FIVE TO TRY: Japanese Thrillers Even Mystery Lovers Can Enjoy

Mysteries and thrillers have had such a wedge driven between them that for the two to overlap is often a spectacle worth noting as rare exceptions, such as the spectacular “puzzle boxes” of film director Christopher Nolan (Inception, Interstellar). While the western incarnations of these exceptions are often highly well-documented in our little blogging niche of the internet, those crossovers between purified detective stories and thriller from Japan are significantly less publicized than their straightforward honkaku (“authentic”) detective story counterparts.

And so, cribbing the title of this post from Jim Noy’s “FIVE TO TRY” posts over at his spectacular blog, The Invisible Event, I intend to offer to western fans of Golden Age mysteries and detection five Japanese thrillers which appeal even to our specific sensibilities! These aren’t just any old “mystery-thrillers” or “thriller-mysteries” or whatever other permutation of genre names you want to think of; these are thrillers which contain a style and nature of plotting which I believe should specifically appeal to fans of the Golden Age standard and method of mystery plotting!

So, below are my five picks for Japanese thrillers which I believe even those in our little nook of the internet can enjoy!

Death Note

The quintessential Japanese mystery-thriller, Death Note is predominantly a manga series about Light Yagami, a high-school student who discovers a supernatural notebook called “The Death Note”, writing in which allows Light Yagami to kill any person as long as he knows both the real name and face of that person. Now going by the alias of “Kira” (Killer) ascribed to him by the media, Light Yagami is tracked down by a master detective who goes by the enigmatic name of “L”.

Death Note is the very first entry that came to my mind when I decided to compile a list of thrillers which I believe even English-speaking authentic mystery fans could read and enjoy. The series is possibly the most well-known “cat-and-mouse” thriller from Japan to English-speakers, with the story following both the perspectives of the criminal Light and the detective L in equal measure.

Despite its supernatural premise, the eponymous Death Note is guided by a set of strict, unbendable rules which dictate how it can and cannot be used, making it a verifiable example of the hybrid mystery. Furthermore, while L can sometimes resort to “moon logic” (wildly convoluted or counterintuitive reasoning), typically his reasoning is based on information the audience is also privy too. And since Light/Kira’s responses are equally guided by reasoning based on information known to the audience, it can be said that despite being labeled a “supernatural thriller”, Death Note is as much a fairplay detective story as any other inverted mystery, in which we’re equally capable of reasoning along with both sides of the crime: commission and detection.

I recommend this most to people who: like inverted mysteries and capers; don’t mind supernatural elements in their mysteries; enjoy following the psychology of the villain.


Billed by Wikipedia as a “psychological thriller”, LIAR GAME is a multi-media franchise which began with a manga (Japanese comic book) about Nao Kanzaki, a naive college student who is suddenly sent 100 million yen (roughly $760,000 USD) and instructed that is now a competitor in the Liar Game Tournament, a multi-stage competition in which participants are encouraged to cheat, betray each other, and lie in order to get their hands on each other’s money!

…A problem, indeed, for the “foolishly honest” Nao Kanzaki.

In this tournament, the competition is split into various stages in which contestants play games of wits to overcome their opponents and win their money. For instance, the very first game is a game called “Minority Rule”, in which contestants are asked to answer yes/no questions. If your answer is the minority, you move on to the next round of the game, but if your answer is the majority you are immediately disqualified… Of course, however, as players are permitted to lie, there are three questions you must ask yourself every round: (1.) how many of my competitors does this question apply to, (2.) how many of my competitors know the answer to question 1, and therefore (3.) how likely are the competitors to lie, and is it beneficial to me to answer correctly or lie?

As Nao Kanzaki moves through the various stages of this tournament, instead of keeping the money for herself, she begins to use the earnings to buy her contestants out of their debt and, hopefully, slowly dismantle the Liar Game Tournament Organization from within the game itself…

LIAR GAME is almost certainly the closest thing you’re going to get to “fairplay mystery plotting” in something which is, frankly, not even a “mystery” at all. Rather than dealing with murders or thefts, in LIAR GAME the puzzle is always “how can Nao mathematically maximize or even guarantee her chances at winning each game?” Information is never hidden from the audience, and with a close enough understanding of the rules, the player is constantly in possession of all the details they need to see Nao’s path to likely or certain victory! In every game, outcomes can be forced, rules can be cleverly exploited, and nothing is ever left entirely up to chance or victory. A stage for many complex math puzzles and logic problems, LIAR GAME is almost like a mystery story in which you follow a protagonist who has to solve, not crimes, but purified riddles! Something like The Hunger Games, but with competitive puzzle solving.

This genre of story is not uncommon in manga, often called “gambling” or “game” stories, but very few few manage to be as good as LIAR GAME, which is as complex, satisfying, and fair as any crime story!

I recommend this most to people who: like riddles, logic problems, and math puzzles; are interested in game philosophy, game theory, and logic theory, especially as it applies to gambling; enjoy heavily rule-dictated conflicts.

