Saturday, August 19, 2017

Dead Weight


I want to send you the words only I can say to you now
"Reaching You" (Flumpool)
'T was in the summer of 2012 that I first read a novel by Freeman Wills Crofts, as Mystery on Southampton Water had been selected as the topic of a book club session. I wasn't the only person at the session to never had read a Crofts before though, so the discussion eventually broadened to Crofts in general, and it didn't take long for Crofts' debut work to be mentioned. The people who had read The Cask (originally published in 1920), were quite reserved about it. While the reception of the plot was, by and large, positive, I distinctly remember several people point out it was tedious to read. Note that we're talking about a Japanese book club here, so the people here were talking specifically about the Japanese translation of the novel, but it appeared it was very old-fashioned, making it less enjoyable that it could've been. I had not read the book, so unfortunately, there was little I could comment on whether this was also true for the original text.

But the idea, the image of The Cask being a tedious to read book did stick with me. I have read some more Crofts in the meantime, both in Japanese and English, and I can definitely say the Japanese text is not always a smooth read (though I think there is a more modern translation available of some works). Still, the idea of "The Cask = Tedious Experience" was very much alive in my mind when I started reading the book, five years after my first encounter with Crofts. The novel starts at an English harbor, where a newly arrived ship is being relieved of its cargo. A small incident leads to damage to a cask, which is supposed to be a shipment of statues from France. Glimpsing through the hole they made in the cask, the workers however find that the thing is packed with gold sovereigns, as well as something that looks a lot like a human hand. The alarm is raised at the shipping company, but by the time management has informed the police about the incident, the recipient of the cask has already made off with his shipment. Inspector Burnley of Scotland Yard and the rest of the police force however soon give chase after the disappearing cask in Freeman Wills Crofts The Cask (1920).

Crofts' debut novel does not feature Inspector French, who starred in all the other Crofts I read, but The Cask certainly feels like a genuine Crofts, even at this earliest stage in his career as a mystery author. The introducing chapters of the novel for example are set at a harbor, detailing the work at a shipping company. Businesses are a setting very often utilized in Crofts' work, as seen in for example Murder on Southampton Water and Fatal Venture, where the settings are also two water-related companies. This story however does not stick with this setting, and jumps from setting to setting as the narrative follows the titular cask back to where it came from.

This does lead to one of the elements that can be seen as a source of tediousness. Soon after the harbor setting, we switch over to our main point of view, that of the police in their investigation of the whereabouts of the cask, and things are described rather meticulously here. We'll see a scene, then a report is made to a higher official explaining the scene we just saw, then the inspector talks about the scene we just saw twice already, then we see another party enter the scene who needs more explanation about that same event... Sure, police work is detailed, and one can at least say The Cask is very eager to make sure the reader is not left behind by its story, but it happens more than once that you might feel certain events could've been handled more briefly in the story. Sometimes it feels like we're just circling around the same matter again and again, and this can be a bit vexing.

This extreme focus on a singular point is also basically what this novel is about. The titular cask is without a doubt the most important object in the story, and very detailed enquiries are made about how it made its way to England with a body inside it. The mystery plot, I thought, was quite interesting, as leads to surprising reveals about the route the cask made on its way to the final destination, as well as an alibi deconstruction subplot, something very much associated with Crofts. There's of course a time table made over the course of the story, detailing a seemingly perfect alibi of a potential murderer, and it's up to the police, and readers, to find the weak spot and break it down. The precise method used is a bit shaky, as it relies slightly on faulty memory of third parties, but as an element of a much larger, and very carefullly constructed mystery plot, I thought it was entertaining enough. That said though, the fact the whole book is about the route a cask took can be bit boring for some readers, I can definitely imagine, especially combined with the way the narrative is set-up.

Though I guess that in this respect, it's better than Ayukawa Tetsuya's Kuroi Trunk (1956). Ayukawa was one of the most respected puzzle plot mystery authors, and was very much inspired by Crofts. His debut novel, Kuroi Trunk, was obviously an homage to The Cask, as it too revolves around a meticulous investigation around a recepticle containing a body (a black trunk in this case) and an alibi deconstruction subplot, but while I like the book, it's also even more detailed and tedious than The Cask, as it's packed with time tables, and you're expected to track the movements of persons and objects in units of minutes (over a distance from one side of Japan to the other). Again, I think Kuroi Trunk is a great mystery, but people who have trouble with The Cask will find this one even more a problem.

