The 68th volume of Gosho Aoyama's Case Closed, published in the non-English speaking world as Detective Conan, begins with the final chapter of the story that closed the previous volume and has one of those which-of-the-three setups littering the series, but here it was poorly executed with a painfully obvious solution – resulting in an incredibly mediocre story. Luckily, the next two stories are much better.
The plot of the second story centers on another ill-fated attempt by Rachel to get her estranged parents, Richard Moore and Eva Kaden, back together and the birthday of her mother provides her with an opportunity. Rachel has won a weekend getaway at the Shizuoka Seaside Hotel, which is a perfect location for a small, intimate birthday party, but the series murder-magnet, Conan, tagged along with Rachel, Richard and Eva. So a murder interrupting the birthday party is a question of when, not if.
Eva Kaden is a busy, successful attorney at law and had to reschedule an important meeting to the hotel where she was having her birthday party.
Kaden's client are a former model, Akiho Kokubu, who has been the victim of a stalker and her husband, Takehiko Kokubu. Their appointment was to arrange an out-of-court settlement with the mother of the man who was stalking her, all of whom are in the hotel, but, before their scheduled meeting can take place, Akiho's body "appeared out of nowhere" in Kaden's hotel room when she was taking a shower – which is patently impossible. The hotel room has a door that can only be opened with a key card and has a small window without a balcony. So how did the murderer enter or leave the locked room?
The problem of the locked room is practically immediately solved, but this answer reveals a second problem hiding underneath it. How could the murderer have carried out a certain task requiring two, or more, people? One of the clues gave me an idea how this could have been done, but failed to completely envision the trick before it was revealed. So a good, richly clued story with a sugary ending.
The third story marks the return of my favorite recurring side-character, Jirokichi Sebastian, who's Serena Sebastian's rich uncle and sworn nemesis of that infamously elusive thief, Kaito KID. Jirokichi has attempted to capture KID numerous times, such as in volumes 44, 61 and 65, but it was Conan who, time and time again, prevented KID from getting away with a valuable object – something that gave the old man an idea. Jirokichi has gotten the traditional warning note from KID promising that, when the moon is full, he'll appear again "to take the Kirin's Horn," but this time he had added a post-script. A post-script asking Jirokichi to "put aside childish things" and "settle this like men."
Jirokichi deduces from this that he wants adults present, not children, because "children are Kaito KID's weakness." After all, not even a master of disguise, like KID, can pass himself off as a child. So he places Conan and the Junior Detective League in the limelight. Admittedly, this was certainly the most original way to shoehorn them into a case without them just being there. Conan remained surprisingly cool-headed in the face of all those rollings news camera considering that it could blow his cover wide open. Anita at least pulled her hoodie over her head, but Conan like a deer in the headlights.
Anyway, the Kirin's Horn is "a rare piece of amber" containing "a seed that's ten of thousands of years old," which was recently discovered in a shrine constructed by the devilishly ingenious 19th century craftsman, Kichiemon Samizu – whose "tricky devises" has given Conan and KID hard times on several occasions. However, the presence of his long-dead hand, sort of, gave away the mechanics of the plot.
Nevertheless, the impossible situation that emerged from this setup was an intriguing one: the Kirin's Horn is part of a statue, well hidden inside a mechanical pillar, which stands in the middle of a small room with four differently colored pedestals in each corner. All of these pedestals have keyholes and the four colored keys have to be turned at the exactly the same time to make the statue inside the pillar appear. Jirokichi ordered an electrical current to be placed on the pedestals and placed members of the Junior Detective League in front of the keyholes. Finally, Jirokichi nailed the keys into the wall with a big staple.
Well, in spite of all the security measures, the lights go out as predicted and it takes KID only a minute to steal the horn, but he has a problem, because the trap is sprung and he's trapped inside the shrine – along with the police, a film crew and Jirokichi. Uncharacteristically, KID has taken Conan out with a taser and spends most of the story lying in the middle of the room, like John Kramer, but why?
Seriously, I began to suspect KID had gotten his hands on some short-term APTX 4869 and had taken Conan's place, which would be perfectly acceptable within this universe and this would explain why Anita and Conan acted differently towards the news cameras. You know, KID would look practically identical to Conan as a child. Luckily, this turned out not to be the case and the explanation showed a little but more ingenuity. The locked room trick is mainly a mechanical one, which is hardly a spoiler, but still required enough subterfuge and manipulation of the situation to not make the mechanical aspect feel like a cop-out.
As a bonus, KID gives the reader a second locked room mystery when he appears to be trapped, but simply vanishes when the lights go out for a second or two! The solution is very comic book-like, but have come across it before in a short story and admired the skillfully placed red herring that made it very easy to overlook the solution.
Admittedly, this is far from the best story with either Jirokichi, KID or the lingering presence of Kichiemon Samizu, but still found this to be a wonderfully imagined, cleverly constructed and enjoyable story.
Regrettably, this volume is book-ended by two incredibly mediocre stories and the final story deals with a purse snatcher, disguised in a goofy-looking Hyottoko mask, who targets tori-no-ichi markets and his latest victim is Rachel's best friend, Serena Sebastian – who's determined to get revenge. So they're present when the purse snatcher wounds a man with knife and the victim, before losing conscious, gives Conan a cryptic, near-death-message. However, Western readers rarely have a shot solving the codes or dying messages in this, because they nearly impossible to translate. And this story is no different. So that probably detracted something from this pretty average, uninspired which-of-the-three detective story.
All in all, this was a fairly balanced volume with weak stories opening and closing this collection, but wedged in between you'll find two solid cases and one of them has appearances of some of my favorite recurring side-characters. And those two stories were more than enough to leave me satisfied.