Raging Loop

“Werewolf” is a social deduction board game in which players are randomly assigned roles like “Townsperson” or “Werewolf”. Every round of the game is separated into two stages: nighttime, in which the players assigned the role “Werewolf” secretly select one person to kill (remove from the game), and daytime, during which players debate about who they believe the Werewolves are, vote them out, and then kill them.

However, imagine if instead of a board game, these rules dictated the real murders and deaths of real people in a cursed mountain village out in rural Japan. Then, you’d have Raging Loop.

In the “visual novel” (a video game with lots of text that mostly only exists to tell a story) Raging Loop, Haruaki Fusaishi bikes into the mountains with no idea of a destination. However, during his trip he gets stranded in a remote mountain village which, he discovers, has been the battlegrounds for a war between the God of the Mountain and the demons of Yomi (Hell)…

In order to keep the battle fair, rules have been established: at the start of the “war”, a random number of villagers are killed and replaced with Werewolves who take on all of the traits of the person they’re replacing! Every night these Werewolves are allowed to kill one person of their choosing, and every day the survivors debate amongst themselves who they believe are the Werewolves. And, if they believe they’ve found an impostor, they vote, and the accused person is hung by the cliffside… If all the Werewolves are exorcised, the Mountain wins, but if the Werewolves ever outnumber the surviving humans, the survivors are murdered and the mountain is overcome by the Yomibito…

While competing in this bizarre murder game, Haruaki is murdered and discovers he has the ability to go back in time and make difference decisions by dying. Using this ability, Haruaki tries to stop the deaths. But, as he continues to change things in the village, the “game” begins to take on different, progressively complicated permutations, putting Haruaki more and more at risk of being unable to overcome this bizarre curse…

Raging Loop‘s first three chapters are very interesting exercises in mystery-writing in which you, the player, read about the characters participating in a murder game following specific rules. While early on the characters are comically awful at Werewolf, which might be frustrating to real-life veterans of the game, it helps ease newcomers into understanding the concept, and as the games progress and more and more characters compete in the game, the games begin to get more creative and more deceptive!

Because the murders are based on the real rules of a real-life “mystery game” which are easy and intuitive to understand and we have access to all the same information as the characters, despite being easy to sum the game up as a psychological horror game, it also means we have the ability to reason along with the players as they play the game. It’s easy to intuit what the characters will do (to the same degree as it’s possible to do it in the real-life party game), and it’s possible to reason about who is and isn’t the Werewolf on the same level as the characters within the narrative. Using a heavily rules-dictated conflict makes this a fantastic thriller game for fans of mystery fiction, as it hits a lot of the same notes, focusing on tight strategizing and clever logic required for the characters to survive!

While the chapters following the multiple “games” aren’t nearly as interesting, the first 20 or so hours of the game are fantastically fun mystery-thriller fare! Check out my friend “Bad Player”‘s review here.

I recommend this to people who: like social deduction party games; are interested in psychological horror; enjoy conflicts in which the players are forced to apply creative strategic thinking in order to survive/come out on top.

Paranormasight: The Seven Mysteries of Honjo

Paranormasight: The Seven Mysteries of Honjo is a game best experienced knowing as little as possible, but what I can say is that it’s a supernatural horror-mystery puzzle game in which the player is tasked with investigating the truth behind seven curses befalling seven groups of people…

The game’s narrative is incredibly dense and complex, and while it’s the furthest thing from a traditional detective story on this list, it is still a satisfyingly complicated mystery tale involving the interplay between a giant collection of brain-teasing plot threads and puzzles which mystery fans should enjoy if they’re comfortable with a more heavily video game-ish experience.

I recommend this most to people who: like J-horror; enjoy ghost stories; are comfortable playing video games

The Empty Box and the Zeroth Maria

 Kazuki Hoshino is an average student at an average high-school trying to live an average high-school student life without anything getting in the way of his very peaceful, un-compromised existence. Hoshino’s ardent commitment to maintaining as unspectacular an existence as humanly possible has attracted the amusement of a being named “O”, who wishes to give Hoshino a “Box” — a wish-granting implement that will give him anything he asks for. When Hoshino rejects the wish, insisting he doesn’t want anything he doesn’t already have, “O” decides to make it his mission to subject Hoshino to as gruesome conditions as he can until the high-schooler relents and accepts the “Box” to wish for his everyday life back…. in an experiment to test the furthest possible limits of human homeostasis.

During this experiment to push Kazuki into accepting a wish, more and more of the people in his life are given “Boxes”, and these “Boxes” take the wisher’s deepest desires and externalizes them into supernatural phenomena… all entirely centralized around disrupting Kazuki Hoshino’s average, everyday life!

