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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…Fast forward seven years.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I was an explorer anew.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Volume 16 (1997)

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

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

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

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

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

Volume 17 (1997)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Volume 18 (1997)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Volume 19 (1997)

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

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

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

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

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

Volume 20 (1998)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Volume 21 (1998)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Volume 22 (1998)

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

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

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

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

Volume 23 (1998)

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

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

Fantastic little setting-oriented mystery story, unambiguous recommendation!

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

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

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

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

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

Volume 24 (1998)

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

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

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

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

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

Volume 25 (1999)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Volume 26 (1999)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Volume 27 (1999)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Volume 28 (1999-2000)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Volume 29 (2000)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Newly reviewed cases are italicized and bookended with asterisks*

{10/10 — Favorites}

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

{9/10 — Great}

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

{8/10 — Very Good}

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

{7/10 — Good}

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

{6/10 — Decent}

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

{5/10 — Average}

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

{4/10 — Mediocre}

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

{3/10 — Bad}

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

{2/10 — Very Bad}

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

{1/10 — Least Favorites}

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

On the Increasingly Essential Frontier of Hybrid Mysteries — Fantasy, Science-Fiction, and Murder (Part 1/2 – Whydunit?)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until then, happy sleuthing!

On 50 Locked Room Solutions of Our Own

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

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

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


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


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

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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then I read “Clown in the Tunnel”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Kindaichi Case Files Quadruple Mini-Review – Series 1 “File”, Cases 4, 6, 7 and 8 “Smoke and Mirrors”, “The Legend of Lake Hiren”, “The Santa Slayings” and “No Noose is Good Noose” by Yōzaburō Kanari

(Note: Although this is the third of this review series, I only encourage you to read the first post in the series in order to understand the premise of the series and the intent of the review series)

While on my hiatus, I’ve been catching up on my back-log of manga series I’ve started to neglect such as The Kindaichi Case Files and Detective Conan. Embarrassingly, my reviews for each are significantly behind my reading. I’m as late as book twenty-five of Detective Conan, and I’m six cases past where I last reviewed The Kindaichi Case Files. Initially, I had actually wrote four separate reviews for these four separate stories we’re reviewing today, but I realized at the end I have very similar opinions of these four stories. I knew that four back-to-back reviews saying essentially the same things would make for awful reading, and spreading it out would mean taking longer before I get to review genuinely good cases in this franchise — which is less fun for you and me. Therefore, I decided to blitz through my thoughts on these stories in a mini-review lightning round!

“Smoke and Mirrors”

Kindaichi is conscripted by the Fudou High School occult club to investigate the “Seven Mysteries of the School”. Practically every school in Japan has their own “seven mysteries” — seven different types of supernatural phenomena that many students claim to have witnessed with their own eyes — so Kindaichi is naturally skeptical of tales of fountain water turning into blood or twelve-step staircases suddenly manifesting an evil thirteenth step. However, he nonetheless agrees to investigate for an important reason: at Fudou High School, only six of the mysteries are known, and a letter has recently been discovered claiming that whoever discovers the seventh will be killed!

Naturally, once Kindaichi receives a phone call from the president of the occult club inviting him to an abandoned school-building so she may reveal the secret of the seventh mystery, a murder is committed with her as the victim! Through the window, he sees the club president hanging in a parallel room in an attached school building — a supposedly sealed school building — but by the time he gets to her, the room has been locked from the inside and her body vanished from within!

This story’s impossible crime isn’t even remotely difficult to figure out, and for that I blame the atrocious English title for this case, as well as the uninspired central trick. What makes this case work decently well is the identity of the killer, which is fairly surprising as it’s one of the few instances in which Kindaichi divests itself of the typical “avenger from the past” motif that it relies on so heavily. The killer’s motive in this case actually ties into the architectural history of the school buildings and the fact it used to be a hospital, and while I think this element of the plot is a bit of an extreme departure from the “supernatural school mysteries” premise that we opened with, in such a way that I actually feel like it’s a waste of the premise, it’s nonetheless one of the better stories we’ve seen so far for having it.

