The Adventure of the Scarlet Blaze

"The one who gets the last laugh isn't the criminal, but the little guy with the big brain."
- Hattori Heiji (a.k.a. Harley Hartwell)
Ever since I began participating in the online mystery community, I triumphantly lured over a dozen fellow enthusiasts into reading Kelley Roos' The Frightened Stiff (1942) and John Sladek's Black Aura (1974) and unintentionally resurged an interest in the obscure, hard-to-get books by Anthony Wynne – who stands as one of the most fertile writers of impossible crime stories. But try as I might, I just can't seem to generate even half as much attention or buzz for Case Closed / Detective Conan as I did for an unremembered writer whose books have been out-of-print for nearly seven decades – even with the backing from Ho-Ling and Patrick. This makes me wonder if the lack of overlap, between readers of Conan and Golden Age Detectives, isn't due to mis-advertisement but simply an unbridgeable age and cultural gap. I mean, here we have a detective series that literarily has everything one hopes to finds in well-written, tightly plotted and fairly clued mysteries, ranging from classic locked room mysteries to character-driven suspense stories, but, for some reason or other, older readers seem to be unable to warm up to it.

I hope this is an misunderstanding on my part, but whatever the answer may be, we will continue to proselytize, indoctrinate and incorporate new members into the Cult of Conania, and here's my latest contribution:   

Blazing Horses and a Glowing Firebug

The first murder case of this volume covers just about half of the book, and has Conan and Harley hot on the trail of a serial arsonist – whose modus operandi varies case by case but are signed with the incendiaries unmistakable trademark signature: leaving a small statuette of a red blazing horse at the scene of each inferno. At heart, this is a blazing eulogy to the memory of Agatha Christie, which adeptly avoid the familiar pitfall filled with tired old clichés and misconceptions, but it's also a solid detective story in its own right. And it's always a pleasure to watch Conan and Harley team-up.  

Murder Among Friends

Professor Agasa chaperons another outdoors excursion for Conan and his buddies from The Detective Boys, when they bump into a group of friends from a college club touring around in a campervan and not unexpectedly one of them turns up dead after briefly disappearing from the party. On the surface, it has all the earmarks of an unfortunate accident, but a bike in perfect working order, tire tracks and a bloody picnic blanket are the silent witnesses that scream out foul play. The gist of the trick is easily deduced, but the clueing and use of the outside environment makes this a satisfying detective story.

The Mother Hunt

In the final story of this collection, Richard Moore is employed by a well-known child actor who was abandoned by his mother when he was only a baby, however, recently he has been receiving a slew of postcards which were evidently send by his mother – and he wants the famous Sleeping Moore to locate her. However, it's Conan who does a top-notch job at deducing her whereabouts from the tell-tale clues on the postcards. As a matter of course, their mother hunt turns into a murder investigation and they have to deduce who of three women strangled a freelance, hack mudracker – and who of them is the boys mother. Not one of the best stories in the series, but it has nifty visual clue that I really liked. The deadliness of the murder weapon is questionably, though.


  1. I have to admit I'm somewhat muddled over what you mean about the first story, but the book sounds like a blast nonetheless.

  2. Yeah, I guess that part is a bit incomprehensible if you haven't read the story, but I don't want to give anything away – even though seasoned mystery readers, and Agatha Christie fans in particular, will stumble to part of the solution soon enough.

    It really is a blast of a book. And Coffee Poirot > Starbucks!

  3. Conan will remain a hard series to sell, I think. Children? (but it might be considered a bit too mature for them in some cultures) Young adults interested in Japanese culture? (they might think it looks too childish) Detective readers? ((foreign) comics / image of manga might all play a factor)

    How different from Japan. It might have started as just a children's detective series, but it is so much a part of Japanese pop-culture nowadays. Everyone knows it. Parents watch with their children, or just on their own. The time I went to see The Raven Chaser really impressed me with its normal (!) public (it was rather empty with Lost Ship in the Sky, but still mainly an adult public).

  4. Another problem with the young adult audience is that the majority who read manga are hooked on series like Naruto and Bleach, which can make Conan heavy going with its lack of battles and an over abundance of text balloons – especially during the denouement. The ideal target audience for Conan over here remains the readers who are already familiar with GAD writers (i.e. not just Doyle and Christie), but frustratingly they refuse to be swooned off their feet by this series.

    I think the common misconception regarding the content of manga definitely is partly to blame in shooing away older readers (the "kiddy" style and the weak stories from the first dozen or so volumes is another), but it can also be something as simple and silly as having to read them from left-to-right.

    But this failure to achieve even half of the success it enjoys back in Japan is maddening, because this series can easily outsell the popular shonen series if western mystery readers pick it up in hordes. Just imagine the faces at VizHQ when those sale numbers come telling them that Conan has outgrosed Naruto! Ah, if only...

  5. The sad truth is that Comic books are dying on their feet in the West. Look at DC; they are currently about to reboot all of their comic books back to issue#1, and essentially dump decades of continuity. It's a last ditch attempt to try and win back the child readers they abandoned when they stopped selling in the local newsagent and concentrated on the comic shop instead. The comic stores are all closing down (mine is miles away), and whilst my Waterstones does carry some Manga, they're British/US reprints and they only buy more if the previous ones sell! They've certainly never carried DETECTIVE CONAN.

