show or a comic. As an impossible crime story, this is fairly well-told and quite good, but not a favorite.

In “The Sins of Prince Saradine”, Flambeau is summoned by an Italian prince for a meeting on the condition that Flambeau is only allowed to come once he is fully reformed. In this dreamy, fairyland-like islet, nothing is quite as it appears to be as Father Brown is assaulted by senses of foreboding and impending Doom…

The fourth intuitive reasoning story in the collection, this one is solid but only just. Despite being an intuitive reasoning story, the explanation relies on principles often seen before in criminal mystery stories, dulling the charm of these stories, which comes from the very fact that the explanation is so brilliantly far-removed from typical mystery fare. They’re ideas that already weren’t very new when this story was written either, making it a little more predictable and less knee-slappingly brilliant than its kin.

In fact, this repurposing of a criminal trick in an intuitive reasoning story was very much the point, as a trick utilized earlier in a criminal Father Brown story was explicitly the inspiration for the culprit in this case, a really smart clue that is established early on. Overall, this story is charmingly well-written and somewhat clever, but aside from its beautifully magical imagery unremarkable in this collection of generally much more inspired stories.

In “The Hammer of God”, after declaring his intentions to go and sleep with the wife of the local blacksmith, Norman Bohun is soon found dead under puzzling circumstances. His skull was destroyed with a massive blow, but next to him was a murder weapon: a tiny hammer… No woman could’ve delivered such a blow with such a weapon, and no man would ever consciously choose to use such a weapon, creating a seemingly inexplicable crime…

The explanations for why the paradox is a problem to begin with aren’t entirely convincing, and the solution is one of those solutions where it’s only a problem if you uncritically accept conditions laid out for you by the story without challenging them. An ounce of common sense without any extraneous mystery reading nonsense should allow any reader to easily pick out the killer and the murder method without much suspense or difficulty; neither are particularly clever. Perhaps the most well-known Father Brown this side of “The Invisible Man”, but certainly overrated.

One of the few instances in which the Father Brown culprit isn’t an atheist.

A typewriter saleswoman named Pauline falls to her death in an empty elevator shaft in “The Eye of Apollo”. However, her death is decidedly impossible. Her sister Joan, towards whom the victim Pauline was abusive, was in another office at the time of death; and Kalon, the patron of a sun-worshiping religion, was proselytizing from his balcony at the time Pauline fell. With suicide additionally off the table, Father Brown must solve the seemingly impossible circumstances of Pauline’s murder…

A phenomenally clever little story and the second best in the collection so far. While it isn’t so hard to figure out, relying on a principle people are likely familiar with, the specific application of the principle, combined with the neatly laid religious elements, make this a pretty smartly realized alibi problem. This is apparently the predecessor to Knox’s “Solved by Inspection”, but by all accounts I think this is the superior variation.

“The Sign of the Broken Sword” sees Father Brown and Flambeau haunting the tombs of famous English general St. Clair, searching for clues into his mysterious historical death. General St. Clair led a small force of his soldiers against a much larger Brazilian battalion, whereupon St. Clair was taken prisoner by Brazilian general Olivier and subsequently hung, with his broken sword dangling from his neck… However, Father Brown disagrees that this version of events is true; St. Clair was too clever to wage this suicide mission for no reason, and Olivier was too altruistic to hang a prisoner… so surely there must be a more profound spirit of evil running under this bizarre moment in English history…

I was spoiled on this short story’s connection to a certain Agatha Christie novel by one of my fellow bloggers, and I’m very sad for that because it let me clue into the true solution much sooner than I would’ve liked. This is actually a spectacular “historical cold case” story. The explanation behind St. Clair’s bizarre behavior is a brilliant way to take advantage of a wartime setting for classical misdirection in a murder mystery, and the explanation behind St. Clair’s subsequent death is genuinely creepy, both taking advantage of the large scale of war for their impact. Brilliant story, this, new second best in the collection.

“The Three Tools of Death” see Father Brown investigate a bizarre crime, in which a man died by being thrown out of the window onto the bank of a traintrack below, and yet there still seem to be three weapons responsible for his death: a rope tied around his legs; a gun fired in his bedroom; and, a knife with fresh blood on it!

The set-up doesn’t super intuitively make sense because there isn’t any ambiguity surrounding the nature or cause of his death (that being defenestration). The idea of three false weapons being present at the crime scene is one John Dickson Carr would revisit in his own The Four False Weapons, and it’s a worthwhile prospect but it isn’t a premise G. K. Chesterton established very well, and this bizarre half-set-up does dull the story’s impact. The anti-solution has all of Father Brown’s characteristic cleverness, but part of me wonders if maybe this story was written on a tight deadline with its rather short length (~30% shorter than the average Father Brown story) and messy set-up.

The Innocence of Father Brown might not be the beacon of perfection it’s often heralded as, but what can be said about it is that it’s a fascination and illuminating look into what the genre would become. The clever, imaginative, tricky plots of the Golden Age essentially owe their existence to G. K. Chesterton and Father Brown, a purifying force that elevated detective stories from their crude and rational forms into something a little more artistic and crafty. Quite a few classics of the genre make their appearance here, and while I don’t think I’ve walked away thinking of Chesterton himself as a favorite author, I can say that some highlights like “The Queer Feet” will stick with me as some some of my favorite individual mystery short stories of all time!

I will absolutely return to this formative author’s mystery stories in the near future, as it is interesting to see the DNA of so many beloved novels and stories first form in these pages… As it is, The Innocence of Father Brown is a solid collection from one of the most important detective fiction authors of all time!

As is standard, I’ll wrap this all up with a ranking of the Father Brown stories…

  1. “The Queer Feet”
  2. “The Sign of the Broken Sword”
  3. “The Eye of Apollo”
  4. “The Secret Garden”
  5. “The Honour of Israel Gow”
  6. The Wrong Shape”
  7. “The Three Tools of Death”
  8. “The Blue Cross”
  9. “The Flying Stars”
  10. “The Sins of Prince Saradine”
  11. “The Hammer of God”
  12. “The Invisible Man”

Death Among the Undead (2017) by Masahiro Imamura, trans. Ho-Ling Wong (2021)

This is not a review of Death Among the Undead by Masahiro Imamura.

When I first discovered Golden Age mysteries I was 15 years old, a freshman in high-school whose only experience with mystery fiction was my fondness for the the still eminently wonderful Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney video game franchise, a few odd parodies in cartoons, the odd Sherlock Holmes story, and occasionally catching my aunt watching Criminal Minds or crime documentaries in the living room while she folded clothes. I heard the name Agatha Christie thrown around a few times, I knew she was the most famous mystery author (no, the most well-sold author of any genre in any language!), but it never occurred to me there was any link between this silly lawyer video game I enjoyed and the types of mysteries this Agatha Christie lady wrote… Her works were old and Ace Attorney was new, so surely I’d have no interest with these dusty old “classics”?

But then I stumbled across a recently-translated interview with Takumi Shu, the creator of Ace Attorney, who began listing his inspirations for the series. Agatha Christie’s name didn’t come up specifically, but a lot of authors whose names I’ve heard in relation to hers were mentioned — John Dickson Carr, Ellery Queen, Anthony Berkeley. I realized that Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney wasn’t a style of plotting unto itself, but a modern reinvigoration of a whole sub-genre of similarly-written mystery stories I simply had no idea existed!

So, finally, after going back and forth on whether or not it was worth it to read her novels, I decided to ask my high school librarian and go home with a borrowed copy of The Mysterious Affair of Styles under my arm. I read it on the school bus, even though the bullies tried to rip it from my hands. I read it at my house, even when the sun began to set and I was supposed to be in bed. I read it over breakfast instead of eating, even though I knew I was supposed to be hungry. By the time I even made it back to the library, I’d devoured the book whole and was already ready to ask my librarian for a copy of Murder on the Links.

The book was exactly what I thought it wouldn’t be! It was just like that collection of puzzles, riddles, and clues in Ace Attorney, and just the kind of mystery writing I’d fallen in love with and thought didn’t exist anywhere else! A whole genre of exactly the kind of story I’ve always wanted to read existed, against my knowledge, and I didn’t know about it!? No, no, no, that just wouldn’t do! I was already struck by the possibilities of plot and theme and setting, inspired by the potential of tricks and misdirection, keen on picking apart clues and breaking down alibis. This was a whole new world that felt like it was built just for me, and I was ready to explore!

…Fast forward seven years.

I am a third year in university. I still love Golden Age mysteries, but the room left for genuine surprise felt… narrower. Yes, I still stumbled upon brilliant and unprecedented gems of the genre, but after obsessively feasting into every corner of the Golden Age mystery I could find, it became less and less often I felt like the explorer I did as a freshman in high school. I was enjoying the mysteries I read, but so many felt like I was just amusing myself with variations and remixes of ideas I’ve seen dozens, hundreds of times before. I am not an explorer anymore; I am a hiker, traveling up and down the paths I’ve become comfortable and complacent in. Yes, sometimes you find that the odd traveler has come by and left a large stone carving or dug a lake near the path, but outside of these diversions, it is the same path. I found myself walking the path a little less frequently, and doing it for shorter periods at a time. I was no longer staying out until the crack of dawn, instead using the first sign of darkness as an excuse to return home…

It almost feels silly to say I’ve reached this point so quickly…

But then one day I noticed a change in the path that really stole me away. Most changes in the path are minute at worst, like someone shifting the pebbles in the road, and one-off diversions at best, like a fireworks show that comes suddenly, amazes you with its spectacle and explosive ambition, and then dies away again. But this was more than just a negligible modification to the road I’ve been walking for seven years; it was a whole other walkway, branching sharply off to the east. Equal parts eager and hesitant, I curiously followed the path and found at the end of it a copy of Death Among the Undead by Masahiro Imamura, sitting in the middle of a grassy grove.

What the Hell?, I thought. Death Among the Undead? Undead, as in… zombies? But the world’s tired of zombies already! I’m tired of them, dammit! and I gracelessly put the book down, weaved my way back through the three-lined path and continued along the well-worn hiking path I’ve become accustomed to.

Every time I revisit the road, walking through the growing depressions of my own feet in the pebbles, I see that path branching off towards the east and I feel my own hypocrisy. I was complaining about the monotony of the hiking path. I was complaining that I didn’t feel like an explorer anymore! Well, there you go! A murder mystery with zombies. That’s as different as you can get, idiot! I kept waiting for the next fireworks show or for the next traveler to come by and drop a new artwork along the path, because I realized I wanted something different, but I didn’t want something different, did I?

Confronted with my own absurd hypocrisy, I stomped into the wooded path to the east, angrily snatched the book up off the grass, planted my ass there and told myself I would not move until I’ve given Death Among he Undead its fair shot and read the whole damn thing from beginning to end.

And I did. I read the whole book in two sittings, and just like with Mysterious Affair at Styles I read late into the night until the bags forming under my eyes began to ache and throb, and even then I didn’t stop until I knew I wasn’t getting the most out of the book reading it like that. I went to sleep right there in the grove, woke up, and immediately dove right back into the book until I had entirely finished it.

And then I stood up and returned to my hiking path… only, it wasn’t quite the same anymore. The road beneath my feet phased transiently from pebble to cobblestone to wood to asphalt, the curves in the path began to shift up and down, and left and right like waves. The trees weren’t only green anymore, now taking on hues of blue and purple and orange, and only sometimes were the trees even trees, as sometimes they took on the forms of stone towers and steel-paneled, probing lights. Every step along this well-worn path suddenly felt like I was diving into a brand new world, a shifting world at once always recognizable as the one I love as well as a scary, alien world totally beyond my expectation of what could even be.

But I didn’t hesitate. I dove headlong into this same-different world.

I was an explorer anew.

Death Among the Undead by Masahiro Imamura is a work that awoken me to new possibilities in the mystery story. Hybrid mysteries… Those puzzlers in the tradition of Agatha Christie and Ellery Queen and John Dickson Carr were running their course, some would say. There’s only so much you can do in our world to commit murder and get away with it!

Long ago I’d have agreed with them. It’s only reasonable that the puzzle mystery genre would die; our world is defined by too many limitations. I felt disheartened that such limitations could only be overcome in inimitable, bombastic fashion, and even those options were dwindling day by day. It wasn’t until Masahiro Imamura that I realized that the natural answer… is simply to go beyond our own world.

Masahiro Imamura’s debut is a fantastic locked-room mystery with three impossible crimes in them, all of which use zombies as a murder method. Three impossible crimes which simultaneously could not be committed by humans, for the corpses have been eaten, and yet could not be committed by zombies, as they are incapable of entering the locked and sealed rooms and then escaping. It is a brilliant and wildly imaginative mystery novel that can only exist due to its fantastical and supernatural elements.

But it’s also personally important to me because it is the novel that turned me onto new possibilities in detective stories. The ability to take Agatha Christie and put that kind of writing into fantasy worlds, or science-fiction worlds, or zombie apocalypses… No, I’m not talking about occult detective fiction like The Dresden Files, but 100% authentic Golden Age-inspired puzzle plots inspired by the worlds beyond our own.

It’s a potential I have become passionate about exploring. It’s the whole reason I study Japanese, to explore all of those fantastical mysteries that have followed Death Among the Undead. Nothing fascinates me more in the genre at this very moment than the possibilities those wildly creative authors in Japan have unlocked by tapping into this unexplored frontier of murder and mystery. My mind is flurried with thoughts, feelings, ideas, theories, daydreaming, all of the brand new stories that can come from a little dip into the surreal and fantastical. Reading Death Among the Undead makes me feel lost in the very same lovely way that I felt when I first walked into my library and asked for one copy of The Mysterious Affair at Styles — suddenly I don’t have expectations or ideas, I’m not endlessly savvy in tropes and tricks anymore, and I’m struck head over heels with the infinite potentiality of mysteries from worlds beyond.

This is not a review of Death Among the Undead by Masahiro Imamura. I am not qualified to write a review, because I love the book way too much to be truly impartial. All I can say is that this novel was so fantastically superb, imaginative, creatively ambitious, and awe-inspiring it motivated me to learn a whole other language. I couldn’t go another day without acknowledging this book on my blog beyond its inclusion on my list of my favorite impossible crimes… It’s brilliant, and has tapped into a new level of passion and interest in the genre I never knew I could have.

This is not a review of Death Among the Undead. This is a love letter, and a thank you.

Detective Conan Volumes 16 to 29 — 14-Volume Review Lightning Round

(*Note, although this is the sixteenth in this series of reviews, I only encourage you to read my review of the first volume to get a summary of the series and my preamble about the reviews. It is not necessary to read any other entry in the series besides the first)

You may or may not have noticed that I haven’t updated my Detective Conan reviews in a while. The last update was a review of volume 15, nearly a third of a year ago… This is NOT because I haven’t been reading it, but quite the opposite: I’ve been reading it between classes, while bed-ridden with sciatica, at the hospital waiting to be diagnosed with sciatica, during mental health burnouts, over lunch… It’s such a breezy and easy to read series that it’s become a go-to comfort read for me when I feel like I haven’t touched enough mysteries lately.

I’m actually at book 30 in Detective Conan now, and reviewing these somewhat weekly means I’ll never catch up and never have room to discuss any other non-literature mysteries! So I kept putting off writing new Detective Conan reviews, but then continued reading the series until one day I realized… oh no… I’ve only reviewed half of what I’ve read!

Suffice it to say, this was unideal. Anxiety set in (as it always does when I’m facing the most insignificant problems a person has ever faced) and I had no idea how I was ever going to catch up with myself reviewing them one measly book at a time!

…So why review them one book at a time? Why not write one massive catch-up review post, covering all 14 volumes I’ve read since I last updated the series, and continue from there? Does this seem inefficient and inelegant? Probably.

But I’m still doing it. It makes me feel better.

Detective Conan is one of if not simply the largest “classical-styled” mystery series in the entire world, boasting exactly 700 disparate mystery stories across 1109 chapters of 104 books, and 1067 episodes of 31 seasons of television (only counting the stories original to the television adaptation), and that’s before taking into account video games, novels, movies, audio plays, and other random, obscure micro-entries… and the franchise isn’t even done yet, as it’s slated to continue in full force later this year! Suffice it to say that when I set out to consume nearly 2200 micro-units of media for review on this blog, I was making a huge commitment of time, energy, and effort, not to mention sacrificing my integrity in the eyes of more conservative mystery readership…

Naturally the project sometimes gets away from me, as I’ve read 15 whole books in the series since I last reviewed it. If it were one or two books I was behind, that’d be one thing, but 15…!? That’s not reasonable at all. I was simply not on top of the project. In order to get myself back on track, I’ve decided to carry out the worst plan in the history of plans and cram 14 reviews into one by going through a lightning round review of all 41(!) stories I’ve read but have yet to cover on the blog…


I don’t want to waste too much time on this preamble for a rushed and slapdash review, so without much further ado, let’s start with…

Volume 16 (1997)

Volume 16 only fully starts on Chapter 4 with Casebook 043 – Elementary School Mystery Case (Chapters 4-5), a Junior Detective League case borrowing from Japanese schoolkid mythology of every school having “seven mysteries”. The Junior Detective League investigates running skeletons and moving statues, but the solution is intentionally silly and not entirely interesting, even if the “motive” is really cute.

Casebook 044 – KAITO KID and the Black Star Case is a landmark case for the series, as it is the first crossover between Detective Conan and Gosho Aoyama’s other series Magic Kaito. Magic Kaito is a heist series about a magician-turned-supercriminal who seeks to steal every gem in the world until he can find the magical jewel that is responsible for his father’s death..! The protagonist, KAITO KID, often crosses over with Conan in heists told from the detective’s perspective, and this blend of heist fiction and classical detection results in an exceptionally fun and outstandingly unique story in this franchise. A+!