“The Legend of Lake Hiren”

Years ago, a movie-obsessed social recluse, bullied into hiding, kept undergoing plastic surgery to make his face look like whatever his favorite movie character is at the time. However, after so many surgeries, his face was eventually disfigured and disgusting, forcing him to adopt the identity of the only fictional character he could resemble: Jason Voorhees, from Friday the 13th. Haunted by his disgusting appearance and manifesting the personality of the man he resembled, “Jason” proceeded to murder thirteen people with an axe, chopping the faces off of each and every one! He was soon caught and sentenced to prison for this gruesome murder…

Years later, Kindaichi and Miyuki are roped into taking Miyuki’s cousin’s tickets to the screen testing of a soon-to-open resort, which itself is also a competition to determine who will receive the resort’s immense membership free of five-million yen! And it is at this resort that bodies start to show up, each killed with an axe before having their faces cut off, supposedly killed by a recently-escaped “Jason”…

This story epitomizes my central issue with this manga: despite the stories being four times as long as Detective Conan cases on average, you’re really getting half the mystery plot and a quarter of the cluing. This is especially exasperated by the fact that every case is a serial killing (typically involving three victims) and in each of the stories only one of the murders really contributes to the mystery plot. The other two are either committed to supplement the trick of the first murder, or for ultimately no reason and are usually forgotten aside from providing a motive. As a consequence, you get clues that only exist in respect to the one murder, and the other two tend to be long time-fillers that have to happen before Kindaichi can figure out the mystery (for some reason?). The result is that the stories often feel thinly plotted and sparsely-clued, not adequately taking advantage of the standardized length of the plots, and this story is the worst example of that! Especially since you’d need to have your own face cut off not to figure the mystery out…

One thing I did like, the movie motif does come back, as the motive relates to a traumatic event in the characters’ pasts involving an “unsinkable ship” which does, in fact, sink. This is of course a reference to the film Titanic. It’s an underplayed part of the story, but I appreciate this touch of thematic cohesion… It’s still quite a bad story though.

“The Santa Slayings”

At the Hotel Europa, a troupe of actors are preparing to put on a mystery drama, in spite of recent death threats against the unlikable and grouchy head actress. It only stands to reason that, despite the heavy police presence, the lead actress manages to get herself murdered by potassium cyanide in the wine she drank as part of the production…

This one is a pretty standard theatrical mystery, but to its benefit it is one of the tighter mysteries in the series. The tricks involving the central murder of poison are ludicrously cheap and obvious, sadly, and the locked-room murder that gets committed later is pretty obvious, pulling from a well of standard mystery tricks that anyone who has read a mystery story before will likely immediately identify as the solution. There is a double-edged bend to the theatrical murder that I enjoy, especially with how it’s weaponized against the killer, but it’s all standard, average fare.

What kills “The Santa Slayings”, however, is its attempt to give the killer a tragic backstory. The backstory is unearned, essentially un-clued except by one of the most ridiculous visual clues in the medium, and entirely ludicrous. It’s such a huge damper on the story, and the killer explaining it takes up a third of the story!

Oh yeah, and there’s something involving a drug-dealing Santa, which thematically has nothing to do with the story around it and sticks out like a bizarre red thumb. Not very good.

“No Noose is Good Noose”

The students and faculty at a preparatory school have ceased to be surprised when someone commits suicide on the premises. In two years alone, more than two dozen students have hung themselves somewhere in the school. It has since been merely written off as a curse of the school and treated as an expected part of everyday life. However, when chickens start being cut up and hung around school, with threatening messages being left around, the school’s mathematics teacher Yoko Asano is the prime suspect thanks to a series of rumors. She’s only finally arrested when she’s found inside of a locked-and-sealed room with the hanging body of a student…

In a better series, this story wouldn’t stand-out at all, but it’s easily the best Kindaichi case we’ve seen so far! What this story essentially turns on is an Agatha Christie-styled gambit with the addition of a locked-room mystery with its own false solution, and a somewhat obvious alibi trick. While individually these two tricks aren’t even close to being impressive, still essentially being two very old dodges everyone should recognize immediately, it was surprising to see them combined in an actually incredibly smart way to create a surprisingly tight murder plot. The clues also make brilliant use of the school setting, with its alibi plot using a class schedule in place of a Croftsian time table, and things like test sheets becoming actual clues in the mystery — Kindaichi even lays a trap for the killer using a school exam!

In a void this isn’t a great story, as it’s still quite obvious and not totally inspired, but it has some fun with the school setting to generate some creative clues, and the combination of two age-old dodges into a surprisingly dense plot make “No Noose is Good Noose” the most decent Kindaichi case thus far… Gives me hope for what’s to come!