In order to restore balance to his existence without wishing the “Boxes” away, Kazuki Hoshino, along with Maria Otonashi, must continue to (1.) discover what the nature of the supernatural phenomenon targeting them is, (2.) figure out what manner of which produced the phenomenon, and (3.) figure out who would make such a wish and convince them to unhand their “Box”…

The Empty Box and the Zeroth Maria is, strictly speaking, a “supernatural psychological thriller” novel series told in the form of semi-episodic mystery stories. There are seven volumes in the series, each one focusing on a different incident with a different wish produced by a different “Box”, and in each case the protagonists are required to deduce details about the wish and wisher, making this another honest-to-God example of the hybrid mystery plotting style. While it isn’t strictly-speaking always fairplay, and the first book is more of a straight-forward supernatural drama, some of the books like Volume 2 really get close to purified detective fiction, including genuinely fair clues, clever logic, and format-breaking storytelling that make this a super interesting and enthralling supernatural detective series.

I recommend this most to people who: are comfortable with high-school drama; are interested in supernatural mysteries; want a series that gets progressively more surreal over time; are interested in psychological drama.

While their shin-honkaku brethren are more publicized in our nook of the internet, these five and more represent how varied and intelligent the world of Japanese thrillers can be, and just how amenable they can be to the sensibilities of lovers of puzzle plots and Golden Age mysteries. Oftentimes they can be found not far from the hallowed grounds of authentic mystery we love so much, so if you choose to pursue any of these stories, happy sleuthing, and good reading!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…only, however, this is simply impossible!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Furuhata Ninzaburou Season 1 (1994) by Kōki Mitani (Part 2/2)

(*Note, although this is the second in this series of reviews, I only encourage you to read the first review to get the preamble of the review series, all subsequent parts can be read individually.)

Furuhata Ninzaburou is a Japanese television drama clearly inspired by Columbo with its focus on a disarmingly quirky detective and how he solves crimes the solutions to which we already know, but as we established in the first review of this series the series more than an idle copycat. Elements of Japanese culture play heavily into the series, with Furuhata developing a love for children’s romance manga, murders by kabuki, and crimes committed at shogi tournaments. Furuhata Ninzaburou, both television show and character, have the DNA of Columbo, show and character, but Kōki Mitani’s skillful scriptwriting bleeds through with tons of charm, clever clues, and memorable killers to create a show that stands on its own two feet…

The first six episodes of the series’ first season were split down the middle between three great episodes, and three less-than-great episodes, but the average quality was quite high, with even the worst of episodes being functional and having their charms. We will now round out the first season of this show with six more episodes, starting with…

Episode 7 – The Rehearsal Murder has samurai actor Jushiro at a crossroads, as the wealthy benefactor and owner of the movie studio has decided to sell the property for the construction of a shopping mall. Even after collecting the signature of every single person who works at the studio, Jushiro was unable to convince his supervisor to cancel the deal. Desperate, Jushiro concocts a devious plot to tamper with the choreography of a swordfight scene in which his boss guest stars as the villain, so that when he uses a real sword to cut his boss’s throat open, it looks like nothing more than a prop-and-choreography accident during the rehearsal, with dozens of witnesses swearing up and down that the crime was an accident. Now, Furuhata is posed with a new problem: not with proving who committed the murder, but instead with proving that the murder was deliberate and premeditated.

If Episode 6 ended off the first part of the first season on one of the worse episodes so far, Episode 7 opens up the second part with the best episode in the show so far. The specialized question of “how to prove the murder was intentional” is well-utilized here with a killer who does a good job at deflecting all of Furuhata’s suspicions by accepting half-guilt for everything he throws at him. One of the best scenes in the show is in this episode, in which Furuhata nearly dies after thinking he’s baited the actor into revealing he can tell a real sword from a fake one.

Throughout the episode, The Rehearsal Murder teases you with the inscrutable clue of a moving moon prop on the set, and the explanation for how it establishes the killer’s intentions to commit murder is utterly brilliant, if not totally believable. The denouement makes incredible use of the movie studio setting, with footage from an old black and white samurai film being used. This is the best episode of the show I’ve seen so far, and an utterly gobstopping inverted mystery. If you ever choose one Furuhata Ninzaburou episode to watch, let it be this one!

It certainly doesn’t help that I am a fan of old samurai films, so the stylings of this episode appeal to me personally…

Episode 8 – The Limited Express Murder takes place on a train, where Dr. Nakagawa meets with a private inspector who has proof of his infidelity. When the inspector threatens to release the photos to his wife, Dr. Nakagawa murders him with lethal injection and steals the jacket containing the photos. Unfortunately for Dr. Nakagawa, a detective inspector is on the train and refuses to leave him be…

Like the last one, this episode has a scene where Furuhata lays a trap that initially appears to go off without a hitch, but actually backfires in his face, only this time played for comedic effect rather than dramatic. Besides that, the episode is just pretty good, with lots of natural little contradictions building up an image of the culprit’s guilt, and the interplay between Nakagawa and Furuhata is good (as it always is in this series). The trap is a fairly standard variation on the typical inverted mystery trap of “killer reveals information they shouldn’t know”, but since it relies on baiting it out of the killer at the last minute it isn’t fair for the viewer, and isn’t very interesting. Not a bad episode, but overwhelmingly average in every respect and a bad follow-up to the exceptional Rehearsal Murder.

