The Tattoo Murder Case (1948) by Akimitsu Takagi

Over the past nine months, I've read and reread a spate of Japanese detective novels and short stories by such mystery writers as Takemaru Abiko, Rintaro Norizuki, Edogawa Rampo, Soji Shimada and the man with the palindromic name, "NisiOisiN" – coming in addition of my regular reading of manga series like Case Closed, The Kindaichi Case Files and Q.E.D. So why not continue this trend and revisit a particular title I wanted to reread ever since reading John Russell Fearn's The Tattoo Murders (1949).

"Akimitsu Takagi" was the penname of Seiichi Takagi and worked for the Nakajima Aircraft Company during the Second World War, but lost his position when the company had to close down when the Occupational Military Government (US) banned all military industries in Japan. Reportedly, Takagi decided to become a writer on the advice of a fortune-teller.

So, along with his contemporaries, Tetsuya Ayukawa and Seishi Yokomizo, Takagi became one of the pioneers of the original, distinctly Japanese honkaku-style of detective fiction.

Shisei satsujin jiken (The Tattoo Murder Case, 1948) is, as Ho-Ling Wong perfectly described it in his own review, "a surprisingly well-polished debut novel" takes place against the backdrop of the messy, bombed-out ruins, shuttered buildings and makeshift shops of post-war Tokyo – where "ragged crowds" meander aimlessly and mingle with American soldiers. After sunset, the rubble-strewn streets "teemed with prostitutes, petty criminals and vagabonds" with occasional gunshot shattering the "uneasy silence of the night." However, the plot is deeply rooted in that "shadowy, sensual world" of tattoos and this is "the tragic story of three of those tattoos."

Horiyasu was a famous tattoo master with three children, Kinue, Tamae and Tsunetaro, two daughters and a son, who he tattooed with one of the most taboo of all tattoos, the Three Curses.

The Three Curses is the legendary tale of three sorcerers, Tsunedahime, Jiraiya, and Orochimaru, who lived in the depths of Mount Togakushi, in Nagano Prefecture, where they competed "to see who could create the wickedest, most powerful spells." Sorcerers are closely associated with three large creatures: Tsunedahime rides on an enormous slug, Jiraiya on a giant toad and Orochimaru has a huge, long snake. According to the superstition, the tattooing of a snake, a toad and slug on the people with the same blood flowing through their veins, like siblings, "the three creatures would fight to the death" – which means Horiyasu placed a deadly curse on his three children. Tamae and Tsunetaro were killed in the war. Kinue has no reason to be believe her full-body, Orochimaru tattoo will allow her to live a long, prosperous live.

Professor Heishiro Hayakawa is better known as "Doctor Tattoo" and is the curator of the beautifully macabre collection of "vividly colored, intricately-tattooed skins hanging on the walls" or "suspended from the ceiling" in the Specimen Room of Tokyo University. Professor Hayakawa works hard to expend the collection and considers Kinue's tattoo to be a national treasure, wishing to preserve it for posterity, but she keeps turning down the old "skin-peeler." Uncharacteristically, Kinue takes part in a competition of the first post-war meeting of the Edo Tattoo Society and there she meets Kenzo Matsushita.

Kenzo Matsushita is a graduate student at the medical school of Tokyo University, where he studies forensic medicine to eventually join the police medical staff, because his older brother is Detective Chief Inspector Daiyu Matsushita of the Metropolitan Police Department. So he attended the exhibition purely out professional curiosity and bumps into an old high-school friend, Hisashi Mogami, whose brother, Takezo, is married to Kinue and their uncle is Professor Hayakawa! And this is where the trouble really begins. Kenzo falls hard for Kinue, as if "bewitched by foxes," and they begin a short-lived, but passionate, relationship cut short by her murder.

Kenzo and Professor Hayakawa find, whatever remained, of Kinue in her bathroom: a severed head, two forearms and two long legs from the knees down were laid out on the tile floor, but the body's torso was missing and the murderer apparently vanished into thin air – because the horizontal bar on the door was firmly pushed in place and the window was tightly locked from the inside. A murder as gruesome as it's utterly impossible!