Two quite bad stories and two pretty… decent ones fill out this portion of The Kindaichi Case Files, which actually drops us off near the middle point of the original File series. It really is hard to find so many different ways to say “this story reuses old concepts with little originality, and is therefore quite obvious”. Early Kindaichi is kind of hard to review, because it really is a lot of stories that are underwhelming in similar ways. I know the series improves though, and I definitely look forward to it…!

This review has a lot less production value than my typical Detective Conan reviews, and there’s a reason for that — Conan volumes are written with three stories in mind, so the format lends itself to one post dedicated to three or so stories. But since I’m compressing four reviews into one post, it’s a bit harder to do… I was considering turning this into a running format for these reviews, but I decided against it, and will return to reviewing each story as if it were a novel with the next story, “The Headless Samurai”.

And, as always, rounding everything out with new rankings…

  1. No Noose is Good Noose (Series 1: File, Case 8)
  2. Smoke and Mirrors (Series 1: File, Case 4)
  3. The Opera House Murder Case (Series 1: File, Case 1)
  4. The Santa Slayings (Series 1: File, Case 7)
  5. Death TV (Series 1: File, Case 3)
  6. The Legend of Lake Hiren (Series 1: File, Case 6)

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.

Detective Conan Volume 15 (1996-1997) by Gosho Aoyama

(*Note, although this is the fifteenth 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)

When I initially set out to review and rank every single mystery in the vast multimedia Detective Conan franchise (of which there are nearly, or more than, 1000), I declared it’d only take me a few months. That was eight months ago. I repeat, there are around 1000 individual mystery stories in the Detective Conan franchise, and in eight months I’ve only managed to cover, starting with this post, a little over 40 of them. Initially, the project was blowing by at a breakneck pace, and I released ten of these posts in a single night, but somehow (I couldn’t imagine how) I’ve already started to burn-out on the series a little.

If I were only reading the stories, I could probably have completed the whole franchise by now. But I have to read the stories, manage my spreadsheet, do two write-ups on each series, compare my feelings on the stories to every other story in the franchise (an increasingly impossible task as I have to keep my opinions on 40, 50, 60, 100, 200, 500, 1000 different, individual stories sorted at all times), and then write these reviews! Somehow I thought that ranking 1000 stories would be an easy and relatively quick task…

But then I also have the curse of having my reactions to stories laid out before me, neatly enumerated and color-coded, and it makes me worry… For those of you who aren’t familiar with the rest of the review series, I rank every Detective Conan story (with the intent of giving new-comers a guided to-read list for the good mysteries) and sort them into categories “Great”, “Good”, “Average”, “Mediocre”, and “Bad”. I’ve noticed that a lot of stories have gone into Average and Good lately, but a lot less are going into Great than previously. Were my early reviews biased by the surrounding stories not being very good? Or are my new reviews biased by me tiring on the franchise? Is the series getting worse or is my ability to enjoy the stories whittling away? At some point, in a project like this, it’s hard to separate where my issues begin and the series’ issues end.

…I’m not sure what my point in all this is, but that all being said, I do want to clarify that I do enjoy the series and I want for people to be able to start reading it in the western mystery community. This project to create the World’s First and Most Comprehensive Detective Conan Reading Guide for Lovers of Mysteries will persist, as I do enjoy having it as a recurring feature of my blog. I hope that the few of you who keep up with my adventures in Detective Conan enjoy this as well, and I hope I can help some people get into this franchise and other Japanese mystery series as well.

Onto the volume!

Casebook 40 – TWO-MIX Kidnapping Case (Chapters 4-6) sees the Junior Detective League at a concert for the famous musical duo TWO-MIX. Though honored to meet half of the duo they love so much, the team being kidnapped ruins the festivities. The kidnappers hold TWO-MIX for a very bizarre ransom: if they don’t get a cassette tape, they will murder the musicians!

Though the question of “why would kidnappers bother holding a musical duo to ransom a cassette tape” is really interesting, at a certain point in the story the implications of the cassette tape and a song’s lyrics become fairly obvious. In a lot of ways, this resembles a typical Junior Detective League code-cracker, but it’s pretty simple and not too obtuse while still being fairly clever. Also the best of the kidnapping stories we’ve gotten so far, not at all a bad story to open with.

