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)*

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 (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 1/2 – Whydunit?)

The “hybrid mystery” is my greatest fascination within the classically-styled “puzzle plot” mystery story. I like to call it detective fiction’s next frontier, for, if you were to ask me, I’d say that it is essential that at least some of the living writers of “neo-classical” mysteries embrace this style of plotting. Instead of restricting itself to the here and now (or the yesterday, in the cases of most mystery novels) of our real world, the “hybrid mystery” embraces greater levels of fantasy to enhance and inform new kinds of murder plots. By calling upon or setting themselves within such things as fantasy, science-fiction, or horror, the “hybrid mystery” is capable of utilizing these genres’ unique plots, settings, and tropes to construct mystery stories that couldn’t exist within more purely realistic mystery writing.

In the English-speaking world, examples of “hybrid mysteries” are few. On one side of the SFF spectrum, you have Randall Garrett, who wrote the Tolkein-esque fantasy locked-room mystery Too Many Magicians. On the other side, you have respected science-fiction writer Isaac Asimov, among whose hybrids of sci-fi and mystery The Caves of Steel is the highest esteemed. Besides these two, however, English and American authors rare embraced the fantasy-infused puzzle mystery novel.

However, all the way on the other side of the world, the “hybrid mystery” has enjoyed ample popularity in Japan’s shin-honkaku movement, their version of the “neo-classical” Golden Age-inspired mystery. Of these, there are only two immediately available in English: Masahiro Imamura’s Death Among the Dead; and, Yamaguchi Masaya’s Death of the Living Dead, both of which involve locked-room murders committed amidst a zombie apocalypse, and were exceptionally well-received by English readers of classical mysteries. And furthermore, while Garrett’s locked-room mysteries were criticized for having rather traditional mysteries not well-informed by their fantasy premises, these two zombie-infected murder mysteries really bite into their settings, presenting new kinds of impossible crimes and solutions that could never exist outside of the contexts of these stories. And, as it happens, these two are only the tip of a surprisingly deep iceberg of similarly plotted supernatural mysteries to come from the great mystery-writing minds of the east.

Konno Tenryū perhaps makes a good representative of the Japanese fatnasy-“hybrid mystery”, writing such novels as Renkinjutsushi no Misshitsu (The Locked-Room of the Alchemist), the first in a series of impossible crime stories set in a fantasy world in which magic follows precise laws of give-and-take, turning “magic” into a science. Tenryū also wrote Cinderella-jō no Satsujin (The Cinderella Castle Murder), a legal drama in which the Cinderella fairytale is twisted into a murder mystery and Cinderella, accused of murdering the prince at his ball, has to defend herself in a fantasy courtroom with her sharp wit and fast-talking nature, à la Perry Mason. In both novels, fantasy magic exists and factor into the murders. However, despite the inclusion of magic, these mysteries are entirely fairplay, providing the audience with all of the clues needed to solve the mystery. This is accomplished by offering precise and exact understanding of the ways in which magic can and cannot be operated in the novels’ settings. By doing this, this knowledge became clues towards the solution the same way obtuse scientific knowledge world in the novels of R. Austin Freeman or John Rhode, and, by extension, the novel continues to be a classical, fairly-clued puzzle plot the sort many readers of this blog. Magic exists as like science.

On the other end of the spectrum of speculative fiction, science-fiction has not been neglected by Japan’s mystery writers. Hōjō Kie is well-known for her series of intricate puzzle plots involving themes like time travel in Jikuu Ryokousha no Sunadokei (The Hourglass of the Time-Traveler) and virtual reality in Meitantei ni Kanbi naru Shi wo (Sweet Deaths for the Great Detectives). Just like their fantastical counterparts, Hōjō Kie’s future-faring plots utilize elements nonexistent in the familiar world, and just like those magical murders of Konno Tenryū, Kie makes them function by providing the reader with specific and actionable knowledge about how the science-fiction in her worlds operate. They are still fairplay murder mysteries.

These are merely two examples from an increasingly popular school of anti-realistic puzzle-heavy mystery authors in the Japanese speaking world. As my personal journey in studying the Japanese language continues, and I slowly become more acquainted with these baroque, twisty, and fantastical tales of murder and detection, I’ve also become more enamored with this style of mystery plotting and, subsequently, disappointed that among modern authors of English-language Golden Age-inspired mystery stories it has remained largely neglected — only at a stretch does Jim Noy’s recent The Red Death Murders come close to qualifying.

I believe there are a few reasons why western writers should embrace this style of plotting, even if just for a few novels or stories at a time. Naturally, while I simply want to read more of these “hybrid mysteries”, my reasons for encouraging authors to write magical murders and science-fiction felons go much deeper than that. I believe there are real benefits to writers and readers for western authors of fairly-clued mystery stories offered by this niche sub-sub-sub-genre, which we will explore through Japanese detective fiction.

Firstly, they offer wider creative freedom and variety that allow writers to explore this genre in new ways.

As I’ve been saying from the beginning, the freedom offered by “hybrid mysteries” is vast. The Golden Age mystery novel originally went into hibernation because the genre was seen as stagnant in style and plot. Insanity is to continue to try to do the same thing and expecting different results; merely trying to recreate the Golden Age mystery, the same as it left off, will lead the genre to the same fate it already suffered. Creating a brand new world in which you set your mysteries is the easiest way to shake things up and avoid repetition. It allows you to experiment with form, scenarios, characters, and tricks that nobody’s ever seen before for them being “impossible” to produce in traditional mysteries.

Consider, if you will, the works of Aoyagi Aito, which include the Mukashi Mukashi Aru Tokoro ni, Shita ga Arimashita (Once Upon a Time, There Was a Corpse) series. This series of his is famous for transforming classical Japanese folktales into (fairplay) mystery stories. The very first story in the first collection of the series is “Issunboushi no Fuzaishoumei” (“The Alibi of Issunboushi”), which is inspired by the legend of Issunboushi, a one-inch-tall soldier who has the bravery of a hundred normal-sized men and serves as a soldier to protect the princess. In the line of duty, Issunboushi is eaten by an Ogre and, defying death, kills the Ogre from inside of its stomach with his small sword. His reward for defeating the Ogre is a magical hammer that turns him into a 1.80 meter tall man.

While the story ended there in the original legend, in “Issunboushi no Fuzaishoumei” a character suspects Issunboushi of committing a murder. But this “detective” is shocked to find out that Issunboushi has an airtight, albeit unusual, alibi: at the time of the murder, Issunboushi was seen being eaten by the Ogre, an event witnessed by the princess herself and nine other members of her personal group of royal retainers! How could Issunboushi commit this murder when ten of the most trustworthy people in the entire country testify that he was inside of the stomach of a monster at the same time he must’ve been committing the murder? Thus, the original fable of Issunboushi is transformed into an alibi problem!

