2/19/19

The Kindaichi Case Files: The Legendary Vampire Murders

Last month, I reviewed a two-part episode of the enduring Detective Conan anime-series, The Dracula Villa Murder Case, in which a revered writer of vampire stories is impaled and crucified under apparently impossible circumstances in his locked study with the body lighted up by a running film projected – playing a movie-reel of a classic vampire flick. These episodes reminded me of another vampire-themed detective story, a manga, that has been languishing on the big pile for ages.

The Legendary Vampire Murders was originally serialized in Weekly Shōnen Magazine in 2004 and the story has convinced me that Seimura Amagi is the present-day master of the unbreakable alibi. Amagi is so much better at plotting seemingly impregnable alibis than he's at devising locked room-tricks (e.g. the elaborate, grand scale alibi-trick from The Prison Prep School Murder Case).

Hajime Kindaichi is on a bicycle tour of Japan and decides to invite his childhood friend, Nanase Miyuki, to spend a few days with him at his next stop. An almost entirely abandoned village in the middle of nowhere!

The name of the place, Buran Village, originates from "Bran Village in Transylvania" and, according to the legends, Romanian immigrants had been chased out of the village on "the suspicion that they might be vampires," but there appears to be no historical basis for this story – as the countries didn't even appear to have a formal, diplomatic relationship until 1902. So this was purely done to transplant the legend of the Transylvanian vampire to Japan. A legend that appears to be very much alive in the deserted village.

Six years previously, the vampire legend had stirred back to life when villagers witnessed "a strange scene in the middle of the night." A cloaked man with a black hat was seen walking towards the abandoned hotel and appeared to have mental control over a woman in a white dress, who sleepwalked behind him, but when a group of young man, armed with wooden crosses, investigate the hotel they make a gruesome discovery in the basement – a body of the woman with two bite marks in her neck. The coroner didn't find "a single drop of blood" in the body. As if she had been sucked dry by a vampire!

This incident was the death knell for the already struggling, partially depleted village and the place would have been a ghost town had it not been for the presence of a peculiar boardinghouse.

Hirakawa Tooru bought the abandoned hotel and turned it into a boardinghouse, fittingly named "Ruins," which looks like a derelict mansion, but the guest rooms were refurbished, comfortable and clean. A childhood classmate of Kindaichi and Miyuki, Kifune Youhei, is working part-time at the boardinghouse and hopes to make the place a haunt for "ruin maniacs" (i.e. urban explorers). His presence is one of the reasons why Kindaichi stopped in Buran Village.

There are more people who found there way to this reclusive, empty place. Nagareyama Shintarou is a novelist who's writing a book with the boardinghouse as a setting and Nekoma Junko is a freelance writer collecting data on abandoned ruins. Futaganu Ikuo is a physician and Kaitani Asaka owns a boutique, both guests of the "Ruins," who were found poking around the abandoned hospital. And their behavior and obvious lies were suspicious to say the least. Hiiro Keisuke is a young man who was stranded at the hotel, but his appearance and complexion has a suggestion of the grave. Finally, there's Minato Aoko, a staff member of the boardinghouse, who fancies herself to be somewhat of an amateur detective and Inspector Kenmoichi – asked by Kindaichi to accompany Miyuki.

So the stage is set for murder, but there's a prelude when Miyuki is kidnapped by the murderer. The killer is dressed in a long, dark coat and has bandaged face with what appears to be fangs. This doesn't happen all the time, but the Kindaichi series has seen more than one costumed murderers (e.g. The Alchemy Murder Case). Sometimes this series really is a blend of Scooby Doo, Where Are You? and a 1980s slasher movie.

During her captivity, Miyuki had been tied up and had to look on, helplessly, as the vampire murdered one of the guests, Kaitani Asaka. Just one of the perks of being friends with Kindaichi!

Miyuki and Asaka are eventually found in one of the guest rooms on the first floor of the boardinghouse. They both have bite marks in their neck, but only Miyuki lived to tell about it. The problem this murder presents is that nearly everyone possesses a perfectly acceptable alibi, because the only way to reach is the first floor is by either climbing a spiral staircase or crawl into a small dumbwaiter with a weight-limit – which are eliminated as possible entries to the first floor. A brilliant and bone chilling alibi-trick that's eligible to be considered an impossible crime as it involves a physical impossibility. I commented on Dan's 2017 blog-post, "But is it a Locked Room Mystery? The case of the impossible alibi," when an alibi-trick qualifies as an impossible crime and I think this one makes the cut. The chilling explanation of the impossible alibi is another good example of how closely related Japanese mystery writers are to the horror genre. And they often put their horror material to good and practical use. Great stuff!

Miyuki had also been found with bite marks in her neck and, according to the legend, "anyone who's attacked by a vampire will become a vampire." There might be a grain of truth in it when a murder happens that only Miyuki could have committed!

A pool of blood with a body is found in Miyuki's locked guest room, bite marks in the neck, but Miyuki had been in constant possession of the room-key and there are no duplicates. So how did a murderer manage to leave a body inside a locked room? The explanation to this problem is a relatively simple one, but the idea felt fresh and original. I've seen a similar locked room setup in another detective story, but the ending in that was, on a whole, unimpressive as the solution turned on an age-trick. Amagi here cleverly reversed that solution and the result is possibly new variation on the locked room mystery. So, once more, this is great stuff!