The Cask in the end was luckily not as awful as I had feared, and I actually quite liked it. Yes, it can be a very slow novel, but I guess I was already used to Crofts' style, and I have read books that do worse on aspect. I wouldn't consider this my favorite Crofts though, and even I think that of the few I have read, The Cask might be the one that that is the least suitable to start with, but this is certainly more than a worthy debut novel for Crofts.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

The Adventure of the Dancing Men

"There's an east wind coming all the same, such a wind as never blew on England yet."
"His Last Bow"

I've reviewed only one mystery game this year, it seems (and a couple of other game-related materials). Huh. Still have a few more planned for this year, but still, that's surprisingly few game reviews this year.

The greatest challenge facing the Meiji government in Japan around the turn of the 19th century was the modernization of all facets of the country, including its legal system. One year ago, Naruhodou Ryuunosuke made his way from the Japanese capital to Victorian London to study as British law as part of an official government exchange mission. He became friends with the brilliant, yet very eccentric Mr. Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street, the renowned detective whose exploits have become known all over the world thanks to the stories published in Strand Magazine. Ryuunosuke eventually made a name for his name in Old Bailey, as he learned that wherever on the world, defendants will always need the help of defense attorneys to stand by them in their time of need. The truth behind the at times zany, but always complex cases Ryuunosuke solved not only showed that London's perhaps not the bright place he imagined it to be, but little could he have guessed that all the adventures he had over the last year would all intersect and come together to reveal a truth about the darkness that envelops modern, enlightened London. Standing in court to protect other asks for courage from a defense attorney, but does Ryuunosuke also have the resolve to remain there even in the most difficult of times in the 2017 Nintendo 3DS game Dai Gyakuten Saiban 2 ~ Naruhodou Ryuunosuke no Kakugo ("The Grand Turnabout Trial 2 ~ The Resolve of Naruhodou Ryuunosuke").

Dai Gyakuten Saiban 2 is a direct sequel to 2015's Dai Gyakuten Saiban, a spin-off game of the Gyakuten Saiban / Ace Attorney game series. In this series of comedic adventure mystery games, you take up the role of a defense attorney solving cases and revealing the true culprits behind murders in the courtroom. The original series was conceived by Takumi Shuu, who would eventally leave the main series for side-projects like Professor Layton VS Gyakuten Saiban. He brought us Dai Gyakuten Saiban in 2015, which was a spin-off game set in the London of Sherlock Holmes, who also played a big role in the story. The sequel Dai Gyakuten Saiban 2 was long-awaited, mostly because the first game was clearly just the first half of a story: many plot points were not resolved in the first game, and this left a pretty bad aftertaste for what was in fact a fun game, but which was clearly not "complete". Whereas previous games in the series were always designed as standalone games, Dai Gyakuten Saiban simply could not stand on its own with all those unanswered questions and hooks, so fans were quite eager to see how Dai Gyakuten Saiban 2 would turn out.

The essence of Dai Gyakuten Saiban 2 is of course still same as always. The core has always been built around solid mystery plots with a good touch of comedy, set in the courtroom, featuring the so-called contradiction system. The player, as defense attorney Ryuunosuke, needs to point out contradictions between witness testimony and evidence. Pointing out a contradiction leads to new testimony, which in turn leads to new contradictions and by slowly unraveling the thread like a True Columbo, the player eventually figures out the identity of the true murderer. In the two Dai Gyakuten Saiban games, you'll also occasionally have to reason with the jurors in order to turn their guilty vote in one of not-guilty, which you of course do by pointing out contradictions in their lines of thought. Nothing has been changed in these mechanics for this second game, but you don't have to fix what's not broken, right? Finding contradictions by carefully comparing what the various weird witnesses claim, and the evidence you have at hand is still a great feeling, as you really feel that you, as the player, figured out what's wrong. I reckon that's how Columbo is feeling all the time. As you solve each contradiction one by one, you also gain better understanding of how each case unfolds, rather than havng a detective character explaining everything at the end of a tale in the denouement. Few games have come up with better ways to translate the "puzzle solving" of mystery fiction into such an intinuitive game mechanic.