Casebook 045 – Famous Potter Murder Case (Chapters 10-2) involves a famous potter and his proteges excitedly showing the famous Detective Richard Moore their work when the potter’s daughter-in-law accidentally breaks his magnum opus… She’s naturally torn-up with grief, so when she dies by hanging in the shed the very next day, when everyone was together in the living room of the house with an alibi, it’s determined that her death must’ve been a suicide…

My biggest gripe with Conan alibi tricks is that the cases tend to get lazy by giving everyone a perfect alibi, highlighting the very existence of an alibi trick and making the tricks less functional and more obvious as a consequence. What’s here is a decent idea for a trick, but the cracks on the foundation become more apparent when your set-up shouts “hey, everybody look! Alibi here! There’s an alibi trick here!”. Some later Conan stories handle this better. Middle of the line story.

Volume 16 is fairly unremarkable if not for the exceptional KAITO KID case. It’s hard to recommend the volume on the weight of one story alone, but it is a landmark, so I’d suggest checking out the anime adaptation of this story to get context for future KAITO KID crossovers (of which there will be many)

Volume 17 (1997)

Volume 17 opens with Casebook 046 – Scuba Divers Attempted Murder Case (Chapters 3-5), in which a bride-to-be almost drowns after being bitten by a rare, poisonous sea-snake! But a chance observation by Conan, as well as Richard’s ex-wife Eri, leads to the realization that this seeming “accident” way well be murder.

The motive for this one requires a little tolerance for what is and isn’t taboo in other cultures, but it’s actually a really good plot with a smart visual clue. It recalls the last Attempted Murder case in Casebook 21 – Poisoned Bride Attempted Murder Case (Volume 8, Chapters 8-10) in that it involves a tragic misunderstanding that is resolved by the end of the case. I think the resolution works better in this case than that one, but this isn’t as good a mystery. Still, a really solid one!

Casebook 047 – Hospitalized Robber Case (Chapter 6) isn’t very interesting. It’s Die Hard but condensed into a single chapter of Detective Conan. My least favorite story in the series. Next.

Casebook 048 – Mysterious Clocks Mystery Case (Chapters 7-9) is a Junior Detective League code-cracker, only instead of the Junior Detective League it’s Conan and the Moores… Even if the JDL are absent, the case about a mysterious house where all of the clocks go off at once isn’t interesting or fair, giving it the same standard of plotting as those JDL stories… Also underwhelming.

Casebook 049 – Historical Actor Case (Chapters 10-2) sees Richard Moore summoned by an actor well-known for period pieces to act as reference for an upcoming detective film, but when they all witness the murder of his wife in the next-door apartment, Conan has to find a wrinkle in the open-and-shut case against the tenant… The case isn’t entirely original, as it recalls a particular Ellery Queen story, but it’s still a decently fun case that I enjoy well enough, with a pretty solid spatial trick.

Volume 17 seems split evenly between the good and the bad, but the bad stories are actually quite short. If you’re willing to pick up Volume 18 to finish Historical Actor Case, Volume 17 is a worthwhile addition for signed-on fans of the franchise!

Volume 18 (1997)

After finishing Historical Actor Murder Case, Volume 18 opens with Case 050 – Jimmy’s First Love Attempted Murder Case (Chapters 3-5), in which a fire starts from the inside of a house with a young woman inside, even though all of her friends were out at the time, singing karaoke miles away and in full view of each other…

Another “all of the suspects have an alibi” one, but the trick here is actually a really unique method of lighting a fire with an alibi, so it stands out from other, similarly-structured cases! A pretty cute and novel short form case, and one of the better stories from the series!

Case 051 – Lady in Black Kidnapping Case (Chapters 7-8) is another “thriller with logic” case involving the Junior Detective League involving the kidnapping of one of their classmates’ brother… It introduces Anita, an important character, but the case is otherwise not interesting at all and teases plot developments that don’t pan out.

Case 052 – University Professor Murder Case (Chapters 9-1) is a locked-room mystery in which Anita and Conan visit a university professor to retrieve Black Organization contraband, only to find the professor murdered in his locked-and-sealed office…

This is a unique take on the locked-room mystery because the case all but tells you from the get-go that the solution is a specific kind of string trick, and what the string trick was. However, the solution leaves another problem: how did the string escape from the room? I didn’t like the case at first because the string trick is rather silly, but once I realized the point was more the mystery of the disappearing string I lightened on it a lot. It’s actually a pretty novel locked-room mystery that I enjoy! Easy recommendation.

Volume 18 is a pretty solid entry into the series that’s worth checking out if you’re a signed-on fan. Not only does it contribute important plot development (something I don’t care about because it’s the most glacial narrative in the history of writing, but…), but it also has two pretty good cases bookending it. It isn’t one of the all-time great volumes, but a pretty good one worth checking out.

Volume 19 (1997)

After giving us the conclusion chapter to University Professor Murder Case, Volume 19 starts with Casebook 053 – Mystery Writer Kidnapping Case (Chapters 2-4), in which a mystery author appears to be leaving clues to his kidnapping in his serialized manuscript. Another boring code-cracker, which involves knowledge of three(!) languages to solve, and is just as tenuous and unbelievable as always.

Casebook 054 – Stabbed Wallets Murder Case (Chapters 5-8) has Conan visit Harley’s home of Osaka, where a serial killer with a bizarre M.O. is on the loose: first, he strangles his victims, and then he stabs their wallets…

Not a very interesting case for the first proper “serial killer” story, involving a tenuous “missing link” that makes no sense and reveals a pretty nonsensical motive for the killers. There’s one solid trick in the mix, but it’s a pretty unremarkable story, silly and unambitious.

Casebook 055 – Stadium Indiscriminate Threatening Case (Chapters 9-1) is a Junior Detective League story, but is more of a “thriller with logic” case as a man holds a stadium of over 26,000 soccer fans hostage with a bomb threat in exchange for millions of yen! Despite being a “thriller with logic” case, which are rarely fair, this one is pretty solid for being surprisingly fairplay with its solution and having some neat, clever developments. Not my kind of story personally, but pretty solid for what it is.

Volume 19 is one of the weaker volumes of the series so far, and it’s not even close. Despite the fairly decent Stadium Indiscriminate Threatening Case, nothing here stands out as worth going out of your way to read, nor is it important to read for context into the overarching narrative. Wholly skippable.

Volume 20 (1998)

Casebook 056 – KAITO KID and the Magic Lovers Murder Case (Chapters 2-6) is a fan-favorite of many Detective Conan fans, including TomCat of Beneath the Stains of Time, but I wasn’t as enamored with it. This no-footprints-in-the-snow mystery involving a murder at a meeting of an online magician fangroup has an overly technical, machine-based solution that doesn’t really do it for me. The solution represents a type of trick most people immediately think of when thinking about murders committed in snow without leaving footprints, too…

Also, KAITO KID hardly figures into the story. Don’t get excited, all 1 of you Magic Kaito fans…

Case 057 – Sealed Bathroom Murder Case (Chapters 7-9) has Richard Moore and Conan on the scene when a woman breaks into her taped-shut bathroom to find that her sister has committed suicide within….!

The solution and set-up are lifted entirely from Clayton Rawson’s landmark locked-room mystery story “From Another World”. There’s a neat touch with how Conan identifies the killer, a brilliant fatal visual clue that’d function well in an inverted mystery, but the locked-room mystery’s shameless pilfering knocks this story down a lot.

Case 058 – Blue Castle Murder Case (Chapters 10-3) is a four-chapter long JDL code-cracking case with a lot of padding and failed attempts at horror and suspense. The code is fair for English-speakers for once, but it still makes for an unremarkable story. We’ve been getting too many of these code-crackers…

Volume 20 is another pretty underwhelming and not very good volume in the series that isn’t worth seeking out to read in my opinion. Unremarkable all the way down.

Volume 21 (1998)

Casebook 059 – Jimmy’s First Murder Case (Chapters 4-7) has Rachel falling asleep on an airplane, reminiscing on the first murder case Jimmy (Conan) ever solved, also on an airplane… a case in which an unsavory tabloid photographer is murdered in a bathroom after boasting about the compromising photos he’s gotten of a prominent American politician!

The case offers some cute lore for Conan as a character, and is all-around a pretty well-written, well-plotted detective story with a fun alibi trick at its heart. The disappearing weapon element isn’t very interesting, and recalls an earlier story in the series, but the rest of the case is pure, good, un-gimmicky mystery plotting. Good stuff!

Casebook 060 – Treadmill Murder Case (Chapters 8-10) is the first in a series of stories called “Police Love Story” about the will-they-won’t-they romance between police detectives Wataru Takagi and Miwako Sato.

A semi-inverted mystery about Conan suspecting a man of murdering his wife, even though the man was at the police station when the crime occurred, the technical trick here isn’t very interesting, and a variation of a classification of trick the series is obsessed with… It’s a somewhat okay-ish variation on the concept, since it relies on environmental elements of which you are aware, but it’s not a favorite.

Casebook 061 – Wedding Day Murder Case (Chapters 11-3) is a pretty underwhelming and bogstandard locked-room mystery about a butler being murdered in a locked-room. There’s a decent double-bluff at the end with a string trick being proffered as a false solution, but the true solution is still an old dodge. However, I enjoyed the way the killer misdirected away from the trick, making this an unremarkable locked-room mystery but a decently smartly-done whodunit.

Volume 21 is better than the previous two volumes, with a higher average of quality, but is still not quite good enough to unambiguously recommend. If you’re a signed-on fan, I can say this is a decent volume worth your time, but people only looking for the highlights should just look for the anime adaptation of Jimmy’s First Murder Case.

Volume 22 (1998)

Casebook 062 – North Star Murder Case (Chapters 4-7) focuses on a professional robber who, after bungling a jewelry store robbery, murders the owner of the store on a train before impossible vanishing from a guarded compartment… All of which reminds Conan of an unpublished mystery manuscript written by his father!

The solution to this impossible disappearance isn’t very interesting, as it’s obvious and the clues are rather crude. I appreciate the framing device of excerpts from the father’s manuscript highlighting pivotal moments in the case, but the manuscript’s connection to the case is boring and hand-waved away. Not a very good one at all.

Case 063 – Serena Attempted Murder Case (Chapters 8-10) sees Serena, Rachel’s long-time best friend, the target of a serial killer who murders young blondes! If you can’t see the conclusion to this cheap dime-store thriller-esque narrative coming from a mile away, I don’t know what to tell you. Corny and not interesting.

Volume 22 contains no full stories worth reading, and doesn’t finish a very good story either. Not worth reading at all, and one of the worst volumes we’ve seen in a long time.

Volume 23 (1998)

Casebook 064 – Movie Theater Murder Case (Chapters 1-3) sees rotten real estate agent murdered inside of a failing movie theater after boasting about shutting the place down! His dead body is hung in front of the projection’s booth in the middle of the movie theater’s swansong marathon of every Gomera movie, in the attendance of which was none other than Conan and the Junior Detective League…

This is my second favorite Detective Conan case of all time so far, as it’s brilliant from top-to-bottom. The movie theater setting is exploited to produce a truly brilliant and unique alibi-trick, with some of the series’ best visual clues to top it all off. The Junior Detective League are restrained and quite helpful in this case too, allowing the story to side-step a lot of the typical pitfalls of JDL-centric plots.

Fantastic little setting-oriented mystery story, unambiguous recommendation!

Casebook 065 – Cruise Ship Murder Case (Chapters 4-9) is the first proper long-form case we’ve seen in a while, focusing on a cruise ship where the vengeful, once-thought-dead former head of a crime group is thought to soon resurface… And, naturally, in his wake he leaves many corpses!

This isn’t my favorite long-form Conan, as the trick at the heart of this one is a crude artifice I’ve seen and gotten bored of elsewhere, but despite the unambitious trick this is still a smartly-plotted, well-written detective story with tight reasoning that is plenty worth reading! Really good stuff!

Casebook 066 – Innocent Suspect Case (Chapters 10-2) is another entry into the Police Love Story series, in which Miwako Sato is handcuffed to the escaped suspect in a murder case in a bathroom! Despite the fact the man was alone in his locked-and-sealed apartment with the victim, he insists he’s innocent, and the two police officers decide to do a little more inquiring into the case with the Junior Detective League…

Surprisingly, another pretty good Junior Detective League murder case. The core trick at the heart of this Judas Window-esque locked-room mystery is silly in a very natural and believable way, and I actually kind of found myself being amused at not seeing the solution ahead of time. I wonder if I’d like this one as much returning to it, but as it stands I thought this was an amusing and comical take on the problem even if the melodrama of Sato being handcuffed to a toilet in a building that’s soon to be demolished unnecessary.

Volume 23 is one of the best volumes in the series so far! This is the first volume containing three stories in which I think all three stories are truly good and worth reading, and it contains my second favorite story in the whole franchise! Absolutely check this one out, it’s good stuffs, this!

Volume 24 (1998)

Casebook 067 – Blackout Murder Case (Chapters 3-6) is an unfortunately unremarkable story on the heels of Volume 23. As Richard is consulting a client, a man winds up electrocuted to death in a bathtub after a blackout! But who could’ve committed the murder, and how!

The murder method is one I’ve seen repeated in a few other stories, and the alibi “trick” shows Conan‘s age, as the tool required to make it work is much more well-known to us in the modern world and something we’d think of immediately. Not great.

Casebook 068 – Hotel Party Case (Chapters 7-11) sees Anita and Conan tailing a member of the Black Organization to a hotel party, whereupon they’re chased down by grunts from the group following a seemingly-impossible murder committed in the dark!

This is a plot relevant case, so naturally is of interest to those who care about that sort of thing, but as an independent murder murder is quite thin and unmemorable. Not worth reading unless you’re invested in the overarching story of Detective Conan.

Sadly another short and unpleasant volume not worth going out of your way to read unless you’re a signed-on fan of the overarching narrative of the series. Supposedly, Gosho Aoyama starts to shift his focus away from disconnected murder plots to more connected stories, so I wonder if that’ll cause my interest in the individual cases to dwindle going forward…

Volume 25 (1999)

Casebook 069 – Skating Rink Murder Case (Chapters 1-3) sees a woman shot to death in the bathroom of a skating rink during a fireworks show. Sure enough, she has a dying message in her hands implicating a friend of hers, but when the friend is revealed to be entirely innocent Conan is forced to figure out who would want to commit this murder and frame the friend…

The dying message repurposes a trick used earlier in the series, but the dodge here is equally effective as there is really smart psychological trick played here to give the killer a false alibi! As I’ve never used the tool used to produce the alibi, I think it’s probably a little unconvincing, but the forced association trick at the heart of this one is really neat in concept. Love it a lot, fantastic little case!

Case 070 – Tottori Spider Mansion Murder Case (Chapters 4-8) sees Harley and Conan investigating a series of suicides instigated by the Spider Mistress’s Curse, which have just recently been bookended by the impossible murder of a doll-maker in his locked-and-sealed shed, with his entire body strung up in a spiderweb-like arrangement of string…

The core murder method recalls a Father Brown tale, and it’s a murder method repurposed in a certain famous Kindaichi Case Files story… but an extra twist is put on the knot with a really smart piece of misdirection involving the state of the body and the spider imagery that disguises a pretty brilliant piece of alibi trickery which elevates the story beyond the fact it (obviously, from the set-up) turns on a variation of string trickery. Throw into the mix a haunting aesthetic and tragic motive, and you’ve got yourself a pretty great Detective Conan locked-room mystery!

Case 071 – Cave Murder Case (9-1) is another Junior Detective League code-cracking in which the kids need to solve a riddle to escape from a cave before they’re murdered by a group of thugs whose murder they’ve just witnessed. Putting Conan out of commission to force the JDL to reason for themselves was a smart idea, but they end up guessing instead of reasoning, making the set-up feel wasted and their victory unearned. Not very interesting or good.

Another fantastic volume with two all-time great cases! Although Cave Murder Case is disappointing, Skating Rink and Tottori Spider Mansion are two fantastic mystery plots that both begin and end within this volume. Unambiguous recommendation for this volume for those two exceptional stories!

Volume 26 (1999)

Casebook 072 – School Play Murder Case has an attendee of the high school play be poisoned by his drink… This is a really well-clued and well-written detective story, a fact sorely undercut by the fact the solution turns on a trick that has passed from cliche on to riddle on to punchline since its conception. It’s a shame, too, because some smart reasoning shows up in the denouement of this one…

Casebook 073 – Restaurant Elevator Murder Case is another inverted mystery from Detective Conan, in which a man murders his soon-to-be father-in-law in an elevator while using his wife as an alibi.

This is actually a really solid inverted mystery, with the killer being caught on a brilliant Furuhata Ninzaburou-styled slip of the tongue trap, but the fact the case has to share room with Conan (Jimmy) and Rachel’s romance plot does mean the investigation is a little thinner than I prefer, making the killer come off as a bit of a trivial pushover. Still, really good one, even if it falls behind the franchise’s better inverted mysteries.

Casebook 074 – Music Box Mystery Case (Chapters 8-10) sees a young woman attempting to figure out the secrets behind an apparently valuable music box her dead pen pal left her, despite the fact the antique shop says it’s worthless…

The story that follows ends up just being Scooby-Doo but played 100% seriously and with none of the humor of whimsy. Unremarkable.

Volume 26 does mark a sudden shift to more plot-relevant cases, as the first two cases each try to move along Jimmy and Rachel’s romance, and in both cases it does seem to come at the expense of the story. While the first two cases are decent and solid respectively, I can’t recommend wholeheartedly you go out of your way to read this volume unless you’re a dedicated fan of the series as-is. If you are a Detective Conan fan, though, this isn’t a terrible volume that could be worth picking up to fill some holes in your reading.

Volume 27 (1999)

Casebook 075 – Suspect Richard Moore Murder Case (Chapters 1-3) has Richard Moore become the prime suspect in a murder after the woman he drunkenly hooked up with was murdered in her locked and sealed hotel room! His separated wife and lawyer, Eri, sees to the investigation to prove him innocent…

The trick at the heart of this one is a pretty unremarkable variation of the kind of gimmick we’ve seen a few times within and without this series, so it wasn’t a very interesting case. The way the killer was caught is fun, but didn’t elevate the case any at all.

Casebook 076 – Sato’s Father Murder Case (Chapters 4-6) is another Police Love Story case, as well as a Junior Detective League case focusing on arson! Unfortunately, the code-cracking is, as always, unfair, tenuous, and unfun. The “parallel plots” reveal at the end is kind of amusing, but minor.

