Top 15 Favorite Impossible Crimes – Revision 0

I’ve never liked making “top favorite” lists in genres where I am so painfully aware of how little I’ve experienced in contrast to how much of it still exists waiting for me. Making a list of my favorite impossible crime novels specifically felt impossible because I’m just so, so, so aware of how many likely very good locked-room mysteries are sitting in my to-be-read pile right now. It’s worse, in fact, since I’ve started studying Japanese and have become more aware of a whole new world of obviously brilliant mystery novels. My personal horizon is so narrow, but the potential is so broad and it makes me feel like any list I make will come off as pedestrian. That’s why I’ve labeled this “revision 0”; I’m confident that by this time in 2023 the list will look immensely different. Maybe 33% of the entire list will be traded out by that time, I’m sure, and there will be at least one revision

This list is media non-specific. Television, movies, video games, comics may all apply. This is also why I’ve also settled on 15, rather than 10, because in the making of this list I realized that it was hyper-dominated by locked-room mysteries from Japanese novels and non-novel media, and I wanted to make some room for good, accessible, western media too. I’ll also only include one full entry from an author, including honorable mentions if necessary. Having qualified my list and the title of the post, my top 15 favorite impossible crimes, in no particular order, are…


Death of Jezebel – Christianna Brand (1949)

Anyone who has ever spoken to me will not be surprised by this being my immediate first inclusion on a list of favorite impossible crimes. Not only is Death of Jezebel my favorite Christianna Brand novel, not only is it my favorite impossible crime novel, it’s simply my favorite Golden Age mystery novel ever written. Christianna Brand is in top-form at demonstrating her ability to build up entire false narratives and hoodwink you into them, to bait the audience into believing things without ever really saying or doing anything. A masterclass in misdirection, the murder of a woman in a locked-and-guarded tower during a play also features multiple grand mechanical and technical tricks that are clever, novel, and macabre. One of four Brand masterpieces that I think even people with no interest in impossible crimes should give a chance.

The Moai Island Puzzle – Arisu Arisugawa (1989), trans. Ho-Ling Wong (2016)

The impossible shooting that occurs in this novel is a very strong alibi trick, but as good as it is this element of the story is only a small part of what makes The Moai Island Puzzle so strong a contender for fans of mysteries-as-a-puzzle. Puzzles buried within ciphers wrapped within riddles and tied-up with lateral thinking problems are the name of the game with this novel that celebrates puzzles as almost like an artform. A brilliantly intriguing and cerebral mystery novel.

Whistle Up the Devil – Derek Smith (1953)

Cringe-inducing romance and overly-convoluted climax aside, this is a homerun of an impossible crime novel. The principle murder of a man conducting a ceremony within a supposedly haunted room is just a good offering, with a complex arrangement of what still amounts to a quick series of little tricks we’ve all seen before, obvious bits and pieces and sleights of hand, but nonetheless enjoyably convoluted. What elevates this novel from good to fantastic is the knee-slapping devious and blastedly simple alibi trick employed in the secondary murder in a police station that nobody ever walked into or out of, aside from two men who were in each other’s view for every point of time that mattered. This short story-length masterpiece hiding in an otherwise just-above-average impossible crime makes this well-worth reading.

Here I want to give a quick honorable mention to Derek Smith’s other novel, Come to Paddington Fair, which if you were to ask me probably has a more brilliantly-plotted and conceived central murder, and a much more unique trick. I neglect to mention it as a proper entry on the list, because I felt like when you realized that coincidence doesn’t exist in a deliberately-plotted world the beginning of the story spoils the resolution in such a way that it makes much of the ensuing investigation feel redundant. Come to Paddington Fair is a fantastic idea, but unfortunately relies so majorly on an early Christie-esque dodge that, if you’re not hoodwinked by it, ends up toppling the whole story and every misdirection that comes after it. I noticed the initial dodge immediately, and pieced together the rest of the plot before the story had even hit its stride, and that did dock a few points for me. I still heavily recommend it, because while I feel like it spoils itself by being too clever by half, I think I’d always prefer a too-clever-for-itself story to its dull counterpart any day — it’s novel, unique, and a very intelligently plotted crime novel with a very innovative take on how to establish an impossible crime.

Murder in the Crooked HouseSōji Shimada (1982), trans. Louise Heal Kawai (2019)

Sōji Shimada is the Japanese locked-room murder, well known for his output of well over 50 novels featuring locked-rooms and other various impossible murders. His other major impossible crime offering, The Tokyo Zodiac Murders, which is also available in English is much more well-known and equally deserving of praise for its brilliance and grandiosity of mechanical scale, but I just adore Murder in the Crooked House. Sōji Shimada, I feel, is an author you’ll either adore or hate. His settings and solutions are brilliant and original, but also stretch credulity and highlight above anything else the puzzle. As a sheer lateral thinking exercise, Murder in the Crooked House contains one of the best impossible crimes in any novel ever, even if I can’t confidently say it’s one of the best novels containing an impossible crime. It is wholly original, complex, intricately-plotted, and taut, and a fantastic puzzle from end to end with a fantastic method for committing murder in a triple-locked room that more than makes up for its obvious culprit.