Episode 9 – The Psychic Murder has Furuhata at the set of Kuroda, a famous psychic television personality who is being visited by an engineer from a local university in an attempt to disprove all of his psychic tricks as mumbo-jumbo and jiggery-pokery, such as proving that he can move water with static electricity or showing how mind-reading is just asking leading questions with obvious answers. When Kuroda claims to have found the scarf of a missing woman, the engineer accuses him of planting the scarf there, and proves it by showing that the scarf was actually a fabrication he and the police concocted together to trick him. In disbelief, Kuroda has a public panic attack and, desperately trying to prove his abilities, suddenly “discovers” a corpse in the same location as the scarf, shocking everyone… except Furuhata who suspects the truth that Kuroda killed the victim!

In concept, the idea of a psychic pretending to discover his own murder victim sounds interesting, but in practice this paints the killer as colossally idiotic. The killer was only just accused of being at the scene of the crime, planting the scarf so he can pretend to discover it; the exact same (true) accusation can be made of him “discovering” the body, making this discovery not only unconvincing in proving his psychic abilities, but also entirely stupid in painting him as an obvious suspect in the murder. It’s such an idiotic maneuver on the part of the killer that it deflates all tension from the episode — the fact that Furuhata canonically plucks a confession from him in an in-universe half-hour is not surprising in the slightest.

The psychic show is incredibly fun, but unfortunately lasts for nearly 70% of the episode and doesn’t actually contribute to the mystery outside of one line that is dropped at the very end of the segment. The investigation at the end is very short, and the killer is caught on two very basic, generic clues. There is a brilliant idea at play, where Furuhata needs to prove that the killer saw something specifically with his eyes, as opposed to in a psychic image in his head, and the explanation for this is incredibly clever, but the question is underplayed to the point of having none of the impact it could’ve had, wasting what is ostensibly a very good idea for an inverted mystery trick. Also, like in The Kabuki Murder, episode 2 in part 1 of this review series, this episode heavily involves a second crime that goes entirely unresolved.

The killer’s personality is one of the most interesting of the show so far, but this is a story that would benefit from being told from their perspective. As it stands, this episode has a very promising beginning that ends up flopping around limply at the end with wasted potential and half-baked ideas. If nothing else, the psychic show being an extremely entertaining waste of time works in this episode’s favor, but this is the worst inverted mystery in the show so far, and it’s by a massive margin.

Episode 10 – The Politician Murder sees Sokomizo, the secretary to a prominent politician, on urgent clean-up duty after he accidentally knocks a young woman out who refuses to take his boss’s hush money. While trying to help the woman recover, Sokomizo is ordered by his boss to overdose the woman and make it appear like a suicide, much to horror. Naturally, interested in being selected as his boss’s successor, he does so reluctantly — while the politician, in the next room, orders a pizza to the crime scene and makes coffee with the victim’s coffee maker! Sokomizo is therefore horrified when his boss reveals, over the body of his murder victim, that he’ll be giving the position to his son, enraging Sokomizo. Now in so deep that another murder would be the least of his problems, he proceeds to strike his boss over the head in order to make it look like a failed affair that ended in a murder-suicide…

Only, Sokomizo is shocked when he is being badgered by a nosy police lieutenant, who mentions that the politician is not dead, but rather hospitalized with amnesia…

Like Limited Express, this is another one that’s technically sound, but I didn’t love so much. The psychological trick isn’t very interesting and, in my opinion, not properly set-up by the killer’s behavior throughout the story — it also recalls an episode of Columbo, which itself is also pretty middle-of-the-lane. Furuhata’s reasoning throughout the episode is good, though, and I enjoyed the scenes in the hospital with Imaizumi getting his hemorrhoids treated. Not a terrible episode, but not incredibly memorable.

In Episode 11 – Sayonara DJ, famous radio celebrity Otaka has been sending herself fake death threats in anticipation for the murder of her subordinate for stealing her boyfriend! She commits this murder during a very short break in her radio show, using a shortcut known only to staff, so that she could pretend to have been in her dressing room at the time… She dresses the victim up in her cardigan, making it look like the murderer who sent Otaka the death threats mistook the two women, and then returns to her dressing room using the same shortcut..! Only, to her colossal misfortune, Lieutenant Furuhata Ninzaburou was at the station at the time on her request, and he is not to be fooled!

This is a very good one, with an extremely well-utilized setting. The denouement, similarly to Rehearsal Murder, uses the radio station in very clever ways to accentuate Furuhata’s arguments. The trap that nails the killer’s guilt is another variation of “revealing unknowable information”, but not only is this one entirely fair to the audience, it does a good job at using innocuous information not clearly related to the murder to hide the trap (though the “Challenge to the Viewer” foreshadows it so heavy-handedly, I’d be shocked if anyone gets to the denouement without figuring it out…) as well as a fun pop culture reference. The killer is extremely charming and her banter with Furuhata is some of the best in the whole show — my favorite scene is when she forces him to answer listeners’ questions on the radio show as punishment for suspecting her. Not an out-and-out classic, as it isn’t extraordinarily inspired, but it’s clever and great fun.