Casebook 077 – Arcade Murder Case (Chapters 7-9) sees a brutish bully murdered at an arcade in the middle of a career-defining match in a virtual reality fighting game! Only, of course, with everyone’s eyes on the game, there are no witnesses as to who may or may not have murdered the gamer…

This is actually another exceptionally good case. Although it might be somewhat easy to see through the core deception, the trick at the heart of this is novel, unique, and informed brilliantly by the video game setting. It is a much more clever utilization of video games than the disappointing Mantendo Bombing Case from Volume 12. Despite the ease with which some people will see through the alibi trick, Arcade Murder Case is easily my new third favorite case, with a unique plot informed by a unique setting.

Casebook 078 – Bear Hunter Murder Case (Chapters 10-2) is a Junior Detective League case in which Mitch and Anita flee from a murderer whose crime they’ve witnessed! Unable to come out into the open without being shot, Anita is forced to come up with a message to communicate with Conan so he can save their lives…

The misunderstanding behind the motive makes this a surprisingly sweet story, but the clues and plot are otherwise rather unremarkable. Decent motive misdirection, but not impressive in any other way.

Volume 27, sadly, wasn’t a great volume. Arcade Murder Case is an exceptionally novel murder mystery, but the other three stories don’t make the volume worth recommending for one case alone. I recommend everyone go check out the anime version of Arcade Murder Case as soon as possible, as it’s truly a wonderful case!

Volume 28 (1999-2000)

Casebook 079 – Old Photograph Murder Case (Chapters 3-5) has Richard commissioned by an old lady who seems to lie about insignificant things to find an old friend of hers to recover a photograph he accidentally took from her. When the friend is located, however, he is found murdered inside of his apartment after having eaten breakfast…

The alibi trick at the heart of this one recalls my favorite episode of Alibi-Cracking, At Your Service, and can be seen as a forebear to that exceptional episode. While it’s still a very clever idea in Detective Conan, I found this variation of the trick less impressive or convincing. Not that it’s a bad case by any means, I think it’s a pretty fun short-form murder mystery. It’s just somewhat inferior to another, similar story.

Casebook 080 – Mermaid’s Curse Murder Case (Chapters 6-10) has Harley and Conan investigating a letter from a woman who claims to be cursed to die by mermaids after she lost a talisman purported to grant eternal life… In investigating the woman’s disappearance, they explore an island with bizarre mermaid-worshipping religious practices and an annual celebration that results in three more murders…

There really isn’t much of a meaningful misdirection to speak of outside of a fairly clever double-bluff about the identity of one of the victims. This case revolves around a trick that I’ve always found to be somewhat corny and uninteresting, and it’s a rather unambitious variation of it too. It’s also a somewhat inferior long-form case as regards the plotting and cluing. Sadly not much better than decent despite its good reputation.

Casebook 081 – Girl Clubbing Murder Case (Chapters 11-2) is a serial killing case about a man killing ganguro (dark make-up) girls in a department store. The motivation is absurd, and the only noteworthy part of the story is one piece of misdirection about the killer’s body type and the attempt to give Inspector Meguire some development. A fairly mediocre case.

Another middle of the line Volume with a couple of decent moments but nothing unambiguously worth going out of your way to read. I don’t recommend this to any but the most dedicated of hardcore Conan fans looking to fill in some gaps in their reading.

Volume 29 (2000)

Casebook 082 – Bus Hijacking Case (Chapters 3-5) is a somewhat interesting “which-of-the-three” case in which Conan realizes that one of three people sitting in the back seat of a bus are communicating to a group of bus hijackers, but it’s impossible to tell how they’re communicating.

Unfortunately, what follows is more of a “thriller with logic” case, with pretty thin investigation/cluing into the culprit’s identity and not very memorable in resolution. Mediocre.

Casebook 083 – Dog Lover Kidnapping Case (Chapters 6-8) has a rare purebred dog kidnapped from a house of dog-lovers, and Conan on the case to discover who the culprit is.

There’s one somewhat neat clue surrounding the whereabouts of the dog, but the motive and method leave this story feeling plain and uninspired.

Casebook 048 – 3 K’s of Osaka Murder Case (Chapters 9-11) sees three western celebrities visiting Osaka for an event, when a murder is committed inside of a hotel in which the three men were alone! However, all three men have alibis proven by the fact they were turning lights on and off in front of hundreds of witnesses, making this crime impossible…!

The set-up is a really neat lead-in to an impossible alibi situation, but the resolution is underwhelming and flat-out unbelievable. This is a fan favorite case for the way it develops Conan’s character, but as a mystery it’s mediocre and middle of the line.

We finish off this long 14-part review with one final unremarkable volume, with not a good story worth going out of your way to read or watch in any form…

Overall, this batch of 14 is far from being the most consistent in the series. A lot of mediocre and underwhelming stories interspersed with a fair bit of good and truly fantastic cases leave this section of cases feeling balanced (or, perhaps, mixed…).

Special notice to Volume 23, which is truly exceptional and contains my second favorite case in the series, and Volume 25 which contains two great stories well-worth reading, including a terrific impossible crime! Add to the mix my third favorite case in Arcade Murder Case, and we still see plenty of truly good cases coming out of this series well worth seeking out for fans of classical detection!

To wrap up this long post, my ranking of all 84 stories we’ve read so far… My 5-point system has been expanded to a 10-point system in order to better account for more nuance between similarly-enjoyed stories.

*Newly reviewed cases are italicized and bookended with asterisks*

{10/10 — Favorites}

1.) Moonlight Sonata Murder Case (Case 018, V. 7 Ch. 2-6)
*2.) Movie Theater Murder Case (Case 064, V. 23 Ch. 1-3)*
*3.) Arcade Murder Case (Case 077, V. 27 Ch. 7-9)
4.) Tengu Murder Case (Case 030, V. 11 Ch. 8-10)
5.) The Art Collector Murder Case (Case 015, V. 6 Ch. 2-5)
6.) Tenkaichi Fire Festival Murder Case (Case 017, V. 6 Ch. 9-10 V.7 Ch. 1)
7.) TV Station Murder Case (Case 028, V. 11 Ch. 2-4)

{9/10 — Great}

8.) Bandaged Man Murder Case (Case 012, V. 5 Ch. 1-5)
9.) Wealthy Daughter Murder Case (Case 024, V. 9 Ch. 7-10, V. 10 Ch. 1)
*10.) Skating Rink Murder Case (Case 069, V. 25 Ch. 1-3)*
11.) KAITO KID and the Black Star Case (Case 044, V. 16 Ch. 6-9)
12.) The Night Baron Murder Case (Case 020, V. 8, Ch. 2-7)

{8/10 — Very Good}

13.) Bonds of Fire Murder Case (Case 042, V. 15 Ch. 10, V.16 Ch. 1-3)
*14.) Tottori Spider Mansion Murder Case (Case 070, V. 25 Ch. 4-8)*
15.) Poisoned Bride Attempted Murder Case (Case 021, V. 8, Ch. 8-10)
16.) Art Museum Owner Murder Case (Case 009, V. 4 Ch. 1-3)
*17.) Jimmy’s First Love Attempted Murder Case (Case 050, V 18 Ch.3-5)*
*18.) Jimmy’s First Murder Case (Case 059 V. 21 Ch. 4-7)*
19.) Elementary School Teacher Murder Case (Case 039, V 14 Ch. 9-10, V.15 Ch. 1-3)
20.) Scuba Divers Attempted Murder Case (Case 046, V. 17 Ch 3-5)

{7/10 — Good}

21.) Gomera Murder Case (Case 036, V.13 Ch. 8-10)
*22.) University Professor Murder Case (Case 052, V.18 Ch. 9-10, V.19 Ch. 1)*
*23.) Cruise Ship Murder Case (Case 065, V. 23 Ch. 4-9)*
*24.) Restaurant Elevator Murder Case (Case 073, V. 26 Ch. 5-7)*
25.) TWO-MIX Kidnapping Case (Case 040, V. 15 Ch. 4-6)
26.) Library Employee Murder Case (Case 026, V. 10 Ch. 6-7)
*27.) Old Photograph Murder Case (Case 079, V. 28, Ch. 3-5)*
*28.) Innocent Suspect Case (Case 066, V. 23 Ch. 10, V. 24 Ch. 1-2)*
*29.) Historical Actor Murder Case (Case 049, V. 17 Ch. 10 V. 18 Ch. 1-2)*
*30.) Stadium Indiscriminate Threatening Case (Case 055, V. 19 Ch. 9-10 V. 20 Ch.1)*

{6/10 — Decent}

31.) Richard’s Reunion Murder Case (Case 023, V. 9 Ch. 4-6)
32.) Mysterious Shadow Murder Case (Case 004, V. 2 Ch. 1-3)
*33.) Bear Hunter Murder Case (Case 078, V. 27 Ch. 10 V. 28 Ch. 1-2)*
34.) Loan Shark Murder Case (Case 041, V. 15 Ch. 7-9)
35.) Lex Band Vocalist Murder Case (Case 013 V. 5 Ch. 6-9)
*36.) Sealed Bathroom Murder Case (Case 057, V.20 Ch. 7-9)*
*37.) Wedding Day Murder Case (Case 061, V. 21 Ch. 11, V. 22 Ch. 1-3)*
38.) Diplomat Murder Case (Case 025, V. 10 Ch. 2-6)
39.) Suspicious Uncle Murder Case (Case 038, V. 14 Ch. 4-8)
*40.) School Play Murder Case (Case 072, V. 26 Ch.2-4)*
*41.) Famous Potter Murder Case (Case 045, V. 16 Ch. 10, V. 17 Ch.1-2)*
*42.) Mermaid’s Curse Murder Case (Case 080, V. 28 Ch. 6-10)*

{5/10 — Average}

*43.) Treadmill Murder Case (Case 060, V. 21, Ch. 8-10)*
44.) Holmes Enthusiasts Murder Case (Case 033, V. 12, Ch. 7-10, V. 13 Ch. 1)
*45.) Bus Hijacking Case (Case 082, V. 29 Ch. 3-5)*
*46.) Hotel Party Murder Case (Case 068, V. 24 Ch. 7-11)*
*47.) 3 K’s of Osaka urder Case (Case 084, V. 29, Ch. 9-11)*
*48.) Suspect Richard Moore Murder Case (Case 075, V. 27, C. 1-3)*
49.) Illustrator’s Assistant Murder Case (Case 035, V. 13, Ch. 5-7)
50.) Mantendo Bombing Murder Case (Case 032, V. 12, Ch. 4-6)
51.) Hatamoto Family Murder Case (Case 007, V. 3 Ch. 1-6)

{4/10 — Mediocre}

*52.) Sato’s Father Murder Case (Case o76, V. 27, Ch. 4-6)*
*53.) Stabbed Wallets Murder Case (Case 054, V. 19 Ch. 5-8)*
*54.) Music Box Mystery Case (Case 074, V. 26, Ch. 8-10)*
*55.) Blackout Murder Case (Case 067, V. 24, Ch. 3-6)*
56.) Triplets Father Murder Case (Case 034, V. 13 Ch. 2-4)
*57.) KAITO KID and the Magic Lovers Case (Case 056, V. 2 Ch. 2-6)*
*58.) Girl Clubbing Murder Case (Case 081 V. 28 Ch 11, V.29 Ch. 1-2)*

{3/10 — Bad}

59.) Shinkansen Bombing Case (Case 010, V. 4, Ch. 4-6)
60.) Conan Edogawa Kidnapping Case (Case 014 V. 5, Ch. 10-11, V.6 Ch. 1)
*61.) Dog Lover Kidnapping Case (Case 083, V.29 Ch. 6-8)
*62.) Blue Castle Murder Case (Case 058, V.20 Ch. 10, V. 21 Ch. 1-3)*
*63.) Lady in Black Kidnapping Case (Case 051, V. 18, Ch. 7-8)*
*64.) Mystery Writer Kidnapping Case (Case 053, v. 19 Ch. 2-4)*
*65.) North Star Murder Case (Case 062, V. 22, Ch. 4-7)*

{2/10 — Very Bad}

*66.) Elementary School Mystery Case (Case 043, V. 16, Ch. 4-5)*
67.) Medical Professors Murder Case (Case 027, V. 10 Ch. 9-1, V. 11 Ch. 1)
68.) Haunted Mansion Case (Case 006, V. 2 Ch. 8-10)
69.) Idol Locked-Room Murder Case (Case 003, V. 1, Ch. 6-9)
70.) Roller-Coaster Murder Case (Case 001, V. 1, Ch. 1)
71.) Magician’s Suicide Case (Case 037, V. 14 Ch. 1-3)

{1/10 — Least Favorites}

72.) Moon, Star, Sun Code Case (Case 031, V. 12, Ch. 1-3)
73.) Soccer Player’s Brother Kidnapping Case (Case 019, V. 7, Ch. 8-10, V. 8. Ch. 1)
74.) The Monthly Presents Case (Case 008, V. 3, Ch. 7-10)
*75.) Mysterious Clocks Mystery Case (Case 048, V. 17, Ch. 7-9)*
76.) Twin Brothers Case (Case 016, V. 6, Ch. 6-8)
77.) Kidnapped Daughter Case (Case 002, V. 1, Ch. 2-5)
78.) 1 Billion Yen Robbery Case (Case 005, V. 2 Ch. 4-7)
79.) Coffee Shop Murder Case (Case 029, V. 11 Ch. 5-7)
*80.) Serena Attempted Murder Case (Case 063, V. 22, Ch. 8-10)*
*81.) Cave Murder Case (Case 071, V. 25, Ch. 9-11, V. 26 Ch. 1)*
82.) ORO Treasure Map Case (Case 011, V. 4, Ch. 7-9)
83.) Amy Kidnapping Case (Case 022, V. 9, Ch. 1-3)
*84.) Hospitalized Robber Case (Case 047, V. 17, Ch. 6)*

“Fox’s Wedding” by Tsumao Awasaka (1985) trans. by Steve Steinbock (2021)

G.K. Chesterton’s parish priest Father Brown, a “detective” known for his use of purely intuitive reasoning to solve crimes often of a seemingly divine nature, can be said to be in many ways the seed from which the Golden Age of Detection sprouted. Being the ur-example of many then-innovative forms of trickery and misdirection much more refined than the crude mechanics of the yester-year, the writings of Chesterton are very much the prototypes of the puzzlers of the mid-20th century. This is an influence that has spread through nearly all detective fiction written since; not only, of course, in the English-speaking world, but all the world over…

The influence of Father Brown’s intuitive reasoning has had more than an impact on the style and nature of just mystery plotting; he’s influenced full-blown successors across the world! In 1985 Tsumao Awasaka would publish Aa Aiichirō no Rōbai (or The Dismay of Aa Aiichirō), the first in a trilogy of mystery short story collections featuring the eponymous photographer whose intuition and ability to “see and hear things the rest of us miss” sees him accidentally stumbling into and solving crimes alongside the police.

The Aa Aiichirō series owes its identity to Chesterton and Brown. It’s easy to see how the protagonist, reasoning almost entirely from intuition, has Father Brown to thank for his inspiration, but the Chestertonian influence goes much deeper! The most important contribution of that old sleuthing priest, and the most defining feature of Aa Aiichirō as a series is that the stories are predominantly divided into two categories. Impossible crimes feature heavily in both series but, as Ho-Ling of Ho-Ling no Jikenbo elegantly puts it, the more important inspiration is in what he calls the “whatthehell” stories.

Whatthehell” stories are those Father Brown tales where it’s ambiguous what the exact nature of the mystery really is. Father Brown will be witness to events that seem odd (or, perhaps, events so apparently mundane and everyday it’s impossible to figure how or where a mystery could exist at all), and will only at the end of the tale use his great intuitive acuity to reveal that, all along, something hinky has been going on behind the scenes…

One such example of these “whatthehell” stories is the immensely enjoyable “The Queer Feet”, in which Father Brown, taking the confessions of a sick man in a locked room within a high-end hotel, hears outside of his door footprints which “seem to walk in order to run” and “run in order to walk”. From just this observation, Father Brown recognizes (1.) that a crime has been committed, (2.) the exact nature of the crime, (3.) the identity of the perpetrator, and (4.) how the perpetrator avoided detection, in one of the most shocking bits of reasoning in the mystery genre.

About half of all Aa Aiichirō stories fall into this category of “whatthehell” stories that served as a calling card for Farther, least of which not being “Fox’s Wedding”, originally published in 1985 as “DL2-gōki Jiken“, or “The DL2 Incident”…

“Fox’s Wedding” takes place in Miyamae, an island city off the mainland of Japan which has developed a peculiar superstition involving earthquakes. 150 years ago, a great earthquake passed through Miyamae, toppling buildings and laying waste to two-thirds of the city. This earthquake, seemingly, was foretold by a rainstorm… As similar rain-summoned earthquakes begin to rage through the city on the same day, under the same conditions, every 50 years since, the inhabitants of Miyamae have accepted that the city is fated to face deadly disasters every 50 years…

Not a year after the last destructive earthquake, Detective Inspector Hada Sanzo is at Miyamae’s Municipal Airport, awaiting the arrival of a plane that had a fraudulent bomb threat called against it… The moment the airplane touches ground, Hada Sanzo bears witness to a series of bizarre events! A man comes off the plane and appears to trip himself on the stairs on purpose… before strolling over to Hada Sanzo and insisting he was the target of that bomb threat! After demanding the inspector do something about it, the man strolls off with his hired valet Higuma Goro, a man with a criminal history of irresponsible driving that killed a young child, and trips himself on purpose again on the stairs leaving the airport, to go home to a house built on the ravaged ground of the recent earthquake…

From just these seemingly disparate observations, the photographer Aa Aiichirō, who at the time was photographing a bizarre geographical formation from the airport’s tarmac, foretells an attack on Higuma Goro! But of what nature is this attack, and how did Aa know?

