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 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)

The Author is Dead (2022) by A. Carver

A couple of months ago, A. Carver left a message on my blog asking me to review his debut impossible crime novel The Author is Dead. He pitched it to me as [a case involving] rooms taped shut from inside, plus other classic impossible scenarios, [which] also directly reflects on particular Golden Age Detection texts. The detectives are a modern-day teenager and a mystery reader born in the Golden Age itself, and more broadly includes elements both of classic detective fiction and the world of today. Naturally, I couldn’t be more interested!

Adam Carver is an author of the wildly successful Gothic mystery series of Castles in the Sky, stories “as brilliant and melodramatic as the author himself” which were often compared against the works of Agatha Christie “and other equally dead authors” only for it to be decided that his were unequivocally the best of the entire history of the genre. Enjoying great success and wealth, Adam Carver spends his days in his modern castle-mansion overhanging the edge of an island in the middle of nowhere with his wife Victoria… His works are often discussed in the online messaging board Besieging Heaven where fan-fiction writers, fan-artists, review bloggers, and all stripes of fan meet to bond over their shared admiration for the great Adam Carver.

…that is to say, within The Author is Dead, this is the life of the author Adam Carver!

The novel follows Alex Corby — known in the Besieging Heaven group as “RedRidingBlood” — a young, self-conscious mystery reader and reverent fan of Adam Carver. By random chance, Alex won a competition hosted by Besieging Heaven‘s owner to join him and other influential members of the community in an opportunity to meet their mutual hero Adam Carver at his great modern castle Carver’s Rest to celebrate his birthday. Only, of course, with a mix of the weather and her misreading “10 am” as “10 pm”, she was 13 hours late, and missed her one chance to meet the great, the glorious, the charming, the brilliant Adam Carver, and feeling stupid in the process…

She is received at the house by Carver’s agent, Maria Bole, who admonishes Alex her mistake but nonetheless sends her off to her room in the dark of the dank castle’s corridors. Finding the door by nothing more than the glint of the key in the keyhole, she finds it mysteriously difficult to get into her room. Only managing to push in with a forceful shove from her shoulder, she is shocked… her hero, Adam Carver, the greatest mystery author to ever live, was taped to a chair in her bedroom, stabbed through the chest! Next to his corpse was a wrapped present containing Death in the Walls, the first Castles in the Sky novel…

Suddenly realizing that the room was difficult to get into because the door was taped shut the realization that the killer must still be in the room dawned on Alex… only, of course, for the room to be impossible empty, save for the corpse. Unsure what to do with this real-life locked-room murder, as Alex has “never correctly guessed a mystery in her life”, she quickly goes to find Maria to help her report the murder, but instead finds the shy-in-real-life, intense-online fan artist Colin West, alias “DaVinciCorpse”. Only, of course, when she tells him Carver’s been murdered, he returns to her room and… nothing is there. No corpse, no blood, no tape. The entire crime scene has vanished in the mere 60 seconds since she left the room.

Knowing that nobody will believe her, Alex Corby is forced to play out the rest of the day with her fellow forum-goers until something happens that helps her corroborate her experiences! And soon, such an event occurs, as Maria, the literary agent, also winds up murdered, tapped to a drawbridge, and stabbed by a sword tapped to the top of a gatehouse with the raising of the drawbridge. Only, of course, the murder happened that morning, on the other side of the only exit to the building, a door taped shut from the inside making it impossible for the killer to leave, with the controls to the gate on the other side of a patch of snow with no footprints to account for the killer’s walking across it to close the drawbridge. The only clue? A copy of the second Castles in the Sky mystery, Hand at the Threshold.

Another impossible murder that brings her into contact with CorvusCrown, a genius who could solve all of the Adam Carver novels from mere excerpts — or, in more extreme cases, even just the synopsis on the back of the book! The ultimate reader of mystery novels with an encyclopedic knowledge of every mystery every read! And, as it so happens, Alex’s mystery-reading great-aunt Cornelia… who takes it upon herself to lead the group in solving the murder before the worst could come to happen…

The Author is Dead is clearly written by a lover of Golden Age mysteries. Similar to Peter Lovesey’s Bloodhounds, the group is filled with different stripes of mystery-lover who namecheck many famous authors and sleuths both in the text and on the book’s Amazon page. The book has not one, not two, not three… but four Challenges to the Reader. The first occurs immediately after the murder of Adam Carver, reassuring you that the book you are holding is, in fact, a puzzle true and proper, and “The Author” promises to give you all of the clues you need to solve the mystery. The second introduces Knox’s Ten Commandments, and promises to abide by them entirely. The third is a minor lecture on the three kinds of deceptions in locked-room mysteries, and swears that all three are used. The fourth, immediately before the denouement, reminds you that the book has given you all the same clues as the detectives and tells you that before flipping to the next chapter you have an opportunity to solve the mystery ahead of time. The enthusiasm is evident!

And, not only that, but in addition to the two impossible crimes I described above, there are two more, all of which clearly inspired by the taped-rooms of Clayton Rawson’s “From Another World” and John Dickson Carr’s He Wouldn’t Kill Patience. One of which involves a taped room in a solarium behind four locked doors, and one which involves a victim found stabbed in a ribbon-tied Iron Maiden.

To answer the book’s Challenges to the Reader, I am sorry to report that I did in fact solve each of the four mysteries — as far back as Chapter 5 of 24, I pieced together the principle locked-room murder and identified the culprit in one fell swoop. The first impossible crime is a rather old dodge I’ve seen (and even written!) a few times in the past, and when you identify a few tell-tale mistakes Alex makes upon discovering the crime scene the trick employed by the killer becomes crystal-clear.

Sadly, the remaining three locked-room mysteries don’t employ classical misdirection, instead relying on tricks that are mechanical without being ambitious, and are as a consequence similarly easy to solve. Even the detective identifies the murder method employed in the second crime as something of an old hat, and these all rely on a tired sort of artifice, played entirely traditionally.

Well, that is all to say, I found the locked-room mysteries not totally inspired, and was able to identify the who and the how. What I didn’t quite as easily piece together was the why

On that point, I want to address the elephant in the room: Adam Carver’s self-insert.

