"But what's puzzling you, is the nature of my game."- The Rolling Stones (Sympathy for the Devil)
The 57th volume of Case Closed, originally published as Detective Conan, commences with a devil of a case and centers around several clever, but riskily, executed murders, which also concern the unraveling of Eisuke Hondo's back-story – one of the focal points of the previous volume.
In the first pages of the opening story, Conan is still digesting the information from the previous volume and tries to fit certain pieces of the puzzle together. But then an opportunity presented itself to gather further information about the background of their friend: Eisuke Hondo invites them to accompany him to the home of the former employers of his late mother. She had used to be employed there as a live-in maid and the family recently came across some of his mother's memento's, which included a photograph and a birth certificate. Coincidently, the same family also engaged the professional services of Richard Moore.
A year ago, the body of Tango, only son of the head of the Okudaira family, was found floating in the swimming pool outside of the house, but the circumstances ruled out an accident or suicide: the body was tied up and a piece of duct-tape was plastered across the mouth. The initial police investigation established that everyone in the home was in possession of an alibi and they assumed the murder was an outside job, but his father, Kakuzo, tells Moore that he believes his son "was murdered by a rotten sneak lurking in my own home." Kakuzo's suspicions are confirmed when he himself is murdered under strange circumstances.
When roaming the premise, they hear a crash coming from the study and Kakuzo screaming a warning, "don't open the door," but there's no other way to enter the room and when they open the door they find him hanging from the ceiling – bleeding from the mouth and gasping for breath. Kakuzo died en route to the hospital. Once again, the situation precludes suicide and a blood-dripped dying message claims the killer is from Hades itself, but I found this dying clue to be ridiculous, unconvincing and completely unsolvable for non-Japanese speaking readers. The actual gem of the plot is the rather ingenious method for the hanging and the role a shattered vase had in its setup. It also revealed itself to be, somewhat, of a locked room mystery.
There is, however, one weakness: Kakuzo probably would not have died, because there was no sheer drop to break the neck and only dangled shortly at the end of that rope. So he probably would not have died in real-life, but, nonetheless, a clever trick showing the hand of a particular cruel and vengeful murderer. By the way, the method for the drowning was much simpler, but equally cruel and "both murders were designed to prolong the victims' suffering."
The second story is an inverted mystery: Satan Onizuka is the lead singer of "a visual rock band," Styx's III, who has a serious falling out with his personal agent and he goes to town on him with a sharp knife. Scene of the crime is a private-room at Nichiuri TV-station and the question this poses is how the rock singer managed to kill his agent without being seen in the corridors.
Satan Onizuka presents himself as a demonic singer, complete with Kiss-style makeup, which prevented him from moving around the studio complex without being recognized. It's unlikely he wiped his face clean and reapplied the face paint upon his return to his dressing room, because he happened to occupy the only dressing room that was stripped of its mirrors and his personal handler had not yet returned with a new hand mirror – which gave him precious little wiggle room to gut his agent.
Unfortunately, for the singer, Conan, Doc Agasa and the members of the Junior Detective League were on the studio's premise at the time of the murder. They were there to attend the taping of a Samurai Kid episode, but those plans got canned. So they had to settle on playing detective. Conan sharply observes the importance of such clues as Satan's lavish lunch, his dry eyes and origami animals on the dressing room table. This all makes for a nice little story and an interesting companion piece to the previous story. The motives are pretty much the same, but the murderer turned out to be surprisingly human in this story. Even though he presented himself as a demon from hell.
By the way, I only know of one other detective story that uses origami figures as a clue: Robert van Gulik's Nagels in Ning-tsjo (The Chinese Nail Murders, 1961).
The third story is a very short, mildly humorous chase tale, consisting of a single chapter, in which Richard Moore is very keen to shake an unknown person off his tail. But this unknown person seems to be able to find him everywhere he decides to go. There's not much else to say about this chapter except it was a quick, fun little intermezzo.
Finally, the last three chapters continue with the Eisuke Hondo story-line, which is laced with important revelations about his father, sister, Rena Mizunashi, Black Organization and the involvement of the CIA. It also contains a mini-puzzle at the hospital, in which Conan has to deduce the identity of a spy from three potential suspects. One of them posing as a patient. But this story will be included in the next volume. So I might have to lift that one from the pile sooner rather than later.
Overall, a good and clever, if not always a perfect, collection of detective stories with some significant progress in one of the ongoing story-lines as one of the high spots of the volume. The other highlight was the bit with the vase from the hanging case in the first story. I genuinely liked that bit.
Well, I hope to be back before too long with a long-forgotten detective story from the Golden Age. So stay tuned!