In the very same collection is “Misshitsu Ryuuguujou” (“The Dragon’s Locked Palace”), a twisting of the legend of Urashima Tarou, a fisherman who is brought to the underwater Dragon Palace after saving a helpless turtle. There, he becomes an honored guest of Otohime, a princess of a magical race of fish people who can take on human form at will to dance and frolic! Naturally, of course, as this is a detective story, the fable deviates here as a murder is committed within a locked room inside of the palace, further complicated by the coral covering the windows. The fish people believe that with his vast human intelligence, Urashima Tarou can solve the mystery, and thus is recruited to solve this murder on their behalf, creating a locked-room murder within the original legend!

Take note of a few elements of these stories that stand out to you, and I’m sure you can produce no similar mystery story with the same elements! The existence of a one-inch-tall man, for instance, or a magical hammer capable of making people and objects larger, or fantasy creatures like Ogres! Or fish that can talk and think like humans and even take on humanoid forms, or locked-rooms sealed by coral, or the fact the entire story takes place exclusively underwater… These plot points, among others, are part of what define these stories, and consequently inform their murder plots. These stories feature not only scenarios, but also tricks, clues, and misdirection which can only exist within these stories; the form has changed, but the heart of the detective story is here with renewed life. No less proper detective stories, the freedom offered allowed Aoyogi Aito to create stories which will forever stand out not only in the minds of those who read them, but also in the history of the genre among the millions of stories which take place in old country mansions…

Secondly, it makes mystery stories more accessible to fans of other genres and stories.

Those used to the modern form mystery fiction has taken in the English-speaking world might not understand what really makes classical detection and puzzle mysteries so enjoyable. It’s very possible — nay, inevitable — that a prospective fan of the genre of Golden Age mysteries has been turned away by psychological thrillers and repetitive cop dramas. While some may worry that the “hybrid mystery” is inaccessible to traditional detective story fans, the opposite is true for convertees and other newcomers to the genre. They may very well be more likely to pick up a novel with familiar elements, and from enjoying that “hybrid mystery” a new fan of more traditional Golden Age detection is born!

Nothing is more emblematic of this, in my opinion, than Arisu Goroshi (The Murder of Alice). In this novel, the first of the Märchen Girls series by Kobayashi Yasumi, a young girl named Ari dreams of a world called “Wonderland” in which she is known as “Alice”. In this Wonderland dreamscape she meets such fantastical creatures as the dim-witted Bill the Lizard and a vicious Queen of Hearts… However, the dreams suddenly turn into nightmares when, one night, Humpty Dumpty falls off of a wall and cracks right open! And Alice is accused of this heinous crime!

In real life, Ari is shocked when a very similar death occurs at her school. A classmate is killed by falling off of the top of a school building… and just like in her dream, she becomes the prime suspect! It’s at this moment she learns that Wonderland isn’t only a dream, and it’s not something only she sees. In fact, all of her classmates go to Wonderland every night when they go to sleep, and more bizarrely they’ve all met each other during this shared dream! All of the “fantasy creatures” Ari has met when she was Alice have, in reality, been the Wonderland counterparts of her classmates! The dim-witted Bill the Lizard, for instance, was the form taken on her very smart classmate Inori. Armed with this knowledge that the real world and “Wonderland” interact with one another, Ari and Alice teams up with Inori and Bill the Lizard to clear her name in both realities!

The novel, clearly, takes heavy inspiration from Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. The Disney animated adaptation is one of the most famous pieces of media in Japan, ever! There are entire restaurants dedicated to the film, and it is consistently referenced in their pop culture in every form. Action movies, horror stories, romance and “adult” comic books, and even video games often carry some kind of reference to Alice in Wonderland, from things as small as character names and locations to elements as grand the entire premise of the story being clear homage! A murder mystery take on Alice in Wonderland was only inevitable, especially given that Alice being falsely accused of murder is the very premise of the original story itself, and it’s not unthinkable that this sort of story will carry the same appeal as those other homages.

Take this alongside the earlier-mentioned Cinderella Castle Murder. Not only are both stories dense and traditional mystery novels, but both are also littered with references, names, and iconography of famous classic stories in other genres. Everyone knows Cinderella and Alice in Wonderland, and as I said the latter is extremely popular in Japan. A young woman who desires to read everything Alice in Wonderland may very well pick this novel up. Elements familiar to fans of the original are present, including surreal fantasy creatures, word-play, playing-card symbolism, and gibberish — and, for mystery lovers, these elements continue to tie around into unique murder plots at that! This not only makes The Murder of Alice a mystery novel for mystery fans, boasting an entirely unique impossible crime plot exclusive to itself, but also a mystery novel for Alice in Wonderland fans! And with all crossover efforts like this, the possibility always exists that one becomes the other. By writing The Murder of Alice, Kobayashi Yasumi has created the possibility for an Alice in Wonderland fan to become the next big mystery fan.

This also isn’t exclusive to “hybrid mysteries” acting as pastiches to other established works. More broadly, an established fan of medieval fantasy may find Konno Tenryū’s fantasy murder mysteries appealing for their fantasy stylings, or a fan of high-faring science-fiction may read Hōjō Kie’s mysteries for their mysteries involving time-travel, virtual reality, and metaphysics. In these cases, although the authors aren’t calling upon known stories, it is still the case that a fantasy fan or a science-fiction will find something to enjoy in these novels without the context of knowing they’re mystery novels first and foremost — and from there, the transition to a fan of mysteries is a possibility.

And, finally, they allow detective stories to stay the same.

What? I hear you asking. Allow them to stay the same? Isn’t that the opposite of my very first point in defense of “hybrid mysteries”, to allow detective fiction to mutate?

The first argument is that it allows the detective fiction genre to evolve in unique ways, so “staying the same” might seem antithetical to that. But I think it becomes clear when we ask the question of “why does detective fiction not evolve?”. Why do all detective novels of the “puzzle plot” variety want to set themselves in the years of 1900 to 1940?

The answer isn’t purely that writers and readers of mystery novels are outrageously nostalgic, or that they want to maintain a genre status quo. It’s more fair to say that the modern day is often seen by fans of classical detection as not conducive to mysterious murders. Forensics and surveillance have evolved to such a point that, nowadays, many people believe it’s impossible to have truly interesting and baffling murders that aren’t solved through purely forensic and procedural means. Even many mysteries that are set in the modern day deal with the problem by either setting the story in a location entirely separated from society so that the story could, for all we know, take place during any year, or by conveniently ignoring any science or technology that would be inconvenient to their narrative, neither of which being ideal. Some stories reject this notion, with the Detective Conan mystery manga series being famous for making use of elements of the modern world like video games, cell phones, and the internet for its mystery puzzles, and Dale C. Andrews’s Ellery Queen pastiche “The Book Case” exemplifying the fallibility of even modern forensics through its final twist involving the ambiguity of blood analysis, demonstrating the place for Great Detectives even in the contemporary world. Despite all this, however, there’s an argument to be made that the modern world is still restrictive so that many types of tricks and plots are simply so unviable that working around them ends up becoming counterintuitive to the point of setting the story in the modern world to begin with — what does it matter your story takes place in 2022 if it’s set in a faraway village with no modern technology? How is that different than the story merely taking place in 1922?