This perhaps overtly basic and uninspiring set-up lends itself to a fantastic and surprising resolution that showcases Aa’s intuitive reasoning. A mixture of minute observations and a strong grasp on human nature lends itself to Aa’s aid as he builds a profile of the assailant’s bizarre psychology and deduces the truth behind a seemingly inscrutable man’s seemingly inscrutable motivation for attempted murder…

Just the same as G.K. Chesterton’s “The Queer Feet”, “Fox’s Wedding” uses a contradiction or paradox in character and behavior to divine the criminal truth of bizarre and seemingly innocuous oddities. The explanation is equal parts shocking and natural, totally bizarre yet entirely reasonable. But, like G. K. Chesterton’s more “intuitive” mysteries, “Fox’s Wedding” toes the line between entirely fair and abjectly cheap. While you do have the same information present as the detective when he solves the case, it can be argued that the intuition is a bit close to guessing, and I don’t believe it’s possible for the reader to deduce the solution before the end of the story…

But, for all the ways it can be argued “Fox’s Wedding” is an unfair mystery, it doesn’t detract from the effect of this story. This amazing story (localized with a fluid and natural translation from Steinbock) captures the essence of plotting of the best “whatthehell” tales from the oeuvre of G. K. Chesterton’s Father Brown to produce a truly unique detective story with a truly novel solution. Those who love Chesterton for his artistic and literary prose will be lost on Awasaka Tsumao, but those who want to see the Chestertonian plotting carried on into the modern world can do no better than this debut from Japan’s heir to Chesterton. If this is the standard of the stories going forward, I can only hope to one day read the follow-ups…

Up Adey’s Shorts – A Selection of Random or Obscure Locked-Room Short Stories #1

The locked-room mystery has teased the minds of the mystery-reading public for a century, and then another half. Those cases of crimes committed in impossibly locked-and-sealed rooms, or murders in the middle of a patch of snow where the killer left no footprint, represent one of the prevailing sub-genres of the detective story. And for those readers who love the impossible crimes and undoable deeds, names like John Dickson Carr, Clayton Rawson, Edward D. Hoch, and Paul Halter immediately come to mind as beloved practitioners of the form. Today, however, we’re not talking about these maestros of murder.

We’re talking about the bottom of the barrel.

Not, necessarily, the worst stories, but those locked-room mysteries hidden far in the depths of obscurity, known only to Robert Adey himself and few dedicated readers. In this review series we’ll be taking a look at all of the hard-to-find, out-of-print, unanthologized, uncollected, rare, obscure, unpopular, forgotten, or just straight-up random locked-room mystery short story we can get access to that’s been covered in Robert Adey and Brian Skupin’s Locked Room Murders bibliographies, two books which aim to chronicle every locked-room mystery short story in existence. For this project, we’ll be seeing what’s hiding far up Adey’s shorts.

In this review series, every post will focus on five qualifying stories that I’ve selected from Robert Adey’s Locked Room Murders. To rein in the scope of this review, I’ve laid out a few rules for what qualifies to be covered in one of these posts.

Firstly, anything from one of the most popular authors need not apply unless it’s some forgotten, unearthed, or just hard-to-find story from their oeuvre, which we can be reasonably sure I won’t accomplish often. Authors like Agatha Christie, John Dickson Carr, Ellery Queen, Paul Halter, are not only widely accessible and have well-collected short stories, but they’re also very popular, and obviously don’t qualify as “random” or “obscure”.

Any short story collected in the following need not apply:

  • Whodunit? Houdini – Thirteen Tales of Magic, Murder, Mystery
  • Sleight of Crime – Fifteen Classic Tales of Magic, Mayhem, and Murder
  • The Black Lizard Big Book of Locked-Room Mysteries
  • The Mammoth Book of Perfect Crimes and Impossible Mysteries
  • The Mammoth Book of Locked-Room Mysteries and Impossible Crimes
  • Art of the Impossible / Murder Impossible
  • Miraculous Mysteries
  • Realm of the Impossible
  • All But Impossible! An Anthology of Locked Room & Impossible Crime Stories by Members of the Mystery Writers of America
  • The Book of Extraordinary Impossible Crimes and Puzzling Deaths
  • Locked Room Puzzles
  • The Locked Room Reader and its two descendant anthologies
  • Passport to Crime, Locked-Room Style: The Complete Stories of Locked-Room International in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine
  • Tantalizing Locked Room Mysteries
  • Ye Olde Book of Locked-Room Conundrums
  • Foreign Bodies
  • Locked Rooms and Open Spaces
  • any easily-accessible non-locked-room-oriented anthology which happens to contain a locked-room mystery

Basically, nothing contained in any immediately accessible anthologies need apply, for the simple reason that they are readily-accessible and do not qualify as random, obscure, or hard-to-find.

Furthermore, stories collected in authorial short story collections may only apply if it’s true both that the author is sufficiently “random”, and that the locked-room mystery is not the specialization of the author. If the locked-room mystery is a specialty of the author or series, I’d rather review the whole book on its own than randomly isolate stories.

But, ultimately, the final decision comes down to me and if I personally feel like the story qualifies. I may include something that doesn’t seem like it should qualify, and I’m fine with that, as I hope you would be too. While it seems like I threw down a lot of restrictive rules, the goal is still ultimately to have fun and (hopefully) find some hidden gems in the rough.

With all of this out of the way, let’s see what’s up Adey’s shorts first!

We start our adventure up Adey’s shorts with D. L. Champion’s “The Day Nobody Died”, which can be found in the February 1944 issue of Dime Detective February. The story features Champion’s feature bloodhound Inspector Allhof, a persnickety man bitter at life thanks to losing his legs in the line of duty. Due to an ordinance preventing the occupation of police officers without legs, Allhof was fired, but is still paid a salary and privately consulted on murder cases, because the chief of police is damned if he’s going to lose his best man! However, despite this, Allhof is still bitter at his assistant, whom he frequently abuses for what Allhof perceives as him being responsible for him losing his legs.

In “The Day Nobody Died”, a beautiful but crass young woman who is addicted to pills visits Allhof. She tells him that she knows where a murder was committed, who was killed, who committed the crime, why he did it, and how the crime was carried out, but she can’t trust this information to a conventional police officer. She knows the culprit of that murder will soon be after her, so she offers this information to Allhof in exchange for the promise that he’ll protect her life.

However, after only providing him with the address of the crime scene, she dies. She was poisoned by cyanide hidden in one of her pills!

Now forced to investigate without this helpful lead, Allhof sends his two assistants to the crime scene. There they find the door unlocked but barred shut from the inside with a wooden bar that runs the width of the door, and once they manage to break in they find a room hot from the fireplace, a floor covered in candle wax from the hundreds of candles the victim kept, with every other entry locked from the inside, and “a midget”, shot through the head, lying on the ground… Naturally, this is a locked-room murder, so who committed the murder, how, and why?

This is the very first story I read, chosen entirely at random, and I was actually quite shocked to find that I really did enjoy this one. No, it’s not some unearthed gem of the locked-room mystery, but it’s definitely only just a step or two beneath that distinction.

This is a very cerebral mystery story, the sort of tale that crossed-wires between the contemporary pulp thriller and the fairly-clued Golden Age puzzle plot, the sort often successfully done by Roger Ormerod and Bill Pronzini, and it’s surprisingly multi-faceted, containing not only a locked-room murder, but also a killer with an airtight alibi.

The locked-room mystery itself has a mechanical solution that functionally resembles a very old trick to lock a door from the outside, but the dressing-up of this trick is actually incredibly novel, and informs new kind of clues to resolve this old mechanism. The alibi is less novel, but the clues hinting towards it, while obvious, are conceptually really cute. But the highlight of the story is the clue of a letter purported to have been written by George Washington himself, which Allhof enigmatically says was written on “the day nobody died…”. This aspect of the story is incredibly unfair, but the explanation for how Allhof deduces what he does about the letter is extremely smart and satisfying.

For all that, “The Day Nobody Died” isn’t a perfectly inspired locked-room mystery by any means, but it’s a surprisingly competent and fairly novel one, and a pretty decent start to this review series. It’s one I’m surprised hasn’t been anthologized (but for that, I’m sure we can blame the endlessly aggravating character of Allhof…).

I found around 200 qualifying short stories for this project, so from here on out, I like to play a fun little word-association game to decide the next story to read. This story involves a piece of Washingtonia, so what’s more natural than…

“George Washington, Detective” by Steven Peters, which was published in the August 1967 issue of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. It is Christmas Eve of 1776, and the English soldiers are badly beating the Revolutionary soldiers of America. The American forces allowed a spy, committed to the gallows, to escape. The American troops were all but ready to sacrifice their dream of a free America, but General George Washington is soon to host a council-of-war at the home of General Greene to decide the next move against the British: the day after Christmas, while the British are recovering from holiday merriment, the American forces will march on Trenton and surprise their unprepared forces.

During the preparation for the council-of-war, a very snowy December night, a man claiming to be a booktaker arrives at Greene’s home and says he stabled his horses, and begs Washington for food and a bed. In exchange, he has sensitive information on the British he is willing to share, and naturally is accepted into the home.

This council of war, attended by Lieutenant Caldwell and Major Anderson, however, is interrupted, as Lieutenant Caldwell hears the booktaker spying at the door of the dining room. Caldwell chases the spy upstairs, and into the guestroom, where he is shot nonfatally in the shoulder. When Anderson and Washington arrive at the room, the door is locked shut from the inside and needs to be broken in. Upon doing so, the delirious Caldwell tells them the spy vanished from the room. And, lo and behold, the spy’s horses have vanished, ridden off back to the British, ruining the American army’s chances of a surprise onslaught…

As the title suggests, “George Washington, Detective” features George Washington… in the capacity of a detective. In addition to a locked-room mystery, it is also a historical mystery story focusing on a murder amidst spies and war during America’s Revolutionary War.

From the title alone, I was prepared to dislike this story. The idea of George Washington acting as a “detective” (a term that didn’t exist yet in 1776) felt like it could’ve easily devolved into corny nonsense, a caricature of a wigged president speaking in exaggerated Revolutionary English while solving an anachronistic crime. Surprisingly, though, the murder mystery fits snugly into its historical, wartime context, and George Washington’s role as a “detective” is incredibly natural in the story.

The detection (and, by extension, the clues) is actually incredibly thin. This is a short story, a little under 8 pages, and most of the crime is delegated to the backmost 4 pages. There really are no clues to speak of, as George Washington, in his role as General, merely makes decisions from common sense and “what has to be true”. As a consequence, it can be understood that the method by which this impossible vanishing was conducted isn’t very inspired or difficult to figure out, and you won’t be be bowled over by the reasoning.

But what makes “George Washington, Detective” work so surprisingly well is the historically-informed motive. The reason this crime was committed at all makes for a genuinely brilliant piece of historical plotting, and is a little more clever than the implied crime would let on. No, this isn’t some great, hidden impossible crime story, but the motive elevates “George Washington, Detective” to a surprisingly decent historical mystery, especially for being the author’s first story (published alongside his also-first story in the same issue…) This well-written wartime murder mystery is recommended to anyone with an interest in the Revolutionary period of American history!

And since this murder takes place on the cusp of Christmas Day, of course the next story we’ll be reading is none other than…

“The Santa Claus Killer” by Mel D. Ames, collected in the December 1981 issue of Mike Shayne’s Mystery Magazine. “The Santa Claus Killer” is one of Mel D. Ames’s many holiday-themed mysteries, starring his strong and womanly Detective-Lieutenant Cathy Carruthers. It is, yet again, Christmas Eve, but this is not a time for merriment, as Carruthers’s subordinate, Detective-Sergeant Mark Swanson, bursts through her door with a shocking declaration: “Lieutenant, someone just killed Santa Claus!”

…Or, it’s more accurate to say, someone killed the paraplegic Nathan P. Martindew, the manager of the famous Martindew’s department store where the annual Christmas tradition was “of legendary acclaim”. Nathan Martin was dressed-up as Santa in his arc-spinning wheel-chair, waving to dozens of people from the window of the empty section of the store labeled “Santa’s Workshop”, when he was strangled to death. Worse yet, although the crime was committed in front of countless witnesses, none of them can claim to have seen the killer! A murder seemingly committed by an invisible perpetrator on Christmas Eve..?

This is a very poorly-written story, one that feels too much like an author who knows nothing about pulp trying to capture the genre’s hard-boiled atmosphere without really understanding what makes it work. Every character’s dialogue reads like the same archetypical “uber-tough, posturing, self-important cop” plastered onto different names, with supposed “witty comebacks” that are so wordy anyone in the real world would be bored before they were offended. They actually read like a teenager who found his writer dad’s Thesaurus trying to put you into your place on Twitter.com (no, not in a good way). If you need to practice for the eye-rolling olympics, this might be a story for you.

There also just isn’t a lot of Christmas in this story. It’s obvious that the Santa’s Workshop setting was here to facilitate the murder method, and Mel D. Ames had no real interest (or ability) to write a spirited seasonal mystery. I was really disappointed to not read a story that actually involved the murder of the honest-to-God Santa, or just anything approaching a meaningful application of the Christmas set-piece outside of a cynical “well, I needed [redacted], and a Santa’s Workshop in a story would have [redacted], so let’s write a Christmas story”. It’s just dry. And I’m usually happy to read a dry mystery, but not when the dry story is also poorly-written and littered with exhausting characters, and not when the dry mystery uses as a set-piece a holiday that, frankly, deserved better.

As for the impossible murder itself… I mean, it’s not bad. I’ve seen variations on the concept before, and I think given the context of the murder anyone should be able to figure it out very easily, but as obvious as it is it’s not one of the age-old cheap-outs we all know and love to hate, and it shows some mild creativity as far as plotting is concerned. The murder method is mechanical, but it’s a mechanism organically informed by the environment of the crime scene as opposed to the killer building a “self-destroying commit-the-crime machine” from pieces they carted to the murder site, which earns the solution some points in my estimation. It’s not great or inspired, but it’s a natural, reasonable, and solid explanation for the impossibility, and I thought it worked well enough. Shame that the story isn’t great to read, though…

This story features a womanly sleuth, so for our next story I think it’s only natural we read…

“A Lesson for a Lady”, one of the many anonymously-written stories featuring Dixon Hawke, published in Dixon Hawke’s Casebook No. 20.

While attending a lecture on cinema’s place in modern culture at the Wellingtree Arts Club, a high-culture society interested in encouraging the enduring production and enjoyment of art in its many forms, Dixon Hawke bares witness to an audacious crime!

Lady Diana Dayton, who married the Lord Dayton for his money, loves to show off her exquisite jewelry she got as a wedding gift, despite her husband’s warnings that the frivolous presentation of her diamonds will only serve make her a target for unsavory thugs. She refused to relent, but soon learns what the Lord meant when, during the cinema lecture, the lights suddenly turn off, and the jewelry is snatched right off her neck! Fortunately, renowned private detective Dixon Hawke is on the scene to set right to wrongs.

…This one’s bad, and only debatably an impossible crime, regardless of what Adey says. The impression I get from the story is that the impossibility is supposed to be the disappearance of gems from a well-guarded room, and the Locked Room Murders bibliography confirms this, but the impossibility is never officially established. Dixon Hawke solves the crime just as the official police officer is about to conduct a search of everyone’s person (so before it can be confirmed nobody is hiding it in their pockets). The detective also openly admits to having no way to ascertain whether or not someone left the room before the doors were guarded, and that he’ll just “work under that assumption” because… he wants to. It’s not really an impossible crime, but more “a crime which contains a solution which just so happens to resemble what could’ve been a solution to an impossible crime that may have been made out of the set-up of this story”…

Speaking of the solution, it is disappointing, almost inevitably. I’d go so far as to call it insultingly banal. There are two clues total established in this very short tale, neither of which stand-up as conclusive, interesting, or creative, and neither of which are actually given to the audience, making this a pure pulp detective story with none of the pleasures of puzzle-solving.

Worse yet, the title of the story — “A Lesson for a Lady” — made me chuckle, because there was a very obvious motive for the crime that I considered as a possibility, and I had thought the title unceremoniously spoiled this part of the mystery’s solution. …Instead, once you reach the denouement, you learn that not only is that implied solution not true, but the title is actually incredibly silly and makes no sense contextualized to the resolution. Not even a little bit.

Anyway, “A Lesson for a Lady” is the worst one of these stories, and it’s not even close.

The crime involved the theft of jewelry, Lady Diana Dayton’s favorite accessory, so of course our final story for today is…

“Accessory After the Fact” by Samuel Hopkins Adams, published in the October 1949 issue of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine.

A man and his uncle feud every time he visits his uncle’s apartment, so it’s to nobody’s surprise when the man one day gives up the peace and stabs his uncle to death in his living room. The stairs to the apartment complex were guarded by the narrator’s wife, who was selling stickers to coming-and-goers, so nobody else could’ve committed the murder, leaving the nephew as the natural suspect. However, although he’s the sole person capable of committing this crime, there’s one hang-up stopping anyone from making an arrest: the murder weapon is gone, and a search around the grounds of the apartment complex find nowhere it could’ve been hidden, stashed, or thrown… So, of course, either someone else somehow impossibly committed the crime, or the knife was impossibly disposed of by the known guilty party, but either way you cut it, the crime is an enigma.

This is the shortest of the five stories we’ve read, coming in at under four pages long, so there really isn’t much to say about it.

I had low expectations for the story, purely from the fact that less-than-four pages isn’t enough to allow a decent locked-room mystery puzzle to marinate, but this story was surprisingly solid. A very cute solution to the impossible disappearance of the knife is established by an impressively efficient set of clues. It isn’t groundbreaking or majorly innovative in any way, mind you, but it’s a cute and novel variation I’ve never seen before on this particular trick, making this a short-but-sweet locked-room mystery short story.

In all honesty, when I started this little series, I expected that, on average, I would be reading a lot of bad, and that the great, good, or even decent stories would be few and far between. Pleasantly, though, I’m really enjoying the stories so far. So far, only one or two of the stories have yet relied on the basic, cheap, cop-out solutions we’ve come to expect from the worst of the genre, and aside from “A Lesson for a Lady” I walked away from each of these tales finding at least a small kernel of goodness and creativity. I really should give our lesser-known authors more credit in the future!