I first read The Tattoo Murder Case in 2006, or 2007, which was one of my first Japanese detective novels and remember liking it, but the book has gotten its share of criticism over the years. A notable example is the tepid, two-star review by "JJ," of The Invisible Event, who called the book a mix bag. So this was another reason why I wanted to reread the book. Honestly, I liked the book on my first reading, but loved it the second time around (sorry, JJ!). The Tattoo Murder Case is such a fascinating, richly detailed and smartly plotted detective story. That being said, some of the criticism is not entirely unfounded.

Firstly, the solution to the locked room puzzle is a mechanical variation on an age-old trick and recalls an impossible crime from a well-known American writer, which was handicapped by being poorly motivated (you had a point there, JJ). Nonetheless, I thought it was a clever variation that made good use of the bathroom setting. Ho-Ling pointed out in his previously mentioned review that the impossible crime element is historically important, because the story is set in a Japanese-style house that "pre-war critics thought to be unsuitable for locked room mysteries" and The Tattoo Murder Case was one of the first counter arguments.

The explanation as to how the murderer removed the tattooed torso from the locked bathroom even had a glimmer of Chestertonian brilliance!

Secondly, the story is, while not great, competently plotted with some genuinely inspired bits and pieces, but weren't always utilized to their full potential – showing a promising, but inexperienced, mystery writer. A good example is the back-story of the cursed tattoos and how the murder is supposed to look like the fulfillment of a curse, but this aspect is never played up. This would have been a very different story in the hands of John Dickson Carr, Paul Halter or Hake Talbot! Another problem is that the small selection of Japanese mysteries available in English comprises largely of novels with often more ambitious, better executed and original plots. If I would compile a top 10 of translations, The Tattoo Murder Case would be in the bottom five, but still good enough to make the top 10.

Takagi didn't simply use "the world of sharp needles and vermilion ink" as an immersive, vividly colored canvas to play out a detective story in front, like a stage set, but the history and superstitions of this world provided clues, answers and even clever bit of misdirection to the plot. Particularly the historical bits, character backstories and the outside, post-war malaise that had shattered the old order makes for engrossing reading. Another point of historical interest is the detective of the story, Kyosuke Kamizu, who appears very late in the game.

Two months later, the murder of Kinue remains unsolved and two additional bodies have been found in abandoned and burned-out buildings. So Kenzo decides to consult an old school chum, Kyosuke Kamizu, who as a youth of nineteen spoke six foreign languages and was christened by his fellow students "Boy Genius" – a nickname he always despised. Now he does special research in forensic medicine at the Tokyo University Medical School. Kyosuke appears to have been created as a younger and more likable version of S.S. van Dine's Philo Vance, but I recognized in him a rough prototype of the high-school/university student detectives that dominate so many anime-and manga mystery series.

Kyosuke makes quick work of the locked room problem and solves the whole case in the last one-hundred pages with his pet theory of "criminal economics." A satisfactorily conclusion to a (historically) engrossing detective story.

The Tattoo Murder Case is a mystery rich in history with an, especially at the time, original and a well-done plot, which has since been overshadowed by translations of his shin honkaku decedents. But that only adds to the story's historical importance and interest. If I were to compile a Haycraft-Queen-like Cornerstones of the Locked Room Mystery, The Tattoo Murder Case would be on it. So, long story short, I really liked it.


Where There's a Will (1961) by Kip Chase

Previously, I reviewed F. van Wyck Mason's Seeds of Murder (1930) and a short story by Paul Charles, "The Riddle of the Humming Bee" (2017), which were long overdue returns to writers I discovered in 2018 and decided to go for the hat-trick.

Last year, I read Murder Most Ingenious (1962) by "Kip Chase," a pseudonym of Trevett C. Chase, who impressed me as a member of that lost second generation of Golden Age mystery writers, but Chase succeeded in getting at least three of his novels published – giving us a glimpse of what could have been had publishers not stumbled in the opposite direction. I blame Julian Symons.

Anyway, the modestly-titled Murder Most Ingenious certainly lived up to its claim with a cleverly handled plot about a stolen painting, shady development deals and the lingering effects of the Korean War. Not to mention a very original locked room-trick and a fascinating detective-character. So more than enough reason to finally return to this unjustly, long-forgotten mystery writer.

Where There's a Will (1961) was the first of only three novels by Chase and was written on "a Remington portable typewriter on the fender of a Ford panel truck," carrying navigational equipment for an offshore geophysical crew, "along the coastline of Trinidad." Chase dictated his next two novels, Murder Most Ingenious and Killer Be Killed (1963), to a tape recorder while commuting to his next job at Vandenberg Air Force.