Time to Kill – Roger Ormerod (1974)

Roger Ormerod is an author who wrote well after the Golden Age had ended. Despite this, his novels had all of the fairly-clued plotting and cerebral misdirection and alibi tricks as a novel from the 1930s, blended with the aesthetic of a gritty contemporary PI novel. His debut novel is an impossible alibi problem — from the moment the murder is committed, we know who the killer is, but there’s one problem: the killer has an airtight alibi provided by the narrator himself and we have no idea how he committed this murder under such impossible-for-him circumstances. I used to think that there were only three basic explanations for the impossible alibi, but Time to Kill offers a fourth possibility that to this day is still my favorite explanation for this particular problem. It perfectly sets up Ormerod’s thorough and educated understanding of Golden Age-styled alibi trickery almost in the style of Christopher Bush — a lost disciple of the puzzle mystery that more people should be seeking out.

Till Death Do Us Part – John Dickson Carr (1944)

Despite being a self-styled disciple of the impossible crime problem, I’m actually incredibly ashamed to admit that my reading into John Dickson Carr’s oeuvre is very limited! My first review on this blog was me airing out how little I enjoyed The Case of the Constant Suicides. Aside from that, I’ve only read a small handful of specially-recommended Carrs, only around 10 I think. I’ve been so caught-up in reading other impossible crime novels that I’ve neglected to honor the master himself! Let this be a wake-up call to me to get back to Carr…

Till Death Do Us Part is absolutely the most brilliant locked-room conceived by Carr that I’ve read. Preceded by expectation, nobody needs to know what I have to say about this book. It’s damnably simple and clever, the puzzle is brilliantly conceived, the cluing clever and well-done.

Jonathan Creek (Season 1 Episode 2) “Jack in the Box” – David Renwick (1997)

Jonathan Creek is a late 90’s-early 2000s BBC drama featuring the titular magician’s assistant who uses his knowledge of stage illusions to solve locked-room murders and impossible crimes. I think the series is incredibly hit-or-miss, containing both some of my favorite and least favorite locked-room mysteries ever conceived, and it might be a little worrying that in Jonathan Creek‘s 17 year run I think the show peaked in its second episode ever…

There are more than a small handful of fantastic impossible crimes in this series, actually. The Christmas special “Black Canary”, the first episode of season two “Danse Macabre” are both also great, but “Jack in the Box” really perfected the formula right out of the gate with a satisfying and original explanation to the shooting of a man in a locked-and-sealed bunker that entirely inverts the very premise of a locked-room murder as a question of how the killer escaped from the room.

The Great Ace Attorney 2: The Resolve of Ryūnosuke Naruhodō (Case 3)
“The Return of the Great Departed Soul” – Shū Takumi (2017)

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney is a Japanese mystery video game series, one game of which I’ve reviewed on this blog. In Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney and all of its subsequent spinoff titles, the player takes on the role of a lawyer tasked with proving the innocence of clients falsely accused of murder. Using a point-and-click interface, the player investigates crime scenes, interviews wacky witnesses and suspects, and collects evidence. The next day, the player goes to court and is tasked with cross-examining witnesses who are either grossly mistaken about what they saw or hell-bent on seeing your client behind bars and deliberately lying. Through a series of simple question prompts, the player finds lies in testimony statements, presents evidence to expose the lies, and then is loosely-guided on a series of Ellery Queen-esque sequences of deductions and logic where the player explains why the lie was told or the mistake was made and then what the truth of the situation is. By the end of every case, the real killer is discovered and your client is saved from wrongful imprisonment!

In the spinoff series The Great Ace Attorney the format is shaken up by placing the player in the role of Phoenix Wright’s ancestor Ryūnosuke Naruhodō, a Japanese lawyer who teams up with the Great Detective Herlock Sholmes in Victorian London. The third case of the second game of this particular series is a very unique take on the impossible crime problem, inspiring one of my 15 categories of impossible crimes — the impossible technology problem!

Your client is a scientist who was presenting an instantaneous kinesis machine, a piece of technology that is capable of molecularly dissembling any human subject and then reassembling them somewhere else, allowing them to teleport from one location to another in the blink of an eye! Unfortunately, during the presentation, his assistant and test subject was teleported to the wrong location. While he was meant to be transported to the INSIDE of a nearby glass tower, the test subject was instead manifested a few dozen feet in the air above the tower, whereupon he fell through the walls of the tower. The police were summoned only to find the man stabbed to death by a screwdriver through the heart. Since the tower was totally inaccessible to anyone until the police arrived, it’s determined that the only person who could’ve committed this murder is your client, who must’ve stabbed the victim before teleporting him away. In order to prove your client’s innocence, you need to prove how the teleportation could’ve been faked! But how else can you explain a man moving hundreds of feet into the air in less than a second…

The solution to the teleportation isn’t at all difficult to figure out, but there’s a second and third puzzle hiding in the background of this case that makes it brilliant. The true explanation for the murder when you get past the impossible problem is genuinely shocking, and there are quite a few plot threads that connect this murder to an ages-old serial killing that the rest of the game’s narrative is concerned with. A brilliantly innovative presentation of impossible crimes, the method of connecting this subplot to the overarching narrative of the game is a masterstroke of writing, and a somewhat obvious impossible solution doesn’t stop the mystery from offering up some genuine surprises. One of the best cases from a very, very good mystery series.