Inversely, though, I didn’t find anything I’d consider a “hidden gem”. Nothing here represents the kind of ingenuity we expect from the genre, instead mostly being comfortable in the realms of mildly amusing variations on typical concepts we’re all familiar with, and I wouldn’t recommend any of these stories unambiguously to anyone as yet not initiated into impossible crimes. What I can say, though, is that if I were to edit a locked-room mystery anthology, compiling only stories I’ve read in my “Up Adey’s Shorts” reviews, so far I would seriously consider “An Accessory After The Fact”, “The Day Nobody Died”, and “George Washington, Detective” potential and likely candidates!

If you think of any qualifying stories you’d like for me to read, let me know below and I’ll certainly try to check them out as soon as possible. With nearly 200 stories to select from, it’s hard to decide where to start! Keep my above rules in mind, and perhaps try to keep stories restricted to those published in magazines rather than authorial collections.

Anyway, without further stalling, I’ll now cover my organized ranking of the covered stories. I look forward to seeing what ghastly murders and impossible crimes come our way in the future. Happy reading, and happy sleuthing!

  1. “The Day Nobody Died” by D. L. Champion
  2. “Accessory After the Fact” by Samuel Hopkins Adams
  3. “George Washington, Detective” by Steven Peters
  4. “The Santa Klaus Killer” by Mel D. Ames
  5. “A Lesson for a Lady” by Anonymous (Dixon Hawke)

Alibi Cracking, At Your Service – Season 1 (2020) by Yoshihiro Izumi (based on stories by Ōyama Seīchiro)

That “the alibi is the locked-room in time, where the locked-room is the alibi of space” is a philosophy typified by such authors as Roger Ormerod and Tetsuya Ayukawa. To their mind, the two are merely opposite sides of the same coin, a dichotomy of impossibilities dictated by physical inaccess and those defined by chronal inconsistency. That the two are merely parallels of each other also raises an interesting question: for any passionate disciple of the locked-room mystery, the BBC drama Johnathan Creek, a show about a magician’s assistant who uses his knowledge of illusion to solve seemingly impossible crimes, exists… but what about those interested in a classically-plotted show focusing on the impossible alibi problem, its direct counterpart?

In 2018, detective fiction author Ōyama Seīchiro, known for his themed short story collections, published アリバイ崩し承ります (Aribai Kuzushiuketamawarimasu, or Alibi Cracking, At Your Service). Alibi Cracking, At Your Service was a collection of short stories focusing on Tokino Mitani, the granddaughter of a clockmaker who took over his shop following his death. However, the store offers a bizarre service in addition to clock-selling, -cleaning, and -repairing: because her grandfather said that “anything to do with time is the business of a clockmaker”, her shop also deals in the secret service of cracking a guilty person’s seemingly airtight alibi. This is a service often employed by a prideful member of the police force, who has come to secretly rely on her talents when he’s certain he’s found the guilty party in a murder but can’t seem to place them at the scene of the crime.

In 2020, the Alibi Cracking, At Your Service collection was adapted into a Japanese mystery drama of the same name, covering seven of the original stories. As I can’t yet read Japanese, I cannot speak for Ōyama’s bonafides as an author, and I can’t comment on the television series as an adaptation of an existing work. Because of that unfortunate limitation, although I herein refer to Ōyama’s plotting, assume that I am speaking purely on the adaptations as stories that exist in a void.

As both the title and premise indicate, all of the stories in this series revolve around the theme of “alibis” as a matter of course, and it manages to wring a surprising level of variety from such a specific theme. Most of these stories take the form of semi-inverted/impossible alibi problems, in which we know the killer’s identity but not how they committed the crime while managing to manufacture a seemingly airtight alibi, leaving the question of “howdunnit” hanging in the air. A few other episodes, though, do deal with other variations on the concept, such as the stories adapted into episodes “The Alibi of the Mountain Villa” and “The Alibi of the Beautiful Sister”, which deal with the inverse problem of “providing an alibi to an innocent character”. But even when the series is indulging in its more conventional alibi plots, the versatility in how alibis are established (and cracked) is salient, as in episodes like “The Alibi of the Dead”, where a dying man confesses to murder but is given an alibi based on the time and place in which he died, or “The Alibi of the Download”, in which the killer was with his friend at the time of the murder, a fact proven by the friend remembering that the killer downloaded a promotional song that was only available until midnight that night, and still yet in “The Alibi of the Murder Weapon” in which the time of death is established by the time the murder weapon was deposited into the mailbox, and for every moment this could’ve happened the killer naturally had an alibi!

The average quality of the stories is also quite high for what essentially amounts to an authorial collection, which will be made abundantly clear during the individual story breakdowns. While I think few of the stories are truly brilliantly ground-breaking, equally few are overtly derivative, obvious, and underwhelming. While there is one episode which stands out as particularly original and clever, and even made it onto my list of my 30 favorite mystery stories ever written, the typical episode of Alibi Cracking, At Your Service features tricks that, in their most basic form, are immediately recognizable to any detective fiction aficionado, but Ōyama still manages to get a lot of mileage out of time-worn concepts, twisting them into new forms where it’s nothing short of impressive he could do that much with that idea. Even when he falls back on concepts so old-fashioned that, if I were to spoil them in this blog post, you’d roll your eyes at the basicness and banality of the idea, the way the unique qualities of the alibi’s set-up inform new and genuinely inspired variations of these solutions showcase Ōyama’s skills as a detective plotter. He isn’t just mindlessly copying things he’s read before, he’s building on them.

But while the plotting is genuinely skillful mystery-threading, the acting and direction of the show is worth further scrutiny.

Tokino Mitani (depicted by Minami Hamabe), despite her adultlike talents at cracking alibis, is bubbly and childish, down to every episode’s pivotal moment taking place during (tasteful) scenes of her eating a smorgasbord of sweets and confections in the bathtub while she mulls over the case, or is pouting that she got yelled at for overstepping personal or professional boundaries that she didn’t recognize were boundaries. The lead police officer of the show, Saji Yoshiyuki (Yasuda Ken) is deeply prideful and professional, hating his reliance on a teenage girl to solve his mysteries for him. Mitani, however, relishes in the work, often trying to get him to consult her on mysteries he doesn’t even need help with. He’s in a fierce rivalry with one of the policemen working under him, Detective Tokai Yuma (Narita Ryo), otherwise known as “Junior”, the young son of a high-ranking politician and who is also fiercely in love with Tokino Mitani. Since Saji needs to be seen as a superior in the force, and is embarrassed, he keeps his consultations with Tokino strictly confidential.

There’s a lot of over-acting and exaggerated melodrama, and it’s frequently very cheesy, just enough to be charming, not too much where the characters begin to feel unrealistic, but enough that those who don’t typically consume Japanese comedy mysteries could easily find it saccharine and annoying. None of the characters are particularly deep, though, and all of them can be accused of being bidimensional cut-outs. Of course, their dynamics are solid and the characters are charming enough to behold, but only enough to carry the individual plotlines — you won’t walk away from the show remembering the depths of the characters of Tokino Mitani or Saji Yoshiyuki, at least. None of the actors do a bad job, but the tone of the show they’re working with, combined with the thinness of their characters, makes this saccharine corniness a directorial quirk of the show.

It’s also a tone the show is often quite bad at carrying. A lot of comedy typical of the worst of Japanese comedy screenwriting is present in this show, and few of the jokes land. There’s only so many shows that can be written where an adult man is wrongfully accused of having a romantic attachment with a teenager until, I hope, screenwriters realize it wasn’t a very funny joke the first.

Ultimately, though, character depth is not a prerequisite for a good mystery, or even a good story, and riotous laughs aren’t necessary for a tonally silly show. Tokino Mitani, while not a particularly impressive character, is one of the most adorable super-detectives in the mystery fiction genre, and she’s an endearing, precious presence to follow through crime scenes, and her charm helps carry a lot of the quirkiness of Alibi Cracking, At Your Service. Better yet, Alibi Cracking, At Your Service offers a variety of competently-constructed alibi plots perfectly balancing spatial and chronical misdirection that should please fans of tricky, classically-plotted mystery stories. For its faults I still can’t deny having enjoyed the show on those strengths alone, and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in a drama that deals with alibis as a rule.

Episode 1 – “The Alibi of the Dead” sees Tokino Mitani and Saji Yoshiyuki meeting for the first time at a store that sells Tokino’s favorite snack. Neither gets the opportunity to enjoy a meal, though, as a disoriented man shambling down the street ignores their shouts of warning and is struck dead by an incoming car. In his last moments, the man confesses to the murder of his girlfriend at her apartment…

…only, however, this is simply impossible!

Even with the most liberal estimates of time, Saji realizes, based on the distance from the crime scene to the site of the crash that killed the man, it would be impossible for him to commit the murder at her established time of death, and then walk to the storefront street in time to be run over by that car. The distances are too great, and no matter how much you stretch the logical limits of when the woman could have been killed it’s impossible for any man to cross the city in the allotted amount of time.

And so, Saji is stuck with an unusual alibi: the time the killer died doesn’t permit for him to have committed the crime! And if he can’t crack this alibi, it means that someone else must have committed the crime..! If his confession is true, how could this crime have been committed by this dead man?

“The Alibi of the Dead” serves both as a lovely introduction to our core characters, with Saji desperately trying to prove himself a competent detective and refusing to relent to the nosy Tokino’s requests to allow her to investigate, and as solid snapshot of this show’s competency and creativity with the alibi plot. The set-up quickly establishes a fairly clever variation on the “impossible alibi” problem, with a known killer’s time of death seemingly acquitting them for the crime, and the solution is very neat indeed!

The resolution to “The Alibi of the Dead” turns on a pretty corny but certainly unique trick that not only permits for the dead man to show up to his death on time, but also kind of turns the “semi-inverted alibi problem” plotline on its head — using the dead man’s alibi trick to reveal how this episode had nothing to do with alibis at all and how, in retrospect, this episode doesn’t even qualify as an “alibi plot”! If it relies on no less than three glaring conveniences and coincidences for the plot to even work out, that is something of a smudge on what I still consider to be a fairly neat and clever ending to a promising pilot episode of this show!

Note, though, that the version of the show that exists online has incorrectly translated subtitles. One line of dialogue is translated incorrectly in such a minor but also such a fundamental way that the plot of the episode becomes utterly incomprehensible if you don’t know Japanese and are incapable of realizing the mistake the translator made. I was able to recognize the mistake, but to explain the mistake also inadvertently points you in the direction of the solution. I will be able to supply a version of the show with corrected subtitles in the future, and if you’re interested in seeing this version of the show leave a comment below and let me know so I can sign you up to be able to view it!

In Episode 2 – “The Alibi of the Stalker”, Dr. Hamazawa Kyoko, a professor of pathology, is interrupted in her university laboratory by her ex-husband and current stalker barging in, yelling at her, and demanding her students leave so that two can talk in private. It’s therefore only natural that when Dr. Hamazawa winds up stabbed to death inside of her apartment that very same night, the police immediately hone in on this man as the obvious suspect. Only, of course, he has an airtight alibi: at the time of the murder, he says, he was at a bar and his location can be verified by many reliable witnesses.

With the victim’s stalker’s alibi verified, they begin to close in on the victim’s brother, who receives a mighty fine life insurance payout that is, conveniently, the perfect amount needed to pay off all of his outstanding debts. But Saji isn’t convinced of his subordinate’s deductions: because, after all, if the stalkerish ex-husband was truly innocent, how did he know the precise moment Dr. Hamazawa died in order to insist upon his own alibi, when none of the police ever told him the cause of death..?

To save a man soon to be falsely accused of murder, Saji is yet again on the case to find out how a man can commit murder when he appeared to be at another place at the time the crime took place!

This episode deservedly takes its place on my list of my 30 favorite mystery stories ever written. It might be easy to walk away from this review and, retrospectively, think that the set-up to this is the most unappealingly generic of the bunch, but Alibi Cracking, At Your Service contrives an almost certainly entirely unique piece of alibi trickery to this premise. It’s a method that feels so natural I am frankly stunned that I can’t think of another mystery of any sub-genre that uses this kind of mechanism in its solution. It’s a type of ingenuity that feels less like the story is pushing the genre into new territory, and more like the story is retroactively covering ground that the genre has no excuse to have left untouched — writers will be kicking themselves as much as readers at the conclusion of this very clever episode.

There’s also a very sweet motive at the heart of this story which, while not as unique as the alibi trick, is really touching, and serves as a natural and solid explanation for why this plan was contrived. All around, “The Alibi of the Stalker” is a fantastic episode, and with its cleverly unique alibi trick, heartwarming motive, and neat clues, it’s easy to recommend. If you only watch a single episode of this show, let it be this one!

Episode 3 – “The Alibi of the Beautiful Sister” is a departure for Tokino’s career as a watchmaker detective: rather than destroying an alibi, Tokino must create an alibi for a young woman who claims to have murdered her sister. She tells Commissioner Saji that she is stricken with the habit of sleepwalking, and after a bizarre 12-hour-long night of sleep she woke up in her bed, covered in her sister’s blood, evidently from having killed her in her sleep… Saji refuses to believe that such a kind and gentle woman would commit a murder, in her sleep or otherwise, and so brings the case to Tokino to have her use her talents, not to crack a guilty person’s alibi, but to create an innocent person’s…

I don’t really care for this one, sadly. After the very imaginative and unique first two episodes, this one was a massive disappointment with its obvious, silly, and hoary resolution, which anyone should be able to see coming rather quickly.

It’s equally disappointing that the episode doesn’t particularly pay off on the premise of “creating an alibi”, which has the potential to be a brilliant inversion of the alibi plot, instead falling back on being a fairly typical whodunit with a killer who just so happens to use an alibi trick which, conveniently, creates a gap in the alibi of the innocent sister. It’s even sillier because in retrospect, the killer’s plan would’ve had a greater chance of succeeding if he hadn’t bothered framing the sister for murder… Ironically, I think “The Alibi of the Dead” serves as a better “create an alibi” plot than this dedicated episode, which says a lot…

Easily the worst episode of the show, and it’s sad to have this immediately after the superb “The Alibi of the Stalker”. However, it’s notable for being the moment Saji begins regularly and willingly bringing his cases to Tokino for assistance.

In Episode 4 – “The Alibi of the Mountain Cottage”, Saji attends a vacation at a remote mountain villa where he befriends a young man who deeply admires policework and hopes to one day become a police officer just like Saji. So, of course Saji is deeply troubled when a murder is committed and the only person in the whole villa who could have committed it is this upstanding young man!

Two sets of footprints lead to the clocktower off of the property villa, and only one comes back, so of course when this is investigated a dead body is found inside of the clocktower! At the time the murder was committed, every person staying at the villa was together in the bar, drinking and talking together… Every person, that is, except the young man and the murder victim! Saji yet again asks Tokino Mitani to help prove the young aspiring police officer innocent by finding the real killer.

Similarly to “The Alibi of the Beautiful Sister”, this episode doesn’t do a lot by setting up that there’s an innocent person who needs to be defended, and the story is otherwise a pretty typical alibi plot in the “every suspect was together in one room when the murder was committed” mold. The fact someone has been wrongly framed is incidental to the plot.

There’s an interesting idea at the heart of this to use footprints as a mechanism to confuse the timeline of the crime, combined with a very smart visual clue, but it’s such a simple application of the default, assumed footprint trick that it’s trivial to see through even by bypassing the intended logic. For a show as frequently creative with the alibi plot as Alibi Cracking, At Your Service it’s sad these occasionally very uninspired episodes. Marginally better than “The Alibi of the Beautiful Sister”, but still the second worst episode of the season.

Episode 5 – The Alibi of the Download sees a young man in university for game development be accused of a murder committed months earlier, but to his great fortune he actually has an alibi! For the entire day of the crime, November 20th, he and his best friend were hanging out in his apartment playing a video game that he actually created himself. When pressed that his friend might have been incorrect about the day or time, the young man remembers that on November 20th he actually downloaded a promotional song from his favorite artist! The song was only available on that day, and he showed the song to his friend once he downloaded it, so if his friends corroborates this story then, naturally, he has an alibi for the whole day of November 20th!

The friend is interviewed and naturally corroborates his friend’s story. Saji and Tokino quickly consider and then reject the possibility of him lying, but as long as this friend truthfully remembers the killer downloading that song, only available on the day of November 20th, his alibi is in tact…

If you take away everything surrounding it, the trick at the heart of “The Alibi of the Download” is one many detective fiction readers will know well as one of the most recognizable, age-old, and eyeroll-inducing methods of time manipulation in the genre, but Ōyama Seīchiro really does great work twisting this trick into a form where it seems inconceivable that it could even work. The trick is applied in such an astonishingly creative way that, if I were to spoil what the solution to this mystery is in the barest terms possible, you’d likely be at a total loss as to how it could even apply to this particular problem as I’ve described it. That’s worth a bit of awe in and of itself, I say!

For its stunning ability to turn seconds into days, “The Alibi of the Download” is an impressive and worthwhile piece of work from Alibi Cracking, At Your Service.

Episode 6 – “The Alibi of the Murder Weapon” sees a gun discovered inside of a mailbox by the deliveryman! The gun shows evidence of having been fired recently, a worrying fact especially with the ongoing gang war in the area! The bad omen of the gun is soon validated when a pharmaceutical representative is found shot to death in the basement of his home by bullets matching those in the gun..!

The victim had no connection to organized crime, but suspicion soon falls onto his boss at his company when it’s learned that he does! But, there’s one issue… the boss was having a dinner at the time the murder was committed and the time the gun was thrown into the mail box. With this double-barreled alibi, the boss is seemingly cleared of the crime, but his connections to the gangs keep Tokino and Saji investigating his potential guilt…

This clever set-up lends itself to an equally clever and very tricky resolution that somewhat reminds me of the exceptional alibi trick in “Whose Body?”, collected in Tetsuya Ayukawa’s The Red Locked-Room. The solution here is one of the more complex and unique of the series, but I do think it’s easy to roughly figure out what must have happened if you stop and think reasonably about the set-up.