A man is acquitted for the murder of legendary senior detective Kogure’s daughter. Enraged with the verdict, and knowing fully well the defendant is guilty, the police officer takes the law into his own hands, shooting the perp dead in the middle of the street! However, although Furuhata suspects the detective, he has a perfect alibi: he saw a man carrying an attache suitcase into a suspected drug deal at around the same time the murder was being committed, with multiple witnesses attesting to this and corroborating Kogure’s story. Worse yet, the witnesses all came despite Kogure asking them not to, proving that it was impossible for them to lie on his behalf. Furuhata must unravel this tricky alibi to establish the guilt of his superior in Episode 12 – The Stakeout Murder.

This one is very good, being the second semi-inverted mystery in the series with the first being Shogi Tournament Murder in part 1, since we don’t see the trick the killer uses to establish his alibi. However, it isn’t very hard to guess what kind of gimmick was utilized, there being maybe one or two different possibilities. The killer’s guilt is established by two clues, and while both are extraordinarily clever, only one is entirely fair to the audience, a mistake that flows organically from the killer’s murder plot and solidly establishes his guilt. The other clue is a huge coincidence and extraordinarily lucky for Furuhata, too, on top of being impossible to figure out until the last minute, but the way it ties around into establishing the killer’s guilt is novel.

However, I’m a bit disappointed that most of the investigation simply had Furuhata badgering Kogure about his stake-out. Maybe in a longer story, I would’ve loved to the relationship between Kogure and his daughter expanded upon more, since in this episode it’s just a data-point that serves to provide a motive. Otherwise, the killer’s only real charm is that we see him try fast food for the first time, and he treats it like it’s high cuisine. I also didn’t feel like the episode paid off on the inherent drama of Furuhata investigating a murder committed by his own superior officer — a renowned, respected man in his profession. This is the season 1 finale and has a naturally dramatic premise, so in a way it feels like a waste to have the episode be so… normal.

Nonetheless, still a very good, not extraordinary, episode that rounds season 1 out very nicely.

Furuhata Ninzaburou‘s first season’s last six episodes round out to being as consistently good as the first six.

What I’ve started to notice about Furuhata Ninzaburou, as opposed to Columbo, is that the former has a greater tendency for high-concept plots that go a long way to inspiring a strong variety of crimes, situations, and traps. Columbo‘s plots are more complicated, but nearly every episode of Columbo involves murders committed in the high-society, with business owners being a very frequent character to call on for murders, and the murders being, conceptually, the kind of murder you’d expect to see in the real world. Men bludgeoned to death in their offices, or shot in their bedrooms — all very conceptually sterile.

Furuhata Ninzaburou, on the other hand, feels a lot more comfortable running with stranger, less realistic premises. Murders committed on psychic television, and a samurai movie rehearsal being exploited to make the crime look like an accident, and an impossible crime involving cheating at a shogi tournament, and a detective author acting out a complexly-staged fake hostage situation all feel uniquely Furuhata Ninzaburou; the kind of thing Columbo would never touch.

Looking back, I began to realize that most the episodes I found the most underwhelming are the ones that felt too much like Columbo episodes and not enough like Furuhata Ninzaburou episodes, with a few exceptions. Limited Express Murder and Politician Murder both felt like the kinds of crimes I’d expect to see in Columbo, and in a way they also stood out to me as being distinctly unlike this particular series, too. Many of the episodes we’ll see in Season 2 will further show that Furuhata Ninzaburou had a firmer grasp on gimmick and premise than its ancestor Columbo.

I’ve started to feel like it’s actually a bit insufficient to call Furuhata Ninzaburou “the Japanese answer to Columbo“. It’s a phrase that diminishes how much work Furuhata Ninzaburou does to stand on its own two legs and be its own show with no regard for whatever may have inspired it.

Season 1 rounds out beautifully, and I cannot wait to review season 2. To end this review, a ranking of the twelve episodes of Season 1…

  1. Rehearsal (Season 1, Episode 7)
  2. Faxed Ransom (Season 1, Episode 4)
  3. Shogi Tournament (Season 1, Episode 5)
  4. Sayonara DJ (Season 1, Episode 11)
  5. Shoujo Manga (Season 1, Episode 1)
  6. Stakeout (Season 1, Episode 12)
  7. Politician (Season 1, Episode 10)
  8. Limited Express (Season 1, Episode 8)
  9. Piano Lesson (Season 1, Episode 6)
  10. Psychic (Season 1, Episode 9)
  11. Kabuki (Season 1, Episode 2)
  12. Psychological (Season 1, Episode 3)

This ranking is actually a bit misleading because I think it implies some episodes are worse than they really are. The Stakeout Murder, for example, is sitting in the middle of the list, which would imply that it’s roughly average/mediocre, but it’s actually very good. To qualify, I think 12, 11, and 10 are bad, 9, 8, 7 are underwhelming, and 6 upwards are a spectrum of very good to great. Let it go to show just how consistent the quality is in this show, then, if half of its episodes are at least significantly above average in quality.

