11/25/12

The Wicked Witch is Dead!


"You gave me fortune, you gave me fame
you gave me power in your God's name,
I'm every person... you need to be...!
I'm the Cult of Personality."
- Living Colour (Cult of Personality)  

Nancy Barr Mavity's The Case of the Missing Sandals (1930) was one of two novels that I was able to procure from this now forgotten mystery novelist, which served as my introduction to her series detective, journalist Peter Piper, who has more than just a professional interest in the murder of the leader of a peculiar cult – who settled down in the unfrequented hills of San Francisco.

Peter Piper is sketched as a preposterously tall man with a long, ugly, intelligent face and a black head of hair that should've been planted in a barber's chair, but his eyes, imprisoned behind thick glasses, are illuminated by an incorrigible enthusiasm. He's also in possession of a brain that constantly processes and analysis information, which makes him perfect as both a journalist and as a detective. As a matter of fact, Piper functions through out the story as both journalist and private investigator, forcing him to make decision on what knowledge to share and with whom – as well as keeping rival journalists at bay. I think this dual conflict between jobs was the most interesting aspect of his character and gave some justification to his actions (like stowing away the prime suspect from the police).

When the story opens, Piper is in the company of Hubert Graham, District Attorney, discussing one of their recent success stories, when Graham tells him of a man whose wife gave away their money to a woman going by the name of Luna – a cult of personality with her own following. However, they have no grounds to launch an investigation and Graham hopes that Piper finds something that can be of mutual use, but the body of Luna a day after his first, tentative steps in this case was not part of the plan.

Unfortunately, the next quarter of the book consists of hounding the main suspect, a young man named Earl Vincent, to whom all the clues point. This took away from a potentially interesting and eerie setting (a cult of witches on a desolate hill) with an intriguing murder (stabbing and shooting of a witch laid out over a bench and the titular sandals missing, etc.) that was not looked at until the race for Earl Vincent was run. Ironically, all that running around did end up being the most exciting and interesting part of the book and was not devoid of merit, which included a semi-impossible disappearance from a ship – but we've seen tricks like that one before.

More interesting was Piper pleading/threatening Graham not to expose Vincent to a third-degree, which he was convinced would break the spirit of the kind-hearted, but frightened boy, even if turns out that he did kill Luna in a rage. I got the impression from the story that third-degreeing a confession out of a suspect was still a standard practice at the time, but Anthony Abbot's The Murder of Geraldine Foster (1930; same year as Missing Sandals!) noted that a third-degree confession was already inadmissible in court by that time – not that Commissioner Thatcher Colt let the law stop him from experimenting on a suspect. And I suppose the acceptability of a third-degree still differed from state-to-state in the early 1930s.  

Piper's follow up investigation only went to show indubitably that the story had run its course, as one interview followed another, reminiscent of some of Ngaio Marsh's lesser efforts, but continued to lumber on undisturbed for another 170+ pages – and the eventual revelation does not make up for lost time. There are some interesting bits and pieces in this last portion of the story, like the portrayal of the old blind gatekeeper, Jackson, who's dismissed by the police as a superstitious illiterate, but Piper sees in him a person of towering goodness who sincerely believes in the forces of good and evil intervening in every day life and sets out to out-wit the Prince of Darkness himself, but as a detective story, this one leaves a lot to be desired.

I have read some encouraging comments about Mavity and have the feeling that I should've started off with The Other Bullet (1930), which appears to have been her most popular book, but I'll safe that one for next month.

Well, that's another disappointing read that churned out a mediocre review. 

11/21/12

The Simple Art of Murder


"A museum is a place where one should lose one's head."
- Renzo Piano

Isn’t funny how some of the heirs of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, setting up shop on those mean streets during the 1970s, became the custodians of the traditional, (mostly) fair-play detective stories by incorporating elements from them into the first-person, reflective narrative that defines the Hardboiled Detective?

Notable examples are Joe Gores and the husband-and-wife writing team consisting of Bill Pronzini, known for his ongoing biography of the Nameless Detective, and Marcia Muller, creator of the iconic female private eye Sharon McCone. I have reviewed work from all three writers, having delved more extensively in some than in others, but combined, you can trace a line between their stories that delineates a movement of crime writers who were aware of what came before them – and build upon those traditions rather than disregarding them. The old cunning fox may have been dragged out of his warm, comfy drawing room, but a few of his descendents obviously inherited some of his tricks.