The Adam Carver character is actually a very smart piece of writing. What may seem from the synopsis, and indeed during most of the book, a very self-indulgent, bordering on self-fellating, portrait of an author who believes himself a second-coming of every Golden Age mystery author wrapped together in a trench coat actually evolves into a very neat piece of meta-misdirection I can only compare to Anthony Horowitz’s The Magpie Murders. Indeed, it’s a piece of misdirection that defies the barriers of the text — when this piece of the narrative snaps into place, not only does it retroactively make the self-insert make a lot of sense, but it also shows how the misdirection extends itself to the covers of the novel and even the Amazon store-page! It’s a kind of ambitious, almost self-destructive piece of writing that could literally only appear in the self-published novel of a first-time writer. And while I did piece this part together as well, it was a consequence of some very fair (if somewhat heavy-handed) cluing at the true nature of the author Adam Carver that dovetails into a neat motive for a killer that totally recontextualizes the entire book, blurring the lines between perpetrator and culprit in an incredibly smart way, as well as offering a neat reflection of the nature of detective fiction, and the attraction of intimate versus forensic investigation…

This neat conceit is the element of the novel I took the most from after reading it. Without it, The Author is Dead might’ve only ended up being a bogstandard, average locked-room mystery novel that I’d quickly forget about. But this clever twist of writing revealed a brilliant underside to the novel on which I’ll think back fondly. No, it doesn’t quite elevate The Author is Dead to the level of being a hidden gem of self-published locked-room mysteries — as I said above, the locked-rooms themselves are middling affairs — but it does show the extent of a burgeoning author’s plotting cleverness that makes me excited to see how his plotting evolves and matures with time. I’ll definitely be keeping my eyes on A. Carver!

Question for the Author

I actually wonder if A. Carver has any history with Japanese detective fiction? The in-universe Adam Carver’s Castles in the Sky series, turning on complex castle-like architecture, reminded me a lot of Ayatsuji Yukito’s Weird House series. Alex Corby is also a charmingly self-effacing protagonist, and her role as “the mundane, self-conscious dork among geniuses” was a trope used in the post-modern mystery series Zaregoto, which also inspired Danganronpa, in which Makoto Naegi, similar to Alex Corby, is at a school for geniuses merely because of the luck of a student-selecting lottery… I enjoyed Alex Corby’s role as an outsider, which is used well in The Author is Dead, especially with her being self-reportedly out of her depths.

The Tokyo Zodiac Murders (1981) by Sōji Shimada (trans. 2015 by Ross and Shika Mackenzie)

For 43 years, the vicious and gruesome massacre of the Umezawa family has puzzled Japan… Through multiple other mass killings, and a World War, the bizarre and incomprehensible horrors of this mysterious crime had arrested the attention of amateur sleuths all the nation over. Sensational books have been written about the crimes (dubbed “The Tokyo Zodiac Murders”), theories have been published in newspapers and preached on television. And yet, for 43 years, the truth has eluded even the most brilliant, attentive, and dedicated of would-be Sherlocks…

Heikichi Umezawa was an astrologer, alchemist, and artist who, in his last moments of sanity, sought to create “Azoth”, the ultimate and perfect beauty , a Goddess of a human, based on his understanding of astrology. Every person’s birth sign correlated with a part of their body — their head, chest, abdomen, hips, thighs, and legs — and therefore that part of their body was granted strength by their ruling planet. To his immense pleasure, thanks to his massive extended family and his multiple romantic partners, Heikichi has seven daughters, step-daughters, and nieces who, between them, all represent six different birth signs which themselves also have domain over each of the six different body parts. Therefore, before killing himself, Heikcihi intended to murder six of his daughters and nieces, take their “ruling” body part, bury their corpses in astrologically and alchemically significant parts of Japan (correlating to minerals, for example), and then, in “the very center of Japan”, he would bring the collected body parts to construct Azoth. Details of his plans are contained within his last and will testament. Six perfect body parts assembled to create the singular perfect woman…

However, before he could conduct this plan to construct his Goddess-on-Earth, Heikichi was murdered in his locked-and-sealed studio. It was only after his death that, shocking everyone, some unknown force had begun to enact the Azoth murders according to his specifications. Nobody could understand how — or why — Heikcihi’s plan leaked to the public, or why this mysterious new party would begin to commit these disgusting murders…

One day, the six daughters, step-daughters, and nieces of the Umezawa household simply vanished… And over the course of nine months, each of the six girls’ corpses was discovered, each missing the body part mentioned in the late Heikichi’s notes, each buried near a mine with a significant mineral deposit corresponding to their ruling element, and each buried at a different depth.

Six corpses, of six girls, buried in six different locations…

In modern-day Japan, a young woman going by the name of Iida has come forward with an unusual declaration: her father had played a very central role in the Umezawa murder case… involving another, seemingly unrelated case dealing with the killing and subsequent rape of the seventh Umezawa child, situated nicely between Heikichi’s death and the Azoth killings. Desperate to have her father’s reputation cleared, she commissions astrologer Kiyoko Mitarai (who receives details of the case from his closest friend) to finally solve this decades-old murder once and for all, and find the real mastermind..! And thus, Kiyoko does as he promises, playing armchair sleuth, attempting to succeed where the police and millions other have failed…

…and there we have the framework for The Tokyo Zodiac Murders, the landmark impossible crime debut of Sōji Shimada. The novel was written at a time in the genre’s history when the “social” school of plotting dominated — no more were the tedious honkaku puzzles of old! Usher in a new age of socially intelligent plots concerned with psychology and human interests! Naturally, The Tokyo Zodiac Murders represented a rejection of this genre-wide shift away from tricky murder plots, and therefore did incredibly poorly when it was first published. However, in reality, The Tokyo Zodiac Murders was an inspiration for many younger crime writers who also thirsted for the orthodox crime puzzles to return. It may have been Yukito Ayatsuji’s The Decagon House Murders that finally allowed the crime genre to sprout into the shin-honkaku movement of neo-puzzle plots, but it was The Tokyo Zodiac Murders that planted the seed and Shimada’s own subsequent efforts in bringing up prospective shin-honkaku writers that nurtured it. It is for this reason that The Tokyo Zodiac Murders has become regarded as not only a landmark novel in the development of the genre, but also the reason why shin-honkaku even exists at all in its current form, making it possibly the single most important modern Japanese crime novel ever written, bar none.

The Tokyo Zodiac Murders has actually already received a mention on this blog, on my zeroth revision of my Top 15 Impossible Crimes list. However, it only appeared in a passing mention under Shimada’s actual full entry, his sophomore novel, Murder in the Crooked House. This is not because I consider The Tokyo Zodiac Murders an inferior mystery, but it’s a very complicated sort of comparison Shimada has created for us here.

