I'm consistently about two months, give or take a week or two, ahead on schedule with enough blog-posts and reviews queued to occasionally slip away from the blog without it getting noticed, which every now and then runs into a scheduling problem – occasionally leaving a place open for an upcoming reprint, new release or translation. Something that doesn't always work out. This time, I was left with a week-sized hole in the November schedule and needed something to plug the gap. But what?
I considered doing another Q.E.D. review or perhaps redo and expand on my two old posts about detective stories lost to history, "The Locked Room Reader: A Selection of Lost Detective Stories" and "The Locked Room Reader: A Return to the Phantom Library," but decided to leave them for another time. I moved away this year from The Kindaichi Case Files to focus on Q.E.D. and wanted to briefly return to the former before trying to finish the latter in 2024. I wanted to revisit a volume from the original run of the series that has a story somewhat befitting for these cold, dark and short winter days.
To the Yozaburo Kanari fans among you who feel the icy clutch of despair, you can rest your mind. I'm not going to gift myself an early Christmas present by laying in on Kanari. So you won't hear me saying Kanari has all the creativity and originality of a "Jingle Bells" cover. I'm not going to waste a single word on telling you Kanari handles his plots with the skill and subtlety of an American Civil War surgeon treating a leg wound. Not a hint, nor a murmur, that an old, battered copy of Plotto (1928) would probably have made a better leadwriter for this series (Story by Plotto, Art by Fumiya Sato). This is going to be a fair and balanced review, like The Demon God Ruins Murder Case, but I've a ROT13 question at the end for those who believe Kanari got the short shrift for The Mummy's Curse – copying his homework from Soji Shimada's Senseijutsu satsujinjiken (The Tokyo Zodiac Murders, 1981). More on that in a moment.
Death TV was originally serialized in Weekly Shōnen Magazine from March 17 to May 26, 1993, under the title The Snow Yashka Murder Case and TokyoPop released an English translation in 2003. I remembered it as a surprisingly decent entry early on in the frist series, but not too difficult a task coming right alongside The Opera House Murders and The Mummy's Curse. So let's find out how well it stands up to a second glance.
Hajime Kindaichi has taken a part-time job at a local television station to kill time during the winter break, working as an extra and runner for Shock TV, which is "a hidden-camera show that plays pranks on celebrities." The "victims" for the latest episode are the actress Rie Kanou and the pop singer Reika Hayami. Death TV is, in fact, the introduction of two recurring characters, Reika Hayami and Superintendent Kengo Akechi, who's there to lend an air of authenticity to the prank. Shock TV lured the two celebrities to the village of Segoori, in the shadow of Taisetsu Mountain in Hokkaido, where the villa of the well-known, famously reclusive painter Issei Himuro stands – designed "as a museum to display his own work." So the gallery snaked around the house, surrounding the rooms in the center, which makes it the perfect location for a hidden-camera murder mystery patterned after the local legend of the Snow Demon. Rie Kanou and Reika Hayami are made to believe they're in the middle of a real-life Seishi Yokomizo mystery, but Kanou smells a typical Shock TV scam and so the crew have planned "a prank just for her." Only then things go horribly wrong.
The villa is divided in two parts, a main building and annex, which face each other, but a river and deep canyon sits between the two buildings. A bridge connecting the villa's two part washed away the previous summer and the only other bridge is a twenty minute drive away. Rie Kanou gets left behind in the annex together with the cameraman, Michio Akashi, while the cast and crew move to the main building to observe their victim through the hidden-cameras and setting off remote controlled special effects. Someone wearing the custom and mask of the legendary Snow Demon appears on their monitors. Whoever is behind the mask, the figure is carrying an ax. Only thing the cast and crew can do is watch helplessly as the Snow Demon plants the ax into Kanou's skull. The outside cameras picks up one last glimpse of the murderer as the Snow Demon vanished into the snowstorm ("leaving the villa quiet once more"). Michio Akashi is nowhere to be found and everyone else has an alibi as solid as permafrost. All of them being together twenty minutes away from the crime scene. Akashi is quickly found to have been innocent when his body turns inside a snowman clutching a dying message. And they're not the last to fall victim to the Snow Demon. The last murder is committed in a room with the door and windows locked from the inside.
However, the additional murders, dying message and locked room-trick are pretty much irrelevant to the plot. The dying message is not considered until the conclusion and the locked room-trick is an old dodge, which is surprising as this always makes work of its impossible crime. The whole story of Death TV is driven by two thing: the admittedly brilliant alibi-trick to the first murder and setting Superintendent Akechi up as a rival detective to Hajime Kindaichi (playing the Simon Brimmer to Kindaichi's Ellery Queen). Akechi is as trying and hard to like in his first appearance as Philo Vance in The Benson Murder Case (1926). A young, arrogant "career cop" who studied criminal psychology in the United States and due to his education, started as an assistant inspector instead of working his way up. And loves to refer to his time abroad ("of course, I've already seen many similar cases in Los Angeles"). Akechi challenges Kindaichi and Inspector Kenmochi, “to find out whose tactics are more effects,” which provided the plot with an opportunity to have Kindaichi bat away several false-solutions. Akechi becomes more palpable as a character in later appearances and even starred in his own spin-off series, but here served his purpose by playing the fallible detective who ends up getting a much deserved kick in the pance.
Regrettably, everything outside the central alibi-puzzle and rivalry between the two detective is subpar. I already mentioned the wasted dying message and routine locked room-trick, but the murderer stands out from the moment the murder is committed. Even if you don't know, exactly, how it was done, the story makes it very clear only that person could have done it. But then Kanari had to apply one of his famous, oh-so subtle plot-touches to the character of the murderer. So here comes my ROT13 question: fb lbh qrpvqr gb frg lbhe qrgrpgvir fgbel va n fcrpvnyyl qrfvtarq ivyyn, pbzcyrgr jvgu bqq nepuvgrpgheny naq ynaqfpncr srngherf, jurer n snzbhfyl erpyhfvir cnvagre yvirf uvqqra oruvaq fhatynffrf naq n snprznfx. Lbh unir n zheqrere jub'f nyzbfg vafhygvatyl boivbhf naq gur bayl guvat gung nfcrpg bs gur cybg unf tbvat sbe vgfrys vf n ernyyl bevtvany nyvov-gevpx. Jul purncra vg ol gelvat gb or gbathr-va-purrx pyrire ol anzvat gur zheqrere Nlngfhwv? I completely missed that the first time around, but now it stood out and it annoyed more than it probably should have. What really annoyed me was the motive. Not the repetitiveness of this overused motive, particularly in this series, but how the ending revealed the victims, relatively ordinary people, to have been almost comically evil ("scram, you brat"). I'm the last detective fan to complain about shallow characterization, but Jesus Christ, the only thing missing was them laughing maniacally among the burning wreckage.
I remembered Death TV as a surprisingly decent, early entry in the series and, as you can probably guess, it has not entirely stood up to a second reading. The plot rests entirely on breaking down the murderer's crafty alibi and the rivalry between Akechi and Kindaichi livens up what would otherwise have been a paint-by-numbers, shin honkaku-style detective story, but not enough to recommend it. And certainly not worth tracking down one of those ridiculously overpriced, secondhand copies of the TokyoPop translation.