Marcia Muller's The Tree of Death (1983) introduces a new character, Elena Oliverez, curator of the Museum of Mexican Arts in Santa Barbara, who is forced to play detective after a murder threatens to ruin the opening of the museum and even curtail her freedom!

The victim in question is the indolent and repulsive Frank de Palma, director and fundraiser of the museum, who accepts a monstrous, garish ceramic árbol de la vida, tree of life, from a rich patron of the museum, but Elena despises it – thinking that a piece that looks like an oversized souvenir from Tijuana reflects badly on the rest of the collection. Oliverez and De Palma bounce opinions off one another, before the later decides that he really should fire her and the former concludes that someone ought to murder him. And someone does. De Palma decides to work late and Oliverez sets the alarm and locks the door, effectively locking him in until he decides to leave, but when she comes back next morning he's still there – buried under the debris of the tree of life. Naturally, Lt. Dave Kirk fancies her as his number one suspect.

Well, at first, I lumped Oliverez in with Lawrence Block's Bernie Rhodenbarr and William DeAndrea L. DeAndrea's Matt Cobb, professionals in their field who, through their work, come into contact with murder and their narrative voices echo the hardboiled school, but they're more softboiled whodunits, however, as the story progressed, it became more and more reminiscent of Herbert Resnicow's Alexander and Norma Gold novels.

Another museum piece of crime!
The Tree of Death gives the reader a peek behind the walls of rooms and cellars of a museum that are normally closed-off for visitors, much like in The Gold Frame (1987), and is populated with professionals and knowledgeable people who occasionally share little nuggets of information – something that was (admittedly) more pronounced in Resnicow than in Muller. The solution for the problem of the locked museum is also something that can be labeled as typical Resnicow, who must have found even a sealed library to be too claustrophobic for a proper impossible situation. Locked rooms and closed spaces consisted in Resnicow's stories of multi-level chambers for acoustic testing (The Dead Room, 1987), entire theatres filled up with people (The Gold Deadline (1984), The Gold Curse (1986) & The Gold Gamble, 1989) and are stage with a play in progress, but always managed to wrap them tighter than Scrooge's wallet and used every nook of a building to his advantage. That's exactly what Muller did here and made me love the book even more, because I dote on Resnicow and The Tree of Death may have left its mark on his work! 

The most interesting difference was how the victim was characterized, which in Resnicow's novel is usually done after the murder has been committed and we get a thorough account of his life, sort of a short story within a novel, but here we get to know De Palma through the eyes of Oliverez. We get the impression that he's your stereotypical murder victim who was born to play the part of a corpse, but Muller humanizes him in an interesting way. After the body is discovered, someone fetches a drink for Oliverez and gets it in De Palma's cup - with a heart and the word "DAD" printed on it. It won't make you care a lick more or less about De Palma, but it's a good objection to his murder no matter how unlikeable he was. I never had second thoughts like that by any of Resnicow's victims, and more importantly, it's a fact that's not beaten into the ground. It's a reflection, a sudden realization that the mangled body on the floor was a person and not a stageprop. And that made it feel more real and memorable.

Anyhow, this is a blog dedicated (mostly) to neglected mystery writers, but The Tree of Death rubbed in the fact that I have been neglecting Marcia Muller. I'’m sure I will have to answer for that to a couple of ghosts, but at least DeAndrea as the Ghost of Christmas Present should be fun as he shows me the error of my ways.

11/18/12

Undermining the Law


"Sometimes we have to stand on our heads in order to see things the right-side up."
- Hadji (The Alchemist)

The last time I attempted to critique a Perry Mason mystery, The Case of the Empty Tin (1941), I ended up churning out an elongated synopsis of the plot, but only because they’re complex, plot-driven stories and discussing them past the first quarter of the book without giving anything away is very difficult. No – it's nigh impossible to do!

The Case of the Drowsy Mosquito (1943) poses a similar problem, in which Perry Mason takes on a case with enough angles to fill a small, bedside book stand – except that it's crammed between the covers of a single paperback. It all begins when "Salty" Bowers, who has the appearance of a distinguished tramp in a sun-faded suit, asks Mason to meet his long-time friend and mining partner, Banning Clarke, who was physically unable to come himself after suffering a heart attack. Upon meeting Clarke, the plot thickens... considerably!