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

One of the most defining features of the shin-honkaku movement that I feel like westerners don’t see from just the translations we get from Vertigo Pushkin and Locked Room International is the amount of authors who love to experiment with form, style, and genre without betraying the underlying and ever-present element of a complex, cerebral puzzle. Hybrid mysteries, the sort we get from Isaac Asimov’s sci-fi mysteries like The Cave of Steel, are even more present in modern Japanese mystery writing than they ever were over here! There are authentically Golden Age-styled mysteries written to take place within the confines of a world that operates under the rules of a fantasy roleplaying video game, or mysteries set within fantasy worlds. There’s a short story collection about a group of murderers who share stories of their exploits over an internet board and every story is a different member of the board. And then there’s Masahiro Imamura’s breakout hybrid mystery, Death Among the Undead, which combines the locked-room mystery with a zombie apocalypse!

Death Among the Undead is a brilliant piece of work with three absolutely stunning impossible crimes that all three offer up entirely novel and unique explanations to the problem of murders committed in locked-rooms either provided by or enhanced by the presence of a horde of brain-eating undead! This novel is an absolute jaw-dropper of plotting genius that can confidently stand with its head held high among any classic of the genre. It is no less a classic, puzzle-driven impossible crime story for the presence of zombies — in fact, I’d say it’s even more so, as the rigid rules that the zombies abide by offer an extra layer of complexity and reasoning. Simply fantastic.

Death in the House of Rain – Szu-Yen Lin (2006) trans. (2017)

Death in the House of Rain is a dangerous impossible crime novel, because its an idea that I feel like could’ve easily failed. It doesn’t succeed on the strength of its core idea alone, but on the framing of its idea through the personification of fate and fortune as almost its own character, which arguably is the true killer, above anyone else who might’ve committed murder in the story. The solutions to the three first disparate locked-room murders are all connected by a single thread that is very devious and devilishly simple, brimming with an original idea whose reliance on coincidence could’ve easily failed if not for the underlying theme of fortune. It’s, in fact, an idea I proposed in my List of 50 Locked-Room Solutions which people often privately criticized me for because no impossible crime existed which could claim to use the solution, so I’ll admit I’m a little biased from reading this book and getting that feeling of aha! I told you!.

A fourth impossible crime brilliantly rises from the resolution of the previous three as a connecting thread, and it’s just as good as you could hope. This novel is fantastic, but easily could’ve not been.

The Kindaichi Case Files Shin (Case 3) “The Prison Prep School Murder Case” – Seimaru Amagi (2006)

I actually know very little about the Kindaichi Case Files franchise or its sister series Detective School Q, having only organically read one or two mysteries from each of them. They weren’t bad at all, mind you! Honorable mention to Detective School Q‘s first proper murder mystery for being blindingly brilliant, actually! However, I was directed to this particular case by TomCat’s blog post on this very same topic, and reading it honestly reawoke my interest in the two franchises! This is ingenuity distilled into its purest form, plain and simple, with a grand, brilliant, and complex impossible alibi trick at the heart of it.

Both Kindaichi Case Files and Detective School Q are classic examples of the locked-room mystery puzzle plot in the realms of anime/manga series, and having read one of the best impossible crime stories of all time by sheer chance in these series I can easily recommend anyone and everyone to seek this series out and read it if they have even a tiny interest in locked-room mysteries. John Dickson Carr would be proud of these two detective series. I read this case in Japanese in the manga, but the anime adaptation is available in English for anyone curious!

Case Closed/Detective Conan (Anime-original, Episodes 603-605)
The Séance’s Double Locked Room Mystery Case – Gosho Aoyama

Detective Conan, as I’ve mentioned on my post about the franchise, contains many classics of basically any form of Golden Age-styled plotting you can think of. Alibi problems, locked-room mysteries, inverted mysteries, Detective Conan could probably make a top 10 list of any of them. Between both the manga and the anime, Detective Conan has produced more than its fair share of strong impossible crimes, many of which could end up on a list like this. For anime-originals, honorable mention to The Cursed Mask Laughs Coldly, which I think is more inventive and innovative, but The Séance’s Double Locked Room Mystery Case narrowly won out for its intricate intertwining of two impossible crimes. A brilliant set of two locked-rooms that rely on each other for their solutions makes this case a stand-out for its uniqueness of plotting, and the solutions are nothing to sneeze at either, but trust me when I say there are probably at least seven other Detective Conan impossible crimes equally worth mentioning at some point or another…

“The Lure of the Green Door” by Rintarō Norizuki (1991) trans. Ho-Ling Wong (2014)

The standout story from international tour of impossible crimes, The Realm of the Impossible, “The Lure of the Green Door” is a locked-room mystery inspired by the premise of an old science fiction parable by English author H. G. Wells in which a man enters a green door to another world. In “The Lure of the Green Door”, a man is murdered in his locked-and-sealed study with a green door that isn’t locked but mysteriously cannot be opened… The solution is a physical trick that plays on an old concept, but it’s a startling unique take on the concept that I’m proud to have solved ahead of time. The scale of the solution is also great without detracting from the elegance of the trick! A masterpiece of the short-form locked-room mystery.

