The story opening the 65th volume of Gosho Aoyama's acclaimed, long-running detective series, Case Close, begins where the previous one ended and pitches an imitation of the infamous gentleman thief, Kaito KID, against the original as they clash over the contents of the Iron Tanuki – an impenetrable safe constructed by the 19th century puzzle master, Kichiemon Samizu. Caught in between them is the owner of the burglarproof safe, Jirokichi Sebastian, who acted in previous volumes (44 and 61) as a foil to KID. So far, he has been unable to ensnare the elusive thief in one of his traps.
The vault where the Iron Tanuki is kept is fitted with weight sensors, which transforms the room into an iron cage when as much as a hair touches the floor, but in the previous volume a note was left there without triggering the alarm. A note from the real KID announcing that he's coming for "the treasure in the tanuki's belly." However, the story progressed differently than I expected.
It's suspected early on that KID might already be in the house, disguised as an employee of his long-time nemesis, which is what you'd expect, but then the story begins to focus a little more on the unusual behavior of Jirokichi – such as why he has been taking two dinner plates and a walking stick with him when inspecting the safe. Or why a man, "obsessed with catching the KID," is blocking the investigation.
Conan was, as usually, present when all of this was going down and not only deduces as who KID has been posing, but also figured out why Jirokichi was behaving out of character. And this has everything to do with what they find behind the impenetrable door of the Iron Tanuki. A heartwarming explanation that turned this rogue's tale into a humanist detective story with KID as its unexpected hero ("even I bow before the original gentleman thief, Arséne Lupin"). Undoubtedly, the best story from this volume!
The second story appears to be picking up a plot-thread that was dropped after the all important, novel-length events from volume 58 and its direct aftermath in volume 59, which begins when a shocked Jodie Sterling notices the face of Shuichi Akai in a crowd of people – who supposedly died in a fiery car wreck. However, they both become hostages when a group of armed men storm Teito Bank, but the man who resembled Akai disappeared after the situation is resolved. So this was a rather minor story, but good to see that the story-line with Akai is being picked up again.
Unfortunately, the next story is not all that interesting and only functions as a bridge to the fourth and longest story in this volume.
Doc Agasa and Anita are stranded with a broken-down car and no money, but they're offered a ride from two people, a man and a woman, who happened to be on their way to see Richard Moore. However, Doc Agasa and Anita overhear them talking about Conan, saying how being "half dead ought to be enough for a kid" or how they could have prepped for "a full massacre," had they been given more time, but all of this turns out to be a misunderstanding – hinging on the knowledge of slang common in the Nagano prefecture. Their reason for coming to Tokyo is to consult Moore on the unexplained "mystery of the bloodred wall."
There's a house in the woods, initially known as the Manor of Hope, which was built by a millionaire and gifted to a group of gifted artists to help them pursue their dreams, but ever since one of them was found dead in the cellar room the place garnered a sinister reputation – now locally referred to as "the Manor of Death." Recently, the manor became the stage of a murder as bizarre as it was gruesome.
One of the artists, who was married to the dead woman, was locked inside a room by blocking the door on the outside with crates packed with books and the victim was slowly starved to death. But he left behind a curious and elaborate dying message: a wall had been spray-painted red and two wooden chairs had been nailed together, back to back, which were painted black and white. After this the victim threw all of his tools, paints and lacquers from a small window high in the wall.
So the problem of the plot is intriguing enough by itself, but the story also introduces police-detective Takaaki Morofushi, of Nagano, whose nickname is "Kong Ming." One of the many references in this story to the 14th century epic novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms.
Unfortunately, the concluding chapter of this case, which holds the solution, is part of the next volume and that one won't be published until a month from now. Oh, woe is me!
Anyway, this was a good, nicely balanced collection of stories with the two standout cases book-ending the middle ones that flirted with the ongoing story-line that runs like a red-thread through the series. So I really look forward to the next volume. Not only to find out how the last case will be concluded, but also to see what happens next with the Akai story-line. Until then, I'll probably use April to continue my probing of the Q.E.D. series and perhaps even return to the Detective Conan movies.