The plot here is, conceptually, wonderful, but a common issue with alibi-centric mysteries is when they don’t really need to be alibi plots at all… Oftentimes, by highlighting the existence of an alibi-related trick (by either placing all of your suspects together in one room, or having a known killer) you tend to underscore the weaknesses in the killer’s plan and make the tricks less solid as a consequence. This is one of those stories where I think being forewarned of the presence of an alibi trick somewhat dents the foundation of the killer’s scheme. “Alibi of the Murder Weapon” is still a brilliant idea, mind you, just one that for my money would have benefited from being put into a normal whodunit without naming the culprit. I still wholeheartedly recommend it as a stand-out episode from the show!

Episode 7 – “The Alibi of Too Many Witnesses” sees the body count already at two, following the discovery of a corpse on the riverside, a man soon revealed to be the secretary to a member of the House of Representatives. He disappeared from the Representative’s fundraiser the night before, and when it’s discovered that the victim was blackmailing his boss the politician is quickly labeled the prime suspect. But of course, as we’ve come to expect, this politician has a perfect alibi, and one that’s more than a little difficult to contest: he was at the fundraiser, speaking to well over 300 people at the time the murder was committed!

While Saji is trying to deal with how he could commit the murder with nobody seeing him, he learns that this isn’t quite true… it seems as if one person noticed how the politician could commit murder, because another victim, also an attendee of the fundraiser, is found murdered in his apartment! It seems as if the killer is willing to murder witnesses, and with this revelation Saji is uncomfortable involving the extremely insistent and nosy Tokino in the case, for fear he might be responsible for a young girl being murdered…

This season finale, in a lot of ways, reminds me of the finale to season 1 of Furuhata Ninzaburō, involving a dramatic confrontation with a high-ranking member of the government known to our protagonists, but I think Alibi Cracking, At Your Service‘s finale handles it better. Where Furuhata Ninzaburō doesn’t meaningfully lean into the inherent drama of the killer being a legendary detective, “The Alibi of Too Many Witnesses” charmingly plays it up by making it clear Tokino’s life may very well be in danger, showing meaningful character development for our secondary protagonists (like Junior confronting the killer, his own father, to protect Tokino), hinting at the possibility of Tokino and Saji’s secret being discovered, and even introducing a friend of Tokino’s grandpa to help in the last minute. It’s a solid bit of drama befitting the finale of the first season of this show.

That being said, this is certainly the most conflicted I’ve felt about an episode of Alibi Cracking, At Your Service. The double-murder involves an interweaved alibi plot that kind of recalls the double-faceted locked-room murders of John Dickson Carr’s The Hollow Man; or, The Three Coffins in a pretty clever way. Not only that, but there is a fantastic piece of misdirection surrounding motive at the heart of this as well, but a lot of the mechanics of this plot feel like it’s revisiting concepts the show has already used before…

The actual mechanism used to establish the alibi is not incredibly dissimilar to “The Alibi of the Stalker”‘s trick, and there’s an “inversion” of what it means to destroy a suspect’s alibi in a similar fashion to “The Alibi of the Dead”. While neither are just redressings of old concepts, the fact the plot majorly recalls earlier episodes of the show does dampen the impact of what’s otherwise a pretty smart and tightly-plotted alibi story…

And that was Alibi Cracking, At Your Service! It can be said it’s a frequently unfunny show, despite its best efforts, but if the jokes are duds it doesn’t take away from the charm of the hammy melodramatic over-acting. Better yet, it’s a mystery show with what are on average pretty good mystery plots, oriented around a theme often neglected in the television sphere! For all of its occasional faults, I can still wholeheartedly recommend Alibi Cracking, At Your Service to anyone looking for a show imaginative with respect to how to create and destroy alibis!

As we wind down this review to make way for the episode rankings, happy reading and happy sleuthing!

  1. “The Alibi of the Stalker” (Episode 2)
  2. “The Alibi of the Download” (Episode 5)
  3. “The Alibi of the Murder Weapon” (Episode 6)
  4. “The Alibi of the Dead” (Episode 1)
  5. “The Alibi of Too Many Witnesses” (Episode 7)
  6. “The Alibi of the Mountain Cottage” (Episode 4)
  7. “The Alibi of the Beautiful Sister” (Episode 3)

On the Increasingly Essential Frontier of Hybrid Mysteries – Fantasy, Science-Fiction, and Murder (Part 2/2 – Howdunit?)

The “hybrid mystery”, murder mysteries summoning the traits and tropes of other genres, offers unique capabilities to detective authors and readers, allowing the creative mystery author to enhance murder plots with the trappings of secondary genres, to inform plot, character, scenario, and solution with magic or fantastical science, and to give a new lease on creative life for other properties. If you’ve read Part 1 – Whydunit? and are convinced of the merits of the hybrid mystery, then you might be asking yourself: “but how can you write a genuine, authentic, and entirely fair murder mystery that utilizes the supernatural, magic, or science-fiction?” The answer, as it happens, is so simple it can be condensed into one word:


It’s as simple as rules. Laws. Guidelines. Commandments. Whatever you want to call them, rules are going to be the most important thing to a successful hybrid mystery. In actuality, understood rules are the most important thing to any mystery– or, even any story!

Consider a murder mystery where the victim is thought to have been stabbed in the back from behind. In actuality, the victim was laying on the ground on their stomach, and the killer (perched on a balcony four stories above them) dropped the knife from above into their back. Why does this work? We understand, to a degree, the rules governing our own world; we know intuitively that gravity exists so that when a knife (or any object) is in someone’s hands and they let go of it, in most cases the knife will be pulled downwards. Therefore, we know that the possibility exists of an object being dropped onto the victim from above.

Not only does understanding the rule of gravity create possibilities, but knowing rules also helps rule possibilities out. For instance, if the victim (up until the moment they were laying on the ground) were standing with their back against the wall, we know it’s impossible for someone to approach from behind and stab them. After all, the law of corporeality exists! A solid object will prevent another solid object from passing through it without the first being parted. This is how we understand the world to work.

All mysteries set in the real world function because we intuitively understand how the real world functions. The fundamental element is nothing more than understanding. Let’s take this a step further with a more involved example which utilizes the supernatural.

Consider a world where ghosts exist, but can only interact with the physical world if they are “channeled” by a person with spiritual acuity. This channeling gives the spirit complete control over the medium’s body, and even causes the medium’s physical appearance to transmogrify to match the appearance of what the human body of the ghost used to be.

In this world, a woman named Harley is on the set of a movie, and her role is to play a suicide victim named Morticia. She has a noose around her neck, but she’s also secretly wearing a safety harness attached to a catwalk above her, which holds her up by the waist so she looks as if she’s hanging by the neck, but in reality she’s entirely fine. A cloaked figure is seen prowling around the catwalk, and then shockingly it cuts the safety harness keeping Harley safe, causing her to drop and die from a broken neck.

The cloaked figure flees, turns a corner, but is immediately surrounded within 60 seconds. The cloak is removed, and the shocking face of the murderer is revealed: she is identical to Harley. The murderer identifies herself as Morticia, the fictional character Harley was playing in the movie! Even more shocking is that although everyone just saw her commit the murder, she claims to be entirely innocent.

To everyone’s surprise, all of her claims appear to be true. Although she is identical to Harley, blood and DNA tests reveal no biological relationship between the two, so she isn’t a twin or sister. And yet legally this woman doesn’t exist anywhere… So naturally, with the revelation that this must be a woman who stepped from the world of fiction into the real world, the detective is curious about her claims to innocence as well… If she’s innocent of the crime, how could this be possible, given what everyone saw, and that they’re 100% certain that this cloaked woman is the exact same person who cut the tethers to the safety harness (and for fairness sake, let’s say they’re 100% correct about this, and were not tricked or fooled in any way about this person’s identity).

Motive notwithstanding, you should be able to make a guess at the solution, so take some time to think it through if it hasn’t already occurred to you.

Morticia” is the spirit of Harley being channeled by the body of a spirit medium. As soon as you realize that only appearances change, but the spirit medium’s biology remains the same, then it’s easy to reconcile the “biologically unrelated but physically identical woman” with this conclusion. If this is true, however, then consider the fact that all of the witnesses are entirely sure that Morticia and the cloaked figure who cut the safety harness are the same person. So we now know that what was witnessed was Harley’s spirit cutting the tether that held up Harley’s body, to create a show of a murder that had actually happened some time earlier — after all, the only way for Harley’s spirit to be somewhere else at the time “the murder” occurred is if she were already dead. Therefore, cutting the tether didn’t kill her, as it was merely holding up a corpse, so no matter what anyone saw her do, Harley’s spirit is innocent of the murder of Harley’s body, by sheer merit of the fact that it is Harley’s spirit. She’s only guilty of intentionally muddying the waters of the real reason for her own death for unknown reasons.

No, I don’t think this is the only possible conclusion to draw from the limited information I provided, but what I will say is that this is an entirely fairplay solution (in theory). And yet it involves calling upon topics of ghosts and spirit channeling! These things do not exist in our world, but I carefully made sure you knew the rules: ghosts exist, but cannot interact with the physical world without being invited into the body of a vessel. This is a brand new set of rules that you now understand to be absolute fact in this world. All theories working within the restrictions of this magic are fair-play, and the solution doesn’t break any rules or rely on unknown information.

Now, of course, this would 100% be an unfair solution if I hadn’t primed you for the existence of spirit channeling. Why is it fair to assume gravity exists, but not ghosts and spirit mediums? Unless otherwise stated or demonstrated, all fictional worlds are assumed to (where possible) function exactly the same as our own.

That might seem like an obvious statement. Set your story in Victorian London or modern day New York, and you expect the physical laws as we know them today to still function yet the same, even if you throw in the unnatural element of ghosts. But consider the inverse: whether you set your story in Narnia, Hogwarts, or Middle-Earth, you still expect to see gravity! If you wrote this mystery story into the Harry Potter universe, it would not be fairplay, because the existence of spirit channeling is not an established fact of that world. Despite the existence of magic, where it is not known, the world is assumed to still function identically to our own, even if it is a fantastical world.

What we have here, therefore, are two fundamental principles that permit for fairplay mysteries to exist within the confines of a fantastical setting: we understand where it is the same as our own, and we understand how it is different, both explicitly and intuitively.

To look at a real example, Locked-Room International, an independent publishing company dedicated to translating impossible crime novels into English, recently translated Masahiro Imamura’s Death Among the Undead, in which multiple murders occur in a house besieged by the undead. Every victim is (apparently) murdered by a zombie, but in every situation it’s impossible for a zombie to reach them! So how were the murders committed?

In this novel, the zombies have a small set of rules by which they always abide:

1.) Zombies lack physical coordination and strength, and cannot run.

2.) Zombies have infinite stamina and never tire.

3.) Zombies are capable of issuing and following only simple orders.

4.) Zombies do not attack victims to eat, they attack to reproduce.

5.) Zombies do not attack each other.

No zombie may act outside of the confines of these rules. They are capable of no more than what they are explicitly said and shown to be capable, or which we can understand they are capable intuitively. No supernatural elements beyond the zombies exist. Thereby, the novel is injected with a supernatural plot point which is (theoretically) predictable, and follow guidelines which are rigidly observed and easily understood. Therefore, despite the presence of an element as unconventional as the undead, the novel still functions as an entirely fairplay puzzle plot detective novel simply because everything that’s introduced which the audience cannot be expected to simply know is expounded upon in an easily digestible manner.

You may be able to understand how this functions with simple supernatural elements like ghost summoning, or zombies. These are specific concepts, and thereby abide by specific rules. Similarly, it might be easy to understand how this rule-focused nature of plotting applies to concepts of science-fiction, as science-fiction by necessity is firmly rooted in an evolution of established, real-world concepts, and thereby follows the very same rules observed in our reality. But what about fantasy? What about magic? Is fantasy and magic not the antithesis to rules and guidelines, the very nature of limitless wonder?


The above is a direct quote from Brandon Sanderson, one of the most famous fantasy/science-fiction authors of all time, and writer of such series as Mistborn and The Storlight Archives. Brandon Sanderson can be said to be to fantasy what Isaac Asimov was to science-fiction, popularizing new ways to read and write within the genre. One of his most notable contributions was his 2007 analysis of “magic systems”, the way in which fantasy authors make their magic insularly consistent by following either explicit or intuitive rules for how the magic works. He notes “if we simply let ourselves develop new rules every time our characters are in danger, we will end up creating fiction that is not only unfulfilling and unexciting, but just plain bad”, positing on the benefits of magic systems. Although he obviously did not have magical murder mysteries in mind, it’s spectacular how closely his ideas of magic in fantasy come to the mystery reader’s idea of fairplay.

In this analysis, he describes “Soft Magic” and “Hard Magic”. “Soft Magic” is those fantasy novels where magic does not have necessarily strict ideas about how it can be used, and instead exists to inject a sense of wonder intro the settings. However, he pivots into describing the kinds of magic he typically writes into his fantasy: Hard Magic. Hard Magic is any and all magic systems where the rules of magic are explicitly established for the benefit of the reader, “so that the reader can have the fun of feeling like they themselves are part of the magic, and so that the author can show clever twists and turns in the way the magic works. […] If the reader understands how the magic works, then you can use the magic to solve problems. […] It’s the characters’ wit and experience that solves the problems. Magic becomes another tool—and, like any other tool, its careful application can enhance the character and the plot”.

For example, in Bandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series, the primary of the three magic systems is “Allomacy”. “Allomancy” is quite intricate and unbelievably specific in what can and cannot be done. The idea is that there are four groups of metallic elements — “Physical”, “Mental,” “Enhancement”, and “Temporal” — which themselves are separated into two groups, one for the base metal and one for the alloy. Base metals are “Pushing” (any ability that acts either literally or metaphorically “outwardly”) and alloys are “Pulling” (any ability that acts either literally or metaphorically “inwardly”). Each metal is also classified by whether it’s “External” (occurs outside of the caster’s body) or “Internal” (occurs within the caster’s body). This means you have 16 metals which you can tap into in order to manifest specific abilities. For example, Steel is a Physical-Pushing-External class, which gives the caster the ability to telepathically push nearby metals, whereas Gold is Temporal-Pulling-Internal, which allows the caster to see visions of their past selves, etc. etc.

Nevermind if you internalized all of that, the important thing to take away from this description is that the magic system relies on the “magician’s” (Mistborn’s) ability to ingest one of 16 different kinds of metal. At all times you know what these Mistborns are capable of, as long as you know what kinds of metals they have access to and can ingest. Nothing but these sixteen abilities are available to a Mistborn, and all of these abilities work consistently and reliably. In that way, magic functions as like a science.

In fact, not only does magic function like a science, but Sanderson does not discriminate between fantasy and science-fiction in his description of magic systems. In his essay, he names both Asimov’s Law of Robotics and the abilities of Spider-Man as examples of “hard magic”. Asimov has three clearly defined laws that dictate the behavior of robots, and those laws are rigidly observed. Similarly, Spider-Man has a rigid set of abilities (increased physical capabilities, the ability to shoot webs, the ability to cling to walls) which he has access to, he has no other abilities unless otherwise stated, and we know the capabilities of what abilities he does have. Although both examples are, narratively, born of science-fiction, Sanderson names them examples of “hard magic”.

In short, fantasy and magic has a precedent for telling stories involving heavily rule-dictated magic. If Mistborn and the world of Asimov are both considered hard magic, and Asimovian science-fiction murder mysteries like Caves of Steel can exist, then there truly is no reason why a similarly rigid set of laws involving magic (for instance, Mistborn) can’t also be utilized to establish a fantastical mystery story.

One such example of a fantasy-set murder mystery utilizing Sanderson’s first law is Renkinjutsushi no Shoushitsu (Vanishing of the Alchemist), the second of Konno Tenryuu’s fantasy mystery novels. In Vanishing of the Alchemist, a murder is committed in a fantasy world in which magic follows precise laws of give-and-take, turning “magic” into a science. Despite known as the real-world science of alchemy, this is a magical phenomenon in which Alchemists are capable of supernaturally transmogrifying one form of matter into a roughly equal form of matter. With a murder committed in a location that is apparently impenetrable except to Alchemists, and the Alchemists having no reason to commit such a murder that is immediately suspicious to them. Despite the implication this is a crime that would only make sense for a regular human to commit without the use of magic, what actually comes of it is a solution that intimately relies on its fantasy setting with one clear rule: to use alchemy you must give up something of equal value to create the object you desire.

Ultimately, everything comes back to rules. You can either show the rules in action, give the reader a little glossary explaining the rules, or exposit on them in the narration. However, if your story so calls for it, it isn’t even necessary to provide this information outright; you can instead bake discovering the rules into the story.

For instance, Japanese science-fiction mystery author Houjou Kie’s Kotou no Raihousha (Visitors on a Remote Island) has a very unconventional premise, even among hybrid mysteries: rather than giving you a set of magical rules and then creating a problem around those rules, Visitors on a Remote Island instead operates by having totally inexplicable crimes committed by a metaphysical being beyond their perception. The mystery, instead of figuring out how murders could occur within a set of fantastical laws, is about figuring out what the laws are. What can or will the creature do? What can or will it not do? The mystery is in applying the Ellery Queen-esque method of deducing traits of the killer to the bizarre premise of deducing the precise behavior patterns and capabilities of a supernatural entity.

In this way, Visitors on a Remote Island still functions internally on a set of rigid, understood rules, but these rules are not yet known to the audience. It is in the discovery of those rules where the mystery lie. Making part of the puzzle the detection of an unknown rule or set of rules is yet another method of employing the rule-guided mechanics of hybrid mysteries in ways a traditional mystery novel would never permit.

Keep in mind that this doesn’t give the author free reign to do whatever they want. When the solution is arrived, everything should still retroactively make perfect sense, and not break any rules. Consistency is key with magical rulesets.

But, of course, telling you to write with rules in mind is only a small part of the making of a hybrid mystery. How do you decide on what your rules should be?

The popular wisdom with mystery writing is that you start at the end, with the solution, and then move backwards to retroactively erect the plot and cluing around that. But when everything exists in respect to a set of rules, can you really do that with a hybrid mystery?

To the best of my knowledge, there are two basic methods of priming yourself to write a hybrid mystery.