The “hybrid mystery” is a paradox in that it allows mysteries to evolve while also allowing them to stay the same. The author can be allowed to experiment with new settings and characters, while continuing to indulge in tricks and plot points that may be unviable in a mystery set in the modern world. In this way, it permits the detective story to change and to resist change in equal measure, in a way impossible if the genre merely evolved to utilize the world of today. By allowing the author to draw from any world they want, it allows the writer to ignore changes that would be forced upon them by creating a mystery plot within 2022, and to enact any change they want. In other words, the evolution (and opposition to evolution) of the genre is entirely within the writer’s own hands.

…and, really, the “hybrid mystery” genre is just very interesting! It being a favorite of mine, I can only hope that I’ve provided three cogent reasons for mystery lovers to write in the genre. I regret that all of my examples are purely Japanese, but that is the issue with a genre that has primarily evolved in another culture, and I can only hope further that my synopses allowed them to be understandable demonstrations of the virtues of the “hybrid mystery”.

If even one of you has read this and developed a newfound interest in writing “hybrid mysteries”, you might be thinking “that’s all well and good and all, but how exactly do I write a fair mystery in a fantasy story?”. You know whydunit, but now howdunit? Now that I’ve done the convincing, I’ll next be doing the instructing, with a post dedicated to everything that you need to keep in mind when writing your first breakout hybrid mystery novel.

Until then, happy sleuthing!

On 50 Locked Room Solutions of Our Own

Late last year, I saw the Van Dine and Ronald Knox commandments for writing mystery fiction and, with no credentials, qualifications, published history or authority in the genre, decided to take a stab at proposing my own set of rules in On A Decalogue of Our Own. With even less in the way of credibility behind me, just two months before that I made a post to the Golden Age Detection Facebook group where I challenge the locked room taxonomies of Locked Room King John Dickson Carr and the late, but still highly-regarded, widely-read and deeply-esteemed locked room mystery historian Robert Adey. Where Carr suggested eight, and then Adey twenty, I set out with the conceit of naming no less than fifty unique prospective solutions to the three major schools of impossible crime.

I can safely say, and would like to say early, that I absolutely do not believe that my knowledge of the impossible problem comes close to Robert Adey’s, nor do I think that I ever will have the opportunity to even humor the idea of rivaling him. Robert Adey was clearly no less than a hundred times as dedicated to the craft as anyone I’ve known. This “challenge” of his taxonomy was more in good-humor than anything. The Adey taxonomy was broad but inexhaustive, likely for the purpose of just capturing the quintessential 20 solutions; it was efficient for the right reasons. I wanted to take the idea to its (absurd) logical extreme and try my hand at a more exhaustive list of the conceivable possibilities, whether or not they’re frequent or whether or not there’s even a single novel out there to employ them. Rather than Adey’s task of efficiently, economically and academically conveying a clear idea about the genre, this is more like On A Decalogue of Our Own where I claim no authority and simply wanted to engage in a fun thinking/creativity exercise. For purposes of discussing the genre in its historical sense, I will always defer to Adey’s taxonomy before my own.

Below is a direct 1:1 copy-paste of the post as it appeared in the Facebook group, with changes to the taxonomy made to reflect some very helpful feedback from Scott Ratner. These changes include removing one of the original Adey 20, and consolidating a few groups of similar solutions into more broad but inclusive language. Furthermore, a solution proposed by Jack Hamm is incorporated.


When Dr. Fell, as the voice of John Dickson Carr, gave a lecture on the nature of the locked room problem in The Hollow Man, he theorized that the locked room mystery had only 8 basic solution types separated between rooms that are and are not hermetically sealed. Lectures by fictional detectives along a similar line appeared in Anthony Boucher’s Nine Times Nine and Clayton Rawson’s Death from a Top Hat, but analysis of the genre didn’t reach its opus until the release of Locked Room Murders. Locked Room Murders a (thoroughly informative) bibliography on over 2000 locked room mysteries and their solutions wherein the author and late disciple of the locked room mystery Robert Adey provides a consolidated list of 20 solutions to the impossible problem of escaping from a perfectly sealed room.
In my infinite hubris, I decided to take the genre by the horns and top Adey’s own list with my own contribution of no less than 50 locked room mystery solutions, not only expanding upon the possibilities with the traditionally sealed room, but also exploring solutions unique to the “footprints in the sand” locked room and “guarded room” problems. The solutions are suitably categorized


Included here are solutions which are applicable to at least two of the three locked room solutions dealt with. Traditional “fully sealed” rooms are marked with an “A”, guarded rooms “B” and snowprint locked rooms a “C”.

1: An accident or a series of accidents within the room led to the victim’s death. (ABC)
2: The victim committed suicide; he or a third person may later go on to stage it as a homicide. (ABC)
3: A secret passageway exists that permits entrance into and out of the room. (AB)
4: Victim accomplice. The victim didn’t commit suicide, but instead aided his killer, unwitting or otherwise. After he was wounded or otherwise prepared to die, the victim would create the impossible scenario. (ABC)
5: Some mechanical device or trap was set-up before the room was sealed which would kill the victim. (ABC)
6: The killer utilized imprecise and indirect methods that impact the whole or a large portion of the room through doors and windows, i.e. mass electrocution, oxygen vacuum, incredible extremes of temperature, poisonous gas etc. (AB) (Snowprint mysteries usually rely on the victim being murdered in close quarters, making this not viable as a means to establish the impossible scenario. Furthermore, while it can also be used in guarded rooms, it is not discrete and would likely notify the “guards” as well, but is still partially viable)
7: The victim was murdered before the locked room was created, but falsely made to look alive later. (ABC)
8: The victim was murdered after the locked room was opened, but falsely made to look dead earlier. (ABC)
9: The killer hid in the room and evaded discovery during initial searches of the crime scene. (ABC)
10: The killer murdered the victim from outside of the room by shooting, stabbing or launching the weapon into the room, or otherwise directly targeting them from outside; the murder was made to appear as if it happened from inside of the room. (ABC)
11: An animal which is capable of things a human is not committed the crime and escaped the room, or otherwise acted as an accomplice to the crime. The room is only considered “locked” because it is impossible for a human to escape. (ABC)
12: An acrobatic maneuver was used to escape the room in a way impossible for the typical human. (ABC)
13: When a locked room isn’t observed by the sleuth before re-entrance, the belief that a locked room mystery occurs is a lie imparted by key witnesses, the culprit and/or the victim, including but not limited to faked death. In other words, the case is a lie with varying degrees of fictionality. (ABC)
14: The room was destroyed or otherwise deconstructed from the inside and reconstructed from the outside. (AB)
15: The victim was convinced, coerced or forced to partially exit the room or take an unusual position so that an attack that would otherwise be/seem impossible could be made. (ABC)
16: The room is not stationary. The movement of the room permitted the killer to leave the room. (AB)
17: The room is not mundane. Some strange quality of the room was used to kill the victim. In other words, the room is the murder weapon. (ABC)
18: An identical room is employed to confuse witnesses. (AB)
19: The killer is in the room, and in plain sight; however, the killer is falsely exonerated due to a fundamental misunderstanding of the crime including, but not limited to, the gender/appearance of the killer, the motive of the criminal, or the killer victimizing themselves so that they are incapacitated or otherwise appear incapable of committing the murder, (ABC)
20: The room was constructed around the victim after the murder. (may demand a more metaphorical definition of “room”). (ABC)