Living and recuperating on the stretch of land behind his house, amidst the cactuses and shrubs, the mining engineer asks Mason to intervene in a scheme involving his mining company (and a legendary gold mine lost in the mists of time) and take on a fraud case that he's bound to lose, but these are just but a few threads in the rich tapestry of this plot.

Clark's in-laws, Lillian and her son James Bradisson, a cocksure and conceited president of the mining corporation, who fancies himself a business genius, become sick from arsenic poisoning. Live-in nurse Velma Starler is shot at by a prowler and hears the drowsy mosquito. Even Mason and his secretary Della Street are poisoned! The poisoning subplot is worked out alongside the other problems, intertwining here and there, showing that Agatha Christie wasn't the only name in the game that knew how to properly utilize that stuff. As a matter of fact, these poisonings could've easily been presented as impossible situations to beef up the plot even further, but then again, that might have been overdoing it just a bit. But it's cleverly done and even provides an interesting legal problem when Banning Clarke is murdered when he was already minutes, perhaps even seconds, away from succumbing to a lethal dose of arsenic poison. So who do you charge with murder? The person who administrated the arsenic or the person who pulled the trigger?

Like in the previous case I reviewed, Perry Mason functions more as a slick, manipulative private detective than as a crafty attorney with a penchant for courtroom theatrics, however, we do get a glimpse of the courtroom technician in the fraud case – turning the tables on everyone and takes James Bradisson and his lawyer down a peg or two.

But the most notable aspect of The Case of the Drowsy Mosquito is the desert setting and how the plot is build upon it. Somehow, it reminded me of one of Gardner's Sheriff Bill Eldon stories, "The Case of the Runaway Blonde," collected in Two Clues (1947), set outdoors and the vast expanse of ground are very important to the plot, but for completely different reasons. In another way, it also reminded me Clyde B. Clason's Blind Drifts (1937), which also involves "shenanigans" within a gold mining company, but where Clason was interested in technical side of the business, Gardner only concerned himself with the legal aspects of it.

All in all, an excellent read and The Passing Tramp should consider packing a few Perry Masons in that red handkerchief of his, because they've got enough plot on their spines to keep any mystery fan from feeling hungry.

11/16/12

Snowy Reception


"The spirit answered not, but pointed onward with its hand."
- Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol (1843). 

Een licht in de duisternis (A Light in the Darkness, 2012) is the seventh entry in the Bureau Raamport series, recording the daily caseload of a pair of Amsterdam homicide detectives, Peter van Opperdoes and Jacob (last name unknown), who were modeled on their creators – former homicide cop Appie Baantjer and now part-time detective Simon de Waal. Originally, the books were published under the byline Baantjer & De Waal, but after Baantjer passed away, at his request, the series was continued as De Waal & Baantjer with Baantjer's share of the royalties going to charity.

On a night, a dark and cold December night, Peter van Opperdoes wakes up to find the city wrapped in a blanket of snow and inclines to melancholic musing on things past, when the whispering voice of his late wife disturbs his reverie and encourages him to take a short walk. As I noted in my review of Een mes in de rug (A Knife in the Back, 2012), the ghostly, disembodied voice of Van Opperdoes' wife is a non-intrusive, supernatural entity hovering in the background and she's not allowed (from the higher up's) to intervene in human affairs. She's merely there to give spiritual support to her husband or, in this case, act as a catalyst.

Van Opperdoes strolls through the deserted, snow covered streets and the quiet, dream-like image of the city gives him a sense of unreality, as if he fell through the cracks of time, expecting any moment a hansom cab coming down the street or bump into a 19th century gendarme, but his actual discovery isn't any less strange. Between a troupe of statues, now mantled in robes of snow, someone placed a sculpted head of clay with a candle on the ground – it's flame flickering like a ghost light.

This dreamy sequence is probably my favorite part of the book and shows that De Waal can write, and I almost wished he continued this style of story telling through out the book, but morphing it back to a straight-up police procedural was probably the best decision. When Van Opperdoes and Jacob revisit the scene the next morning, when life resumed its normal tenor, it conveyed that sense of waking up – with everything snapping back to normal. Except that the head is still there! It's a recognized as a young man, named Martin, who's a local and his mother hasn't heard of him from in three months. 

