The 14th volume of Motohiro Katou's Q.E.D. begins strongly with "Summer Vacation Case," which is presented as relatively minor, uncomplicated slice-of-life mystery, but don't be fooled, the story poses a tricky puzzle with an impossible situation, alibi charts and a 3D floor plan – situated among the members of various college clubs. These after-school clubs are an important part of Japanese school-and university college and often feature in shin honkaku detective stories. You might remember the mystery club members who populated Yukito Ayatsuji's Jukkakukan no satsujin (The Decagon House Murders, 1987) and Alice Arisugawa's Koto pazuru (The Moai Island Puzzle, 1989). Not to mention a staple of the anime-and manga detective story.
"Summer Vacation Case" takes place at Sou Touma and Kana Mizuhara's high school during the summer holiday when "only the sound of club activities" echoed through the buildings. But everything is far from normal or peaceful on the quiet school ground and empty classrooms.
A hooligan is active on the premise and has been committing weird acts of vandalism in-and around the various school clubs. A big "X" was drawn with ink on the floor of the newspaper club's classroom. A pail with the ashes of burned newspapers was left in front of the calligraphy clubroom and the third incident happened in the corridor of the third-year classrooms, which is where a spray painted graffiti was discovered alluding to the fourth incident – providing the plot with a fresh and original impossible crime. A basketball crashes through the window of the dojo of the kendo club, but there was no one outside and the classrooms opposite the dojo are too far away to assume "someone threw the ball with that much strength." So it's almost "as if the ball appeared out of thin air."
Mizuhara is a member of the kendo club and injured her wrist in the incident, which immediately brought Touma to the scene. This is where the story became so much more than its premise suggested. What makes "Summer Vacation Case" such a great detective story is simply synergy.
Firstly, there's the division of work between the two detectives. Mizuhara often played the Archie Goodwin to Touma's Nero Wolfe, but it worked better here than usual and complimented the plot. She talks to the various club members and uncovers the contours of the motive, but it's Touma who figures out the "curious connection between these events." I particular appreciated the trick that was hidden behind the graffiti. But than all of the plot-strands were pulled together to show how they worked in conjunction, which demolished a cleverly-staged alibi and the basketball illusion. It's detective stories like this one why I doff my deerstalker to the shin honkaku writers.
The second story, "Irregular Bound," is a quasi-inverted mystery in which a city council member of T City, in Tokyo, is found next to his private plane at F Prefecture's airport with a stab wound in his upper arm – who quickly lost consciousness from the lost of blood. An envelope with "a political contribution of one million yen" has "completely disappeared." The reader is more than aware that one of the characters has fabricated an alibi with a radio broadcast of a baseball game, but the story is essentially a multi-varied whydunit with a twist. What is the real reason behind the fake alibi? Why did the wounded victim fly from Tokyo to F Prefecture? And why does Touma believe "this case will automatically reach a dead end" if the victim wakes up.
This is one of those typical-atypical Q.E.D. character-driven detective stories that you can only find in this manga series and "Irregular Bound" managed to weave several, character-focused plot-threads around a very simple and sordid crime. The key to the problem are the victim and suspects themselves. So you can say it succeeded in what it was trying to do, but without doing anything to make it standout and the whole story felt very inconsequential compared to the after-school shenanigans of the previous story. A decent, but forgettable, story.
I would have flipped "Summer Vacation Case" and "Irregular Bound" around to end the volume on a high note, but either way, "Summer Vacation Case" carried this volume and a candidate for my top 10 favorite Q.E.D. stories from vol. 1-20. Six more to go!