These are solutions which are only applicable to the traditional problem of a room locked perfectly room the inside.
21: Key is turned from other side of the door, by pliers or similar, picking of the lock, or other means of gimmicking a door, including the “credit card trick”.
22: The door was locked from the outside; the key was replaced inside of the room after the room is opened, so that upon discovery it looked as if the door was locked from within.
23: The door was locked from the outside; the key was replaced inside of the room before the room is opened, so that upon discovery it looked as if the door was locked from within.
24: The culprit, who is the only person who can lock the door from the outside, is provided with a false alibi at the time of the murder.
25: The killer pretended to break an already broken lock or chain to make an unsealed room appear sealed. Elsewise, the “fake keyturn” trick.
26: The room was “untraditionally locked” in a way that can be either performed from outside of the room without a key, including powerful adhesives or moving furniture; witnesses are misled to believe the door was locked.
27: The key inside the room, or another object, is believed to be the key to the room; it is not.
28: The murder happened while the door was open, but in such a way where the death resulted in the door being shut.


Represented here are solutions that only apply to locked rooms that are created by the room being watched and guarded by witnesses.
29: The killer is exonerated by not having something the killer is assumed to have (i.e., stolen goods in a locked room robbery, or an impossible-to-dispose-of weapon); the item is disposed of from inside of the room, cleverly smuggled, or disguised.
30: A distraction allows the killer to leave unnoticed.
31: Witnesses don’t take note of the killer due to classist divides and/or psychological principles of incongruity (the bellboy would certainly enter a hotel room, so the bellboy is not noticed).
32: The killer leaves by a route observed solely by accomplices.
33: The killer leaves because their route is temporarily obscured from sight.
34: The killer leaves by an opaque container that is removed from the room.
35: The killer is one of the people guarding the room, left unattended due to trust or status.
36: Disguises, gimmicked voices and other impersonation stunts allow the killer to escape the room.
37: The killer used sleight of hand to commit the murder in front of people without being seen.
38: The killer used a tool in order to commit the murder in front of people without being seen (i.e. fake hand).
39: Mirrors were employed to confuse witnesses as to the location of the killer, victim, or the room itself.


Included below are solutions which are exclusively applicable to the problem of “the victim is killed in close quarters in snow/sand/dust/powder but there’s no footprints”. For purposes of brevity, the snow/sand/dust/powder will herein be referred to as “the substance” (roughly equivalent to “the room” in universal solutions).
40: The killer wore their victim’s shoes.
41: The killer had some means of crossing the substance without leaving marks.
42: Aerial movement; the killer used an elevated surface or machine to move above the substance.
43: The killer walked backwards so that it looked like the footprints were caused only when discovering the body.
44: The killer did leave marks, but hid them until after discovery of the body so that it looked like they were created then.
45: The victim was murdered elsewhere and was slung, launched, swung, dropped or thrown into the substance without otherwise marking it.
46: The killer used cleverly crafted shoes or stilts to disguise their footprints as other markings (like animal prints).
47: The killer was at the crime scene before the substance was placed down and left after the crime using a route that doesn’t disturb the substance and would be inaccessible without doing so if the killer hadn’t already been present.
48: The killer erased their footprints.
49: The victim was murdered remotely, made to appear as if it happened in close proximity. The wound that appears to prove the crime happened up close was inflicted posthumously, after the body is discovered. Elsewise, a fatal projectile (such as an arrow) was removed upon discovery of the body to make the wound appear direct (like a stabbing), or a remote gunshot was doctored to appear as if shot from close-quarters, perhaps through false ballistic burns, or other means of gimmicking/forging the wound. (remarkably similar in 10, distinct in that 10 deals with the nature/location of the weapon itself, whereas 49 deals in the nature of the fatal wound. Furthermore, 10 assumes the presence of the weapon, whereas 49 typically assumes the disappearance of the weapon)
50: The killer walked over the same footprints so much that their footprints would be falsely identified as the victim’s; especially reliable if the victim is seen stumbling over themselves.

The Red Locked Room (2020) by Tetsuya Ayukawa, trans. Ho-Ling Wong

Tetsuya Ayukawa is a forefront author of Japan’s Golden Age, often called “the honkaku mystery”. Not unlike the British Freeman Wills Crofts, Ayukawa is purveyor of alibis, time tables, and train-bound mysteries. However, Ayukawa stands out from his English progenitor with a unique twist: Ayukawa was fond of crossing the boundaries between the alibi problem and the locked-room mystery. By using alibi tricks to create impossible crimes and, inversely, using tricks from impossible crimes to construct alibis, Ayukawa was skilled at breathing new life into his tricks by placing them into novel situations!

He is an author of many short stories and novels, but out of his massive oeuvre only seven short stories have been translated, all by Ho-Ling Won and collected in The Red Locked Room in 2020. These seven stories are nearly cut down the middle, with four focusing on Ryūzō Hoshikage’s investigations into impossible crimes (“The White Locked Room”, “The Blue Locked Room”, “The Clown in the Tunnel”, and “The Red Locked Room”) and three focusing on Chief Inspector Onitsura as he investigates cases of iron-clad alibis (“Whose Body?”, “Death in Early Spring”, “The Five Clocks”). While the Hoshikage stories to be more straightforwardly classical Golden Age-styled puzzlers, the Onitsuras were more like those modern blendings of puzzle plot and police procedural enjoyed by Roger Ormerod and Douglas Clark, with the collection intermittently jumping between series!

It can be said that very few authors can beat John Dickson Carr at his game, and equally true for Freeman Wills Crofts at his. Ayukawa was quite ambitious in aiming for both, but can you confident claim he comes out the victor..?

“The White Locked Room” is the first story in the collection, in which Professor Zama is found stabbed to death in his snow-bound house, even though the only footprints around the house are those of his friend, who discovered the body, and his student Kimoko Satō, who is also on the scene! Worse yet, the absence of the fatal knife precludes suicide, so how could the poor man have been stabbed? The conventional police are woefully incapable of figuring out this seemingly impossible murder and are forced to defer to the expertise of skillful amateur Ryūzō Hoshikage.