“The Clown in the Tunnel” by Tetsuya Ayukawa (1958) trans. Ho-Ling Wong (2020)

A clown commits a murder, is seen running into a tunnel, and then vanishes before he can appear from the other side!

Tetsuya Ayukawa is a Japanese author famous for crossing wires between impossible crimes and alibi problems. As the introduction to the The Red Locked-Room collection notes, Ayukawa often uses alibi tricks to establish impossible crimes, and locked-room tricks to establish alibis. This gimmick very often lends itself to old tricks being applied in unique, novel, and stunning ways, and “The Clown in the Tunnel” is the best example of this! An absolute stunning example of how an alibi trick can lend itself to an impossible disappearance, and one of the best stories from a very good collection.

“The Ginza Ghost” – Ōsaka Keikichi (1936) trans. Ho-Ling Wong (2017)

The Ginza Ghost is a fantastic collection of impossible crimes from early Japanese crime writer Ōsaka Keikichi. Despite it existing in the early eras of the honkaku school of plotting, this collection shows off an author who demonstrates marked ingenuity and genius, with ideas that are still novel nearly 90 years in the future. The best story in the collection is easily the title story, “The Ginza Ghost”, which features a murder inside of a locked tobacco shop where a woman appears to have killed another and then herself — however, mysteriously, the murderer appears to have died significantly before her victim, suggesting the presence of a ghost who committed the crime… Ordinarily, I don’t enjoy impossible crimes that rely so centrally on an accident for the illusion to function — I’m a sucker for cartoonishly intelligent criminal geniuses — but the accident in this case is so elegant, simple, and brilliantly unique that it’s impossible not to love it.


And there you have it, my 15 favorite locked-room mysteries, which is 66.6% Japanese, quite a few of which aren’t even from novels. I’m sure Ho-Ling doesn’t mind the free publicity. I don’t mind to seem biased, but there are just so many strong and ingeniously plotted mysteries in the Japanese honkaku and shin-honkaku schools of mystery writing… This list will definitely not last long, but I enjoyed making it.

Detective Conan Volume 11 (1996) by Gosho Aoyama

(*Note, although this is the eleventh 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)

Volume 10 of Detective Conan wasn’t the best of the volumes we had so far, but a far shot from the average quality we were getting earlier on in the series. While its third story was hurt significantly by a Japanese-centric clue, it was still absolutely ingenious. It also had the best Junior Detective League story so far in it, as well as a pretty decent locked-room mystery. Volume 11 comes with a good recommendation from Mr. Sands of Time himself, TomCat, boasting what he considers one of his favorite locked-room mysteries in the entire franchise…


Richard Moore is invited to a detective-themed talkshow, on which he’s asked to give a dissertation to the people on the work he does in solving murders. He gives a talk about the security features of cellular phones, and the show cuts to a murder mystery skit that the live studio audience has a chance to figure out themselves… During this skit the host of the show, Takashi Matsuo, calls his producer Michihiko Suwa and threatens to jump off of the roof. Suwa opens the window to the conference room in which he’s waiting to tell him to stop, and is immediately shot.

Screenshot from the anime series and provided by Detective Conan World wiki

After the show, Suwa’s body is found inside of the conference room. Conan immediately suspects the host Matsuo, but there’s one problem: in order to get from the stage to the conference room would take nearly three times as long as the time Matsuo was offered, offering him an airtight alibi. Nonetheless, Conan doggedly sticks to his lead, and attempts to prove Matsuo’s guilt in Casebook 28 – The TV Station Murder Case (Chapters 2-4).

The TV Station Murder Case is another hum-dinger of an inverted mystery. Very similarly to the last inverted mystery, The Tenkaichi Fire Festival Murder Case (Casebook 17, Volumes 6-7 Chapters 9-1), this mystery has an element of howdunit. We do know who the killer is, and we do know roughly what their plan is, as we see it conducted from their perspective; however, we do not know how Matsuo managed to get from the stage to the conference room to commit the murder in the time allotted to him. The explanation is perhaps a little less inspired than in Tenkaichi, and is very unreliable in how it turns on the victim performing a very specific action in a very specific way, but it’s nonetheless fun and doesn’t detract from the overall experience in any meaningful way.

The way the killer is caught, like in the previous inverted mystery, is clever, but this story really shines in its denouement — Conan’s deductions are aired to the world as part of the mystery-themed talkshow, and he’s cheered on by the show’s massive audience as he corners the killer. It’s an unbelievably fun denouement that wraps up an unbelievably fun story.