To begin with, as a novel on its own? The Tokyo Zodiac Murders is not great. As the crimes take place over 40 years before the events of the novel, the entire tale is told thrice-removed from the perspective of anyone actually concerned with the murders. Therefore, instead of being a novel about the story of a murder, it instead becomes a novel about the story of a guy listening to a story about a story of a murder. On top of depriving the novel of any human interest, it makes the storytelling and prose bone-dry.

The first third of The Tokyo Zodiac Murders is incredibly dense, with the story wasting not a single word on anything that isn’t telling you every single thing you need to know about the three disparate murder cases. You get every floorplan for every conceivable floor, the blood-types, astrological signs, and birth dates of every named character in the story, full details of decades of investigation, including every possible theory and counter-theory and counter-counter-theory for every last clue, red herring, and event to occur within this telling. A full detective novel’s worth of plot, and then some, is dumped into your lap in one of the most purely cerebral murder mystery narratives ever written.

What then follows is another significant portion of the book, concerned entirely with Kiyoko’s investigation in the modern day. If the first third of the novel is the single densest piece of crime plotting ever penned to paper, the subsequent portion is one of the thinnest, most irrelevant, and positively nothing pieces of writing in the genre. Protracted history lessons, discussions on literature, and arguments about the failures of Sherlock Holmes eat up so much of the novel during this section and lead positively nowhere, but the book’s worst sin is that a full six chapters are dedicated to the narrator attempting to have a single conversation, which itself only creates a weak red herring that, on top of being discredited immediately, was by the book’s own admission a perfect waste of time. (By the book’s own admission through the first of its two Challenges to the Reader, the mystery can be solved very early into the narrative, with much of the ensuing story being included pretty much arbitrarily).

The issue isn’t really so much the amount of padding — all detective novels have a lot of it, frankly — but rather the fact that the novel frontloaded the entire, extremely dense plot in the first third and had nowhere else to go, meandering along for no better reason than the story was too long to be a novella but too short to be a good novel. It then unloaded a typical novel’s worth of filler into your lap, instead of dispersing it evenly throughout the story. This makes it an extremely engaging (even if purely cerebral) read for the first third, and then a very mindless slog for the second third. To go from every word contributing something meaningful to six chapters being dedicated to an empty deadend is, frankly, the kind of pacing whiplash I’ve never seen before.

Worse yet, the locked-room murder itself is incredibly pedestrian (hence why it didn’t appear on the favorite impossible crimes list), and the implications of the murder/rape are pretty obvious.

Keeping all of this in mind, do I think The Tokyo Zodiac Murders deserves its monumental reputation?


It may sound insane to say so, but during the long denouement, the novel had done an exceptional job at making me forget every gripe or quibble I had with its storytelling or structure. Because the Azoth murders — the actual titular Tokyo Zodiac Murders serial killing — presents what is one of the most, if not the single most brilliant piece of trickery in the entire crime fiction genre, and I wish I was exaggerating. In my mind, no novel could be so boring, could be so dry, could be so poorly-paced as to ruin the impact of the book’s denouement. For what was 100-odd pages of info-dumping followed by 100-odd pages of Shimada pretending to plot, the final 30 pages of this tale offer a bloody, twisted, macabre stunner of an explanation for the serial killings that bursts forth from the pages like fireworks with ingenuity, creativity, and deviousness unparalleled by, to my mind, almost anything else the genre has to offer. Not only are the mechanics of the crime incredibly unique — something that has never been written before, nor anything even similar to it before this novel — it’s also uniquely Japanese, having all of the thumbprints of shin-honkaku in a way that no English mystery from the early 1900s would ever have managed, making it not only is a tour de force of ingenuity, but also one that perfectly showcases another culture’s unique approach to the genre we all know and love. Even after re-reading the novel, I know that every time I look back on The Tokyo Zodiac Murders, I will not be thinking about the wastes of time in the modern day’s investigation — I will only be able to look back on the jaw-dropping sucker-punch the novel delivers that stunned me into shocked frustrated reverence.

The Tokyo Zodiac Murders is a landmark impossible crime, but that reputation is a bit unfair to it — the impossible crime is minor, and uninspired in the extreme. It’s also a very poorly constructed, unpleasantly-written novel. But for all that, The Tokyo Zodiac Murders contains what has to be one of the most baffling and brilliantly-conceived serial killings in all of mystery-writing fiction (if you think you can name me one better, I dare you to try…), and one of the most deviously-hidden culprits of all time. I’ll never be able to look back on this novel negatively — it’ll be a hard read for those who favor their mysteries on the literary side, but for those like me who appreciate the mystery story as a vehicle for a puzzle I’ll only be able to remember it as one of Japan’s plotting tours de force…

With all of its flaws as a novel, The Tokyo Zodiac Murders ends on a triumph — it’ll never be a favorite novel of anybody’s, but I’m perfectly comfortable calling it one of my favorite mysteries ever plotted.

On My Shin-Honkaku Bookshelf – 12 Japanese Mysteries I’d Kill To Be Able To Read

It’s an open secret that I am deeply fascinated with Japanese mystery fiction. My passion for mystery fiction was fostered from a young age by (still genuinely fantastic) mystery video games like the Ace Attorney franchise. I was weened on the style and standard of plotting of shin-honkaku mysteries before I even knew what the term meant!

For a few years strong now, I’ve actually been studying Japanese with the explicit intention of becoming a professional translator of shin-honkaku mysteries — or, failing that, at least being able to read them myself. Over time, as I’ve collected novels to attempt to force my way through, my fascination with shin-honkaku mysteries has slowly become defined less by the translated novels I’ve already read, and more by the untranslated novels I will one day soon be able to read.

For the past few weeks I’ve been working on a few big discussion posts for my blog, since I haven’t done any big genre-spanning posts since On a Defense of Impossible Alibis and “Doylist” Impossibilites. These projects include a defense of modern pastiches of classical detectives in response to the negative pre-release reception of the new Marple anthology, a discussion on the genre of hybrid mysteries and why they’re an essential sub-style of mysteries to embrace, and a post on video games and why they’re uniquely capable of capturing the spirit of Golden Age Detection better than GAD itself — when done well, that is. These posts are eating up a lot of my time, and between them and school and reading Japanese novels, I haven’t had a lot of material to throw up on the blog lately! So, I decided to channel my languages studies into my blog and make this top ten list of every shin-honkaku mystery I desperately want to read, not only to remind myself of why I’m learning the language but to perhaps coax some of you into studying the language yourselves.