The identity of the murderer was better hidden than usual, but you might want to write that down to me stubbornly giving the obvious red herring the fish-eye throughout the entirety of the story. I refused to let go of that one possibility and overlooked a hint or two. Amagi even gave the shopworn motive, carted out in nearly every volume, an additional layer of depth with the horrific back-story of the past murder. The back-story would make for a great horror or thriller story when told from the perspectives of the victim and her killer. As I said before, Japanese mystery writers tend stand closer to the horror genre than their Western counterparts. The Legendary Vampire Murders is a good example of that.

So, all in all, The Legendary Vampire Murders has one of the strongest plots in the series with an ingenious alibi-trick, as classic as it's sickening, and an excellent impossible crime. The rest of the plot, especially the motive, were well handled, but the murderer's alibi and locked room illusion are the main draws of the story. A pure puzzle-plot detective story that comes recommended to mystery readers who love busting alibis and explaining miracles.

9 comments:

  1. I love and "hate" the trick of reaching the first floor. It's incredibly original and smart, but man, it's *really* creepy. Gives me goosebumps just thinking of it. The problem itself has some parallels with part of the mystery in Death TV/The Yukiyasha Murder Case by the way (in particular, Akechi's deduction).

    The live-action adaptation of this story was awful by the way. Another reboot, but none of it ever felt like it was a Kindaichi Shounen story.

    As for Hajime's bicycle trip at the start/end of the story, it's bit more ominous than just leisure, but it's not really clear if you match and mix with the anime, as these details were changed/story order is different: Ng gur raq bs gur svefg frnfba bs gur znatn, gur Zbagr Puevfgb fgbel va Ubat Xbat, Gnxngbb vf neerfgrq, ohg ur yrnirf n yrggre sbe Unwvzr, vaqvpngvat jurer ur unq yrsg fbzr "cerfragf" sbe uvz. Gung vf jul Unwvzr yrsg ba uvf ovplpyr gbhe sbe gur fhzzre ubyvqnl, gelvat gb haqb nyy bs Gnxngbb'f jbex. Gur Inzcver fgbel vf gur svefg fgbel bs gur frpbaq frnfba naq cneg bs Unwvzr'f gbhe.

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    1. Yes, the trick is disturbing. As you said, it's very original, but slightly sickening and typical Japanese.

      And since you busted out the ROT13 cipher: Fbzrgvzrf, V guvax Wncnarfr jevgref fnj n obql nf abguvat zber guna n hfrshy cebc gb perngr (uvtuyl bevtvany) ybpxrq ebbz naq nyvov-gevpxf. Lbh eneryl, vs rire, frr Jrfgrea jevgref gnxvat guvf ebhgr naq arire ba gur fnzr fpnyr nf Wncnarfr jevgref. Gur pbecfr-chmmyr/gevpx bs gur arb-begubqbk fpubby vf n Wncnarfr vairagvba. Nf ubeevoyr nf gurl pna or, gur pbecfr-chmmyr unf vaivtbengrq gurve qrgrpgvir fgbel, orpnhfr gblvat nebhaq jvgu pbecfrf naq frirerq obql cnegf bcrarq n jubyr arj nirahr bs arire orsber frra gevpxf.

      The impossible murder in the locked storage room from The Kubikiri Cycle is a good example of this and all it took was a headless body to pull it off.

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    2. Aghh... Kindaichi Shounen sounds intriguing, but I've been very nervous about reading the series ever since I learned that one of the books has a very similar trick to Tokyo Zodiac Murders (and Prison Prep School does it too to a smaller extent). It would be anticlimactic to read a classic Japanese detective novel only to go "oh, this trick is like the one from Kindaichi"

      By any chance, are there any other known Kindaichi cases that are "inspired" by the classics? It'd be great if people can know which Kindaichis to avoid until after they read the corresponding novel

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    3. "By any chance, are there any other known Kindaichi cases that are "inspired" by the classics?"

      Just avoid the stories written by Yazaburo Kanari and you're good.

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    4. Out of curiosity, which is the book which you say "Prison Prep Murders" has borrowed from?

      This story, I liked it a lot, when I saw it. I don't think the trick is that disgusting, but I will certainly agree it's a smart one.

      Amagi has this nice tendency to create some very original, even if somewhat contrived situations. This & TGQ's last case are fine examples of that.

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  2. Yannis:

    Well, I think that recognizing the similarity as you read the solution in the book is preferable to knowing from the outset that the solution is similar to such and such Kindaichi case. But if you really want to know the book's name (Rot 13):
    V yrnearq vg sebz gur pbzzragf va Ubyvatf erivrj bs gur gbxlb mbqvnp zheqref. Gur obbx gung cerc fpubby obeebjf sebz, nqzvggrqyl bayl fyvtugyl, vf wvaebwbh ab xlbhsh nxn gur greebe bs jrerjbys pnfgyr

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    1. Ok, thanks you. This book I highly doubt will be ever translated, but let's see.

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  3. Thanks for bringing Kindaichi once again to public eye, TomCat. :) I confess this wasn't one of my favourite Kindaichi stories - but your commendation of its locked-room trick makes me want to re-read it. I think of the Kindaichi stories penned by Amagi around that time, I liked the Third Opera House Murders best - even more than the highly lauded Prison Cram School Murders.

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    1. My pleasure. And I'll continue to haphazardly plow through the Amagi stories in this series. So I'll keep The Third Opera House Murders in mind.

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