"Anyway... this is just the sort of case that suits you down to the ground. It pleases your tortuous mind."- Inspector Japp (Agatha Christie and Charles Osborne's Black Coffee, 1998)
After my last two reads ended in utter disappointment, I wanted a guarantee of quality from my next read and turned to the one detective series that has rarely, if ever, let me down: Gosho Aoyama's seemingly never-ending detective story entitled Case Closed. The series is known outside of North America as Detective Conan and is still running strong in Japan with currently over ninety volumes, but the English releases are not quite there yet. But give them time.
The 60th volume of Case Closed opens with the conclusion of the final Eisuke Hondo story, which began in the previous book with the discovery of a body in the karaoke bar he visited with Conan, Rachel and Serena.
A man was found bludgeoned to death with the proverbial blunt instrument in Room 5 of the karaoke bar and security footage showed only four of their customers were in a position to strike the fatal blows, but one of these four potential suspects is Eisuke – which makes even Conan suspicious of him ("you're still a suspect in my book"). However, there's also the additional, quasi-impossible problem concerning the missing murder weapon. A weapon that "changed shape and vanished." The answer to the problem of the missing weapon and identity of the murderer is hidden in the items all of the suspects were carrying.
So this makes for a pretty solid case, but the ending is perhaps the most interesting part of the story. Eisuke is leaving Japan for the United States and, as he says goodbye, tricks Conan into admitting his real identity. Something Eisuke has suspected from the moment he first appeared in the series.
The next three chapters form a Junior Detective League story and has a small boy from their school asking them for help.
Kaito is the name of the boy and he's the son of the landlord of a small apartment building, which has only three tenants, but "one of the residents has been up to something suspicious every night" and the boys wants the Junior Detective League to get to the bottom of it – only to be met with unsettling news the following day. The boy and his father have been hospitalized after the home burned to the ground. Obviously, one of the three tenants attempted to radically eradicate any trace of his perfidious behavior, but Conan has only three very obscure clues to work with. There's the scorched diary of Kaito talking about Mr. Red, Mr. White and Mr. Yellow, which identified the latter as the one who had a fight with his father. But who of the three tenants is Mr. Yellow? Conan deduces his identity with the help of the other clues: a large collection of toy cars and the nickname Kaito gave him (i.e. "Kuroshi-kun").
Conan has to think here like an actual first-grader to figure out the coded clues and his deductions seem to take a bit of a leap, but, when you think about it, they do make perfect sense. I also liked how the meaning of Conan's nickname dovetailed with the color-names and toy cars.
The story also introduced a new character, Subaru Okiya, who's a graduate student and one of the suspected residents in the house fire, but everything suggests he may also be an agent of the Black Organization – codenamed Bourbon. However, he's also a fan of Conan Doyle and, as Conan remarked, "no one who likes Sherlock Holmes could be a bad person." Only the future (releases) will tell how right, or wrong, he was.
I found the following story to be surprisingly weak, dull and very easy to figure out. The Hammer Man is an urban legend of "a monster over six feet tall" who "only attacks long-haired women," but this legendary creature actually leaves bodies in his wake. However, during the last attack he was disturbed by a drunk man who managed to follow him back to an apartment building and warned the authorities. The police has the place surrounded, but when they enter the apartment someone has struck down the suspected killer. Only three people visited the place during the stakeout: a pizza delivery man, a motor cycle courier and a delivery man.
I immediately suspected what was going on and who the culprit was, which was confirmed by the clues of the clinically clean apartment room, the missing underwear and the unplugged electric razor. A filler story at best.
Luckily, this landmark volume closed with a (minor) classic. A superb impossible crime story showing what the modern crime novel could have been had they adhered to the high standards of the Golden Age, because there's a human element at the heart of this story with an explanation that gives a yank on the heartstrings – ending this volume on a melancholic note. Someone like Bill Pronzini would probably describe this story as a textbook example of humanist crime-fiction.
The story opens with Richard Moore being approached by a TV producer, Shogo Somei, who offers him a one-off special on Touto TV, but the reader soon learns there's an unscrupulous TV executive hovering in the background. Raisaku Nakame wants Somei to "pad the production budget" and hand the extra cash over to him, but he would also accept Somei's assistant producer, Maiko Kuzumi, as special "payment." So that pretty much sets the stage for murder.
Somei takes Moore, Conan and Rachel to the top-floor condo of the TV executive, but find the front door locked and chained from the inside without a sign of life coming from the other side of the door. So the door is unlocked by superintendent of the building and the chain cut, which leads them to the discovery of the executive's body with "an almond scent around his mouth." The nature of a coffee stain clearly demonstrated someone had been in the room after the victim died and that makes this an impossible murder, because there appears to have been no way the poisoner could have escaped and left everything locked from the inside – which even threw Conan off the trail for a moment.
However, a soaking wet coat and a desperate attempt by the producer to obfuscate the truth, as well as making a false confession, eventually reveals the real tragedy behind the murder. A tragedy closely tied to the locked room method, which is stunningly clever and simple, but (again) also very tragic. One of Aoyama's better locked room mysteries!
Well, as you can judge by the length of this review, I really enjoyed most of the stories in this volume and really needed the last one after the previous two disappointments. So I'll end this overlong review by stating the obvious: I really, really love Detective Conan!