Where the clay head was found

Martin's father Willy, an intimate acquaintance of the police who spend most of life behind bars, went missing around the same time and thus begins a long pool expedition search pass cafés and even an obscure coffeeshop – and nearly everyone they question seems to be either criminal or appear to have close ties to them. This eventually leads them to a crime-scene that went undiscovered for months, but the dry conditions of the house and the cold weather has preserved it remarkably well and it was briefly teased as a locked room mystery.

However, I'm long since pass wanting a baffling impossible crime from De Waal. Ok. Maybe not that long. But the first chapter of A Light in the Darkness has convinced me that a double-layered story, one taking place in the time of C.J. van Ledden-Hulsebosch and the other in the present with Van Opperdoes and Jacob, with the two threads tying together in the end, would be even better. I even have a title that fits the series: Een gebed zonder einde (a proper, but not literal, translation would be A Never-Ending Story). It also fits into the religious themes Baantjer was so fond of working into his plots and sort-of a nod to the Baantjer TV-movie De wraak zonder einde (An Endless Wrath, 1999; co-written by De Waal). 

Somehow, somewhere, Frederic Dannay is looking over a copy of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine and nods approvingly. I... I just know he is.

De Waal & Baantjer
A note for the confused: De Waal co-wrote a handful of excellent historical novels with Dick van den Heuvel about Van Ledden-Hulsebosch, a real-life counterpart of Dr. John Thorndyke, or rather, a real-life colleague of Dr. Joseph BellConan Doyle's teacher whose methods of observation were adopted by Sherlock Holmes! I always wondered, if that awful, untranslatable pun they had planned for a book title (if you're curious, the title was Moord(w)apen) killed the series prematurely. Their publisher had good reason to believe they had lost it after their spoof of The Da Vinci Code (2003), in which Albert Einstein helped C.J. clear up a dark conspiracy enwrapping Amsterdam (De Rembrandtcode, 2006). Note to self: reread that series! Anyway, lets wrap things up here as well...

A Light in the Darkness was better than I anticipated and the story ended up not being just another charming, urban police procedural that spends more time looking at buildings (or other trivial matters) than at the clues. It's still a police procedural that puts emphasis on investigative police methods and characterization, but the plot was well put together and stands comparison with the works of Bill Pronzini and William L. DeAndrea.

I think Baantjer would've been rather proud, if he knew he co-wrote this book. Two years after his death. The critics can defile him, decease can kill him and his remains can be buried, but even the most devout excorcist could not keep his "spirit" from the bestseller lists!

De Waal & Baantjer series:

Een Rus in de Jordaan (A Russian in the Jordaan, 2009) [De Jordaan = neighborhood in Amsterdam]
Een lijk in de kast (A Skeleton in the Closet, 2010)
Een dief in de nacht (Like a Thief in the Night, 2010)
Een schot in de roos (Hitting the Bull's-eye, 2011) [have not read this one]
Een rat in de val (Caught Like a Rat in a Trap, 2011) [have not read this one]
Een mes in de rug (A Knife in the Back, 2012)
Een licht in de duisternis (A Light in the Darkness, 2012)
Een wolf in schaapskleren (A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing, 2013; forthcoming)

11/10/12

Vicissitudes of Families


"Every tick that I do give
Cuts short the time you have to live.
Praise thy Maker, mend thy ways,
Till Death, the thief, shall steal thy days.
"
- Inscription on a clock.

Perched on the summit of a windswept Cornish cliff, Flint House glances down to the pallid and legendary face of the Moon Rock, more than 200 feet down, where the ghostly moaning of the gray sea and the ghosts of drowned lovers resonate against the cliff walls – imbuing me with the conviction that the sole purpose of its construction was to accommodate family skeletons and restless spirits.

And every now and then, the rustic wailing of the Cornish coast and its ghosts are disturbed when the living settle down with their problems, like that one time when Robert Turold, an embittered, selfishly cruel and solitary man who amassed a fortune abroad for the upkeep of his hobbyhorse, showed up with his dysfunctional relatives in tow. These dire forebodings and its aftermath were recorded by Arthur J. Rees in The Moon Rock (1922).

Robert Turold's concern, or rather his idée fixe, is with proving that the Turolds sprang from the youngest brother of the last Lord Turrald and staking his claim for a Baronial title in abeyance for over four hundred years, which eventually brought him to Cornwall.