Method 1: Setting First

When you think about it, whether to write a mystery set in outer space or a fairytale world is a choice every author makes every time they set out to write their mystery story. Not consciously of course, but the understanding is you are deciding to set a story in the real world, taking your knowledge of the real world, and twisting it into something that can suit a mysterious murder. When you really break it down, writing a hybrid mystery is no different, with the only stipulation being that you create the world: you’re still merely taking your understanding of the setting (the world), and twisting it into a mysterious problem.

Once you realize that the process of writing a mystery is practically untouched regardless of whether you choose to set it in the real world or a fantasy world, the process becomes less daunting. After all, you always make a decision about what world your mystery takes place in, and the formula is the same regardless of what the answer is.

With that in mind, to write a hybrid mystery “setting first” is as simple as deciding you want to write a fantasy novel, you design the world to your liking, create a magic system with defined capabilities and limitations, and then once you’re done the process is identical to writing any other mystery story. You look at what’s left, and think about how a killer would try to get away with murder within the confines of the setting in which you’re working, and then work backwards from there to the

This is probably the most “intuitive” way of writing a hybrid mystery. When you’re writing out the limitations of your magic system, you’re not writing them in respect to a planned mystery plot. You are instead merely writing “what limitations sound interesting to me”. It’s creatively liberating but also the highest responsibility of all the starting points.

When designing a magic system, a delicate balance to try and strike is making it open enough to permit creative applications of the powers, but restricted enough to not allow users to get away with anything. A good example of a simple but well-designed magic system to study is martial arts cartoon series Avatar: The Last Airbender.

Aside from the Avatar, all “Benders” in the Avatar: The Last Airbender universe are capable of manipulating one of the four classical elements (Air, Fire, Water, Earth). Each element is a magic system unto itself, with disparate rules and limitations. For example, Earthbenders’ ability to control rocks and stone increases proportionally to their physical strength and stamina, and they are only capable of controlling “pure” Earth, so things like metal or mud are more difficult or outright impossible to Bend. The main Earthbender in the show, Toph Beifong, is also blind, and uses her bending to sense seismic disturbances, which allows her to see with a form of subterranean echolocation. This also creates interesting dynamics where she can sense pulses (like heart rates) of anyone touching the ground, and when standing on solid ground she is as good as anyone with working eyesight. She’s capable of sensing pure Earth in the air, but with less precision, and when flying in the air or standing on softer or less purified ground she loses her ability to see altogether. At all times, you know roughly what Toph is capable of, and although “controlling the ground” is a seemingly intense ability with a lot of applications, there are also clearly-defined limitations that restrict the Earthbender’s ability to use it.

This magic system in Avatar: The Last Airbender is a fantastic one to study, because it’s both simple enough to easily understand, but intricate enough to allow the writers a lot of creative room in how they apply the magic. It also follows Sanderson’s second law of magic systems “EXPAND, DON’T ADD”, which merely posits that a good magic system should grow organically from what exists, rather than arbitrarily add new elements that don’t fit, for complexity.

Knowing that manipulating fire is merely a form of controlling a certain type of kinetic energy means that it doesn’t totally come out of left field when a Firebender learns to manipulate lightning as well, and it’s perfectly natural when it turns out “Bloodbending”, manipulating the blood inside of another person’s body, is a forbidden and lost art of Waterbending. This also shows how a dynamic magic system can facilitate good mystery-writing: these unexpected applications of once-understood abilities are natural additions that can also be manifested in the form of tricks in mystery-writing. If, for example, you had a murder mystery in which it turned out the Firebender utilized the power of Lightning, based on your understanding of the magic that wouldn’t be “a cheap cop-out”, it’d be a surprising evolution of the rules as they were established.

This is one of the many benefits of starting with the magic system, and working inwards towards the murder, is that a magic system being created without respect to a planned murder allows for it to feel more organic, and by extension feel less like it was “designed” for your plot. This also doubly has the benefit of the magic system not being restricted specifically to the one mystery you end up writing, allowing you to set many different stories within the frameworks you’ve created.

I hugely recommend checking out the Avatar: The Last Airbender series for anyone looking to study competent existent magic systems as a starting point for this kind of approach to writing a hybrid mystery.

Method 2: Prompt First

This method essentially relies on you having an idea for one of (1.) a type of trick you’d like to play or plot you’d like to tell with a particular supernatural artifice, or (2.) a type of supernatural artifice from which you’d like to generate a plot, and then you erect the magic system and its limitations around that. In a way, this is also very similar to the popular method of “starting at the end”.

For instance, you may say something like “I want to write a mystery story in which time travel is utilized to write an alibi”, or “I would like to have a mystery involving gravity being momentarily shut off, but the upwards motion of an elevator disguises the lack of gravity from the detective”. From there, you merely erect a magic system or setting with rules and limitations that facilitate the puzzle you intend to create. You take the elevator prompt, and can reverse-engineer a scenario to tie it all together by asking yourself questions about the prompt. How do they shut off gravity? They’re on a space station, so gravity can be shut off. Why do they shut off gravity? To get access to an otherwise inaccessible location. With the benefit that because a spaceship is technological, the existence of an elevator is also perfectly natural.

The benefit of this method is that everything is taut. Because everything exists in respect to the intended trick or solution, there is less “fat to trim”, so to speak. Everything that exists, exists because it is meant to, and has a place where it fits snugly, like a jigsaw puzzle or a nice tapestry. The draw-back of such a method, however, is that because everything merely exists to facilitate one single idea, trying to retroactively inject new plots into the framework will tend to be difficult, if not impossible.

A rule of thumb, then, is that if you intend to write a series of hybrid mysteries, starting with the setting and working to the murders from there will be the ideal way to go. You leave yourself plenty of room to work with, and that kind of room will facilitate more plots. However, for one-off works, starting with the one idea and reverse-engineering the rules from there will make everything feel tighter and complete, which perfect for a standalone narrative.

While it’s difficult to be totally comprehensive in one blog post, this is the best advice I think I can give on how to begin writing a hybrid mystery. It’s all about knowing how to figure out and communicate your rules to your audience. Whether your story involves people who control fire, zombies, time-travel, or even worlds made of pudding, it can be a valuable addition to the hybrid mystery pantheon. As long as you can remember rules, rules, rules, your fantastical murder should work out just fine.

Keep in mind the following seven takeaways from this post:

  1. Unless otherwise stated or demonstrated, even fantasy worlds function like our own. No supernatural elements may exist except those the author suggests, explains, or demonstrates.
  2. Your ability to create a solution around fantastical elements is directly correlated to how well your readers understand the fantastical elements (Sanderson’s first)
  3. Expand, don’t add. Find new interpretations of old rules, but don’t create new rules arbitrarily. Insular consistency is key. (Sanderson’s second)
  4. Rules don’t need to be explicitly stated, but where they aren’t stated they need to be intuitive and the audience needs to be able to deduce unknown variables, factors, or mechanisms of the world.
  5. Starting with a magic or fantastical setting created without respect to a single mystery allows for more potential mystery stories to take place within the same setting.
  6. Inversely, starting with a prompt for a concept or solution makes isolated stories feel tighter.
  7. A good magic system is one which is simple enough to be understood, intricate enough to permit for a variety of applications of established abilities, open enough to allow for creative exploitations of abilities, and closed enough to have defined limitations. Study successful fantasy stories with “hard magic systems” to see how this delicate balance is handled by fantasy genre authors.

These seven rules of thumb should make for good starting points for any author looking to delve into the world of hybrid mysteries. I hope that between this and the first post, I’ll be seeing more and more fantastic hybrid mysteries from established and up-and-coming authors alike. Happy reading, and happy writing.

Everything Everywhere All At Once (2022) by The Daniels

To celebrate the beginning of 2023, I wanted to be a little self-indulgent and review my favorite piece of media (mystery or otherwise) in existence. I will not be making a habit of these off-topic posts, so if you’ve followed my blog for mystery review and discussions and think I’m abandoning my core topic for a more eclectic spread of content, then don’t worry, I am not. This is a one-time occurrence to celebrate my blog’s third year in existence, so I hope you can forgive me these small and occasional indulgences.

Everything Everywhere All At Once is a messy, chaotic, loud, and anarchical film which refuses to decide what it wants to be. Does it want to be a science-fiction action film? A madcap comedy? A tragedy about the interpersonal failings of a gay daughter and her intolerant mother? A drama pitting the philosophies of absurdism and nihilism against one another? All at once, it seems to want to be everything. It wants to be the kind of movie you turn your brain off to and munch on popcorn, and yet it also wants to be the film you spend hours of your life combing through its symbolism to analyze and pick apart every little nuance of framing and imagery. It wants to be an intimate story about interpersonal relationships, but it also wants to be a reality-spanning musing on the very nature of meaning and the futility of objectivity. It wants to be chaotic, and then it still wants to jam-pack every scene with dense foreshadowing and contextualization that shows an underlying sense of focus and directness rarely seen in this caliber in cinema.

It is everything, everywhere, all at once. That is not by accident.

Everything Everywhere All At Once stars Michelle Yeoh as Evelyn Wang, an exhausted Chinese-American immigrant who lives overtop of her laundromat business with her husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan), who is over-zealous and childishly optimistic, and her daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu), who has grown distressed with her mother’s simultaneously overbearing but also emotionally-detached nature. It is Chinese New Years and Evelyn’s home and business is soon to be foreclosed, costing her everything, after multiple failed meetings with IRS agent Deirdre Beaubeirdre due to the language barrier. The Wangs were supposed to bring their daughter, Joy, as a translator, but because Evelyn refuses to introduce Joy’s girlfriend Becky to her father, who flew in to celebrate the holiday, the two had a falling out and Joy is nowhere to be found.

It’s at this final and most critical of meetings that Waymond is taken over by another Waymond, and Evelyn is introduced to The Multiverse, a collection of every possible universe that could exist, and told that an interdimensional monster known as Jobu Tupaki seeks to take the entirety of the Multiverse over for the most bizarre of reasons: it wants to find Evelyn, alive. Evelyn is told that for one reason and only one reason she can be given the power to tap into the memories (and by extension the abilities) of any version of herself from any other reason. The reason? Evelyn is living her worst life, and by being the worst version of herself, she represents a maximum of untapped potential and unachieved dreams, and it’s that lack of accomplishment that gives her the ability to tap into every version of herself she could have been. With that potential, and with that power, Alpha Waymond (the Waymond from another universe) needs Evelyn to join him and his team of universe-hopping soldiers in the war against Jobu Tupaki.

At first, Evelyn wants nothing to do with inter-universal wars, Verse Jumping, or superpowers, and is more preoccupied with getting her life in this universe back together. However, when she discovers the truth behind Jobu Tupaki’s motivations and identity (that Jobu is her daughter, Joy), Evelyn becomes involved in an attempt to stop Jobu’s conquest and save their life before they can be senselessly killed…

From a synopsis of the first third of the film, bookmarked in-film as “PART 1: EVERYTHING“, you may be tempted to write off Everything Everywhere All At Once as a generic superhero film coasting off of the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Doctor Strange films. Superficially, the two resemble each other, involving a reluctant hero pushed into the role of a superhero who uses their powers to cross the boundaries between universes to save the very fabric of reality as we know it. However, there’s very important subtext at this point in the film that demarcates the film’s departure from its ostensibly bogstandard superhero premise: the metaphor of universes.

Structurally, Everything Everywhere All At Once tell its story split across every universe in existence, but there are a few alternate universes singled out as being cornerstones of the narrative and its themes. In one universe, Evelyn is a chef in an obvious parody of Disney/Pixar animated film Ratatouille in which she gets involved in the drama of her co-chef hiding a raccoon, named Raccacoonie, in his hat who pulls his hair to help in cook. In another universe, although she’s divorcing Waymond in her home universe, she experiences a romance with a movie star version of him in a universe clearly paying homage to In The Mood For Love. Earlier in that very same universe, Evelyn trains as a martial artist in a sepia-drenched sending-up of most typical kung-fu films. The common denominator in all of these universes is that every different universe represents a different style and genre of film, with everything from animated comedy to martial arts film to romantic drama being represented, and even Evelyn’s own universe acting as a stand-in for superhero movies.

The core of the movie’s identity is in the end of its first act, in which Evelyn’s mind is shattered across every universe. She experiences everything, everywhere, all at once. Not only is this, on a surface level, the moment the film pivots to its more bizarre, absurdist preoccupations, but it’s also subtextually the moment the film chooses to be everything, everywhere, all at once. To know that the universes represent style and genre, and to see that the inciting incident of the film is the boundaries between universes being broken, means one thing: Evelyn experiences everything, everywhere, all at once, and so do we, the audience, as the boundaries between genres (universes) being shattered gives the film free reign for absolute genre anarchy. It is every genre, all at once.

The shattering of the boundaries between universes represents the film’s rejection of the institution of rigid genre, and it’s with that rejection that the film begins to cultivate its identity as an absurdist film. From this point onwards, Evelyn is forced to cope with the simultaneous awareness of not millions, not billions, not trillions, but an infinite number of potentialities all running through her mind at all times. It’s this awareness that slowly leads her to the same conclusion that Joy had: nothing has meaning in and of itself. No moment has meaning, it’s merely a statistical inevitability. No person has meaning, they’re merely a cough of the universe. Every new discovery is a reminder that all things and all people are small and stupid.

The core conflict in the film, however, comes with Evelyn learning what to do with this information. Joy has learned nothing has meaning in and of itself, therefore trying to ascribe meaning to anything is a pointless endeavor. The only worthwhile pursuit is suicide. In this way, Joy represents the philosophy of nihilism. Evelyn, on the other hand, represents absurdism — yes, she agrees, nothing truly matters, but that is not a fact to be dreaded. It is to be celebrated, because the lack of inherent meaning gives you the unique opportunity to substitute in your own meaning, to find value in the moments and lives shared with the people around you.

However, the film is more than just musings on the nature of meaning. At the same time, it’s an intolerant mother learning to come to terms with her daughter being gay and having a relationship with a woman. It’s an overbearing mother learning to come to terms with her child’s independence. It’s a burnt-out, falling-out-of-love wife learning the true value of her relationships with other people and seeing her husband in a new light. It’s a depressed immigrant finding a new lease on life. It’s a superhero fighting to save the universe from assured destruction.

When is it all these things? All at once.

The cussedly impressive thing about Everything Everywhere All At Once is that it’s structurally four movies occurring at the same time and crossing over with each other constantly, and therefore every line of dialogue is ultimately contributing to the development of each of these films constantly. No part of the film just represents the obvious one thing it’s meant to; if you pick out a single scene in the movie, you can tie it into every other ongoing plotline in the film.

Consider, if you will, Joy’s statements that she feels like she’s fighting a never-ending battle all alone in a world where nobody cares. Can you pick out whether these statements are about the philosophy of nihilism? Or are they about the isolating experience of being discriminated against as a queer person in a heteronormative society? Or are they about living an abusive household with an emotionally detached and seemingly uncaring parent? Shockingly, at all times, the answer is “all three”.

When you start to peel away the layers of the film’s maximalist structure, you begin to realize that what once seemed like a mess, directionless chaos, is in actuality a dense and focused effort to build up its central themes, to not only state but demonstrate its core philosophy. Absurdism. If nothing matters, then the institutions of storytelling don’t matter, the boundaries between genres don’t matter, the boundaries between different films don’t matter. And so it rejects those ideas, and lovingly embraces what’s left behind. The film can be whatever it wants, whenever it wants, and it can be whatever it wants, all at once. Absurdism is not only a philosophy the film exposits, but a philosophy baked into the very skeleton of the movie, informing its style, tone, mood, and (lack of) genre.

So, I reiterate:

Everything Everywhere All At Once is a messy, chaotic, loud, and anarchical film which refuses to decide what it wants to be. Does it want to be a science-fiction action film? A madcap comedy? A tragedy about the interpersonal failings of a gay daughter and her intolerant mother? A drama pitting the philosophies of absurdism and nihilism against one another? All at once, it seems to want to be everything. It wants to be the kind of movie you turn your brain off to and munch on popcorn, and yet it also wants to be the film you spend hours of your life combing through its symbolism to analyze and pick apart every little nuance of framing and imagery. It wants to be an intimate story about interpersonal relationships, but it also wants to be a reality-spanning musing on the very nature of meaning and the futility of objectivity. It wants to be chaotic, and then it still wants to jam-pack every scene with dense foreshadowing and contextualization that shows an underlying sense of focus and directness rarely seen in this caliber in cinema.

It is everything, everywhere, all at once. That is not by accident.

The movie is insularly conflicting, a writhing mass of paradox and identity shifting, a hodgepodge of tone and style, a swirling typhoon of every genre of storytelling in existence… and at being that, Everything Everywhere All At Once is a glorious triumph. All of these traits, typically the calling card of a confused movie with no identity, no vision for what it wants to be, are in reality the very goal, the intention, and the thesis statement of Everything Everywhere All At Once.

It’s smart in a stupid way and stupid in a smart way, and smart in a smart way and stupid in a stupid way, it’s fun and boring, it’s quiet and loud, it’s science-fiction and fantasy, comedy and tragedy, mundane and universe-spanning, intimate and all-encompassing, chaotic and focused, messy and tidy, it is cerebral and emotional. It is a superhero film, but also a Christopher Nolan-esque high-concept science-fiction story, but also a motivational Wuxia martial arts film, but also a family drama, but also a romantic comedy, but also a philosophical drama, but also a mad-cap comedy, but also Looney Tunes, but also a drama about the life of an immigrant, but also a story about the queer experience… all at once.

Everything Everywhere All At Once is a maximalist triumph that orients itself around the ambition of encompassing all things at all times. Rejecting the inherent meaning of institutions of storytelling, the film is able to bring all genres and all styles into and unto itself to tell one of the densest narratives of narrative history, combining its many disparate plot threats and sub-narratives incredibly. A beautifully absurdist masterpiece that is not only brainy in execution, but heartful in message, not only pulling out some of the smartest storytelling of all time but also delivering some of the most raw emotional gut punches in cinematic history. Everything Everywhere All At Once is a love letter to everything everywhere all at once, it is everything everywhere all at once, and it is truly exceptional at all things, a beautiful cacophony of contradiction and irreverence. Nothing short of stunning cinema, and a neat and tidy “mess” I’ll always love to love myself in.