I’m going to show my biases here, but I don’t like “no footprint” impossible crimes very much. They seem to have less variations on less concepts than any other established sub-genre of impossible crimes, and this story doesn’t prove me wrong. The solution ultimately turns on a minor redressing of a very old hat with few interesting touches. There’s a nice cultural clue that I’m proud to have picked up on, but besides from that I was merely whelmed with this first story.

The next story in the collection, “Whose Body?”, concerns itself with a series of mysterious packages that have found their way to a seemingly random group of people: to one man, an empty bottle of corrosive acid; to another man, a cut length of rope; and, to a woman, a recently fired gun! The supposed sender, a local painter, denies sending anyone any packages. The three boxes are understandably suspicious in their own right, but the three recipients are shocked with the news that a man was found in the basement of a nearby building with his head cut-off. The man was tied up with a length of rope, had his fingers burnt off with acid, and was shot through the chest with a gun… Those three packages each contained the tools used in a recent murder! Naturally, Inspector Onitsura is on the case.

The lion share of this story masquerades as a dull and slow police procedural, but the heart of “Whose Body?” is pure Golden Age! If you force yourself to break the solution apart into separate pieces, you could argue this is just a Lego-tower of old ideas, but then that wouldn’t be doing it justice. The killer’s plan in this story is brilliantly devious, performing an impressive feat of time manipulation with an equally impressively simple maneuver. It didn’t quite make my 30 favorite mystery stories list, but I know if I made a list dedicated to short stories then “Whose Body?” is an absolute shoo-in! Truly great stuff, this!

In “The Blue Locked Room”, a police officer is forced to intervene when a member of an acting troupe attacks his womanizing boss because the actor’s fiance slept with the manager! However, although the police officer walked the man to his room and instructed him to keep the door closed, the man somehow winds up murdered in his locked and sealed bedroom! How this impossible crime could’ve come to be, is a question left for the pretentious super-amateur-sleuth Ryūzō Hoshikage.

The culprit is the most surprising of any story in the collection, but I’ll admit it’s a surprise that feels somewhat unearned by the story surrounding it. The locked-room trick itself is a decent patchwork of old ideas with some clever twists, but all-told it’s not a very inspired story. Definitely an unfortunate follow-up to the superb “Whose Body?”.

The titular “blue” of the locked room is in reference to the fact the room has blue lighting, and it doesn’t matter as concerns the mystery, sadly.

We return to Inspector Onitsura in “Death in Early Spring”! A young man named Kazuomi Kokuryō has been fatally strangled at a construction site near Gofukubashi 3-Chōme! The only possible suspect is Fukujirō Fuda, who was competing with Kazuomi for the affections of a girl who, in reality, was interested in neither man… Unfortunately for Inspector Onitsura, Fuda has a perfect alibi, and so the Inspector goes about recreating the two men’s afternoons in order to bring guilt home to the obvious perpetrator!

An example of the impossible alibi problem, a type of impossible crime in which we’re aware of the culprit’s guilt, but not the method by which they manage to commit the crime with an unassailable alibi, “Death in Early Spring” is also Ayukawa’s jab at the old-fashioned Croftsian time-table alibi plot! And it is fantastic; a better example of the “time-tabler” condensed into hardly 20 pages, I’ve never seen! The basic crux of the alibi plot is reliant upon a concept so time-worn that any seasoned mystery fan would think of it during the course of the story and pray to God it isn’t the solution, and yet with his final twist on the knot Ayukawa manages to push it entirely out of the realms of possibility, and then pull it back out of his hat in a way that miraculously elevates it to sheer greatness that elates the reader despite his initial protests. The fact that Ayukawa can take this frustratingly tired and played-out gimmick and put a genuinely lovely spin on it with the story’s central locked-room-esque gambit is, frankly, impressive, and it’s a gambit I’ve seen done once or twice in other alibi plots but still genuinely love.

This was the story that made me come to terms with the fact that I was probably to going to walk away thinking more highly of the Onitsura stories on average than the Hoshikage stories, and this story wound up on my 30 favorite mystery stories list! Well-deserved, at that!

“Clown in the Tunnel” is the third of the four Hoshikage stories. Ryūzō Hoshikage investigates a bizarre crime: a clown, after committing a murder at a jazz band’s lodgings and tying up a maid in the kitchen, appears to waltz through a tunnel and disappear… The problem? On the other side of the tunnel is a roadblock put up after a traffic incident! It’d be impossible for the clown to cross through the tunnel without being seen by police, and yet he perfectly does! How did this clown perform this impossible vanishing act?

This story is frustrating to me. Not because it’s bad, no, not by any means is it bad. It’s the best story in the collection. But it’s frustrating to me that I basically wrote this story three years ago. I have an unpublished manuscript sitting on my Google Docs right now for a novel involving two impossible crimes, one of which relies on nearly the same principle as the one Ayukawa invented in this story. It’s worse because I sent the idea around to friends, very knowledgeable friends and brutally honest at that, and they all gave me their unambiguous approval that the story was original and clever, but I didn’t trust them! I was embarrassed of the silliness of the concept and let the novel rot in the cloud, never to again see the light of day!

And then I read “Clown in the Tunnel”.

If nothing else, “Clown in the Tunnel” is cathartic for me because now I know that, sitting on the other side, the idea I thought of really is good! A unique element to “Clown in the Tunnel” is the fact that it truly is the epitomizing story of the author’s ability to cross wires between impossible crimes and alibi plots. Despite the Carrian or Paul Halterian impossible crime premise of a clown who can walk through walls, the story, not unlike “Death in Early Spring”, involves a time table! And the time table is central to figuring out the trick for the clown’s disappearance… In the end, an alibi trick is utilized to construct an impossible crime and I loved seeing it from the reader’s seat, even if I didn’t trust the idea when I wrote it myself. This story ended up on my 15 favorite impossible crimes list.

“The Five Clocks” sees Onitsura return as he investigates the murder of an accountant who was apparently about to give evidence of his involvement in embezzlement, but is soon murdered in his apartment. The police have an obvious suspect in mind, but Inspector Onitsura has other ideas. However, in order clear the innocent man’s name, Onitsura has to battle with the fact that the true killer has a scarily airtight alibi: the killer, the the assistant division chief in the victim’s company, has an alibi proven by five different clocks (the clock of a restaurant he ordered from, the clock from a radio station, a witness’s wristwatch, a clock on the wall in his study, and a clock at his tailor). How could the killer have committed this crime with an alibi affirmed so neatly?

Another impossible alibi problem. The premise sounds like it’d be ripe for impressive time manipulation, but the eventual solution is wildly inelegant and not very interesting. The story essentially ends up five (at a stretch) different alibi plots melted down and stuffed together into a twenty page story, and the answer to each “clock” (alibi) is the exact first solution the relatively astute mystery reader will probably think of for each one. There’s more to “The Five Clocks” than the other stories, but more uninspired plotting is, frankly, worse. Easily my least favorite story in the collection.