This short-lived series introduced the first wheelchair-bound detective, Justine Carmichael, preceding both Arthur Porges' Cyriack Skinner Grey and the iconic TV-detective, Robert T. Ironside.

Justine Carmichael is the former, highly regarded chief of the Los Angeles Police Department's Homicide Division, but "a thirty-eight calibre, 158-grain slug" put him in a wheelchair and forced him to retire early from a decorated career in the force – which happened four years before the opening of the story. However, Carmichael is still called upon by his former colleagues as "an unofficial adviser." One of these old colleagues is Louis Delmar, Police Chief of San Margaret, who asks his help with the murder of "a big society grande dame."

Where There's a Will opens with the murder of an incredibly rich widow, Mrs. Constance DeVoors, who enjoyed castigating servants, embarrassing people publicly and took pleasure in knowing people hated her, but "were powerless to do her harm because of her wealth." Obviously, the person who entered her bedroom and strangled her with a necktie proved that was a deadly assumption. So this leaves Chief Delmar with a bunch of oddball house guests, staff and relatives as potential suspects equipped with strong motives and shaky alibis to sort out.

These oddball house guests comprise of a representative of the yogi-cult, Sra Kuru, who received a monthly donation from Mrs. DeVoors. Two phony Russian aristocrats, Count and Countess Ivanov. Mr. Augustus Veblen is a writer and a semi-permanent house guest, of sorts, who "leaves everybody alone and vice versa." Mrs. DeVoors was strangled with the necktie that belongs to her nephew, Dr. Jack Newton, who was cut out of her will after one hell of row, but he claims he was with his father, Old Philip Norton – who's the caretaker of his sister's lodge up in the San Bernardino mountains. Jack claims to have been with his father on the night of the murder, but Philip has gone horseback riding in the woods. And is practically impossible to get hold of until he comes back. Since this is an updated Golden Age mystery, you can't entirely write off the household staff. You have a surely butler-chauffeur, George Awlsen, who loves to talk about his amorous exploits. A tanned, blonde secretary, Miss Elinor Wycliff, who has given her employer looks of "pure venom." Lastly, a bible-reading maid and a perfectly happy cook. All of them have a story to tell, but which of those stories are relevant to the solution?

A classic and traditionally-structured premise for a good, old-fashioned detective story, but Chase tried here, as he did in his next novel, to place the story in the real world. The murder of Mrs. DeVoors is treated as the exception to the rule, because murders are mostly cases of "husband shoots wife, wife shoots husband" or "man gets hit a little too hard in a bar fight" – there's "very seldom any "mystery" about it." A nice example of this is when Carmichael shows his grandson, "Pinkie," who's an aspiring policeman, a report sheet with ninety-nine percent of daily police work (e.g. disturbance calls and runaway juveniles).

Regardless, the solution is still in the grand, fair play tradition of the Golden Age detective story. Admirably, Chase tried to fuse the best of the genre's past and present together, which makes it so frustrating he only got to write three novels, because in my opinion he succeeded. Chase was evidently an avid mystery reader and knew what makes a good plot tick. More importantly, how to put one together himself.

When the details begin to emerge about the provisions in Mrs. DeVoors' scewball will and the circumstances of a second, apparently botched, murder, the perceptive reader should be able to separate the red herrings from the clues – work out what happened, who's responsible and why. Carmichael credits "a dead deer and a baseball player" as the vital clues that solved the case, but the baseball-clue was badly telegraphed. I immediately spotted it and knew how it was going to be used!

So, if you pay close attention to the clues, you can solve the case when you reach the final quarter of the story, but Where There's a Will still stands as a strong debut with an inspired, cleverly handled plot and story that tried to do something new with old tropes. Something the story succeeded in admirably, I think. I especially liked the last, final lines of the story beautifully tiptoeing between the classic detective story and modern crime novel. What I appreciated the most was the inspired plotting that reminded me of early Christopher Bush with something I can only describe as negative or reverse alibi. You know what I mean when you figure out or read the solution.

A long story short, I recommend Chase's Where There's a Will and Murder Most Ingenious unreservedly as rare examples of finely crafted detective novels from the sixties not written by an established Golden Age writer. And in a normal, rational and functionally world, Chase would have went on to become a leading light of a Second Golden Age we never got. Once again, I blame Julian Symons.