The last scraps of proof are buried in Cornwall's history and Turold turned to Dr. Ravenshaw, a local authority on antique and archeology, to help him find them. It's a collaboration that yields results, convinced and satisfied that they have valid case to bring to the House of Lords, but than Turold's wife does a startling death bed confession: she's a bigamist! Some skeletons are best left in the closet, however, Turold's obsession with obtaining the vacant family title, Lord Turrald of Missender, that he now wants the title, once it's his, to descend to his brother, Austin, and then to his brother's son, Charles – sacrificing and publicly disgracing his daughter in the process.

MILD SPOILERS, highlight to read: very few laughs and chuckles are shared in this story, and nearly every good and remotely likeable character is overshadowed by Turold’s evil and very little good is restored by the end of their trial.

Not long after these events, on a bleak, Cornish evening, when the wind howls around Flint House, locked and barred for the night, Turold is shot in his study and it looks like suicide. The door was secured from the inside and only a window offered escape from the room. That is, if you're suicidal. It's a 200 feet death drop on the spiky Moon Rock. Unfortunately, Rees barely gives any consideration to this aspect of the plot and the explanation was easy enough, nonetheless, I did not entirely dislike it.

SPOILERS, highlight to read: I rather enjoyed the idea of a "journeying key" before it ends up back on the scene of the crime and creating a locked room problem along the way.

The real attraction of this story is the story itself. I loved the old-fashioned, impressionable writing style that brought the somberness of the Cornish coast to life ("like a ghost from the grave," said the hack reviewer) and harked back to the days of a previous generation of mystery writers. The Moon Rock reminded me in parts of Fergus Hume's The Mystery of a Hansom Cab (1886) and J.E. Preston-Muddock's Dick Donovan: The Glasgow Detective (collected in 2005). Like Hume's The Mystery of a Hansom Cab, Rees' The Moon Rock unfolds itself despite several investigative characters prowling around. We see the official investigators, like Detective Barrant of Scotland Yard, a less official enquiry by Mr. Brimsdown, Turold's trusty lawyer, and Charles Turold fleeing to London to search for the missing Sicily like a lovelorn puppy, becoming a fugitive in the process, but it's a chance discovery and a confession from the murderer that clears up all the loose ends. Rees also drew from Conan Doyle's Sign of Four (1890) to give an account of the dark secret, buried in the distant past, that Turold lugged around for many frightful years.

When I began writing this review, I looked up Rees and learned that he was born and grew up in Australia, before moving to England as an adult, so Hume may have actually influenced Rees' writing.  

All in all, The Moon Rock is perhaps a relic that belonged to an even earlier era, but therefore not any less interesting or readable (if you don't expect a GAD-style crafted and plotted gem), and as I said before, I liked the evocative writing and gloomy, windswept Cornish setting of the story. Perhaps more could've done with the legend of the drowned lovers haunting the Moon Rock and the importance of the clock (and the clock lore attached to it) could've been played up more for effect.

Connoisseurs of late 19th/early 20th century crime fiction will most likely be the ones who will enjoy this book the most... unless they deplore bleak and dreary endings. In that case, you might regard it as an over padded suicide note that the publisher was too afraid to reject. 

Edit: you can read the book as etext on Project Gutenberg

11/9/12

Vintage Mystery Challenge 2012: Doing the Dutch


"You've got stuck in a moment
And now you can't get out of it.
"
- U2 (Stuck in a Moment)

A comfort to the reader: if this posts strikes you as familiar, than you're not experiencing déjà-vu. Just like Patrick, I'm dropping out of the 2012 Vintage Mystery Challenge


I thought that compiling a list of reviews, collected under the title Dutch Delinquencies for the 2012 Vintage Mystery Challenge, would be easy sailing when I picked up the gauntlet that Bev had thrown down, but inopportunely, I had to ask if readers who haunted this blog were actually interested in reviews of untranslated, non-English mysteries – which received a discouraging reply. This makes it futile to sprint for the deadline, because it would inevitable result in a barrage of reviews that only a few want to read.  

In hindsight, the lack of views and comments were (alas!) an indicator of disinterest, but nonetheless gambled on the cat-like curiosity, a key trait of the mystery enthusiast, to garner a small crowd of inquisitive onlookers.

Ho-Ling was only partially correct when he observed that reviewing non-English detective stories is like working in a niche area within a niche area, however, he neglected to mention that those niches are part of a ramshackle, boarded-up house with a reputation of being haunted and few who dear to venture near it.

Anyway, I will continue to explore and write about foreign mysteries, albeit in smaller doses, so bear with me whenever I bring one up.