And, finally, the finale Hoshikage story and the last story in The Red Locked Room is the title story, “The Red Locked Room”. A young female medical student is murdered and found dismembered in the little red brick dissecting room at the edge of her university’s campus, sole door to which was secured from the outside by a combination lock the combination to which only one (innocent) person knows. How could this violent and egregious crime have come to be? Ryūzō Hoshikage brings the crime home to the rightful culprit…

Apparently, “The Red Locked Room” is supposed to be one of the quintessential Japanese locked room mystery stories, but the quality of the story doesn’t quite live up to its apparent historical significance. While it’s not quite easy to spot the culprit, the locked-room’s trick should immediately occur to most readers with even a passing awareness of impossible crimes. It isn’t that the solution is particularly cliched or over-used, because it isn’t, but it’s definitely the easy answer to the provided set-up. There’s an attempt to misdirect away from this solution, but the misdirection is so underplayed that, ironically, the reader will probably forget about it and end up skipping to the correct solution anyway. Unfortunately, while the idea isn’t particularly unoriginal, it’s still a trick lacking in inspiration or cleverness and ends up just being limp and obvious as a result.

The Red Locked Room is something of an interesting collection because there was almost no middle ground in quality. Either the story was painfully lacking, uninspired, and uninteresting, or it was the opposite extreme of wildly brilliant and imaginative. While the quality of this collection is fairly uneven, the stories skewing good were immensely good and, for my money, more than compensate for their worse counterparts (which were mediocre, rather than outright bad). The better three stories (“Clown in the Tunnel”, “Death in Early Spring”, and “Whose Body?”) inspire me in my Japanese language studies to read more of this author, while the worse four I’m content writing off as unfortunate flubs.

While I’m not entirely confident I can say that Ayukawa bests either John Dickson Carr or Freeman Will Crofts in the overall quality of the work displayed here, I am happy to say that where Ayukawa does his best work he at least matches them momentarily. Ayukawa’s propensity for crossing-wirings between alibi plots and locked-room mysteries is shown off best in “Clown in the Tunnel”, which itself feels like a marriage between the works of those two great authors he is compared to, but “Death in Early Spring” equally display his excellence in this field.

Even if I only truly enjoyed three of the seven tales in this collection, I believe they’re more than worth the price of entry for The Red Locked Room! Do check it out if you have the time!

  1. “Clown in the Tunnel” – 9.25/10
  2. “Death in Early Spring” – 8.75/10
  3. “Whose Body?” – 8.25/10
  4. “The Blue Locked Room” – 6.75/10
  5. “The Red Locked Room” – 6.25 / 10
  6. “The White Locked Room” – 6/10
  7. “The Five Clocks” – 5/10

Detective School Q – Case 3 “Class Begins at Detective School” and Case 4 “The Kamikakushi Village Murder Case” – Amagi Seimaru

Having solved the mysterious murders of The Kirisaki Island Tragedy in the previous volume, and officially passing the Dan Detective School Entrance Exam, the examinees return to mainland Japan. Here, Japan’s most famous living sleuth Dan Morihiko announces the formation of the “Qualifying Class”, or “Q Class”, a specially-designed curriculum for only the most prospective students from which Dan plans to pick his most suitable successor!

The very first assignment for the Q Class involves a recent disappearance from the Kamikakushi village. Based on his footprints, university student on a school research trip seemed to mysterious step out of his window of the inn at which he stayed, walk 30 meters into the center of a muddy, unplanted rice field, and then vanish into mid-air! Proving their case-cracking bonafides by easily solving this impossible crime, Q Class soon learns that this is only the latest in a long series of similar vanishings in the village and its neighboring village of Hyoutan and Kamikakushi, two lonely villages nestled in a mountain range, and they’re expected to get to the bottom of the case!

Hyoutan Village and Kamikakushi Village are in fact quite isolated civilizations, as to get to Hyoutan requires a 30 minute walk through a tunnel from a bus-stop, and the only way into Kamikakushi is another 30 minute walk through another, spiraled tunnel that only attaches to Hyoutan. Worse yet, the village of Kamikakushi is ruled by a cult who worships a God of Disease, represented by masks representing smallpox, so when a crew of reporters hunting for a treasure fabled to exist in one of the two villages has one of their members murdered and buried in a graveyard, it’s immediately assumed to be the work of the very same God of Disease.

The village of Kamikakushi requires everyone wear masks to walk around the village, so with only two masks to spare the students of Q Class are forced to split up. The aloof prodigy Ryuu teams up with Megumi, the girl with identic memory, to bring the investigation to Kamikakushi, while hyper-active protagonist Kyuu, athlete Kinta, and computer wizz-cum-game developer Kazuma stay in Hyoutan, with the two groups only able to communicate through the phones in the inns in each village. As more mysterious murders pile up, like the impossible flying of a reporter before being dropped to his death, Class Q is on a race against the clock with the constant threat of their own potential murders hanging over them in Case 3 – Class Begins Detective School” (Chapters 14-16) and Case 4 – “The Kamikakushi Village Murder Case” (Chapters 17-29) of Detective School Q.

This is the case of Detective School Q. Fans of the series point to this one as being quintessentially emblematic of the franchise in every way, as well as being the creme de la creme of all of its many cases. Sure, there are many great cases in this manga, but “The Kamikakushi Village Murder Case” is the Great Case of all of Detective School Q if you ask many of its enjoyers. Is this necessarily true, though…?

The transitionary case between “The Tragedy of Kirisaki Island” and “The Kamikakushi Village Murder Case”, “Class Begins at Detective School” is a simple three-chapter case dealing simultaneously with the aftermath of the former while setting up the latter. This sort of “mini-case” between two large cases is quite common in Detective School Q, as it is a series with a consistent inter-connected narrative rather than every murder occurring within a continuity bubble, so of course there needs to be seamless transitions between the cases. That being said, as “Class Begins at Detective School” concerns itself with the serial killing of “The Kamikakushi Village Murder Case”, the two can be considered as one story.

The impossible disappearance of a student from the middle of a field at the end of a track of footprints is a decently creative but ultimately minor technical trick which I’ve seen performed in a more audacious form in another manga series. Like the more Ellery Queenian crime in “The Detective School Entrance Exam“, it’s still impressive that such a crime could be fit into such a small page count, but it isn’t particularly noteworthy otherwise. It instead merely serves as a stepping stone into the principle murders of the case proper.

As for the actual “Kamikakushu Village Murder Case”, it seems as if its immense reputation is one not unlike Shimada Soji’s landmark The Tokyo Zodiac Murders: a technically weakly-constructed story, elevated by the cussed audacity of its central trick. The story has a somewhat similar issue to the one I complained about in my review of “The Legend of Lake Hiren from The Kindaichi Case Files, another impossible crime manga Amagi Seimaru worked on. That is to say, the story ultimately feels very loose, due to over-loading the puzzle and cluing into one of the murders while the multiple other murders merely exist in respect to that one. This often leads to a somewhat awkward feeling mystery tale in which one particular crime is dense, but long stretches of time are spent with trivial crimes with few to none important clues.