In Casebook 41 – The Loan Shark Murder Case (Chapters 7-9), Richard invites a loan shark for a game of mahjong, but when he doesn’t arrive for thirty minutes the group gets concerned! They soon walk to his office building to bring him over to the game, but upon investigating his offices, the group finds the loan shark poisoned to death! Worse yet, he’s inside of his personal office room, with his doors and windows locked from the inside and no clear way for the poison to get into the room! Once they find that the victim momentarily left the locked-room, they investigate the rest of the building but could still find no possible way for the poison to have gotten on his hands, making this an entirely impossible crime…

TomCat over at Beneath the Stains of Time called this one of his favorite Detective Conan impossible crimes. For me, it certainly had that potential, but the story does one little thing that ruins the impact of the solution and renders it only about half of what I think it could’ve been. Immediately expanding the scope of the impossible crime to “the victim touched something in the WHOLE OFFICE BUILDING to get poisoned, but how?” ends up reducing the solution to nothing more than “what predictable trait can the killer exploit to transfer poison to the victim’s hand” in a way that closely resembles an earlier impossible poisoning with a similar set-up and solution. In my opinion, the fact that the killer left the central locked-room is something that should’ve been saved for the denouement — it’s too clever an inversion of the problem of a locked-room murder to be squandered on being the set-up, instead of the trick. The mechanics of this one are good enough, but to call it an out-and-out locked-room mystery classic? I’m not so sure…

The volume rounds out with the feature-length story, Casebook 42 – Bonds of Fire Murder Case (Volumes 15-16, Chapters 10-3), in which Dosan Nagato, head of a financial consulting company, invites the Moore and Hartwell detective families to his home under the pretenses of requesting that they search for and discover his elementary school sweetheart. Among the family is Hideomi, the bandaged son of Dosan who is engaged to a young woman named Miyuki — Miyuki reveals that Hideomi was burned long ago, and the two of them are connected by “a destiny made of fire…”, as Hideomi saved her from the very same fire!

A celebration is held! Afterwards, as the gang is getting ready to retire for the night, Dosan’s other son Mitsuaki calls his father’s room, screaming that Hideomi is going to stab him and that he’s now walking towards the balcony! The party all run to the balcony to see the bandaged Hideomi covered in blood and holding a knife in his mouth.

This shocking sight spurs the family — except for Miyuiki, staying behind to protect her sleeping father — into action! By the time they were able to burst into the locked room, however, Hideomi had already climbed down from the balcony by a hook-rope… and Mitsuaki was pushed from the balcony, impaled on the spike-topped fence below.

More evidence lines up clearly implicating Hideomi in the murder. However, not entirely convinced, Harley and Conan start to investigate together. Finally, Harley reveals to Conan that the real reason Harley was summoned to the house that night was to investigate the sounds of running footsteps and thuds that Dosan had been hearing every night for quite some time. This leads the two to realize that this murder was premeditated, as the killer was clearly rehearsing his crime!

During further investigation, Miyuki gets into a fight with Nobuko, the eldest child and daughter of the Nagato fight. Nobuko slaps Miyuki, causing her to drop her pen into the fountain, which leads to the discover of the corpse of Hideomi, with rocks in his pockets along with a suicide note…

While initially the suspects reject the possibility of Hideomi committing suicide, his time of death is discovered to have been shortly after the murder of Mitsuaki… when every single character’s location was perfectly accounted for… Furthermore, the suicide note in Hideomi’s pocket was clearly written by his own hand, and there was no time to force him to write a fake! The only reasonable assumption with all of this evidence is that, after committing the murder of Mitsuaki, Hideomi took to the fountain whereupon he drowned himself…

This is a great story! While certain parts of the scheme are a tad obvious, the eventual resolution still makes this one of the best-hidden killers of Detective Conan so far! This story is loaded with lots of neat misdirection, and very smart clues. An aspect of Detective Conan — and, broadly, Japanese detective fiction — that is unique to itself is the killer rehearsing their own murder plot, thereby turning the rehearsal itself into a meaningful clues within the story. Not only does it make the unlikeliness of the killer’s plan working out easier to digest, it also creates new, novel types of clues that are unique to a story where the killer had to practice their crime.

