"Disaster of a Disastrous Man" is the first of two stories from Motohiro Katou's Q.E.D. vol. 17 and marks the return of the CEO of Alansoft, Alan Blade, who previously appeared in vol. 13 to force the teenage detective, Sou Touma, to partake in an April Fools' Day Challenge – a potentially life changing challenge with high stakes. If he had lost the challenge, Touma had to renounce his Japanese citizenship and come to America as Blade's employee. Touma won the battle-of-wits handily, but the software giant has been scheming and plotting ever since. And he seems to have hit on a failure-proof plan to ensnare Touma in his corporate empire.
Alan Blade's birthday is coming up and hatches a plan with his personal secretary, Ellie Francis, to invite "the people who refused an offer in the company" to his summerhouse on a private island. There he will offer each guest a million dollars cash to come and work for Alansoft, which they will likely refuse. So the plan is to make his guests indebted to his company by having Ellie steal the money from their beach huts.
Sou Touma receives an invitation as well as his friend and MIT student, Syd "Loki" Green. Touma and Loki brought along Kana Mizuhara and Eva Scott. The third to receive an invitation used to "a world-famous hacker," Elliott Webb, who was caught by the FBI and put on probation, but the person who helped the FBI catch Webb was a software magnate, Liu Han – a man who was "once called the pioneer of the computer world." Liu Han was one of the founders of "the famous Grape Computer Enterprise," but Alansoft drove the company out of business and reduced the pioneer to managing a small software company as he refused to work for Blade. Han got the fourth and last invitation. So the plan is set in motion as the four suitcases with a million dollars a piece, one by one, begin to disappear from the beach huts, but it appears someone took the suitcases before Ellie could get to them. They searched everywhere, but the money appears to have vanished without a trace from a tiny island with only eight people on it.
This story and its central puzzle would probably provoke a discussion on whether it's a closed-circle situation or a locked room mystery/impossible crime. Katou kind of presented the story as an impossible crime, but it really is only a closed-circle as the suitcases could be hidden in several places that were never considered. They could have been hidden on the roofs of the hut, buried on the beach or sealed in weighted, waterproof bags and submerged into the bay of the crescent-shaped island. So more of how-was-it-done with an interesting, but risky, solution which could have easily misfired by either a rush of irrationality or a spot of honesty. However, the ending will make every plot purist and stickler for fair play crack a smile. All in all, not a bad story.
The second story from this volume, "Black Nightshade," has Inspector Mizuhara acting as a security guard/paparazzi regulator on a film set as personal request from "the giant of Japanese cinema," Director Oosawa Kazumasa. Kana Mizuhara and Sou Touma have backstage access and witness the filming of the scene in which the lead actress, Kurokawa Misa, stabs the male lead, Nangou Haruhiko, but the prop knife with a retractable blade turned out to be very real – killing him practically instantly as she plunged the knife into his body. So who could have swapped the prop knife for a real one and why? Nangou Haruhiko was known as "an extreme womanizer" whose name is attached to many incidents, but Kana (doing the legwork) learns that the mysterious actor was also known as a really nice guy and even his conquests didn't have a bad word to say about him. And then the case takes an unexpected, dramatic turn when the apparent murderer commits suicide. But the keyword there is apparently as it's really a murder presenting both Sou and the reader with a highly original locked room puzzle.
There's a small, high-walled makeshift prop-room with an open ceiling on the studio lot put together with some worn out plywood from the set, which has one door that can be blocked-shut from the inside with a table. The supposed murderer has locked himself inside that windowless prop-room and the thin walls, while very high, can't support the weight of an adult trying to climb over it. Sou Touma is the shortest and lightest person present and has go over the plywood wall to unblock the door. What they find inside is a body with his throat cut and a suicide note. The locked room-trick has a simplistic brilliance to it, but the answer to the rice cooker clue is probably beyond the comprehension of most readers. Still a very clever piece of plotting with a locked room-trick on par with the best impossible crime stories by Edward D. Hoch. Let's not forget about the first murder, which is not too difficult to solve, but the strange motivation and distraction used to swap the knives makes it stand out. An unusual, but effective, detective story and ends the volume on a high note.
The first of two stories from Q.E.D. vol. 18, "Arrival of the Famous Detective(s)," is a case in point of the bizarre, sometimes downright experimental or quirky, but often original, detective stories you can find nowhere else – except in this series. This time, Sou Touma and Kana Mizuhara are reduced to mere background characters for most of the story. Only appearing at the beginning and end to setup and close the case. A case that followed around the three members of the Sakisaka Private High School Detective Club, Enari "Queen" Himeko, Nagaie "Holmes" Koroku and Morita "Mulder" Orisato, who try to be real-life detectives without much success. Even when a case happens in their own club room. Who ate the cheese cake that Queen had left behind in the club room for them to eat after classes were done for the day? They try to come up with explanations, but they are completely inapt as "Holmes" is incredibly bad at drawing deductions and "Mulder" simply wants to blame ghosts. And their investigation only uncovers more mysteries. Such as a ghostly image in one of the mirrors of the school bathroom and even a minor locked room mystery when the statuette of a cat dressed as Sherlock Holmes is knocked over in the locked club room. All of these smaller problems only get resolved when "Queen" notices she always sees Sou Touma and Kana Mizuhara around when the incidents happened and decides to question them about it.
A pure, tongue-in-cheek parody with a simple, lightweight plot, but therefore not any less amusing and loved Nagaie's preposterous false-solution to the locked room problem. Suggesting the culprit had hammered out a hole next to the locked door of the club room, locking the door after he was finished and repaired the wall like it was new ("it is but a simple trick"). Another fun bit of trivia is that the opening revealed Sou is as a tone deaf as Conan Edogawa from Case Closed.
The second and last story to close out the volume, "Three Birds," is another perfect example of the series straying not only from the conventions of the shin honkaku-style, anime-and manga detectives, but the traditional detective story in general. I should hated "Three Birds" as it's the complete opposite of what I want to find in my detective fiction, but loved this nostalgia-driven, psychological crime drama.
Detective Sasazuka is a colleague of Kana Mizuhara's father, Inspector Mizuhara, who hears on the news the skeleton remains of a man and woman were discovered in the mountains of Y City, T Prefecture, which is his hometown – skeletons were found close to place where he used to play. Sasazuka had a secret tree-hut where he hang out with two childhood friends, but the discovery of the remains coincide with a reunion of the three friends and Sasazuka makes a discovery of his own. There are worrying gaps in his childhood memories like not being able to remember he had an expensive toy pistol, but has it anything to do with the remains of the two people who apparently committed suicide thirteen years ago? The story is interspersed with an illustrated children's story about three bird friends and gold coin who lived at the peak of a tree. This is such weird, but effective story with the ending laying bare some genuine crimes. Or, to be more precise, criminal and moral misdeeds, but not the ones you might expect. Once more, the series produces an atypical, but original, crime/detective story with the problem of Sasazuka's memory having something new to offer (ROT13: gur phycevg gelvat gb genafsre uvf gebhoyrq zrzbevrf ba gb uvz). So never let it be said again I only care about plot and tricks!
On a whole, Q.E.D. vol. 17 and 18 were both splendid with either strong or simply entertaining stories which represented the reader with the best the series has to offer. Surprisingly, "Three Birds" ended up stealing the show, which is not going to do my reputation as the resident locked room fanboy any good, but let the record show I fanboyed over the impossible crime from "Black Nightshade." Anyway, Q.E.D. deserves more appreciation and attention.