I set out to make this list with the following guidelines for myself:

  • Entries may only be:
    • novels
    • short-story collections written by a single author or consistent group of authors
    • individual short-stories
    • I will not include anthologies written by multiple authors, but I may select individual stories from these anthologies — with one exception being if multiple authors contributed to a single holistic project, such as a round-robin novel in the style of The Floating Admiral.
      • However, I may only pick one story from any given anthology.
  • The intention of this post is to highlight the sheer creative variety of shin-honkaku mysteries. Therefore, stories with unconventional premises were prioritized over more well-known mysteries or mysteries by reputed authors. These may still appear, but I didn’t want to make a whole post just talking about untranslated works from famous authors already covered by Pushkin Vertigo or Locked-Room International.
    • Furthermore, there is no works-per-author limit, but in accordance with this guideline I will prioritize authors with novel premises. The more traditional an author, the less likely you’ll see multiple books from them represented on this list.
    • If a series is defined by a shared premise, only one book from that series may appear on the list.
  • These works may not have translations in any capacity — this includes even bad translations by first-year Japanese students posted to Reddit. If it has an official or unofficial translation at all, it isn’t applicable, as the intention is to create motivation to study Japanese.
  • Video games, television shows, comics, movies, radio shows, podcasts, musicals, plays, etc. are not applicable. There are many, many, many good mysteries in every medium, but I did not want to dilute this post. Video games are already getting their own post, anyway, as the medium deserves it.
    • However, novel spin-offs of multimedia franchises are applicable. They must be original stories, and may not be adaptations of existing plots in the series.
  • Synopses will be written from a combination of reviews and book descriptions. I may accidentally extrapolate incorrect details, but I will do my best to keep it to strictly what I know for a matter of fact.

And, one fair warning… I tried to find a lot of these on my own, but quite a few of these are inspired by my reading Ho-Ling no Jikenbo, the blog of Ho-Ling, preeminent translator of Japanese mysteries. Even the few I did manage to find on my own I later discovered were covered on Ho-Ling’s blog well before I got to them — the man’s got all of his bases covered! If any of these stories sound interesting you, or you want to read more about Japanese detection, absolutely do check out Ho-Ling’s fantastic and informative blog for reviews.

With that all out of the way, let’s get to the 12 shin-honkaku mysteries I’d kill to be able to read… And perhaps, so would you!

The Cinderella Castle Murder (シンデレラ城の殺人) by Konno Tenryū (紺野天龍)

First up is actually the novel I’m reading at this very moment, The Cinderella Castle Murder, a murder mystery reimagining of the ever-popular Cinderella fairytale. Reading Masahiro Imamura’s zombie apocalypse-infused locked-room mystery Death Among the Undead has awoken a deep fascination with Japan’s breadth of “hybrid mysteries” — mysteries that combine elements from non-mystery genres — so expect this to be a minor trend in this list.

The Cinderella fairytale is hijacked by a murder mystery! When Cinderella is locked-and-sealed inside of a room, whose sole entrance is guarded, with the Prince at his ball, there is no way he should’ve wound up dead… And yet, he does; murdered, in fact! Being the only person inside of a room that was locked in three difference ways means that Cinderella is immediately brought to court and tried for the murder…

With nobody to defend her, the fast-talking and sharp-tongued Cinderella is forced to represent herself as a defense attorney, picking apart contradictions in the seemingly airtight testimony of the array of quirky witnesses who all seem to know for a definitive fact that Cinderella is guilty! Worse yet, her magic will wear off at midnight, revealing her true identity, proving inconvenient not only for herself but also her evil stepmother and cruel step-sisters… So the race is on for Cinderella to prove herself innocent before midnight, not only for herself, but also for the people who don’t really deserve it…!

This novel’s structure of picking apart witness testimony in a fantastical court has earned comparisons to my pet mystery franchise Ace Attorney/Gyakuten Saiban, so that is immediately fascinating for me! Konno Tenryū is not a famous author in the slightest, but well-regarded by a few of my Japanese friends who have read their works as a writer of fantastic magic-infused mysteries — including Ho-Ling, whose blog brought my attention to this particular novel.

The Locked-Room of the Alchemist (錬金術師の密室) by Konno Tenryū (紺野天龍)

Another magic-infused hybrid locked-room mystery by Konno Tenryū!? It’s more likely than you think…

In a world where magic works as a science of give-and-take, spells instead functioning by transmuting physical matter, the renowned alchemist Ferdinand is murdered inside of his lab, which is locked behind three steel doors which themselves require the palm-prints of Ferdinand and key members of his organization to open. Not only is it almost unthinkable that a magical being like an alchemist, who can transform any matter within his grasp into a weapon, could be killed by someone un-magical… it’s further unthinkable that any random person could bypass all of these security precautions… Therefore, the blame is immediately placed on the shoulders of Theresa Paracelsus, the only remaining Alchemist in the organization and the only one capable of using her alchemy to commit this murder! Emilia, our protagonist, doesn’t believe Theresa could be the killer, and sets out to solve this murder that, if not committed by Theresa, is utterly impossible…

It’s must easier to see how magic plays into the plot of The Locked-Room of the Alchemist than The Cinderella Castle Murder, which instantly makes it sound so much more promising as a showcase of Japanese hybrid mysteries and the unique way in which fantasy can inform a brilliant murder plot… This is the first in a series of ongoing series, and the sequel sounds even more fascinating than this one!