Furuhata Ninzaburou Season 1 (1994) by Kōki Mitani (Part 1/2)

Genre cross-contamination between Japan and the West is nothing unheard of. For every The Lion King there’s a Kimba the White Lion, and for every Fistful of Dollars where’s a Yojinbo. Maybe Japanese artists have also taken inspiration from western counterparts. Arisu Arisugawa is a protégé of Ellery Queen, from the masked-superhero trend of Marvel and DC Comics came manga like My Hero Academia. And Columbo… got Furuhata Ninzaburou.

Started in 1994 and led by creator Kōki Mitani, Furuhata Ninzaburou is a Japanese crime drama not only referred to as the Japanese version of popular inverted mystery television series Columbo, but is apparently also explicitly inspired by the show in question. It follows Third Division Homicide Inspector Furuhata Ninzaburou, a disarmingly quirky and aloof detective, as he finds himself (sometimes on purpose, something by sheer chance) sniffing out criminal plots, honing in on a suspect, harassing them and whittling away at their alibi — and their senses! — until he finally has the proof to arrest his mark! As in Columbo and other inverted mysteries, every episode opens with showing us the killer conducting their murder plot and establishing their alibi. Where ordinarily a mystery is told from the perspective of our protagonist, the detective, and we attempt to follow along with their reasoning and intuit who the killer is, in an inverted mystery like Columbo or Furuhata Ninzaburou, the “mystery” is derived from the fact that we know who the killer is, and we have to wonder how the detective will solve this seemingly airtight crime and break apart clever alibis.

In addition, a common element of the Furuhata Ninzaburou series is two segments in each episode where the protagonist breaks the fourth wall and addresses the audience directly. Before the opening credits, Furuhata tells the viewer a bizarre non-sequitur that always ends up either being a hint for the solution to the episode or simply some thematically relevant ramblings. Later, right before the denouement, Furuhata Ninzaburou addresses the viewer and asks them if they can see how he solved the murder in something like an Ellery Queen-esque Challenge to the Reader.

Furuhata Ninzaburou ran for four seasons, with seasons 1 and 3 being 12 episodes, season 2 having 10, all 50 minutes long. The fourth and final season was made up of only three 2-hour episodes written to be a dramatic swansong for the titular detective character. The show was evidently incredibly popular in Japan and, according to Ho-Ling of the Casebook of Ho-Ling blog, a major influence not only on Japanese crime dramas, but also on Japanese pop culture as a whole. Similar to my other extended review series of episodic mystery franchises, like my Detective Conan series, I will be attempting to discuss the entire franchise by tackling it chronologically, chunk-by-chunk season-by-season, while also reviewing individual episodes. At the end of each post, I’ll leave a paragraph writing up my thoughts on what I’ve seen so far, and then post a ranking of each episode. However, as each season of Furuhata Ninzaburou is generally four times as long as the average Detective Conan volume, in order to keep the reviews from running on for too long I’ve decided to review the seasons by halves — this post will be talking about episodes 1 to 6 of season 1, for example, while the next will review episodes 7 to 12.

These review series always have such long preambles, so just the same as with Detective Conan rest assured that every subsequent post will be significantly shorter and more accessible. Thank you for bearing with me.

Episode 1 – The Shoujo Manga Murder has Furuhata, car out of gas in the middle of nowhere, interrupting a young woman in the middle of a murder plot in order to use her phone. Three days ago, Chinami Koishikawa, an author of romance comics for young girls, went to a private cabin on a liaison with her business partner and illegitimate lover, locked him into a vault in the basement, left him for three days to starve, and then returned three days later. Naturally, when questioned by Furuhata, the woman claims that she had only been here a month ago at the most recent, and that she believes the man’s death was an accident… but Furuhata is quick to point out that the victim has been bludgeoned, a fact unknown to our killer! Furuhata also has to grapple with an apparent dying message… in which the victim grabbed a piece of paper, opened a pen, held both in his hand, and then wrote nothing at all…

This episode is actually criminally good for a pilot, because it really set the standard a bit too high! Although it’s not the chronologically first episode in the series I think it was a fantastic choice to lead with this episode. Opening with Furuhata operating in a strictly unofficial capacity and putting him in an isolated setting to interact casually with the suspect and form a bond with her all show off the more charming side of Furuhata’s character that transcend the DNA of Columbo I think is missing in the series’ actual first episode (the second episode released, chronologically). Until about the end of the episode, there isn’t much of a whiff of investigation or detection, but instead a protracted scene of Furuhata endearingly getting teary-eyed over a children’s love story, and yet these interactions still drop salient clues and hints that dovetail together for the denouement.