Within “The Kamikakushi Village Murder Case”, there are three murders. The first isn’t even passingly mentioned in the denouement, with its only contribution to the narrative being to provide a clue. The second murder is an impossible murder with the very interesting impression of a victim flying into the air based on his video recording, but the trick is explained nearly immediately and isn’t incredibly impressive, being a variation on the exact kind of trick you’d expect for this kind of impossible crime. This naturally means the third crime, in which a man accused of the murder challenges the detectives to explain how he could commit a murder soon-to-occur while provided with an impossible alibi, is clearly designated as the “important crime”, and naturally almost all of the clues pertaining to the killer’s identity and the grand central trick of the story are primarily explored through the investigation into this murder.

Until this murder is committed, there is very little in the way of cluing to speak of. The story is especially light on visual clues, disappointingly underutilizing Megumi and her identic memory which often contributes to smart visual clues in the rest of the series. At most, there is a code that gives a little (very important) history on the true nature of the two villages. It’s a trend that often leads to the mysteries feeling “thinner” than their length, and “The Kamikakushi Village Murder Case” would certainly benefit from trimming out the second impossible murder and cutting four or so chapters off of its runtime.

But don’t get the wrong idea! “The Kamikakushi Village Murder Case” swings for the fences in a very major way, and like The Tokyo Zodiac Murders, is a worthy classic because of how well it works when it does work. Although Megumi is poorly utilized, this story still does a great job depicting the many ways the varied skill sets of the Q Class work towards establishing the solution. Kinta’s raw intuitive perception, Kazuma’s access to the immense well of information the internet provides, Kyuu’s pure creativity, and Ryuu’s simple brilliance all contribute their own unique pieces to the puzzle.

Better yet is the central mystery. There is a very important clue involving a piece of paper with the infinity symbol written on it (or maybe it’s a side-ways letter 8? Or a gourd?). This audacious visual clue goes a long way in revealing the central mystery behind the murders in the Kamikakushi villages. A central mystery which is utterly brilliant, by the way, revealing one of the ambitious alibi tricks of the entire genre. It’s an alibi trick so large in scale that it’s baffling, fitting the many comparisons drawn to Shimada Soji’s work. It’s a trick that not only provides the killer with a damnable alibi, but it’s one which offers a compelling, unique, and mystifying motive for the mysteries and offering a compelling conclusion to the cult of the God of Disease. The weight of the denouement is immense, highlighting all of the strengths of the case, while compensating for many of its structural weaknesses.

In the end “The Kamikakushi Village Murder Case” ended up a very similar beast to The Tokyo Zodiac Murders. Boasting flawed and awkward construction, the story nonetheless elevates itself with nothing less than the raw ingenuity of its final trick, one which borders on reality manipulation pure and simple. Trimming down the case would’ve done it wonders, but that doesn’t stop “The Kamikakushi Village Murder Case” from rising above the sum of its parts. While I highly doubt that I’ll walk away considering this the best of the best of the best of Detective School Q, I can safely see that it might very well have the best idea for a central trick in the series, and I can’t deny walking away happy with reading the story!

Hey, two-for-two! Detective School Q‘s reputation for consistent is clearly well-earned, as both of its full and proper cases have been at least very good. I do hate being negative about this case like I had been, because really it does justify itself in what it becomes, but with the awkward trend that Amagi had maintained from working on The Kindaichi Case Files it really did end up losing a bit of the greatness it could’ve had. I especially feel bad because I know many people consider this the absolute height of the series, and I don’t like being a party-pooper with stories people really like. The core trick really is something great, so I feel its place in my ranking is justified, but consider it tentative and reluctant and it might be re-evaluated as I read on in the series.

  1. The Kamikakushi Village Murder Case (Chapters 17-29)
  2. The Tragedy of Kirisaki Island (Chapters 4-13)
  3. Class Begins at Detective School (Chapters 14-16)
  4. Detective School Entrance Exam (Chapters 1-3)

Detective School Q – Case 1 “Detective School Entrance Exam” & Case 2 “The Tragedy of Kirisaki Island” – Amagi Seimaru

Kyuu isn’t very good at schoolwork. It isn’t that he’s dumb, or that he struggles to learn in an academic setting. Quite the opposite in fact, he simply doesn’t try! Kyuu is a genius trained by an unnamed famous detective whose chosen career path has nothing to do with the classes at his normal high-school: he wants to become the world’s next Great Detective, following in the footsteps of Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot. To that end, Kyuu decides to forego life as an everyday high-schooler looking to become an everyday salaryman, and instead enroll in the highly exclusive and wildly competitive Dan Detective School, founded by Japan’s most famous living sleuth Morihiko Dan!

When Kyuu arrives at the Entrance Exam, he discovers that the task of the prospective students is to solve an old real-world murder, based on nothing but two photographs — one taken by the victim and the other the police — and six suspects (played by staff from the school). The victim is a master of Judo who was stabbed in his rental cottage in a snowy January, and six suspects were located, all having motives, no alibis, and were staying at a hotel across the lake from the victim. With the help of the identic memory of his new ally Megumi, Kyuu is able to immediately spot who he believes is the culprit and the two, together with other exam-takers, are then tasked with trailing their pick in Case 1 – “Detective School Entrance Exam” (Chapters 1-3), the beginning of shin-honkaku manga series Detective Academy Q by Amagi Seimaru.

Eagle-eyed readers of the blog might recognize Amagi Seimaru’s name by its frequent mention in the comments sections of my blog posts on reviews of the impossible crime manga (comic books) The Kindaichi Case Files. That franchise is itself split into many sub-series, the first of which is predominantly credited to the writing of Yōzaburō Kanari. However, starting with the second series, the writing credit is given exclusively to Amagi Seimaru, who was originally a co-writer and editor under Kanari. Very many The Kindaichi Case Files fans consider Amagi the superior writer between the two, finding the many series written under him to be on average better and more consistent in quality than the original Kanari run, an opinion shared by TomCat of Beneath the Stains of Time and more hesitantly by Ho-Ling of Ho-Ling no Jikenbo. More popular than the opinion that the Amagi-run Kindaichi Case Files series are better than the Kanari-run ones, though, is the opinion that Amagi Seimaru’s original mystery manga series also focusing on impossible crimes and locked-room mysteries, Detective School Q, is even better than those, and more consistent at that! Well, that sounds promising, giving my spurt of underwhelming Kindaichi Case File reads recently…

This is another case where I anticipate I’ll never be able to get the old-guard involved in reading the series (but what do I know? I’ve successfully converted some readers of Detective Conan, after all…). Admittedly, the premise is very kiddish and the tone follows suit. Lots of unfunny prat-falls and lame jokes typical in shounen (young boy) manga, almost cringe-inducing energy and endless melodrama over trivial things, and the incredibly juvenile concept of a detective-creating academy definitely reek of bad kid fiction.