Casebook 29 – The Coffee Shop Murder Case (Chapters 5-7) has Conan with Ran at a coffee shop, waiting for an unknown person, but when a woman is found murdered in a locked stall in the restroom, Conan is able to reduce the suspect list to three people…

Screenshot from the anime series and provided by Detective Conan World wiki

I think this one is silly and just not very good. It’s a locked-ish room in presentation, since the mystery is “how could someone climb through the opening without getting covered in the victim’s blood”, but I think the trick used here, on top of not being very compelling, is just unreasonable and unnecessary in getting the desired effect. Maybe if I re-read this in the future I’d like it more, but I do not enjoy this mystery much at all as it stands. It’s just a killer

Conan gets helped by a lawyer who turns out to be Rachel’s mother, making it a plot-relevant story, unfortunately, so if you’re deep in the overarching Case Closed lore, then you’ll have to give this story a read.

Casebook 30 – The Tengu Murder Case (Chapters 8-10) has Conan and the Moores’ car breakdown outside of an old shrine where they’re taken in by monks. While there, they learn about a years-old murder that took place in that temple. A murder committed by a beast of Japanese legend, a Tengu… But upon probing into it, the Moores anger the head-monk, who tells them they will have to be on their way the very next day.

Screenshot from the anime series and provided by Detective Conan World wiki

Unfortunately, that night, the head monk is found killed in a way that resembles the old case… Strung up impossibly inside of a room dozens of feet high, fatally hanging from the ceiling beams. When it’s further proven that it’s nearly impossible for a human being to carry a body over those beams to hang him, it’s ruled that the death must be a suicide. But Conan is not convinced, and gets to work proving how the head monk could’ve been murdered!

Complaints that this was never proven to be an “impossible” crime and is more of a “wildly improbable” crime aside, this is an absolute whammy of an impossible crime! The eventual solution is one of those unreasonably high-scale mechanical solutions of the type you’d associate with Soji Shimada’s mysteries like The Murders in the Crooked House, and it is very inspired, if not a bit on the absurd side as well. I agree with TomCat’s prognosis that this story would only be tolerable in the form of a comicbook and would be a little hard to swallow as a novel written in the 19xx’s. Nonetheless, it was very satisfying, novel, and well-done, and easily one of the best stories in the series so far. It’s the first impossible crime in Detective Conan that I really feel strongly about.


Volume 11 has one of the worst stories we’ve seen so far, but it’s sandwiched between two of the absolute best. Since both fantastic stories start and conclude in this volume as well, I can easily recommend interested peoples find a copy for their bookshelves if they’re in the mood for a fantastic impossible crime and a fantastic inverted mystery. A fantastic volume and an easy recommendation.

  1. ————THE GOOD————
    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. Art Museum Owner (CB#9 V4 C1-3)
  10. Library Employee Murder Case (CB#26 V10 C6-8)
  11. ————THE DECENT————
    Poisoned Bride (CB#21 V8 C8-10)
  12. Kogoro Richard’s Reunion (CB#23 V9 C4-6)
  13. Strange Shadow (CB#4 V2 C1-3)
  14. Diplomat Murder Case (CB#25 V10 C 2-6)
  15. LEX Vocalist (CB#13 V6 C6-9)
  16. Hatamoto Murder (CB#7 V3 C1-6)
  17. Shinkansen Bombing (CB#10 V4, C4-6)
  18. Conan Kidnapping (CB#14 V5-6 C10-1)
  19. Medical Professor (CB#27 V10-11 C9-1)
  20. ————THE BAD————
    Haunted Mansion Case (CB#6 V2, C8-10)
  21. Idol Locked-Room (CB#3 V1, C6-9)
  22. Roller Coaster (CB#1 V1 C1)
  23. Soccer Brother (CB#19 V7-8 C8-1)
  24. Monthly Presents (CB#8 V3 C7-10)
  25. Twin Brothers (CB#16 V6 C6-8)
  26. President’s Daughter (CB#2 V1, C2-5)
  27. Billion Yen (CB#5 V2 C4-7)
  28. Coffee Shop (CB#29 V11 C5-7)
  29. ORO (CB#11 V4 C7-9)
  30. Ayumi Kidnapping (CB#22 V9 C-13)

On Some of the Best Mysteries Ever Written and the Puzzle of Why You’ve Never Read Them (+Detective Conan review series)

If I’m being entirely honest, there are certain things I don’t talk about much with the Golden Age mystery-reading side of my social sphere. Heck, I don’t even really talk the way with them the way I talk with anyone else I know. The problem is that I am painfully aware I am a 20 year old university student punching a bit above my belt by involving myself in a community whose youngest members are probably around twice my age at least. If past posts delving into my personal thoughts have proven anything, it’s that I have the world’s greatest inferiority complex, and the way I talk is usually colored by me trying to mask myself as an intellectual equal among people who nearly universally have more experience and education than myself. This also manifests in the form of me being pretty reserved with a lot of my other non-mystery hobbies that might be derided as “kiddish” or “immature” or outright “stupid”. Unfortunately, before delving into an upcoming long-running series/project I’ve undertaken, it’s going to require breaking the ice on some of that, and preparing a lot of you for it. So, what’s about to follow is somewhat of a biographical post, but I beg you to stay with me for a bit — this is a fun one, I promise.