The killer’s motive and the backstory of the case is also one of the better-foreshadowed in the franchise, being touching and melodramatic. The ending references one of the most well-regarded classic cases of Detective Conan as a source of trauma for Conan, who considers himself worse than a murderer for using his deductions to bully a culprit into committing suicide, making this a moving as well as neat piece of continuity and character development…

If this story is just a little less brilliant or inspired than some other stories, it makes up for it with a genuinely surprising and well-handled killer and a beautiful ending…

I gave some thought to my earlier dilemma I laid out at the beginning of the post. Where do my issues end and Detective Conan‘s begin? I wondered if maybe there weren’t any issues at all… I only paid attention to how infrequently stories ended up being “great” compared to a little earlier in the franchise, but something I neglected to pay attention to was how infrequently stories also ended up in “bad” compared to earlier in the franchise as well. As the stories go on, it’s more common for the cases to end up in “mediocre”, “average”, or “good”. It isn’t that the series has unilaterally gotten worse, it’s just that I’m seeing a statistical inevitability — the average story will be closer to average quality, and it is by necessity that there will be less extremes in quality going both ways.

Another great volume on the heels of a few less-than-great-ones made me realize that to expect across-the-board consistently good stories, even in a series I like, when there’s simply so much content, is unreasonable — there will be fluctuations, but also there will always be a home for Detective Conan in my heart as we return to these positive experiences. The inconsistency is the very point of this series — there will be occasional dips, rises, plateaus, stutters, nosedives, and up-shoots in quality. I’m putting up with the nightmare of the unpredictability of hundreds of stories so you don’t have to. I’m happy to say I’ve found my spark to keep working on the project again after a minor dilemma forced a hiatus.

Enough of the melodrama, though, onwards and upwards, and on to the updated ranking!

  1. ————THE GREAT————
    Moonlight Sonata (CB#18 V7 C2-7)
  2. Tengu Murder (CB#30 V11 C8-10)
  3. Art Collector (CB#15 V6 C2-5)
  4. Tenkaichi Festival (CB#17 V6-7 C9-1)
  5. TV Station (CB$28 V11 C2-4)
  6. Bandaged Man (CB#12 V5 C1-5)
  7. Night Baron (CB#20 V8 C2-7)
  8. Wealthy Daughter (CB#24 V9-10 C7-1)
  9. Bonds of Fire (CB#42 V15-16, C10-3)
  10. ————THE GOOD————
    Poisoned Bride (CB#21 V8 C8-10)
  11. Art Museum Owner (CB#9 V4 C1-3)
  12. Elementary School Teacher (CB#39 V14-15 C9-3)
  13. Gomera (CB#36 V13 C8-10)
  14. TWO-MIX (CV#40 V15 C4-6)
  15. Library Employee Murder Case (CB#26 V10 C6-8)
  16. ————THE DECENT————
  17. Kogoro Richard’s Reunion (CB#23 V9 C4-6)
  18. Strange Shadow (CB#4 V2 C1-3)
  19. Loan Shark (CB#41 V15 C7-9)
  20. LEX Vocalist (CB#13 V6 C6-9)
  21. Diplomat Murder Case (CB#25 V10 C 2-6)
  22. Holmes Enthusiast (CB#33 V12-13 C 7-1)
  23. Suspicious Uncle (CB#38 V14 C4-8)
  24. Illustrator’s Assistant (CB#35 V13 C 5-7)
  25. Mantendo Bombing (CB#32 V7 C4-6)
  26. Hatamoto Murder (CB#7 V3 C1-6)
  27. ————THE MEDIOCRE————
    Triplets (CB#34 V13 C2-4)
  28. Shinkansen Bombing (CB#10 V4, C4-6)
  29. Conan Kidnapping (CB#14 V5-6 C10-1)
  30. Medical Professor (CB#27 V10-11 C9-1)
  31. Haunted Mansion Case (CB#6 V2, C8-10)
  32. Idol Locked-Room (CB#3 V1, C6-9)
  33. Roller Coaster (CB#1 V1 C1)
  34. ————THE BAD————
    Magician’s Suicide (CB#37 V14 C1-3)
  35. Moon, Star, Sun (CB#31 V12 C1-3)
  36. Soccer Brother (CB#19 V7-8 C8-1)
  37. Monthly Presents (CB#8 V3 C7-10)
  38. Twin Brothers (CB#16 V6 C6-8)
  39. President’s Daughter (CB#2 V1, C2-5)
  40. Billion Yen (CB#5 V2 C4-7)
  41. Coffee Shop (CB#29 V11 C5-7)
  42. ORO (CB#11 V4 C7-9)
  43. Ayumi Kidnapping (CB#22 V9 C-13)