Behind the Music: "The Riddle of the Humming Bee" (2017) by Paul Charles

Just like my previous blog-post, this is a return to a mystery writer I only discovered last year, namely Paul Charles, who's a concert promoter, manager and an avid consumer of detective stories from Northern Ireland.

Paul Charles was inspired by Colin Dexter's Inspector Morse to create his own series-detective, Detective-Inspector Christy Kennedy, who made his first appearance in I Love the Sound of Broken Glass (1997), but I started with the fourth title in the series, The Ballad of Sean and Wilko (2000) – a modern locked room mystery with two impossible murders deeply immersed in the British music scene. And that last bit seems fairly typical for Charles' output.

I wanted to make his second locked room mystery, The Hissing of the Silent Lonely Room (2001), my next stop in the series, but recently discovered Charles has penned a short, inverted-like impossible crime story.

"The Riddle of the Humming Bee" was originally published in the CWA Anthology of Short Stories: Mystery Tour (2017), edited by Martin Edwards, which takes place during a tour of the Humming Bees. A band who had "a reasonable first flush of success" with their first album and had a popular song on their second, "Skybird," but the lead-singer, Harry Hammond, could "only dream about the success that had so far evaded the band." So the Humming Bees are pretty much on the road to obscurity and the story opens when the band has arrived at the 149-year-old Ulster Hall in Bedford Street, Belfast, where the body of the lead guitarist, Barry "Joey" Simpson, is found face down in a five-hundred-gallon water tank – a guitar string still embedded deeply in his neck. Inspector McCusker doesn't know "a lot about pop music or musicians," but the burden falls on him to untangle this knotty problem.

Firstly, "The Riddle of the Humming Bee" is rich in detail when it comes to the history of the band and the relationship between the main band members.

Obviously, Charles enjoyed fleshing out the background of the Humming Bees, which humbly began as "an Everly Brothers kind of act," but Joey's brother, Brian, had "no stomach for the road" and Harry Hammond was enlisted to take his place. However, Brian was a good song writer and their first album consisted entirely of his songs. And their best-known song was also from his hands. This collaboration ended when the brothers had a fallout and the band began to decline in popularity.

You can find a similar exploration of the back-story of a once popular band during a seventies revival in The Ballad of Sean and Wilko, which is definitely a strength of the series, because the pop-music scene is not a backdrop often used in these kind of traditionally-structured mysteries – giving it a touch of authenticity and infectious enthusiasm by the author's first-hand knowledge and love for the subject matter. Unfortunately, in the short story format, this came at the cost of the plot.

A warning to the reader: the weird structure of the story, as discussed below, made some spoilers unavailable. Nonetheless, I tried to be as short and vague as humanly possible. So the reader has been warned!

"The Riddle of the Humming Bee" begins with setting up, what appears to be, a classic locked room situation, but this leads to the discovery of a non-impossible murder and the beginning of a whodunit. Only for McCusker to decide 2/3 into the story that people with "nice tidy alibis" are suspicious, which turns the story into an inverted impossible crime tale, as the murderer had locked himself into his hotel room that was under observation. The locked room-trick is very involved and depends on the architecture of the building, but the scene of the crime is never explored and this makes the explanation feel like a bit of a cheat, because it hinges on a lot that we're never told about. Such as what was right outside the window.


"The Riddle of the Humming Bee" has an interesting premise with a good, fleshed out background, but the way in which the story was told and structured prevented the plot from playing fair with the reader. I think could have been prevented had the story been played as an inverted locked room mystery from the start. So the story left me a little disappointed. However, this minor letdown won't deter me from trying The Hissing of the Silent Lonely Room in the future.


Seeds of Murder (1930) by Van Wyck Mason

Last year, I read The Fort Terror Murders (1931) by Francis van Wyck Mason, an importer, historian and writer, who saw battle as a sixteen-year-old artillery officer in the First World War and served as a Chief Historian on General Eisenhower's staff during the Second World War – where he was tasked with documenting the war. Van Wyck Mason's wartime experiences left an indelible mark on his writing.

An anonymous comment was left on my review of The Fort Terror Murders explaining Van Wych Mason's long-running Captain Hugh North series has two main periods.

