The 66th installment of Gosho Aoyama's hugely popular, long-running Case Closed series, published in Japan as Detective Conan, turned out to be the first volume in ages that was completely underwhelming with only one of the three (complete) stories being any good – an impossible crime tale about a hungry, haunted store house that eats stolen treasure. But more on that delectable story later.
This volume opens with the concluding chapter of the "mystery of bloodred wall" that introduced police-detective of Takaaki Morofushi, of Nagano, who has a personal link to the tragedy that took place in "the Manor of Death." A mansion built by a millionaire and gifted to a group of artists, but one of them died tragically and ever since the place has garnered an unfavorable reputation. This reputation was compounded when another artist was starved to death in one of the room that had been blocked from the outside. However, the victim left an elaborate dying message.
One of the walls had been painted red and two wooden chairs had been nailed together, back-to-back, which were respectively painted black and white.
I've seen this dying clue referred to as fantastic and epic, but I think that would be overstating it. Nevertheless, the dying message deserves to be praised for tackling a problem often encountered with these clues, because they're regularly altered, destroyed or faked by the murderer – occasionally they were even left unfinished. So they don't really work as dying message stories, but here the victim had the time needed to create a destruction-proof dying message. And he did by simply giving it a double meaning. I only know of one other example in which the victim had the time to protect his dying message, which was in the Columbo classic Try and Catch Me (1977).
So I would definitely rank this story as a notable example of the dying message and something tells me Ellery Queen would have approved of it. Something tells me they would have appreciated the true meaning behind the painted wall and chairs.
Regrettably, the next story is a poor example of the unbreakable alibi. The Junior Detective League are at the cinema to see the latest monster movie, Gomera Final, where they find a familiar face, Inspector Santos, who's mooning about his unanswered love for Detective Sato. She changed his life when, as children, a soda drink decorated with paper cherry blossoms. The cherry blossom is "the emblem of the Japanese police" and that makes it "the flower of courage." One of the woes of the ongoing saga known as the Metropolitan Police Love Story.
At the cinema, they meet a woman who confides in them that she's being stalked and when they accompany the woman back to her condo, they discover the body of her boyfriend. Everyone knows she committed the murder, but the problem is that she was with Santos and the Junior Detective League at the cinema watching a movie. However, the alibi-trick is ridiculous with a lot that was left to chance, such as "befriending the people seated around her," establishing her alibi, but the whole trick was risky, particularly how the witnesses were used, everything could have gone wrong – like a certain someone waking up or a late moviegoer taking one of the unoccupied seats. And how she established her presence in the cinema, during the murder, was plain ridiculous.
Christopher Bush and Freeman Wills Crofts have rekindled my love of the alibi problem, but this alibi-trick was unbelievable rubbish that, even in a comic book setting, was hard to believe.
The next (locked room) story is my favorite from this volume and begins with the news of "a string of thefts," but the Junior Detective League are discussing the story of "the monster store house." A class-mate of Mitch was playing hide-and-seek in the neighborhood and was looking for a friend when he peeked through the top-floor window of an old store house, but the place was filled with expensive looking antiques – someone was staring at him from behind the treasure. The door was locked and nobody answered when he called. According to the owner, the building had been locked for years and nobody could possible be in it. And, when he unlocks the door, the place was entirely empty!
The store house was designed by a 19th century craftsman, Kichiemon Samizu, who also constructed the impenetrable vault from volumes 64 and 65. The place is reputedly haunted and, if you place anything inside, "a monster will gobble it up."
So they decide to take a look at this haunted store house and Conan witnesses this vanishing mystery first hand, when he looks through the top-floor window, but the room is, once again, completely bare when the owner unlocks the door – except for footprints in the dust. You can probably guess the nature of this locked room trick. However, it was still nicely constructed story with a nifty way to resettle a 19th century-type of locked room story in a contemporary setting. There is a nice side-story in which the members of the Junior Detective League try to upstage Conan. And he has to figure out who's giving them support in the background.
So a nice, old-fashioned impossible crime story that reminded me of Keikichi Osaka's short-short "The Hungry-Letter Box" (The Ginza Ghost, 2017).
The next story brings Harley Hartwell and Kazuha all the way from Osaka to Tokyo, because they need help finding a student attending Teitan University, Teruaki Kunisue, who grew up next door to Kazuha. Kunisue was in Osaka on holiday and Kazuha had made him a lucky charm, but Harley had accidentally given him Kazuha's charm. And she has a good reason to want it back before Harley can lay his hands on it and discover her secret.
A search that leads them to a sports bar, where Kanisue was assaulted, and Conan has to deduce, who of three suspects, had attacked him. I think the attacker was fairly obvious to spot for more than one reason. A simple and forgettable story.
Finally, the last chapter of this volume sets up an inverted detective story about the murder of a Gothic Lolita in the restroom of a dinner. As to be expected, Richard Moore, Rachel and Conan were present when the body was discovered. And that story will be concluded in the next volume.
So, all in all, this volume was rather underwhelming and only saved by the concluding chapter of the red wall case and the story about the hungry store house. Hopefully, the next volume is back up to its usual strength.