Although the crime is very simple, especially when compared to some of the weirdly complex schemes cooked up by Columbo villains, there are multiple very clever clues that build up a picture of suspicion come the end of the episode anyway. The dying message in particular is brilliant in all of the ways a dying message tends to be — brilliant, while also being stupid and ridiculous. I do feel like given the nature of the dying message, there is a more obvious explanation that isn’t really addressed, and as far as being “the ultimate piece of evidence that allows Furuhata to definitively prove the killer’s guilt” it’s probably the least likely one I’ve seen so far to hold up in a court of law. Those are minor smudges though on a very cleverly-realized inverted mystery that showed me immediately that Furuhata Ninzaburou wasn’t a mere copycat of Columbo — it’s its own show, inspired as it is but nonetheless able to stand on its own two feet.

Episode 2 – The Kabuki Murder opens with a security guard hassling kabuki actor Nakamura Ukon over the homicide he witnessed a few days ago. Ukon had paid the security guard to keep quiet, but after his morals catch up with him the security guard threatens to go to the police and expose Ukon’s crime. In his panic, Ukon knocks the security guard over, causing him to hit the back of his head and die. Trying to cover up the murder, Ukon uses a stage elevator to bring the body to the theater, messes with the time on the victim’s watch to give him an alibi, and then tries to make it look like the victim died by falling from the catwalk…

Just like in the previous episode, the killer’s plot is a lot simpler than those in the Columbo episodes I’ve seen. I like the build-up in this one well enough, though I feel like Furuhata is a much less charming character than in the previous episode. There’s one scene that recalls a Columbo episode where Furuhata lies about the kind of evidence they’re looking for in order to bait the killer into attempting to destroy evidence that doesn’t exist. The final detail that cinches the killer’s guilt is also clever enough, relying on a very understandable misunderstanding.

What’s weird about this episode though is… everything else. The victim died because he was being bribed by the killer into staying quiet about another murder, but outside of the opening segment this second murder isn’t addressed and Furuhata doesn’t even make a pass at trying to give Ukon a motive for the crime. Ukon getting caught at all is also very unbelievably, since even though the final misunderstanding is believable, everything leading up to him being at that point at all relies on unnaturally poor decision-making on his part. They try to explain it away with an artistic motive, but his explanation doesn’t even hold water on an irrational level — the killer said that, as a method actor, he wanted to experience what the character in his upcoming play felt after killing a geisha, and that this opportunity doesn’t come along often. This explanation doesn’t pass snuff for me, because… the killer is the geisha, he did not murder a geisha. Even by this weird, deliberately irrational motive, it isn’t consistent with the internal logic of the character, making this whole episode feel like they needed the killer to be as unreasonable as possible to even let him be caught. A few decent ideas here, but very poor all-told.

Episode 3 – The Psychological Murder has psychiatric therapist Eri Sasayama on a date with her former patient and illegitimate lover, who cooked her dinner for her birthday, when he reveals that he is soon to be engaged to another woman. Enraged, Eri concocts a plan that involves locking him out of the house, thereby forcing him to “break in”, while also taking advantage of a quirk of his of loving to surprise people to make him put a pair of stockings over his head and pretend to be a burglar. Doing this, Eri is able to hit him fatally with a baseball bat, thereby allowing her to pass off her murder plot as a mere case of self-defense!

On the one hand this is probably the most complex and interesting plot any killer has concocted of these first six episodes, and Furuhata is very enjoyable in this episode, with a number of funny scenes (most notably, him smoking through a pair of stockings). On the other hand, though, a clever murder plan means very little to an inverted mystery, as that is merely the set-up. The solution is the method by which the detective reaches the true conclusion, and in this episode it’s painstakingly obvious. Not only is it horribly obvious here, though, but the episode spends nearly the entirety of its investigation beleaguering the obvious contradiction Furuhata is building to. While there is a second, more important contradiction, it’s hidden away from the viewer and is very unlikely, but the clues building up to it are also very clearly telegraphed so that the viewer should definitely already know roughly where it’s going. Not a very good episode at all, charming moments notwithstanding.

Episode 4 – The Faxed Ransom Murder follows the faked ransom of the wife of mystery writer Dai Banzuin. After murdering his wife, Banzuin uses a word processor to automatically fax ransom notes to his office from a supposed kidnapper claiming to have his wife and asking for millions of yen. Banzuin proceeds to perfectly act out the instructions he wrote out for himself ahead of time to create an alibi for himself when the “ransomer” finally murders his wife…

In all honesty, I was afraid that the first episode was a fluke. It was brilliant, but two episodes immediately following it were poorly-constructed, obvious, and not very good. I’ll admit I was tempted to stop watching the show for a bit, but I’m glad I didn’t because this one is stunning!