Locked-Room Murder Game – The Fool’s Mate (密室殺人ゲーム王手飛車取り) by Utano Shōgo (歌野晶午)

A fringe community of online mystery fans have grown tired of their immense powers of deduction and intellect on fictional murders… and have turned to committing perfect crimes in the real world! Using masks and voice-changers, these real-world murder masterminds share details of their exploits, and challenge each other to solve their crimes in this locked-room mystery short story collection…

A community of murderers who challenge each other to solve their crimes sounds like a natural evolution of the format of the “armchair detective club” popularized in Miss Marple’s The Tuesday Club Murders. Using the internet as the medium for these stories is even more interesting. It’s unclear to me how much the internet really matters in these crimes, but given that I’ve heard the stories are semi-serialized, it’s possible that some cross-story misdirection could occur with these crimes and the internet overlapping…

This is the first of two-and-a-half novels in the series, and is deeply fascinating, if only daunting because its first story is the longest by a sizable amount…

The Adventures of Rintarō Norizuki (法月林太郎の冒険) by Rintarō Norizuki (法月林太郎)

Rintarō Norizuki is, as can be divined from his detective and himself sharing a name, a disciple of the Queenian school of mystery writing. The few Rintarō Norizuki short stories that have been published in English are utterly brilliant, so to see more of the Eastern Second Coming of Ellery Queen would be a dream!

Unfortunately, I know very little about the stories in this collection, but there’s some interesting titles including “The Cutting Monster”, “The Cannibal’s Puzzle”, and “The Death-Row Puzzle”. Fascinating stuff, and I’m only sad I can’t say more about this one!

There is a New Adventures of Rintarō Norizuki, which has much less evocative titles, but nonetheless I’d be interested in reading! It seems like Japanese mysteries favor locked-room mysteries and impossible crimes, so if nothing else I’d love to see more of Japan’s take on non-impossible puzzle mysteries!

The Murder of Alice (アリス殺し) by Kobayashi Yasumi (小林泰三)

Ari Kurisugawa is haunted by dreams of a surreal land ruled by a Queen of Hearts. She dreams of nothing but this Wonderland and going on adventures with White Rabbits and Mad Hatters. One day, though, she is shocked by a dream in which Humpty Dumpty has a great fall… only, it wasn’t an accident. This is greatly distressing, but it only gets worse when she awakes and discovers that a student in her school has similarly died by falling off of the roof of the faculty building!

Once the suspicion of murder arises and Ari becomes the prime suspect in both worlds, investigating the deaths reveal that Ari’s not the only one to dream of Wonderland. In fact, as it happens, these “dreams” are a very real, shared world in which her and multiple classmates have met each other in the form of avatars! When it’s discovered that not only do real people correspond to people in Wonderland, but so do the events of the murder, Ari/Alice teams up with intelligent Imori/dim-witted Bill the Lizard to solve this cross-worlds murder mystery and prove her innocence!

This is the third hybrid fantasy-mystery on this list in which a woman is falsely accused of murder and must prove herself innocent, but somehow in spite of the three stories having this basic similarity they all feel like three dramatically different tales when they’re all laid out. As you can tell, this mystery is a reimagining of the children’s story Alice in Wonderland and is the first in a series of novels that utilize the same premise with difference stories such as The Wizard of Oz or The Nutcracker and the Mouse King. A mystery involving the interplay between two parallel stories set in different worlds is deeply fascinating, and the possibilities send my brain running!

“Whodunit Reception” (フーダニット・リセプション) by Morikawa Tomoki (森川智喜)
collected in Honkaku King 2022 (本格王2022)

Honkaku King is an annual best-of short story anthology series of all of the best detective stories published in a given year, as decided by members of the Honkaku Mystery Writers of Japan club. Ho-Ling’s review of this volume contained many fascinating stories, but the one that stood out the most to me was “Whodunit Reception” by Morikawa Tomoki.

The narrator and their friend accidentally destroy the unpublished manuscript for the last and final chapter of a mystery-story that is being serialized right now. In order to avoid getting into serious trouble, the two have to try and repair the manuscript. Fortunately, they’re able to save almost all of it… except for the parts of the story where the detective explains whodunit! By using the context clues of the surrounding text, the two have to fill in 17 blank spots to complete the story (keeping in mind, of course, that the only context they have is the final chapter and none of the rest of the novel).

This sounds like a puzzle/riddle-lover’s dream! I myself make it a rule to complete at least 10 puzzles a day purely for fun, so this bizarre little story in which the solution to a mystery story is itself the mystery story sounds compelling! A novel little meta-mystery I’d absolutely love to sit down with one of these days, with a fun concept, even if it’s not as far-out as some of the fantasy mysteries we’ve looked at! Every single other story in this anthology sounds fantastic though…

The Locked-Room Collector (密室蒐集家) by Ōyama Seīchirō (大山誠一郎)

My interest in this one has Ho-Ling’s fingerprints all over it. I first discovered Ōyama Seīchirō’s works through アリバイ崩し承ります (Alibi Cracking, At Your Service), a television drama adaptation of one the author’s other mystery collections of the same name. Alibi Cracking, At Your Service deals predominantly with “impossible alibi problems“, but other variations on alibi plots also appear, and the average quality of the episodes and tricks is quite high. Ho-Ling’s review of Alibi Cracking, At Your Service ended up directing me to his review of The Locked-Room Collector by the same author, and he speaks very highly of this one! The main defining quality of The Locked-Room Collector is that unlike the lateral thinking puzzle that many locked-room mysteries tend to be, all of the mysteries in this one are impossible crimes solved through pure Queenian chains of deduction.

While on a conceptual level this collection doesn’t seem all too interesting, I am previously acquainted with Ōyama Seīchirō’s work and already think highly of him as a plotter and can attest to his abilities!

Ace Attorney: Turnabout Airport (逆転裁判-逆転空港) by Mie Takase (高瀬美恵)

The Ace Attorney, with all of its bumps and warts, is my favorite mystery series ever. It is partially nostalgia, as this video game franchise is the thing that got me invested in Golden Age/(shin-)honkaku mysteries to begin with. But even then, going back and revisiting the series, where it works Ace Attorney has some of the absolute best-plotted mysteries ever written. The series’ gameplay cycle of being given testimony, and using evidence to find contradictions, explaining the contradictions, and then moving onto more testimony gives the reasoning an air of Queenian deduction chains. As a game series based entirely around the logic of statements vs evidence, the quality of cluing is quite high, and Ace Attorney boasts some of the most unique, imaginative clues I’ve ever seen in the genre! But this series is something special in Golden Age detection in a way that’s impossible to summarize in a few paragraphs, and deserves a post all to itself…

Truth be told, this entry is kind of cheat. I don’t care about Turnabout Airport specifically. The novel I’m more interested in is its immediate prequel, Turnabout Idol, but a fan has already translated the novel and posted it online, disqualifying it from this list… Nonetheless, Turnabout Airport is a standard Ace Attorney case, featuring defense attorney Phoenix Wright as he defends his subordinary Apollo Justice, who is accused of murdering a politician at an international airport! As a fan of the series who has been thirsted for fresh (good) content for nearly a decade now, these two novels are an oasis!