Finally, a new review will be up over the weekend.

11/5/12

"Like a rollin' thunder chasing the wind"


"As an ex-detective you know how to deal with problems... you know the ropes... the meshes of the law."
- Inspector DeKok (Bullets for a Bride, 1993)

Ellery Queen deserves wider recognition among the members that make up today's reading audience, if not for their imaginative and inventive plots than for their willingness to adjust themselves to the movement prevalent at the time they were writing in, spawning a multiverse of crime that has something to offer for nearly everyone.

Personally, I prefer the earlier, puzzle-oriented novels from the international series, the marvels of the Ellery in Wonderland tales, crammed with zany architectural buildings, eccentric characters and dysfunctional families, the short stories (of which they didn't wrote nearly enough) and some of the anomalous books – like Cat of Many Tails (1949) and And on the Eight Day (1964). By the way, has anyone ever noticed how similar the plots of The Village (2004) and And on the Eight Day are, if you cut out the creatures? Of course, Queen's twist was better and it's one of the few mysteries were I hated the detective interruptions, which were weak and uninspired, and the plot would have, IMHO, worked better as a human problem. 

But that aside, I'm less than enthusiastic about the Wrightsville and Hollywood sagas, focusing more on character than plot, but I never thought them to be any more or less realistic than their plot driven stories – and having just read Inspector Queen's Own Case (1956) makes me disliked them even more. Calamity Town (1942) is one of the books that's often cited as an example of a good, character-driven EQ novel, but it left me unimpressed and a diminished interest in plotting didn't exactly help either. And having burned through most of the series, years ago, I had given up hope to find an EQ novel that invested in characters and still felt like you were reading a proper detective story, but Inspector Queen's Own Case did it for me.

Richard Queen has been feeling doleful ever since his mandatory retirement from the police force, finding it difficult to come to terms with his new status as a retiree and an "old man," and with his son Ellery abroad, he came to the Connecticut shore to stay with Abe Pearl, Chief of the Taugus Police Department, and his wife Becky – where he bumps into Jessie Sherwood.

Jessie Sherwood is a well preserved woman in her late forties, whose experience as a pediatric and maternity nurse brought her to Nair Island, a fortified recluse for the rich, where she's taking care of the newest addition to the Humffrey family, baby Michael, whose adoption was a shady affair to say the least, and before long, the house is rocking with more than just the wailing of a crying baby. And who would've thought that a creepy, late-night intruder in the nursery would've been the least of their problems.

Alton K. Humffrey's nephew, Ronald Frost, was relieved from duty as his uncle’s heir in favor of Michael, making him the only person with a motive for hurting a baby, but when Michael is eventually found dead in his crib, Frost’s also the only one in possession of an unshakable alibi. Sherwood remains convinced that the baby was murdered, based on a pillowcase with a dirty handprint that disappeared afterwards, but Richard Queen is the only one who believes her and together they begin to pry into the case – assisted by an Old Boys’ Network of retired colleagues from the force. Not an easy job, if your key witnesses are bumped off in front of you.

David Wayne as Inspector Queen (Ellery Queen, 1975-76)

Two observations: Richard mentions in the story that Ellery is traveling for inspiration for his detective novels, which could mean that this book and the stories collected in Ellery Queen's International Case Book (1964), originally written and published between 1954 and 1955, took place around the same time. The second observation may be an original one, because I never seen it mentioned before and that while it's a typical piece of EQ symbolism. On the one hand we have Michael, smothered at infancy, and on the other Richard, a (re)tired police officer of 63, who finds a completely new life in the home were a very young life was cut short. Or am I over thinking this? 

Inspector Queen's Own Case may not be the best title from the EQ catalogue, but it has a pleasant balance between its characters and plot, and besides, I’ve always liked Richard Queen and it was good to see him reach the end of a case without the assistance of his son (he was an inspector for a reason) and getting a bit of luck in his private life. The only real drawback is that, once you have figured out the solution, the story inevitable becomes too long and you can solve it before the halfway mark. I hope that in my defense of this novel, I have not divulged too much of the plot, but I think this is a far, far cry from Ellery Queen's worst mystery novels and stories (e.g. The Door Between, 1937).  

Oh, and I will be honest, the dead baby can be considered as over doing the "let's go with the times" mindset and it also forced me to cut out a joke that probably would've ended up costing me readers.