    There's also a cultural problem. The average GAD reader simply considers comics as kid's stuff (and the cartoony cover art that you show doesn't really help). You're asking them to fork out BIG bucks to read something that you've admitted suffers from weak stories in the first dozen volumes. The one real attempt to to do comic book detective stories in the US was the rather wonderful THE MAZE AGENCY. Despite realistic artwork/stories, this has never moved beyond being a cult favorite. What chance has DETECTIVE CONAN got?

  6. @ Sexton Blake

    I have no connection whatsoever with the world of Western comic books, but I always assumed, with all these superhero movie franchises, that that part of the industry was doing rather well. You'd expect that movies like Batman Begins and The Dark Knight would regenerate interest and bring in a bunch of new fans. If you can't capitalize on that you're obviously doing something wrong (like pulling comics from newsstands and such).

    There's definitely a cultural gap, but one that completely baffles me. One thing nearly every (informed) GAD reader has in common, is that we would love to see more translations of neo-orthodox Japanese mysteries. Here we have one of the best and most popular series appearing regularly in English translations, but it's ignored because they're in comic book format?! I don't get! I really, really don't get it!

    However, the publishers of these series aren't entire free of blame, either! Manga's services nearly every market imaginable, no matter how small, which means that you can't throw every series, like Detective Conan, at the same crowd who mainly read popular shonen titles - which is exactly what they've been doing over here in the West.

    TokyoPOP's The Kindaichi Case Files is a prime example of this, which was billed as Scooby Doo for grown-ups and serves as a perfect example of people simply failing to grasp even the basics of a classically written detective story. Series like Conan and DAQ are genre specific titles targetting an audience who frequently read detective stories!

  7. Ah, the DC Comics reboot. That is a controversial topic which has many fans fuming, and I don't really blame them. It'll be nice to see crap like Frank Miller's All-Star Batman & Robin leave, but there's so much continuity that to have it all suddenly negated just feels wrong...

  8. Patrick: I've never forgiven DC for getting rid of Earth 2. I always loved the idea of the original 1940s Batman marrying Catwoman and becoming a father. Those Justice Society/Justice League crossovers were part of my childhood. I read and enjoyed some JUSTICE SOCIETY trade paperbacks recently, but otherwise it's been some years since I've collected comics. They're just so expensive for what they are!

    TomCat: The first issue of DC's recent Big Event FEAR ITSELF only sold about 130,000 copies! That's about a third of what a similar series would have sold five years ago. It's only the possible success of the franchise on film that keeps the comic companies publishing them, I think. Certainly in Britain, there's an entire generation that has grown up without much in the way of comics. I recently had a look at a pile of Brit comic books from my youth. VALIANT, LION, BULLET, WARLORD, TIGER are all vanished from the shops. Great characters like FIREBALL, SYLVESTER TURVILLE, CURSITOR DOOM, THE BLACK SAPPER, THE SPIDER are all long gone. You can get people to read comicbooks much more easily if you get them reading them whilst they're still kids. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that a lot of people just down know how to read a comic book nowadays.

  9. -> "you can't throw every series, like Detective Conan, at the same crowd who mainly read popular shonen titles - which is exactly what they've been doing over here in the West.

    (...) Series like Conan and DAQ are genre specific titles targetting an audience who frequently read detective stories!"

    Aah, but this isn't (completely) true. In fact, Conan is one of the prime examples of popular shounen manga. Yes, there are many genres within the medium, but different from novels, manga are often aimed at a very wide variety of audiences, designed to catch as many people as possible. If not, there would be a lot more genre-specific magazines in Japan, as opposed to the more general (age-oriented) magazines they have at the moment.

    People read Conan (Kindaichi Shounen, etc.) because 1) everyone reads them, 2) they run in the magazines they read anyway and most importantly, 3) because they're fun. It's not because they are frequent readers of the genre and I would even bet that a large segment of the readers read the series because they just like it because of the characters/setting/because they read it since they were a child and it's popular, not because it _is_ a detective per se. It does help that the detective plots are actually good of course. Which might spark interest with people for the genre, etc.

    Lots of detective series in Japan work like that too: series might be popular because the audience happen to like the director, they might like the actors, they might like the setting/story etc. And if the plot happens to be good, even better.

    As a Japanologist, I really hate to play the culture card, but I guess as long as comics aren't accepted as a genuine medium for top-notch fiction in some Western countries, manga like Conan have little chance with GAD readers in those areas. In Japan comics are an accepted medium, series like Conan are easily seen in magazines and on TV and thus have a bigger audience. I guess it's comparable with those popular TV shows of late, like Lost and Heroes. Haven't seen either, but I assume that a) acceptance of the medium, and b) good stories can catch any type of viewer.

  10. Yes, I knew most of that, but I was referring to US publishers and a Western audience in particular – who require a slightly different approach than the readers for who these stories were originally written. Over here, these stories are, for the most part, read directly in book form and not as a serial in a magazine. There's no commitment there. And more importantly, detective stories are such a part of Japanese pop-culture that even the most casual reader gets a running gag like the one about a dining message – while most Western readers can't even differentiate between a locked room mystery and a closed-circle of suspects situation.

    The road of success for series such as Conan, DAQ and QED is getting the real mystery aficionados interested.

  11. The problem here seems to be that mystery afficionados in the West come from very diverse social and age grouping. Some will be open to this sort of stuff, whilst others wouldn't touch it with a bargepole. The best way to sell it is by word of mouth. I have turned people on to a particular author or genre. It's a slow process, but in the long run it does work.

  12. Word of mouth is the best advertising there is, and we can only hope our efforts will end up having some effect. I truly hope it will pick up in popularity- though I've never been part of the huge manga craze, I really, really like this series.