I absolutely adore video games (yes, even the new ones you probably hate), cartoons (yes, even the new ones you probably hate), and sitcoms (yes, even the new ones you probably hate).

I’ve mentioned on this blog more than once that I do some of my own hobbyist writing of Golden Age-styled mysteries, but when I’m not writing I’m also probably drawing. My whole life, I’ve been deeply fascinated with animation and always wanted to become an artist, but my guardian wouldn’t let me, yelling at me that I’m “wasting my time on something I’ll obviously never be good at”. It wasn’t until just last year, in fact, now that I’m living in university housing, that I tried to foster my childhood dream of becoming an cartoon character artist, though all of that is really beside the point.

The point is why this matters. Well, as luck would have it, it was my fascination with cartoons that ended up turning me into a devotee of Golden Age mystery fiction. When I was young, one of my favorite cartoons was the Alvin and the Chipmunks show — the one that came out before the live-action/CGI movies. A favorite, yes, in spite of the fact that I only owned one DVD with four episodes from what many consider the worst season of the show. It was the show’s last season, which was comprised of about a dozen and a half pop culture/movie parodies. The episode I watched the most often was “Elementary, My Dear Simon”.

No points if you’ve guessed it, but this episode is a parody of Sherlock Holmes in which the lead character Alvin takes on the role of Sherlock Holmes, and his younger brother Simon takes on the role of Dr. John Watson. The two, together, traverse Victorian London, investigating a series of mysterious thefts in which every item stolen is trifling, worth nearly nothing. Now, this is an interesting set-up, but any mystery fans reading this… don’t bother watching the episode, it is not good, and the ending will frustrate you. But that did not matter to six year old me. I was a lonely kid who loved puzzles and riddles, and all that mattered was that feeling of seeing something like a puzzle play out in the form of a story. I had no sense of whether or not it was a good puzzle, just that it existing and was there.

Well, after falling in love with this show, I went on to other forms of mystery media geared towards kids. I owned every DVD of every movie and series of Scooby-Doo that existed when I was still into it. I watched them dozens of times each, some of them more than that.

I was hooked, but at the time I had no real awareness of the fact that this sort of thing I loved really, you know, existed in genre form. When I watched “grown-up” mysteries on television, they were always legal dramas like Law & Order, or true crime like Investigation Discovery, and none of them really appealed to me in the same slow-burn puzzle-piecing way that “Elementary, My Dear Watson” or Scooby-Doo had.

Well, fortunately for me, I didn’t just enjoy western cartoons, I also loved video games and Japanese anime.

When I was about 12 years old, my friends roped me into playing this silly-looking anime-styled game series called Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney. At first, I really didn’t want to play it — it’s a lawyer game, so it had to be boring, like Law & Order. But my friends are annoying persistent, and convinced me to give the game a shot. Immediately, I fell in love with the series. It is a dramatic, engaging tale of detection and logic in which, through very simple button prompts, the game invites you to make Ellery Queen-esque series of deductions to protect the lives of innocent people falsely accused of complex murders. You collect evidence, listen to witness testimony, expose lies through clues, and then through a series of question prompts you will solve the mystery by explaining why every lie was told and every mistake made. It was only after playing the game series through to the end that I immediately made a realization — these sorts of stories I want exist, en masse, and I can just go out and read them. It was Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney that inspired me to go out and buy my first detective novels, A Study in Scarlet, And Then There Were None, and The Mysterious Affair of Styles. And all of these stories were exactly like the mysteries in Ace Attorney! Finally, I said, I’m home.

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney‘s first entry is actually reviewed on my blog already, only for nobody to actually read it, dashing any intentions I had to review the others in this 10+ game series. That post’s lack of attention is, in fact, why I’m writing this post now. After all, some of you might’ve spotted a troubling detail: “Isaac, if you played this game nearly 9 years ago, why did you suddenly review it so recently?”. The answer, of course, being that I adore this franchise, and to this day the third game in the franchise (among others) boasts a few cases that I still consider some of the best mystery-writing and mystery-plotting in the whole genre. I was actually hoping that by writing a review, I could get the 600-odd people WordPress says visits my blog monthly to try this mystery series I love so much out.

The post has been read 33 times in the 12 months since I’ve written it.

Compare On 50 Locked Room Solutions of Our Own, which, despite its lack of comments, gets on average 150 views every single month, or my clearly-labelled April Fools post (which isn’t even that funny) which has gotten 350 views, over 1000% the Ace Attorney post’s yearly reads, in a week.

The point of this post isn’t to bitterly whine about that post not getting a lot of attention, though, so don’t worry about all of that. More, I want to air my thoughts a bit on why it didn’t.