The first period covers the fourteen novels published between 1930 and 1940, which have the word "murder" or "murders" in their title and "tend to have elements of the Golden Age detective story," but the second period moved away from detection towards more spy-oriented intrigue novels – starting with The Rio Casino Intrigue (1941) and ending with The Deadly Orbit Mission (1968). Apparently, the second period stopped using gorgeous "location maps" such as the layout of the star-shaped fort in The Fort Terror Murders. What a shame!

Another anonymously posted comment confirmed my suspicion that the first title in the series, Seeds of Murder (1930), is a traditional, Golden Age detective novel complete with a Dr. Watson-like narrator, odd clues, charts and a floor plan. Surprisingly, the story turned out to be an American-style mansion mystery in the tradition of S.S. van Dine, Clyde B. Clason and Roger Scarlett!

Seeds of Murders begins in the villa Royal and Phyllis Delancey on Long Island Sound, between Connecticut and Long Island, where they're hosting a house party and a thunderstorm "howled about the villa like a chorus of anguished demons" as guests are dripping in. The guest list comprises of Phyllis' brother, Adrian Courtney, who brought along his present affaire du Coeur, Miss Faustina Welford. Royal Delancey invited his business partner, Jacob Wallace, along with a young redhead, Miss Dolly O'Day, and a long-standing friend from his days as a planter in the Philippines, Fred Burton – who's "a poor but honest henequin planter." Finally, there's the narrator, Dr. Walter Allan, who met that famous detective of the Army Intelligence Bureau during "the dark days of 1917."

Captain Hugh North is described as "probably the best detective this side of Scotland Yard," attached to the Army Intelligence Bureau, but "the Federal Secret Service borrows him a lot of the time." He was supposed to accompany Dr. Allan to the villa, but was delayed by government business and the last to arrive.

Shortly after Captain North arrived, the startled butler, Alonzo, jabbers in Spanish that there's "a dead man upstairs." Jacob Wallace is dangling from "a bright nickel chain," suspended from a hook in the ceiling, in the middle of a spacious bathroom and there are "three small, cream-colored seeds" arranged in "a precise triangle." Captain North suspects this was a murder clumsily disguised as a suicide, but Lieutenant Bullock overlooked the obvious clues and believes it was a simple suicide.

He looks way too happy
Until a second, unmistakable murder is committed that night with three seeds arranged in "a neat, equilateral triangle" beneath the chair of the victim. Someone has attempted to pry open the secondary door of a wall safe that was found with its outer door standing wide open.

The contents of the wall safe revealed that the plot was constructed around a familiar theme in detective fiction at the time, namely the financial shenanigans of bankers, stockbrokers and financiers, which was a response to financial ruination of the Stock Market Crash of 1929 and the onset of the Great Depression – e.g. Freeman Wills Crofts' Mystery in the Channel (1931). And in this case, the financial wizardry at the brokerage firm of the victim's provided an honest man with the means, opportunity and motive for murder, but did he kill them?

Seeds of Murder has a good premise with a pretty well-done, skillfully handled, but ultimately simplistic, which only has one weakness: the plot has too many moving parts, operating independently, which means you have to accept that all these parts collided at roughly the same time and place. However, Van Wyck Mason presented this string of crimes as convincingly as possible and those individual parts were very well handled. The bungled murder of Jacob Wallace, solved with a quarter of the story left to go, was fairly clued and the clue of the running water was more than just a little clever, while the second murder and attempted safe cracking gave the story some good set pieces – only linked together by the characters and those mysterious seeds underneath the bodies. Van Wyck Mason added a nice touch by making the vital clue to the second murder only available to the narrator and reader. Captain North has to rely on a coded message to lure out the murderer.

All things considered, Seeds of Murder is a relatively short, competently plotted and solidly clued detective novel that you can breeze through in one sitting. So hardly a landmark title in the history of the genre, but a good debut and surprisingly traditional for a writer who would move towards political intrigues and spy-thrillers only a decade later.

Anyway, you can definitely expect more reviews of those earlier, Golden Age-style Captain North mysteries on this blog in the future. So stay tuned!