Word to the wise, the novels seem allergic to creating any more new characters than they absolutely have to, as both Turnabout Airport and Turnabout Idol feature exclusively recurring characters as defendants and prosecuting attorneys, which means the novels probably assume you have prior connection to these characters for the stories to work, so… Take this as my obligatory recommendation to go play Ace Attorney.

The 46th Locked-Room (46番目の密室) by Arisugawa Arisu (有栖川有栖)

I promise it’s a coincidence that I’ve gone of a tour of all of the Queenian authors…

Arisugawa Arisu is another author in the “Ellery Queen”-school of mystery writing, but his series have a bit of an odd gimmick: there are two Alice series. The Student Alice series and the Writer Alice series. Both Student Alice and Writer Alice are different people, and each are detective novelists. Student Alice writes novels about Writer Alice, and Writer Alice writes novels about Student Alice, while the real world Arisu writes about both of these men writing about each other…

I’m not confused, you’re confused!

I don’t have any particular interest in specifically The 46th Locked-Room, but more broadly I am interested in all of the Writer Alice series. The Moai Island Puzzle, which was translated by Ho-Ling for Locked-Room International, is the second novel in the Student Alice series. The 46th Locked-Room is the first novel in the Writer Alice. My main interest with this novel is not in its plot, but merely to compare the two series side-to-side and hope to understand why there are two Alice franchises…

Makabe is a detective fiction author known as “The Japanese John Dickson Carr” due to his output of 45 locked-room mysteries. The 46th Locked-Room therefore refers to his final novel, as he has produced multiple mediocre mystery novels back-to-back and intends to soon expand beyond the confines of the detection genre. Only, of course, he winds up murdered in a locked room himself!

Admittedly, of all the stories on this list, this is the one I have the lowest expectations for. Every meta-mystery where detective novels are a plot point seem to have the same annoying quirk I complain about in my reviews of Death Invites You and The Honjin Murders: fake evidence is produced with no meaningful explanations just to muddy the waters for no better reason than it’s a mystery novel! We gotta! I’ve never liked this type of red herring, and it seems to be the territory of meta-mysteries like this… But, nonetheless, I go into it with an open mind!

“Amulet Hotel” (アミュレット・ホテル) by Hōjō Kie (方丈貴恵)
collected in Honkaku King 2021 (本格王2021)

We return to last year’s Honkaku King anthology, in which “Amulet Hotel” by Houjou Kie sounds the most promising, in no small part because of Ho-Ling’s review of the anthology… In fact, Ho-Ling’s summary of the story is brilliant, and knowing almost nothing of my story myself I couldn’t do better if I tried, so here’s an excerpt from his review:

When a guest of the Amulet Hotel’s annex complains that the door to his room can’t be opened and it turns out even the owner’s master key can’t open the door, they break the door down: the door had been blocked by a serving cart jammed beneath the door handle. Inside the room, they find a murdered man and an unconscious employee of the hotel. Normally, this is time to call the police, but not in the Amulet Hotel: the annex of the Amulet Hotel serves a very special kind of guest, the kind of guest who likes their privacy very much, who doesn’t like the police and who will make use of the special hotel services like having guns delivered to their rooms. Everyone is a criminal here, so whenever anything happens here, the Amulet Hotel will “clean up” themselves. But while the Amulet Hotel does cater to the criminals, there are still rules they expect their guests to obey to, and the most important one is that they should never ever inconvenience the hotel. Hotel detective Kiryuu is asked to figure out whether the unconscious employee in the hotel room killed the guest, or whether someone else did and if so, how the locked room was created and once they know what happened, they will deal with things properly.

Ho-Ling’s review is glowing and this mystery sounds utterly brilliant and conceptually novel! Every story sounds like quality goods, though!

RPG School (RPGスクール) by Hayasaka Yabusaka (早坂吝)

This is the first anything I ever tried to read in Japanese that wasn’t a news article or a social media post. I still haven’t actually committed to finishing it, so it’s on this list purely because I feel like it the first novel I’ve ever tried to read in Japanese means I should get around to finishing it sooner rather than later…

In a school where everything functions under the rules of fantasy role-playing video games like Dragon Quest, the Dark Lord has taken control of the school and filled it to the brim with monsters! Only, of course, with all of this chaos going on with needing to save the world from a great Godly evil, people have found the opportunity to commit impossible murders like the murder of a student in an un-tainted coat of snow.

This book is another hybrid mystery, and in this one the puzzle is informed by the fact the entire world operates under the rules of a video game! As someone who loves RPGs, seeing a murder mystery somehow be derived from the format is exciting and fascinating!

“When the Snow of Dried Leaves Melts” (かれ草の雪とけたれば) by Kaburagi Ren (鏑木連)
collected in New Orthodox Detective Special – Banquet of Impossible Crimes (新・本格推理 特別編―不可能犯罪の饗宴)

This is one I was really proud of discovering on my own, only to just now find out while trying to find a synopsis that, yes, Ho-Ling already covered it… Sigh… I was already interested in the story from the title alone, but Ho-Ling’s review puts it over the top.

“When the Snow of Dried Leaves Melts” is an impossible crime story (one of many in this anthology) in which a man is murdered on the fourth floor of a real world government building. The only way out of the room was a ladder, which a man was climbing down and soon apprehended from. Naturally, his guilt is debated, therefore the question of how someone can commit this impossible murder comes into play, especially when this suspect helped create the impossibility himself…

Admittedly the premise sounds pretty standard for what the title was offering, but I’m actually glad Ho-Ling covered this one because it let me write this synopsis at all. His review is that the story is simultaneously brilliant and also bullshit, so I’m sure I’m in for a hell of a ride!

And there we have it, the 12 shin-honkaku stories I’d kill to read! I tried to capture a wide variety of stories, form, and genre without relying too much on just mentioning the big names, and I think I’ve done a fairly good job at creating a to-read list of Japanese detective stories, for myself and hopefully other would-be students of the language!

Already, I was fascinated with Japanese mysteries, but the more I learn the language and therefore the more I become acquainted with shin-honkaku mysteries the more deeply my fascination runs! I can only study day-in-day-out and hope one day I can become fluent enough to read all of these brilliant-sounding mysteries!