In the “Golden Age Detection” Facebook group, I’ve seen a few pop culture mystery series that’ll presently remain unnamed get brought up. And people were angry. People had never even read these stories and they were angry, because people would dare compare Golden Age greats to this modern usurper, for no better reason than the modern work was animated. To quote nobody in particular, they said “I don’t need to read it to know there’s no way a cartoon could ever compare to the original”. Another time, when asked to name some of my aesthetically favorite surreal mysteries, I named a surreal case from a mystery game series that I really enjoyed, only to be met with “Laugh” reacts and mild derision for posting a video game. These are just two of a number of instances that I will not direct anyone to in the interest of not seeming like I’m trying to flame some stranger on the internet who has no bearing on me or my life.

Now, I for one have always believed that making rash judgments on things you’ve never experienced (within reason) is a fault. I’m sure many of you in theory agree with me, but might in practice still have this kneejerk, conservative aversion to the “less respectable” mediums. I believe the lack of attention video-game related posts and these attitudes I’ve seen openly expressed in the group are evidence enough to speculate on.

My theory has been that I will post about a mystery video game, earnestly enjoying it, and trying to spread the word and people might see that it is, in fact, a video game, and assume that it probably isn’t worth playing — they may even assume I didn’t like it — and merely pass the post by. Well, I’m beginning a bit of a large project soon, and in the interests of that going well, I felt it was important to make this post and the following shocking declaration:

Some of the most brilliant and emotionally-touching classically-/Golden Age-styled mystery plots ever conceived exist within the confines of video games and Japanese comic books (manga), and I believe turning your nose up at them will be doing yourself a disservice as a mystery-reader.

And I want to talk you into it. We’ve all probably read some shin-honkaku novels, right? Those modern, brilliant detective novels from Japan that beautifully represent Japan’s fascination with the form? To name a few, The Decagon House Murders by Yukito Ayatsuji, or The Moai Island Puzzle by Alice Arisugawa or Death Among the Undead by Masahiro Imamura. This shin-honkaku movement was majorly observed from the late 1980s to the early 2000s, and if you’ve loved any of those books from Locked Room International then I have some good news for you: many, many detective video games, cartoons, and comic book series from Japan are specifically inspired by or part of this very same shin-honkaku movement, as many of the biggest names in video game mysteries and comic mysteries popped up around the 90s and early 2000s.

This was so major, in fact, that some famous shin-honkaku writers in Japan openly credit these video games as direct inspirations. Westerners probably haven’t heard of him, but in Japan Takekuni Kitayama is not a small name. He is, in fact, a respected author of locked-room mysteries and impossible crimes, famous for his highly technical, mechanical trickery. One of his earliest novels, The “Clock Castle” Murder Case, was an award winner in Japan, earning the 24th Mephisto Prize. Kitayama has openly declared his fascination for another Japanese Golden Age-inspired video game series called Danganronpa.

Danganronpa is a series entirely about 15 talented high-school students who are trapped in Hope’s Peak Academy and instructed that in order to escape, one student must murder a classmate and successfully evade detection in the ensuing “Class Trial”. In spite of the teeny-bop dialogue, crass juvenile humor, and the jazz-punk aesthetic, every single one of the 18 murder mysteries written throughout the series’ three-game run are plotted wholly, entirely, and authentically like Golden Age/Honkaku classics, and similarly to Ace Attorney, the game has players solving the murders by collecting evidence, exposing lies, and then explaining lies through a varieties of quizzes/prompts. Kitayama was so enamored with the series, in fact, that he approached the developers and asked them if he would be allowed to write novels taking place inside of the Danganronpa fictional universe. What spawned from this agreement was a seven-novel-long prequel series following a major character from the first game named Kyoko Kirigiri, solving locked-room mysteries as part of a Detective Competition. So successful were these novels that when the third game in the series, Danganronpa V3, was developed, the creators commissioned novelist Kitayama as a co-writer who was majorly responsible for the game’s mystery plots.

The worlds of shin-honkaku mystery novel writing and video game/manga mystery writing were so inextricably bound that respected novelists were writing for video game series.

There are many more examples I could get into to make this point, such as the cross-contamination of ideas to and from popular Japanese mysteries series and Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, or the fact that one of the most famous mystery novelists ever, Soji Shimada, author of The Tokyo Zodiac Murders, sued comic series Kindaichi Case Files for wholesale plagiarizing his novel for one of their mysteries, forcing them to put a spoiler warning for his novel in all Japanese publications of the chapters where this plagiarism occurred. To get into all of the gems and warts of the shared world of video games and novels in Japanese detective fiction, however, would simply be diluting the point: this overlap exists, period, and that’s what matters.

Even in the most kiddish-seeming of Japanese mysteries series in video game and comic book form, writers share the same level of complexity, brilliance, and ingenuity as their novel counterparts for the very simply reason that they are cut from the same cloth. I believe that if you’ve read shin-honkaku novels, and you are clamoring for more translations while simultaneously turning your head away from any mention of video game mysteries or comic mysteries, I can’t find much sympathy for your desire to read more while you turn your nose up at the cornucopia of brilliant mysteries that are quite literally everything you’re asking for, and all for no better reason than you think their packaging is “too childish”.