The Tormented Bookshop: "The Case of the Murder on D. Hill" (1925) by Edogawa Rampo

Hirai Tarō is the father of the Japanese detective story and choose as his nom-de-plume a phonetic rendering of the name of the progenitor of the genre, Edgar Allan Poe, which translated to Japanese is "Edogawa Rampo" – whose work he greatly admired and developed in "a distinctly Japanese form." Rampo graduated from Waseda University in 1916, but had to work a series of odd jobs until Shin-Seinen (New Youth) published his first short story, "Nisendōka" ("The Two-Sen Copper Coin"), in 1923. A story inspired by Poe's "The Gold Bug" (1843).

"The Two-Sen Copper Coin" was the first step Rampo took to become the Founding Father of the Japanese detective story, but historically, one of his most important stories was published a few years later.

"D zaka no satsujin-jiken" ("The Case of the Murder on D. Hill") was originally published in the January, 1925, issue of Shin-Seinen and collected in The Early Cases of Akechi Kogorō (2014). Rampo wrote the story to disprove the claim that it was impossible to set "the secret incidents and mysterious dealings," forming "the core of the modern Western mystery," in "the open, wood-and-paper houses of Japan" – prophesying that the country will never produce a strong mystery tradition of its own (ha!). So he proved them wrong by constructing a locked room mystery set in one of those houses of paper and bamboo with sliding doors and tatami-matted floors.

However, the impossible murder in a secondhand bookshop is not what gives "The Case of the Murder on D. Hill" its historical status, but that it introduced the first iconic Japanese detective, Akechi Kogorō. I also think the story is, historically, interesting as an early example of the double solution reasoned from the same (physical and psychological) evidence. Anthony Berkeley would have loved this story for more than one reason!

"The Case of the Murder on D. Hill" is narrated by a young man, just out of school, but without work and idles away his time reading at his boardinghouse or staring out of the window of an inexpensive café, The Plum Blossom House, where he became acquainted with Akechi Kogorō – who charmed him with "his love of detective fiction." One day, they notice something irregular going on at the secondhand bookshop opposite the café. When they go to investigate, they discover the murder of the bookshop owner's wife. She had been a childhood friend of Akechi.

Only problem is that every entrance, or exit, was under observation by reputable witnesses and nobody was seen entering, or leaving, the secondhand bookshop at the time of the murder.

Regrettably, the identity of the murderer and solution to the locked room murder were uninspired, but where the story briefly became a genuine classic was when the narrator began to unfurl his solution to the crime. A solution brilliantly accusing Akechi (!) based on such clues as fingerprints on a light switch, a striped yukata (kimono) and the murderer's apparent ability to become invisible. Only other example of a false solution leveled against the detective that I can think can be found in Berkeley's masterly done Jumping Jenny (1933).

The translator of The Early Cases of Akechi Kogorō, William Varteresian, noted in his introduction that Rampo wanted to be "judged and considered on the same terms as those of prominent Western authors."

So, when stacked up against its Western counterparts of the period, "The Case of the Murder on D. Hill" is (plot-wise) a very minor work with only two distinguishing features: a correct and false solution that were extracted from the same evidence and the "disgraceful behavior" that provided a morbid motive for the murder. A motive that would certainly have raised some eyebrows in the Western world of 1925. However, in Japan, this story was as important as Poe's "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" (1841), Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's A Study in Scarlet (1887) and G.K. Chesterton's The Innocence of Father Brown (1911). Recommended to genre historians and readers interested in the history of the genre.


Beware of the Dog: Case Closed, vol. 70 by Gosho Aoyama

The 70th volume of Gosho Aoyama's Case Closed, originally titled Detective Conan in Japan, is composed of two grand stories, involving Harley Hartwell and Kaito KID, but the opening chapter concludes the story that began in the last two chapters of the previous volume – in which the Junior Detective League uncover a dark crime in an empty house haunted by piano music. A very minor and forgettable story.

However, the next two stories are wonderfully done homages to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Hound of the Baskervilles (1902) and Maurice Leblanc.

One of my favorite recurring side-characters returns in the first story, Jirokichi Sebastian, whose foil is that elusive master magician of thievery, Kaito KID, but this time, the game is played a little bit different without the grand traps and counter plots of their previous encounters – e.g. volumes 61, 65 and 68. Aoyama came up with good reason that makes this such an interesting and unusual story.