The Kindaichi Case Files (File Series) File 1 – The Opera House Murders (1993) by Yōzaburō Kanari

The Golden Age mystery in Japan has never discriminated by age. In the English-speaking world, there’s a very clear distinction drawn between the sophisticated and authentic Golden Age mysteries that adults read, and those pretenders that borrow the stylings and trappings of detective fiction despite being intended for children — your Nancy Drews, your Hardy Boys — and the understanding has always been that the former had a higher standard of plotting over the latter. However, in Japan, not only does no such stereotyping really exist, with “children’s” mysteries being regarded on the same level of plotting and expertise as any “adult” mystery, it’d actually also be fair to say that a huge portion of Japanese detective fiction has been guided, and even seen its best works come from the so-called “children” mystery series.

One of Japan’s greatest regarded printed exports of honkaku mystery is Detective Conan, a comic-book series about a teenager who is transformed into a young child and forced to solve crimes in order to find the antidote. Despite being marketed for “young boys”, Detective Conan is today one of the longest-running media franchises in the world, maintaining the popularity of classically-plotted detective stories.

However, video games predominantly seen in the west as “for children or teens” have themselves also had immense influence on Japanese detective fiction. Ace Attorney, a video game series featuring a fledgling lawyer defending people falsely accused of murder, is one of the most famous honkaku mystery franchises in Japan and, in my opinion, it has no less than five of the best mysteries I’ve ever read. A video game series inspired by Ace Attorney is Danganronpa, in which 15 students are locked inside of a prestigious high school, and forced to murder each other and get away with it without discovery in a “Class Trial” in order to escape!

Incidentally, despite both series being categorized as “kids’ games” by many people in the west, they’ve both had palpable influence on mystery-writing in Japan. A Great Detective Never Lies (名探偵は嘘をつかない) by Atsukawa Tatsumi is inspired by one of the cases of Ace Attorney. In this book, many famous detective novels are mentioned by name in the chapter titles, and among references to such prestigious authors as Anthony Berkeley and John Dickson Carr, Ace Attorney is listed as an equal. Daganronpa is itself the subject of great fascination by one of Japan’s most famous locked-room mystery novelists, Takekuni Kitayama, a winner of the prestigious 24th Mephisto Prize for his debut novel, The “Clock Castle” Murders. So enamored with the video game was Kitayama that he begged the creators to allow him to write novels set in the Danganronpa universe. What followed was a 6-book long prequel series which were so successful and well-regarded that this Japanese novelist was commissioned as the head writer of the mystery plots in the third Danganronpa game.

“Kid” mysteries and “adult” mysteries do not have the same division in Japan as they do in the west. “Kid” mysteries are respected, not out of nostalgia, but for the genuine quality and inventiveness they bring the genre. Kids and adults alike flock to these franchises, and even famous mystery novelists find enjoyment in these video game and comic book detective plots. They represent some of the best and most highly-regarded mysteries ever conceived, with the only fundamental difference really being complexity of dialogue and the ages of the protagonists.

This generally high standard of quality that supposed “kid” stories have set in the world of Japanese detection is something I’ve already discussed at length in my post On Some of the Best Mysteries Ever Written and the Puzzle of Why You’ve Never Read Them when building up to my Detective Conan reviews but it felt equally worth reinforcing that idea now. Detective Conan and Ace Attorney were not flukes, they are the standard. And they were far from the only “young adult” mysteries that are long-running, award-winning, and influential…

The Kindaichi Case Files, originally written by Yōzaburō Kanari before being taken by Seimaru Amagi, features Hajime Kindaichi. Hajime is your average problem student, failing all of his classes and often getting up to mischief. Everyone thinks he’s the world’s biggest loser, and there’s not a single person in the world who likes him except for his childhood friend Miyuki Nanase. However, he harbors a great secret that only one teacher manages to see through: with a 180 IQ, and a masterful eye for details, Hajime is in reality the grandson of famous supersleuth Kōsuke Kindaichi… Although he never intended to, Hajime gets roped into many different mystery cases, most of which are impossible crime/serial killings by masked murderers, and begins to develop a reputation for himself as a genius crimesolver, just like his grandfather!

The Kindaichi Case Files stands with Detective Conan as one of the greats in Japanese comic-book form detection in the style of honkaku mysteries. It’s interesting, therefore, to note that the two series are in almost every other way stark opposites of each other.

Detective Conan is a much more versatile series, with short story-length cases compiled on average three-to-a-book, and it doesn’t particularly hold any fidelity to form or style. Detective Conan has everything from alibi problems to serial killings to code-cracking riddles to locked-room mysteries to inverted mysteries to traditional whodunits to race-against-the-clock action-thrillers to psychological thrillers to heist stories and inverted heist stories, and even a couple horror tales!

Contrarily, The Kindaichi Case Files are all novel-length cases with most stories being roughly the length of an entire volume, give or take only a few chapters. The individual cases of Kindaichi Case Files are much more uniform, with the tropes of the franchise being well-documented. Almost every case is a serial killing that contains at least one impossible crime or locked-room mystery, and owing to inspiration from the Kōsuke Kindaichi series, often takes place in isolated locations with classical closed-circle casts. Almost always, the killer, in Scooby-Doo fashion, has a masked alias that they used to avoid detection, such as dressing up as a mountain demon or a mummy. And, a mutation from Kōsuke Kindaichi, the motives tend to be born from twisted and misguided emotions.

While more formulaic, The Kindaichi Case Files is comforting in that you always know what you’re going to get: Carrian impossible crimes. It also has the benefit of spending more time with each individual plotline, giving it more time to develop — though, this is of course a double-edged sword, as it also means inferior stories are also longer. It’s hard to pick one and say it’s demonstrably better, but what’s true for both series is that they are major parts of the mystery-plotting landscape in Japan, and if I’m going to be discussing the bite-size short-stories of Detective Conan, then I also need to review the full-length macabre impossible tales of Kindaichi Case Files.

As with Detective Conan, I’ll be reading, reviewing, and subsequently ranking each individual story in the Kindaichi Case Files franchise. Just like before, the intention of this series is to give people a comprehensive “reading list” for this massive franchise so that the more hesitant of manga-readers among us can pick a select few stories that appeal to them, and read them, instead of pushing through all of these stories in a medium they’re uncomfortable with and just… hope they strike gold. This is part of my extended mission to proselytize on the merits of the so-called “kid” detection of Japan and introduce our western friends to these franchises with so much to offer!

