5/17/22

Days Gone By: Q.E.D. vol. 19-20 by Motohiro Katou

Motohiro Katou's Q.E.D. vol. 19 suspiciously starts off with a surprisingly conventional detective story, "The Ghost of Macbeth," in which Sou Touma and Kana Mizuhara find themselves attending a rehearsal of William Shakespeare's Macbeth, but the lead actor, Junzaburo Yamazaki, goes off-script – chastising his young co-star, Kiyotoshi Kawaoka, who plays Macduff. Kawaoka was originally tapped to play Macbeth, but the part went to the better, more experienced Yamazaki and he exploded Kawaoka ("you third-rate actor") when he allowed Yamazaki's performance to overwhelm him. This outburst even got some ink in the papers ("Yamazaki reprimands a young actor"). And the bullying doesn't end there. 

Kawaoka believes Yamazaki has to be removed in order to safeguard his career ("it's him or me") as he plots and carries out a drunken, poolside swimming accident. So the reader has a front row seat to Kawaoka killing Yamazaki, fabricating a cast-iron alibi and accidentally dropping clues.

While the murder appears to have been close to perfect, Kawaoka becomes haunted by both the living and dead as the ghost of Yamazaki, real or imaginary, begins to taunt him on stage, "What's wrong, Macbeth? Didn't you kill me to take my throne" – which becomes a war-of-nerves when our two detectives get involved. Sou Touma and Kana Mizuhara go full Columbo on Kawaoka by pelting him with pesky questions, pointing out mistakes and bait a trap with one of the accidentally dropped clues. So pretty much standard fare for an inverted detective story, but there are three questions that need an answer. What's the flaw in Kawaoka's alibi? Why did the box containing Yamazaki's body felt empty to the person who helped Kawaoka load it into the truck? A very nifty trick, by the way! And did the ghost of Yamazaki really came back to haunt his killer? Something the individual reader has to decide for themselves. Just note that a ghost appeared in vol. 11. On a whole, a pretty solid take on the inverted mystery.

So, while "The Ghost of Macbeth" left the supernatural element small and ambiguous, "The Legacy of the Sage" kicked the door wide open.

Touma and Mizuhara accept a little part-time job to document and photograph a weird, old and long abandoned building on behalf of a professor of architecture. The house used to belong to a so-called independent inventor, but the building has stood vacant ever since there was "an accidental explosion" during an experiment. Touma expects to photograph of just the insects living in the dusty ruins, but Mizuhara stumbles across a room with ancient machinery stored in it. When she enters the room, the apparatus is activated and a bright explosion of light transports her from 2004 all the way back to 1927! Mizuhara is found by a young scholar, Souichirou Touba, who's the spitting image of Touma (shades of Gosho Aoyama). Touba has problems of his own. A wealthy man, Torao Ryuumonji, who acted as his patron by paying his tuition fees and giving him a place to live, but he had passed away a few days ago. So now his future is uncertain as he will only continue to receive aid when solves a problem involving a hidden fortune. Ryuumonji planted three cryptic clues for his three children, which Touba has to find and decipher.

An interesting premise and puzzle which also involves the quasi-impossible disappearance of a worthless painting, kidnapping and Mizuhara trying to get back to 2004. Admittedly, "The Legacy of the Sage" is more interesting for its premise than its plot, but it's a fun and entertaining story nonetheless.

The story that opens vol. 20, "Infinite Moon," is as difficult to describe as it's hard to rate, but basically it's another story using a mathematical puzzle as a vehicle to delve into Touma's past and personality – centering on his late friend, Hu Jia Hui. A Chinese medical student with a bad heart and always accused Touma of being romanticist, while he was a realist who will "never be able to see the scenery that is oft seen by a romantic" like Touma. 

Years later, a Chinese policeman, Zhou Zhao, comes to Japan to ask Touma to help out on a case to which the key is his late friend. There's a criminal organization in China headed by four bosses, Liang Qiu Sheng, Liang Yi Jian, Huang Zhen Yu and Wu Jian Ying, who deal in everything from drugs and human organs to murder. They cleverly divided the organization in two groups and, "in order to maintain balance within the organization," never intervened with each other. So they were able to expand their organization and all the police could get their hands on were some underlings, but, lately, they began to find the bodies of these four crime bosses. And the order in which they were killed exposed a borderline impossibility.

I can't deny the story was working with some interesting, potentially brilliant material, but the execution was somehow underwhelming and the ending a bleaker than was absolutely necessary. That's not what people mean when they shoot for the moon.

This volume ends on a much lighter note with the last story, "Enari the Busybody," which marks the return of the three members of the Sakisaka Private High School Detective Club, Enari "Queen" Himeko, Nagaie "Holmes" Koroku and Morito "Mulder" Orisato, who debuted in "Arrival of the Famous Detective(s)" – collected in vol. 18. Their latest case revolves around Enari's 70-year-old grandmother, Hinae, who's a millionaire and has a boyfriend. If they ever get married, the inheritance her family gets will be severely reduced. Enari believes her grandmother is in grave danger, particularly from her cousin, Shinichi, who "has often been involved on the wrong side of the law." So she's determined to use the club as her grandmother's private bodyguard, but they first enlist Mizuhara to help them. But, when the strange incidents begin to pile on, they quite literary in rope in Touma ("your recruitment technique is too barbaric") to solve the case.

On the surface, "Enari the Busybody" is a light, uncomplicated slice-of-life mystery and it was a pleasant surprise that, when it appeared the story was over, Touma revealed there were eight more questions to be answered to fully solve the case. These questions showed there was more to the plot and one of the characters than meets the eye. Yes, this is still a fairly minor, mostly non-criminous story, but very well done for what it tried to do. Not to mention the best clued story in these two volumes.

So, all in all, Q.E.D. vol. 19 and 20 were not as great or outstanding as the previous two volumes, but the stories were either good and entertaining or toyed around with genre conventions simply to see what happens. Motohiro Katou willingness to color outside the lines makes Q.E.D. perhaps an acquired taste, but, once you get settled in, the series always something new, different or surprising to throw your way. All the while remaining firmly entrenched in the traditions of the classical detective story.

2 comments:

  1. I agree that from the mystery standpoint, "Infinite Moon" is a bit too predictable. Maybe because the mystery is very similar to a certain case in Detective Academy Q. However, weirdly enough it is one of the cases that I still remember the most after reading it years ago. I do enjoy the math portion of the story, where they discussed the concept of 'infinity'. That is also one of the reason why I enjoyed 'Another World' in Q.E.D. vol 23. While the mystery is almost impossible to solve without expert knowledge, I loved the atmosphere of that particular story.

    Recently I started reading the sequel, Q.E.D. iff. While the puzzles might be hit or miss, I am glad that the variety of stories still managed to surprise me. For example, in one story Touma is engaged in a social media war. In another story, there is a debate about wormhole with a man who claimed to be an alien. Despite that, there are still plenty of more 'conventional' detective stories as well which I also liked. Looking forward to more reviews of Q.E.D. and his other works.

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    1. I'm currently torn between continuing with Q.E.D. for another two, or four, volumes, starting on the first two volumes from C.M.B. or return to Kindaichi. Your comments about the sequel series makes me want to blast through Q.E.D. first. The story about the man who claims to be an alien sounds like fun. Only in this series!

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