The story is set against a revival of public interest in a historical figure, Ryōma Sakamoto, who was revolutionary reformer instrumental in setting the stage for the Meiji Restoration in 1868. Jirokichi Sebastian has opened an exhibition devoted to him at the Great Sebastian Museum and the centerpiece is "the jeweled gun belt" that was gifted to Ryōma, which has "a huge ruby embedded in the buckle." Shishihiko Tarumi is the sleazy owner of the belt and had the item authenticated by a shady appraiser, Masanosuke Hanamura, but refused to sell it to Jirokichi. Only agreeing to loan it to him for exhibition.

Normally, the gun belt would be used as bait in an attempt to trap Kaito KID, however, the thief has announced that he'll be visiting the Ryōma exhibition soon, not to steal the gun belt, but "to return three items" that were stolen twenty years ago – namely a half-finished letter, a drinking cup and a Smith & Wesson model 1 revolver. A gift from America that went with the bejeweled belt. These historical items were stolen by "a famous thief and mistress of disguise from the Showa Era," The Phantom Lady, who employed "theatrical tactics straight out of horror movies" to steal from "corrupt companies and crooked millionaires." And the story suggests she's related to KID.

So here the problem is not how KID is going to take a valuable object from the museum, which Jirokichi turned into "a high-tech rat trap," but how he's going to return the stolen loot from twenty years ago. This involves a minor, quasi-impossible problem: how did KID get the revolver pass the metal detector and three security gates.

On a whole, this was a fun little caper with clever bits, such as why KID's scheme required a rainy day, but the inverted take on the traditional heist stories in this series is what made it a truly memorable meeting between Conan, Jirokichi and KID.

The second story is Aoyama's homage to Doyle's The Hound of the Baskervilles with a dash of Seishi Yokomizo's Inugamike no ichizoku (The Inugami Clan, 1951), which found a completely new way to explain the presence of a spectral beast hounding members of a cursed family to their deaths. A story that begins when Harley Hartwell and Kazuha visit Richard Moore, Rachel and Conan to entice them to join them on a real-life counterpart of the Baskerville case.

Five years ago, the chairman of the Inbushi Group, Tsunechika Inubushi, died of terminal cancer, but, after his death, "tons of people showed up at his family's doorstep" claiming to be his love-children – claims backed up by photos of their mothers with the chairman. However, while the claims could not be fully proved, his widow adopted no less than eight of them! More importantly, the vast family fortune will be divided between them when the now sickly widow dies. And this makes it very suspicious that two of them have died under peculiar circumstances.

One of the victim's fell off a cliff, but lived long enough to tell he had been chased by "a demon dog with a body of blazin' fire." Reputedly, one of the heirs is an impostor with a grudge against the family and is trying to eradicate the bloodline by "summoning a spectral hound."

Hartwell became involved with the case and traveled to Tokyo to talk with one of the heirs, who left the family estate and renounced his inheritance, but they arrived too late. The man is found dead, besides a charcoal stove, with the door and windows sealed with duct tape. A classic locked room mystery, but Conan and Hartwell immediately solve the problem, which I suspected (considering the situation) would borrow its solution from a relatively well-known impossible crime novel by a famous mystery writer – which was not the case. The trick used here is pretty daring and dangerous, but could have been improved by adding a single detail to the murderer's plan.

By the way, the name of the victim happens to be Shinichi Kudo, which is Jimmy Kudo's (Conan) name in the original Japanese manga. There is, however, no deeper meaning to them sharing the same name.

What does deepen the mystery is the explanation to the problem of the sealed room and they decide to go down to the Inubushi estate to tackle the demonic dog head on. But what they got is another murder, a trail of blazing paw-prints and they even witnessed the flaming dog on two separate occasions. On the second time, it attacked one of the heirs before vanishing as if by magic in the dark night.

After a while, the murderer is relatively easily spotted and the explanation for the flaming paw-prints is not entirely convincing, although the clue of the smell of rotten onions was clever, but the trick behind the spectral dog with a body of fire was brilliant – a trick demonstrating that modern innovations hasn't made clever plotting obsolete. This story is basically a retelling of Doyle's The Hound of the Baskervilles with a modern interpretation of the ghost-trick from Jacques Futrelle's "The Mystery of the Flaming Phantom" (1907). A great story to close out this milestone volume.

So, all in all, this is a solid volume with two great stories featuring some of the series most popular recurring side-characters, which made the weak story that opened it more than forgivable. And now, onwards to volume 80!

On a final note, I compiled a list back in April of my five favorite locked room mysteries and impossible crimes from this series, which you can read here, if you're interested or missed it.