Yes, a cartoon can compare to the original.

This whole post was not merely an idle exercise in writing a minor dissertation on the brilliance of Japanese mystery writing, though I will say that if I’ve at least convinced those among you to be a little more lax I can refer you to some fantastic Japanese mystery video games and manga and even help you get into them if you’d like. What’s more important is that cartoon I mentioned before. The one that earned ire from people who’ve never watched it.

Detective Conan.

Detective Conan is the quintessential Japanese detective comic series. I can’t speak from first-hand experience, but I feel comfortable saying that there probably isn’t a single mystery story produced in Japan since 1994 that doesn’t owe a little bit to Detective Conan‘s existence, as it is simply massive and the archetype of all things Golden Age mystery plotting.

Conceived by Gosho Aoyama, Detective Conan is a fantastical story about a teenager detective named Jimmy (Shinichi) Kudo who gets shrunken down into the body of an elementary schooler by an experimental chemical manufactured by a mysterious gang known simply as “The Organization”. On the protracted hunt for the group in order to return to his adult size, Jimmy is forced to adopt the alias of Conan Edogawa (taken from writers Arthur Conan Doyle and Edogawa Ranpo), and struggle to get his theories heard in hundreds of murder cases that he solves in spite of his small stature.

The silly premise is a byproduct of a bygone age during which Gosho Aoyama wanted to write child’s fiction, a period which can probably be singularly blamed for many “serious-minded” mystery readings passing the series up. It was at the behest of his editor (by the way, Japan has editors who specialize in classical mystery plotting) that Gosho Aoyama shift gears towards producing more mature, complex, adult-sized mystery stories (only, of course, still solved by a first grader…). And, naturally, nearly every case is some manner of plotting familiar to the Golden Age of Detection, both the English and Japanese ones.

And, I won’t pussyfoot around this. For what begins feeling like the world’s corniest kidtective story ever, Detective Conan goes on to produce dozens of what I can confidently say are the most devilishly clever mystery plots ever conceived in the entire history of the genre from any continent. Dozens of hidden classics of alibi problems, locked-room mysteries, and inverted mysteries are buried within the covers of this children’s series, and you’re not reading them!

The series is massive. Not just culturally, but I mean it is a quantifiably massive franchise in terms of just how much of it exists. Detective Conan spans comic book series, a Japanese animated television show, musicals, stage dramas, movies, novels, video games — probably ancient cave-writing, if you look hard enough. In the manga/comic alone, there are over 300 unique mystery stories. The anime television series has adapted nearly all of these, and produced over 300 more unique stories not present in the comic. Without even scratching the surface of this series you have nearly 700 mystery short stories already.

Now, if I’ve interested you with all of my comparisons to shin-honkaku novels, and then immediately scared you off again by throwing triple-digit figures at you… don’t worry! Editors and English professors beware, for after exactly 2834 words (by the end of this sentence) we’ve finally arrived at my thesis statement!

I am, for your benefit, re-reading/re-watching every single mystery story in the Detective Conan canon. All 700 and change. In the course of reading these, I will be keeping notes, and producing a comprehensive ranking of all of the stories read, that way you can know, based on my opinion, roughly how good each of the 700 mysteries are from the very worst one all the way to the very best one. I will also be, for convenience, telling you exactly which book in the series you need to hunt down to read any one of the stories you want. And, furthermore, if that weren’t enough for you, I will be reviewing all 90 volumes of the manga on this blog, one volume at a time, as I’m reading them. As it’s been years since I’ve touched the series, I will be writing all of the posts from the perspective of someone who is going in blind, for people going in blind, assuming that your understanding of the series evolves with mine as we going along. It will be an exhaustive, chronological resource on Detective Conan.

This tiny little project of mine, I imagine, will take anywhere from four to six months. This isn’t quite the same as me slamming out a single review of a single game in a few hours. I am dedicating a not-negligible chunk of my life and time to doing this. Hence, this post. This is not for my health. I genuinely believe that everyone in our group from 18 to 80 can find something to love in the mysteries of Japanese animation, video games, and comic books, and my end-goal is to convince a not-small portion of you to read at least 10 chapters of a Japanese mystery manga by the time I die.

Cartoons and video games have been a huge part of my life and my mystery-reading career. It’s thanks to them that this blog even exists, in fact. As “childish” as many of you might see them, they are a credible part of the Golden Age mystery experience. I was lucky enough to be Christened from a young age, and I hope I can be lucky enough to help a few of you find the same enjoyment I have in these brilliant “children’s” mysteries.

With that being said, my posts on the the first four volumes of Detective Conan can be expected soon. I’ve also not neglected my literature — look out for Jim Noy’s Red Death Murders, which I will also be reading and reviewing… at some point. If a review for a novel comes out, it’ll be this one, I guarantee it. I look forward to making converts of you all. Arrividerci, and happy reading.