The Opera House Murders opens with Hajime Kindaichi being invited by his best friend Miyuki on a Drama Club trip to an island-bound hotel called the Opera House Mansion. The hotel was chosen for its privacy as well as its unused theater, allowing the kids to freely rehearse for their upcoming production of The Phantom of the Opera!

The rehearsal goes well, until diva Ryoko Saotome gets into a fight with her co-star Orie, insisting that her inferior acting will make her look bad in front of the talent coach that’s coming to their debut night! Amidst the flaring tensions, old wounds surrounding the death of the club’s greatest star Fuyuko Tsukishima begin to reopen, revealing to Kindaichi that Fuyuko had committed suicide just a month ago after having her face burnt to hideous remains by acid. Only moments before jumping to her death from the roof of the hospital, Fuyuko, quoting The Phantom of the Opera, had soliloquized…

“I am the Phantom of the Opera! I am the ugliest creature on Earth! And even while the fires of Hell burn this ugly creature… I’ll still dream of a place in Heaven!”

Although at lunch it seemed as if tensions had subsided, the clubmates realized that Orie hadn’t come to the table! Before they can even think about looking for her, the sounds of her scream summon them to the theater to find her crushed by a stage-light! When Kindaichi realizes that everyone had been together in the dining room at the time the murder was committed, making the crime impossible, the proprietor of the hotel informed them all that a bandaged man known only as “Kagetsu” had checked into the hotel the night before…

Although they tried to escape, they found the boat that took them to the island adrift at sea, freed from its place at the dock! From this moment, the masked Kagetsu is haunting the grounds of the hotel while committing increasingly mysterious crimes, such as hanging clubmate Harumi Kiryu in a tree without leaving his footprints in the mud in the grounds…

When Kindaichi realizes that the murders are paralleling the deaths that occurred in The Phantom of the Opera, he’s forced to reconsider that Kagetsu might actually be a fabrication… a member of their club, out for bloody vengeance..! And it’s onto him to solve these baffling impossibilities!

I always thought it was interesting how The Kindaichi Case Files, despite being a series about locked-room murders and impossible crimes, opened with a story that didn’t really have a locked-room mystery. The initial murder of Orie is an impossible alibi problem, as every suspect is together in the same room when the murder occurs, and the hanging of Harumi is a footprints-in-the-mud problem. There are a handful of other deaths, but none of them “locked-room mysteries”.

The Opera House Murders is a fairly inauspicious beginning to a series as esteemed as The Kindaichi Case Files. The story does contain all of the quintessential elements of a Kindaichi case, but despite the inspired trappings of the Phantom of the Opera-themed murders, the case is in every way a fairly standard, average mystery of this sort.

The Phantom of the Opera motif for the murders, while initially intriguing, is arbitrary. It’s window dressing, nothing more and nothing less. The murders themselves aren’t extremely convoluted, nor extremely simple, and they aren’t extremely silly or extremely clever.

The alibi problem suffers from the same kind of problem all impossible alibi problems like this do, where the type of solution that must’ve been used is fairly obvious from the set-up alone. And while there are some decent clues pointing towards the exact application of this trick, they’re reserved until the latter half of the story and resolved immediately, when they would’ve been more potent as more… omnipresent aspects of the setting and case.

The footprints-in-the-mud problem is pretty much exactly the kind of solution you know it’d have to be, and there’s almost nothing particularly impressive about the solution worth noting. It’s notable that Kindaichi reasons from essentially nothing in this murder, and just easily deduces what kind of solution must have been at play based on the situation itself and zero external clues.

Although the whole mystery plot is itself fairly average, The Opera House Murders excels in its art! Although black-and-white, the artist does a fantastic job at using grey-tones to create a salient, tense atmosphere. Kindaichi expertly puts to paper what a John Dickson Carr novel always looks like inside of my head, and it can’t be overstated enough how good the art in Kindaichi Case Files is at capturing atmosphere and mood. The panels with Kagetsu peering into Miyuki’s window always get me, as seeing a face looking into my window is an irrational fear of mine… It’s a shame, then, that from my limited experience the series seems to utilize visual clues much less often than Detective Conan and doesn’t put the art to as good use…

So, all-told, a lukewarm introduction to the franchise. It’s a perfectly average, standard locked-room mystery with not much going on to set it apart from the competition. I don’t particularly hate it, but I can’t imagine I’ll remember it months in the future… At the very least, it gives us room to go up with this esteemed series!

A few things to note are that TomCat over at Beneath the Stains of Time has very strong opinions about Kindaichi Case Files. It’s his belief that the first two runs of the series (called the File Series, and the Case Series, spanning about 26 stories) are on average worse than the many other runs of the franchise. This is because File and Case are primarily written by Yōzaburō Kanari, to whom TomCat refers as “a hack”. Every other story in the series is written by Seimaru Amagi, whom TomCat praises as “the Sōji Shimada of manga”. Part of this animosity, I believe, stems from Kindaichi Case Files‘s second ever story, The Western Village Murder Case, being a direct 1:1 plagiarism of Tokyo Zodiac Murders by Sōji Shimada, with this copying being the subject of a lawsuit in which Kindaichi Case Files had to print spoiler warnings for Shimada’s book in this story… It’s my understanding that TomCat was spoiled by Western Village Murder Case, and that this might contribute to his strong feelings towards the Kanari stories!

Nonetheless, when it comes to mysteries, TomCat’s word is as good as gold! And this word has me a little worried about a long and tedious review series, so in order to keep myself sane and you all convinced this series can be good, I’ve gotten special recommendations from friends for the best stories from the original two runs. If I ever feel like there are too many negative reviews for Kindaichi Case Files back-to-back, I’ll end up skipping ahead to these particularly good stories as a sort of… respite! If you ever see a much later story appear out-of-order, then it’s because I felt like a positive review was in order. This is so I can avoid the issue I had with Detective Conan where I had to write six negative reviews back-to-back before I finally got to the point the series started to get really good.

Also, as discussed above, Western Village Murder Case flagrantly plagiarized a famous novel, and will therefore not be covered in this blog review series as I do not wish to encourage people to read it.

Without further ado, the ranking…!

  1. The Opera House Murders (File Series/S.1, Case 1)

Yes, The Opera House Murders is certainly the best Kindaichi we’ve covered so far! Exciting!