On that note, though, something I’ve proselytized about a lot on this blog is that in Japan “kid fiction” is usually an indictment on the complexity of language and a few storytelling trends, and very little else. So-called “young boy” fiction tend to involve fantastical and melodramatic stories involving inordinately skilled school-age children, but besides that you can’t count on anything being quite how you expect. These “young boy” stories are capable of telling stories as complex or mature as “adult” stories, and frequently do! The demographic is mostly about accessibility, and is rarely used as an excuse to make something sub-par because it’s “for kids”. Hell, even subject matter is rarely policed as much as it is in the English-speaking world (when “kid stories” from Japan get translated into English, it isn’t uncommon for them to get as high as TV-Mature, or 18+, ratings, for instance).

I bring this up because, yeah, the first arc of Detective School Q, “The Detective School Exam“, would have turned me away from the manga immediately if I didn’t both have assurance the series was good or have foreknowledge of the potential of so-called “kid fiction” from Japan.

Of course, in retrospect, “The Detective School Exam” is important as it establishes a few elements that will become the core of this series. Firstly, it introduces us to the central group of detectives, who each specialize in different areas that make up for the weaknesses of their classmates. Kintarō “Kinta” Tōyama has no common sense and isn’t very intelligent, but he has superb 20/10 vision and preternatural intuitive skills. Kyuu has neither discipline nor book smarts, but his deductive reasoning and creativity recalls history’s best detectives, and usually allow for him to be the one to piece everything together in the end. In fact, the specialty of Megumi Minami is central to the way Detective School Q takes advantage of its medium. Her borderline supernaturally acute “photographic” (identic) memory is essentially a giant signpost telegraphing to the audience that visual clues, clues not called attention to by the text but instead planted in the drawings of the comic book, will be part of the series. This is an aspect of Detective Conan or The Kindaichi Case Files that equally well takes advantage of its visual medium, but Megumi’s inclusion also permits for visual clues that don’t need to be addressed immediately, as it’ll be possible for other characters to “revisit” scenes later through her memory. It allows for visual clues that are more subtle and specific, and yet still fairplay while also not as bluntly telegraphed.

Outside of this, however? The core murder mystery is set-up in less than five pages, explored very little past that, quickly resolved, and explained in a few pages in the next chapter. Don’t get me wrong, the Ellery Queenian chain of detective is impressive, being a surprisingly dense and smart piece of ratiocination based on a single clue (or absence-of-clue, another trope of Queen’s) for a murder given less than five full pages of focus, and it perfectly sets up the series’ approach to visual clues. But then it being resolved so quickly and compactly also means you spend quite a bite of time in the “trailing the suspect” portion of the story, a semi-Holmsian tale in which the “suspect” constantly tries to elude the protagonists through a variety of tricks, along with other traps laid by the exam coordinators from Dan Detective School. It isn’t incredibly interesting, and a fairly unflattering introduction to the franchise for people who might be worried there’s a little too much anime in their mystery with its many parallels to “Exam Chapters” in other shounen series.

…Which, of course, is the reason why I decided to review these two arcs in one blog post. The running trend has been that the manga series I review start off incredibly underwhelming and take comically long amounts of time before finally picking up and becoming the great pieces of mystery fiction as which they are now known. To start this series off with an underwhelming review of a three-chapter introductory case would not be doing Detective School Q any justice as, like I’d already mentioned, the average quality and consistency in this series is quite high. So, what of Case 2 – “The Tragedy of Kirisaki Island” (4-13)?

“The Tragedy of Kirisaki Island” shifts gears as Kyuu, Kinta, and Megumi clear the first half of the exam. The final part of the entrance test involves journeying to an infamous island well-known for a gruesome series of impossible killings that occurred there many years in the past, committed by a man claiming to be a second-coming of Jack the Ripper himself. The examinees are instructed to solve these historical crimes, but before the test can even begin a member of their examination group is found murdered, inside of a room locked-and-sealed from within… and, just like the original Jack the Ripper killings, he’d been cut in half. And when more murders begin to crop up, each one involving a corpse cut into pieces, the remaining examinees are on the hunt for a vicious killer before they wind up on the chopping block next!

This is the series’ first proper murder mystery, and unlike both Detective Conan and The Kindaichi Case Files, Detective School Q‘s opener is great. Not only is it great, I’m actually shocked to find that I consider it one of the best mysteries I’ve ever read, and I’m even more shocked to discover that many people don’t even consider this a notable high-point in the series! If “one of the best mysteries I’ve read” is a medium-point in the quality of this franchise, that alone is a testament to Detective School Q‘s later accomplishments…

There’s one particular locked-room trick in this story which is a cussedly original take on an old-hat. As corny as it is, the novelty and elegance of the solution cannot be denied. That being said, the locked-room trick is good and original, but it isn’t an all-timer classic of raw ingenuity, and the impossible crimes are not what make this story such a masterful piece of mystery fiction.

Given the context of the story, there’s an obvious conclusion many readers will draw that is immediately rendered impossible by the fact the murders are dismemberments. This ties into a fantastic “outer-“mystery surrounding the framework of the locked-room murders, boasting one of the cleverest misdirections and best hints of the genre, turning on something that is an inversion of the unique trick of Gur Gbxlb Mbqvnp Zheqref (spoilers, do not click unless you’re sure you’ve read both stories). Utterly fantastic first mystery for Detective School Q, and it sets a wonderful pace for the remainder of the series.

A few extra notes for the curious before I wrap this post up with the ranking of all two cases I’ve read. I recommend not watching the anime adaptation of this one. While I haven’t seen it myself, I know it cuts out a few noteworthy cases (including the just-reviewed “Tragedy of Kirisaki Island”), adds some weak filler cases, and only goes until about halfway into the series. Given that Detective School Q has an overarching plot, that means you’ll miss out by watching the anime, so I suggest keeping trying to find it in you to read the original manga version of this series.

Also, I won’t be mentioning these in the reviews themselves but leaving little notes at the end; these two stories span Volumes 1 and 2! So be sure to pick them up!

I’m pleased as punch to read a detective manga that immediately starts out good and doesn’t have to go through eight books of mediocre mysteries to get to the great stories. This, I suppose, is the benefit of reading a story written by someone who already has experience writing mystery manga. Amagi Seimaru has written many mystery series besides just Detective School Q and The Kindaichi Case Files. Most interesting to me is Sherlock Bones, a series of inverted mysteries featuring a young man who gets the help of a Sherlock Holmes trapped in the body of a dog! I may very well review that series as well!

I don’t believe this ranking is exactly necessary, but it’s a formality I’d hate to break…

  1. The Tragedy of Kirisaki Island (Chapters 4-13)
  2. Detective School Entrance Exam (Chapters 1-3)