On 2022 and Beyond – A Retro-Prospective

As the sun slowly sets on another stressful year, it’s the perfect opportunity to look back on 2022 with all of its stresses and dangers as, fortunately, yet another year we’re all together united by the common thread of puzzling detection. Murders in English manors, thefts committed from within locked vaults, and disappearances of people within sight ironically provide a comforting escape for many of us, and in this holiday-and-New-Years seasons I can only be grateful to have not only discovered Golden Age detection on that fatal day in my high school library, but to have discovered a lovely community of people from whom I’ve learned so, so, so much more than I could ever have imagined. I am humbled to have had the opportunity to write this blog between my difficult university classes. Having my passion for this form stoked by so many brilliant, insightful, and educated people in this community has helped guide my career path — the study of the Japanese language to become a translator of detection fiction — so for being such a formative part of my life, to all the practitioners, scholars, and lovers of the devious deed, today and yesterday, alive and dead, I say: Thank you!

To cap off this year, and to lead us into 2023, I wanted to not only take a look back at this year in mysteries and my blog, but to also look forward at what’s to come! I hope together we can make 2023 another murderous year!

The Best Mystery Novels of 2022

The Red Death Murders (2022) by Jim Noy

Mr. J (x 2) himself, of The Invisible Event blogging fame, came out swords-a-swinging in this fantastically written and freakishly dense medieval impossible crime (and then three more) set amidst a plague apocalypse in the world of Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Red Death”. While I admit that the impossible crimes are of a somewhat overly technical/physical nature for my tastes, they’re also too novel to not be impressed with. The impossible poisoning has one of the most audacious solutions of all time, something on which I think we can all agree whether we love it or hate it (I have a little of both). I look forward to seeing what, if anything, Jim Noy puts out in the future.

Ripples (2017) by Robert Innes

Somewhat awkward treatment of bisexual people aside, Ripples by Robert Innes is my introduction to this modern plotter of self-published impossible crimes and, wow! The central impossibility of a man walking across a lake as if the surface of the water were a totally physical surface offers up a brilliant explanation accompanied by some cluing with irreverent brashness only befitting Christianna Brand. It has to share space with a romance plot, and the cluing is a little awkward, but don’t let that turn you away, because for fans of impossible crimes this really is the goods.

The Tokyo Zodiac Murders (1981) by Sōji Shimada

This, Japan’s most important detective novel ever written, is more than deserving of its esteem. Not, perhaps, the world’s best-written novel nor the most compelling impossible crime, but absolutely the genre’s most stunning serial killing trick of all time. The brilliant solution is not only an absolute shocker, but it’s so ingenious and inventive that attempting to imitate it would be folly: it is, simply, a trademark of this book, and any inspiration or copy-catting will be immediately noticed. There’s little surprise this stands among the very top of my list of the 30 best mystery stories I’ve ever read.

The Author is Dead (2022) by A. Carver

I was not impressed with the locked-room mysteries in this over-zealous locked-room mystery novel from a new-time, self-published author, but the meta-twist involving the motive for the author’s own murder shows a cleverness and deftness to his plotting that not only left me impressed, but made me more than excited to see how his writing grows. A shockingly sharp meta-misdirection extends beyond the confines of the book in a way only a self-published author nobody’s heard of could manage…

The Best Short Stories of 2022

My Mother, The Detective (1997) by James Yaffe

Ellery Queen meets Miss Marple in this delightful little post-GAD mystery series featuring the nameless “Mom”, a little old Jewish mother in the Bronx who, over Friday dinner, can listen to stories of her policeman son’s most recent arrest and tell him, always without fail, why he’s got the wrong person! For an author-centric short story collection, the average quality of My Mother, The Detective is insanely high, but special notes to “Mom Makes a Bet”, a smashingly clever short story bolstered by one of my favorite clues of all time, and “Mom Makes a Wish”, the series’ best reconciliation of deduction chains and psychological clues. The puzzler was in good hands after the Golden Age ended with James Yaffe on the case!

The Red Locked Room (2020) by Tetsuya Ayukawa

Tetsuya Ayukawa is more than just “Japan’s Freeman Wills Crofts” — he is a uniquely clever detective fiction author who specializes in cross-wiring of the impossible crime and the alibi problem. In such stories as “Death in Early Spring”, Ayukawa uses gimmickry associated with locked-room mystery to provide brilliant solutions to alibi plots, and in such stories as “The Clown in the Tunnel” he uses time tables and alibi tricks to inform clever answers to impossible crimes. Add to the mix the fantastically devious procedural “Whose Body?”, and you have a smart and eclectic selection of short detective tales from Japan’s own Golden Age.

The Worst Mystery Novel of 2022

A Question of Proof (1935) by Nicholas Blake

This pretentious detective novel debut from a poet laureate fails as both an example of the character-driven detective story and the plot-driven detective story. The principle cast is characterized purely through arbitrary pseudo-psychological mumblings from the detective instead of by the merits of their own behavior within the narrative, and the central murder of a preparatory school headmaster’s nephew is unremarkable and thinly plotted. The second murder is a surprisingly decent Chestertonian impossible crime buried within this otherwise dull detective story, but A Question of Proof itself has its characters hypocritically criticizing detective novels for arbitrary second murders, so I imagine I’m supposed to do the same for this novel in turn. Dull, empty, and pseudo-literary with neither high-brow nor low-brow interest, A Question of Proof‘s sole silver lining is that it’s the worst but also the first review of 2022, meaning it is only up-hill from there…

The Worst Mystery Short Story of 2022

“Psychological Test” by Edogawa Ranpo

This unremarkable inverted mystery has neither detective nor psychological interests, featuring a killer with all the psychological depth of a spare tire committing a murder as artistically inspired as the process of replacing a spare tire, with a solution as interesting as reading instructions on the process of replacing a spare tire. Add to that a very amateurish translation, and you have yourself with a story with not much in it besides genre-historical interest…

The Best Non-Literature Mysteries of 2022

“The Rehearsal Murder” – Furuhata Ninzaburou Season 1, Episode 7 (1994)

I’ve reviewed part 1 and part 2 of Furuhata Ninzaburō season 1 already, so please check out those reviews for more information on this excellent inverted mystery drama! Inspired by ColumboFuruhata Ninzaburō is a 90s detective drama starring a titular police lieutenant who solves murders all over Japan! Just as in Columbo, at the beginning of every episode we see the culprit commit the crime, and the mystery is in figuring out how Furuhata solves the mystery… The best episode of season 1 of the show is “The Rehearsal Murder”.

In this episode, samurai actor Jushiro, desperate to save his movie studio from being sold and transformed into a mall, concocts a devious plot to tamper with the choreography of a swordfight scene in which his boss guest stars as the villain! Doing this, he’s able to use a real sword to cut his boss’s throat open so that it looks like nothing more than a prop-and-choreography accident during the rehearsal, with dozens of witnesses swearing up and down that the crime was an accident. Now, Furuhata is posed with a new problem: not with proving who committed the murder, but instead with proving that the murder was deliberate and premeditated!

The episode teases you with the clue of a moving moon prop during its entire runtime, and when the explanation for how that nails the killer’s guilt is revealed it is a gob-stopper! This is the show that turned me onto inverted mysteries, and this is the episode that solidified the series’s place in my heart! Absolutely fantastic, but it is by no means the only fantastic episode in the show, so please do consider checking it out at some point!

“The Shogi Tournament Murder” – Furuhata Ninzaburou Season 1, Episode 7 (1994)

This semi-inverted mystery involving an impossible case of cheating (by leaving writing inside of a sealed envelope) and the psychological impossibility of a person cheating to win a game of shogi somehow still making a move so colossally bad that even laypeople realize it cost him the game, is another brilliantly-clued episode from Japan’s signature inverted mystery drama. I could pick three or four more episodes from this show to represent, so let the fact I narrowed it down to these two be testament to the raw quality of these two episodes from this excellent mystery series.

“The Kamikakushi Village Murder Case” – Detective School Q Case 4 (2003)

This impossible crime mystery manga’s fan favorite case is “The Kamikakushi Murder Case”, which features the impossibility of a person who can commit a murder on one side of a mountain while standing on the other. While it’s flawed in construction, the story’s ingenious central trick is so damnably audacious and ambitious that it ranks among the best alibi tricks of all time. Utterly brilliant and well-worth the medium-crossing for anyone interested.

Miscellaneous Detective Conan Cases (199X)

Since posting On Some of the Best Mysteries Ever Written and the Puzzle of Why You’ve Never Read Them, I’ve been dedicated large periods of time to reviewing cases from the eclectic, varied, and massive Japanese mystery franchise Detective Conan. To single out every great case in the series that I’ve reviewed would take ages, but it let be said that Detective Conan contains some of the best mysteries of all time among its 700 individual stories, and I look forward to continuing to read and review this behemoth of Japanese detection in the coming years.

My Favorite Review of 2022

My Mother, The Detective (1997) by James Yaffe

I’m very proud of my review of My Mother, the Detective, in which I believe I’ve done a good job of looking at the collection holistically and dissecting trends in the stories while still managing to convey clearly my thoughts on the individual entries. In my opinion it is the best short story collection review I’ve ever written, and a post I’ve failed to live up to in my following anthology reviews. But if you want to see what I consider the best of my blog, I will always point you in the direction of this post.

My Least Favorite Review of 2022

The Author is Dead by A. Carver (2022)

My woefully inadequate review of this promising authorial debut comes off as scathing and dismissive, as well as thoughtlessly short and superficial. This author reached out to me months before the review was written, waited patiently for a response, and then was punished for his good nature with a poor review written during my burn-out, only to respond with the maximum of human graciousness which I simply didn’t deserve. I am embarrassed of having written so poor a review for Mr. Carver, and am tempted to return to and re-review the book in time.

My Favorite Discussion Post of 2022

The Comprehensive Guide to Ace Attorney for Video Game-Averse Mystery-Reading Persons (+ other mystery games to try!)

The writing is inconsistent as get-out and it’s a somewhat messily-organized post, but this is a 15,000 word, 50 page guide on Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, my favorite mystery series of all time, that I put together in a little under a week. In this guide, I break-down every nook and cranny of the Ace Attorney series, review every case of every game, offer a how-to guide on getting started with the series, offered justification on why you should play the games, and basically did half the work getting you all started on your Ace Attorney journey. Frankly, for such a massive project that I stitched together so quickly, I think it still came out my best discussion post of the year.

Nick Fuller over at The Grandest Game of the World was gracious enough to name my post in his description of the first game’s final case as “the best detective fiction” he’s experienced since January! High praise, indeed!

My Least Favorite Discussion Post of 2022

On the 15 (and a half) Types of Impossible Crimes

This post was a fun idea, but I realized that I only really had ideas for 14 (and a half) categories. Forced to reverse-engineer a 15th, it wasn’t a very good idea, and most people had a-many issues to bring up regarding a few of my categories. I stand by all of them except the last one, but it’s still, all told, a pretty lazy and not at all well-done list. I also shamelessly copy-pasted the introduction from another post on my blog (which I’ve done a few times, but it’s especially bad here). Easily my worst discussion post of the three years I’ve been blogging.

What’s to come for Solving the Mystery of Murder in 2023?

2023 is an exciting year for me! For starters, I plan to progress greatly in my Japanese studies, and I intend to be fluent enough to read novels and short stories by the end of 2023! That means I’ll start being able to regularly review Japanese-language detective fiction and, eventually, be able to join the small team of people translating honkaku mysteries for all you lovely people across the world!

I also plan to work more fervently on writing my own detective stories and I look forward to sharing them all with you! I’m unbelievably lazy when it comes to writing prose, as it’s easy for me to get discouraged and hate everything I make, so I always just sit around with an excess of ideas and no writing to go with them! It might be a little self-indulgent to talk about ideas I might not even write, but I love sharing and am excited about themm!

Some of the ideas I’m most excited for are “The Regret of Nishitouin” and “The Ghost of Duelist’s Perch”. “The Regret of Nishitouin” takes place in a fictionalized version of Feudal Japan, following the ritualistic suicide of samurai Nishitouin Mogami in his locked and sealed bed chamber. The problem, however, is that hara-kiri, ritualistic suicide in which a samurai disembowels himself, also requires the samurai be decapitated, and decapitated Nishitouin surely was… So, how did the executioner escape the sealed room? “The Ghost of Duelist’s Perch” involves the ghost of a gun-duelist who seems to manifest in the middle of a snowy-night at a pair of twin cliffs to commit a murder, and with no footprints to show how a human could’ve escaped it’s clear to everyone that a ghost must’ve done it, but Maria Sharp has different ideas about how a killer could commit the crime and escape without leaving footprints! Both stories have solutions known to close friends, such as TomCat of Beneath the Stains of Time, who praised them unambiguously, which has given me serious motivation to write them out!

Some other ideas I’m excited about that friends liked include “A Spoonful of Cyanide”, the only poisoning story I’ll ever write involving a Toxicology professor whose first-day prank of drinking a harmless liquid from a harmless container from her poison cabinet to scare her class is co-opted by a would-be murderer who swapped her harmless liquid for potassium cyanide. When the poison is stolen off of her unconscious body and more murders follow, the police suspect our narrator, student and wannabe werewolf fantasy author Eden Bitter, of committing the murders! Also, “The Alibi of the Stolen Swords”, an alibi plot in which the police know who must have committed the two murders, but there’s one problem: while the killer has no alibi for the murder, he has a perfect alibi for stealing the weapons that killed the victims, which are two identical swords. With no accomplices to help him acquire the weapons, how could someone commit the murder when it’s impossible for him to get his hands on the murder weapons!?

As for novels, the only novel I currently plan to work on is a project called The Suicide Game, a novel as well as a collection of short stories with an overarching narratively involving the titular death game in which every contestant was on the cusp of ending their life. Now together in a gorgeous mansion inside of which they’re stuck, the contestants are encouraged to murder a competitor and avoid subsequent detection in order to “earn the right to want to live”, whereas all losers are punished severely… The topic of suicide is a very personal one for me and I wanted to work on a life affirming story that called attention to the central paradox of “even people who want to die… want to want to live”, using mystery stories to explore what value life has to a group of people who all possess incredibly different and personal reasons for wanting to kill themselves, and why they either are or aren’t willing to kill another person to escape from the assumed necessity of their own suicides. What does it even mean to them to have “the right to want to live”? It’s a difficult project to work on because I want to find a delicate balance between well-plotted, problem-oriented detective stories and a series of stories with a focus on motive that explore the central theme of the heavily personal nature of the value of life, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about for a long time. As a short story collection, every story focuses on one “Round” of The Suicide Game, with one central mystery and one murderer, but none of the stories are totally-contained, with cluing and misdirection being able to stem from four stories earlier. The idea of a narratively inter-connected short story collection is a format I’ve always been interested in. I hope whatever I come up with does me credit.

Besides my writing, though, what about my blog?

I’ll be trying to be more organized with my reviews in the future. Starting around February, after I take some time to create a stockpile of posts, I’ll be uploaded semi-weekly. Saturdays will be dedicated to novel reviews, short story collection reviews, or discussion posts, while Wednesdays will be dedicated to non-literature mysteries such as manga, video games, television shows, or what have you.

As for what specific posts I have planned, I’m already working on a lot, including:

On the [n] Ways to Create Alibis and the [n] Ways to Destroy Them is something of a spiritual successor to one of my personal favorite posts, On 50 Locked-Room Solutions of Our Own, in which I offered a taxonomy of 50 potential types of impossible crimes solutions. This post is a similar taxonomy, addressing the many different tricks that can be employed in alibi-centric mystery stories.

On a Defense of Pastiche, Caricature, and Adaptation in Detective Fiction is the most difficult of all of these posts. In it, I am attempting to offer a defense of pastiche in literature, offering many examples of good pastiches, as well as reasons why pastiche and homage are written outside of the cynical answer of “money”. This was conceived as a response to the overwhelmingly negative reception to the recent Marple anthology before the book was even available to purchase.

Father Brown reviews! I will be reviewing every Father Brown story by collection! Huzzah!

Alibi Cracking, At Your Service review! I will be reviewing the show Alibi Cracking, At Your Service, a Japanese drama with a focus on alibi problems!

Part 2 to my Hybrid Mysteries post, which focuses on how to write hybrid mysteries.

Continuing my Detective Conan reviews!

Continuing my Kindaichi Case Files reviews!

Continuing my Furuhata Ninzaburou reviews!

Continuing my Detective School Q reviews!

On the Puzzle Boxes of Christopher Nolan – Thrillers for Mystery Lovers, a post in which I discuss how Christopher Novel creates thriller films for mystery novels with his high-concept science-fiction and complex plot-oriented movies.

…among others!

It’s an exciting year for me, so I hope I can continue to offer you all more reading material! Let it never be said I didn’t have ambition, and I can only hope that ambition pays off meaningfully in readable content.

What’s New For Detective Fiction in 2023?

I don’t know! All I know is that in December (groan), a short story collection of beloved historical mysteries, The Meiji Guillotine Murders by Futaro Yamada, will be released, as well a couple new Yokomizo and Ayatsuji reprints. Seishi Yokomizo’s The Devil’s Flute Murders and Yukito Ayatsuji’s The Water Mill House Murders, to be precise. Sadly, outside of that, I don’t have much of a pulse on promising upcoming reprints, releases, or translations! It’s a mystery, alright! It’s already a promising year, and I can’t wait to see what else comes from the brilliant minds of publishers and writers.

That all being said, I just want to say one more thing: thank you to my friends and readers in the detective fiction circle who have been behind me these last three years as I slowly grow more and more as a blogger. I wouldn’t have come as far this year as I had if not for the endless support from the lovely people in our little community. I had 11,000 reads this year alone! I never thought I’d have a number that large ascribed to me in my entire life! It’s so surreal! I love and value each and every one of you, and I hope we can continue to grow as a community. Here’s to a beautiful 2023, more devious deeds and mysterious murders, and happy reading!