In both Furuhata and Columbo it’s standard for the killer’s murder plot/alibi construction to be entirely completed in the first portion of the episode, before the detectives discover the murder and begin investigation. However, this episode is essentially one 50 minute-long alibi construction in which the suspicion of murder isn’t meant to even occur to anyone, with the crime disguised instead as a kidnapping. Bending format this much creates a new problem where Furuhata not only has to bring guilt home to the perpetrator, but he has to prove that a death even occurred at all! I was afraid that the episode was going to go the obvious route to the solution, with the fax machine at the killer’s house printing out copies of the faked ransom notes, but no, all of the reasoning is very clever as well as fair, and the eventual trap that Furuhata lays for the killer is brilliant.

My favorite episode of the six, and it’s no contest.

Episode 5 – The Shogi Tournament Murder has Furuhata and his subordinate Imaizumi at a hotel which, thanks to being in a “shogi town”, hosts a prestigious shogi tournament. Three-time loser Yonezawa 8-dan is now one more loss away from being finally disqualified from the tournament, so he concocts a plan to cheat. Either player may, on their turn, ask for the game to be suspended for the night, but in order to prevent cheating by allowing them the whole night to consider their next move they’re forced to write their next move on a paper sealed inside of an envelope. Yonezawa has conceived of some way to bypass this safeguard by sliding an empty piece of paper into the envelope and later somehow writing his move down. But when the coordinator of the tournament finds out and threatens to expel him, Yonezawa hits him with an ashtray and attempts to make it look like he fell in his bathtub…

Another very good one. In addition to the impossibility of the killer writing his move into a sealed envelope, the episode eventually turns on the “psychological impossibility” of “why would a skilled shogi player on the cusp of winning make a losing move that even the most ill-informed of layman tournament-viewers can see is senseless and idiotic”. What I love so much about the Detective Conan inverted mysteries is that they have an element of howdunit — you only see half of the killer’s plot, but the important parts (the actual alibi) are left ambiguous so that the reader is still left a clever impossible alibi problem to resolve. I enjoy it when inverted mysteries leave that little gap there, and while the answers to the impossibilities here aren’t ground-breaking they still contribute brilliantly to Furuhata’s reasoning establishing guilt.

There’s a clue here that I did pick up, but many English-viewers probably won’t since it requires knowledge of the Japanese language. It’s very clever though, and somewhat recalls a clue used in a Columbo involving fingerprints on a painting… The setting of both a hotel and a shogi tournament are utilized perfectly, and this is another homerun for the series.

Episode 6 – The Piano Lessons Murder takes place months after the passing of world-renowned pianist Shiobara Ichiro, and Kawai Ken is set to play at his memorial service. Although Kawai’s favorite pupil, Iguchi Kaoru has been disgraced by his estate, and so she electrocutes him to death, inciting a heart attack and hoping to steal his place at the memorial service.

There’s not a lot to say about this one except that it’s basically a reworking/minor improvement over The Kabuki Murder, involving a nearly identical mistake that leads to the culprit’s guilt and a similarly artistic motive for the killer’s unreasonable actions. However, the killer’s mistake is enhanced by something like a minor inversion of the psychological impossibility of The Shogi Murder Tournament, and the motive is more compelling, consistent, and moving than the one in Kabuki. The killer in this one is my favorite killer character so far, but all-told it’s still only a minor improvement over the plot of an episode we just saw a couple hours ago. I guess just skip that one and watch this one instead?

Three brilliant episodes and three mediocre-at-worst episodes makes the first six episodes of this series average out to pretty darn good! Furuhata Ninzaburou as a character obviously has DNA of Columbo in him, with his disarming awkwardness, politeness-to-the-point-of-annoyance, and there are more than a few instances where I absolutely felt like the writers had to restrain themselves from writing “just one more thing!”. But he’s also got his own little quirks and habits that build up during the series, like his love for children’s comics or his culinary ineptitude. He isn’t an idle ripoff of Columbo, that’s for sure!

Something that seemed interesting to me when comparing this show to Columbo is that in Furuhata the killers’ plans are overall simpler. Just watch the first episode of Columbo, and you’ll see the lengths the killer goes to establish their alibi. Four of these six episodes have remarkably simple plots by comparison, with killers often just… committing the murder in a fit of rage and then lying. What’s more is, in five of these six episodes, the killer tries to make it appear as if the deaths aren’t murders — in three of them, the deaths were meant to look like accidents, one of them natural causes, and one of them self-defense. Despite this trend, I never actually felt like this was to the detriment of the show or its mysteries — the complexity of the killer’s plot don’t seem to actually matter so much!

The show is great so far, with three fantastic episodes lined-up, and even the “bad” ones had great ideas in them. With plenty of cleverness in cluing, variety of situation and skill in presentation, Furuhata Ninzaburou is already a great example of the television crime drama, inverted mystery, and a very pleasant show for anyone interested in more Columbo!

  1. Faxed Ransom (Season 1, Episode 4)
  2. Shogi Tournament (Season 1, Episode 5)
  3. Shoujo Manga (Season 1, Episode 1)
  4. Piano Lesson (Season 1, Episode 6)
  5. Kabuki (Season 1, Episode 2)
  6. Psychological (Season 1, Episode 3)

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 – Chiko Uonji

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.