I was thinking of following this post up with a review of Appie Baantjer’s DeKok en kogels voor een bruid (DeKok and Bullets for a Bride, 1993), which was the source from which I drew the opening quote, and Baantjer’s roman policier shares some interesting parallels with Inspector Queen’s Own Case... but it's one of his untranslated stories and I'm aware that not everyone likes to read reviews of books that they can't read. So, we'll see.

11/3/12

Magician Under the Moonlight


"Rationality, that was it. No esoteric mumbo jumbo could fool that fellow. Lord, no! His two feet were planted solidly on God's good earth."
- Ellery Queen (The Lamp of God, 1940)

The last time I looked at Case Closed/DetectiveConan, the volume ended, as per usual, with the opening of a story that served as a cliffhanger and concludes in the last scheduled release of 2012 – one of the omens that the year is crawling to its end. But lets lament the passing of time another time and go on with the review!

On the field of Koshien Stadium, two high-school baseball teams are batting away in order to impress the scouts scattered among the throng of enthusiastic baseball fans, but unknown to the players and onlookers, a dangerous game is being played from the sidelines. A bomber is sending coded messages and challenges Conan and his friend/rival detective, Harley Hartwell, to find the bomb before he blows up the entire stadium. More a suspense than a proper detective story, but the tension is well handled and loved the story-within-a-story approach. On the field, you have a duel between two baseball teams that becomes the backdrop for the bomb race on the sideline and they intertwine as the story progresses.

One quibble: how come neither detectives noticed the bomber before? He rather stood out on those stairs... clinging to that suspicious looking bag... hat drawn over his eyes… passively standing with slumped shoulders between cheering fans... hm. But a fun story. By the way, I was informed that two of the baseball players were characters from one of Gosho Aoyama's earlier manga series – 3rd Base 4th.

Next up is a chapter from the Metropolitan Police Love Story arc, in which the reader, and let's be honest, pretty much the entire police force, follows the developing relationship between fellow officers Takagi and Sato. It's Aoyama’s take on the police procedural and it gives an opportunity to the policemen of these stories to become more than just background filler. This story is a particular good example of this.

A rumor is making its way around the police office, implying that Takagi is going to be dispatched to the Tottori Prefectural Police for a joint investigation until that particular case is filed away as solved – which could mean a separation from Sato for a year or even longer. Meanwhile, he's assigned to investigate the stabbing of an office worker and his fiancé points to her ex-boyfriend as the murderer, but he has a watertight alibi for the time of the murder. As a matter of fact, his alibi is their police colleague Chiba! They're friends and Chiba offered him a place to stay and they were up all-night watching episodes of Samurai Kid. A good excuse to rummage around in the private life of Chiba, but I also thought that the conclusion was done satisfactory – even if it was a tad bit too clever and complex. Bonus points for actually finding something useful to do for The Detective Boys while Conan is solving a case.

Finally, we have the main event of this volume and it's one that could headline any Las Vegas magic show! One of Serena Sebastian's wealthy relatives, Uncle Jirokichi, came into possession of The Golden Goddess and The Blue Wonder, a golden figurehead of a woman holding up a blue aquamarine stone that once protected The Sea Goddess from pirates during the Age of Discovery, and he want to use it as bait to lure from hiding and capture the Kaito KID – an elusive and legendary thief with an inexhaustible bag of tricks. 

An artist's rendetion of the suspect.

Challenge accepted, KID proclaims that he will simply walk up to The Blue Wonder, mounted and displayed on the roof of the Sebastian Museum, and simply snatching it away! He even promises a public preview of his coupe-de-grâce and puts in appearance the night before the heist and how: hovering in mid-air, he can look directly at the statue as he makes his first, tentative steps towards it and the helicopters that are closing in on him eliminates the assistance of cables attached to a black balloon or the buildings besides him – before disappearing in a puff of smoke. You may argue how workable and believable the explanation is, but it lives up to the premise and it was brought convincing enough. It's easily one of the best and grandest KID stories (I have read) to date and loved the interaction between Conan and KID towards the end. I really hope to find more of these Grand Heist stories in one of the forthcoming volumes.

The last chapter sets-up a story that will continue in the next volume and involves a school ground legends and a haunted desk. 

More reviews: 

Case Closed (a.k.a. Detective Conan), vol. 41 
Case Closed (a.k.a. Detective Conan), vol. 42