Sherlock Holmes plays an important role in the Dai Gyakuten Saiban games, not only as a character in the story, but also as a game mechanic. The Holmes in these games is quite comedic, with a very silly side to him (don't forget, the stories in Strand Magazine are fiction!), and that side to him is also reflected in his deductions. For Holmes once said "From a drop of water a logician could infer the possibility of an Atlantic or a Niagara without having seen or heard of one or the other." and that is basically what Holmes does in this game. He presents brilliant deductions based on very small clues. The problem: He's usually looking at the wrong clue, which means that while his method is good, his starting point is usually wrong, which results in him arriving at very surprising (yet "brilliant) conclusions (to use the example above, he's supposed to start with a drop of water, but deduces a desert based on a grain of sand). In these scenes, you're supposed to 'guide' the flow of Holmes' deductions the right way by ever so gently indicating the correct clue/starting point. It's a very fun mechanic, that reminds of mystery writers like Queen, Brand and Berkeley, who often show in their books how chains of deductions can change completely just by adding or removing one single clue. Conan also often does the same by 'nudging' Kogorou in the right direction in Detective Conan. The presentation of these scenes is excellent by the way, showing off how Holmes' mind works in a very extravagant way, and there is one scene in particular in Dai Gyakuten Saiban 2 that is absolutely amazing.

So you use these mechanics (together with simply talking with all the suspects/investigating the crime scenes) to solve various cases over the course of the game, which brings us to the mystery plots. We are treated to familiar tropes like fantastical, yet baffling locked room murders (especially locked room murders, now I think about it), and most of the cases make excellent use of the setting of late nineteenth/early twentieth century, with some of them very unique to the time period. Efforts are of course taken so the 'modern player' knows what's up, but the fact that these cases work because they are set in that time period is definitely worthy of praise. There are some unique settings, like a Chamber of Horrors in a wax museum or a shabby apartment building with walled-up windows because of window tax, but also a case revolving around a daring scientific experiment gone wrong, which adds a bit of a steampunk feel to the setting. The London of this game is definitely not historically accurate in every detail, but the world-view is consistent enough for every player to know what is possible, and what is not, and that is the most important for a mystery story.

What I thought was unfortunate though was that a lot of the core mystery plots in Dai Gyakuten Saiban 2 were very easy to identify, as they come from fairly well-known stories. Of course, Takumi Shuu has often used famous tricks and scenes from mystery fiction in his game as a homage/reference (the original three Gyakuten Saiban games have several scenes straight out of Columbo for example), but in Dai Gyakuten Saiban 2, it is overly clear where the core trick came from, especially as the source material is not particular obscure. So each time, I was hoping it would turn out not to be the same as story X, only to find out that it was basically exactly the same as story X. I thought this was a shame, as Takumi is usually very capable of building much more around a basic trick, while this time, it seems the effort to rework these ideas into more original concepts was not as intensive. So while the main plots of this game make good use of the time period, I can't deny that it's also because they are based very obviously on stories that actually date from that time period. That said though, Takumi also makes sure to play with the fans' expectations of how things will go. It's something he already did in the first Dai Gyakuten Saiban, but he does the same in this second game (though arguably not as effective).

The experienced mystery fan, or specifically the Holmesians with us, will have a lot of fun picking up on the numerous references to the Canon though. Some familiar names are used in surprising ways, and there's even a very daring take on Holmes lore revealed near the end of the game. Some might find it lacking in respect for the original stories, but I absolutely loved it as an original way to play with the whole idea of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, and it's one that fits perfectly within the world of Dai Gyakuten Saiban (which doesn't pretend it's the ultimate interpretation of Holmes anyway. It's simply an original take on the character and everything around him).

As I mentioned earlier, the greatest point of criticism aimed at the first game was the fact that it was clearly just the first part of a longer story, with many plot points addressed, but simply unresolved. The marketing campaign for Dai Gyakuten Saiban 2 was thus very eager to emphasize that all the mysteries would be revealed in this second game, which it fortunately did. I can safely recommend people who played the first game and felt dissatisfied about the story to play this second game, as it really does answer all the pertinent questions you may have. But this second game also made clear that this story was really not meant to be split in two. Writer Takumi basically admitted in an interview that the scale of the story he came up with was too large for one game, but that doesn't mean it was a story fit for multiple parts/games. He simply wrote too much. Each of the games is quite long (I ticked in at around 24 hours for each game), so you could hardly expect them to have put everything in one single game, but the story structure makes it clear that most of the episodes originally belonged together, but were sliced up in two episodes, and in some instances, spread aross the two games. One episode in Dai Gyakuten Saiban 2 is closely related to an episode from the first game for example, but they would've worked much better had they been in the same game in terms of hinting, and in fact, I suspect that they originally did belong back-to-back, or that they were actually one story. The way Dai Gyakuten Saiban 2 relies so much on references (plot points/clues) to the first game, and especially the manner in which foreshadowing/clues are structured, make me suspect that this was always meant to be one big story.

There are of course mediums that split their story in two or more parts in an effective manner, for example the two live-action Death Note films or Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno and Rurouni Kenshin: The Legend Ends, but that does not hold for Dai Gyakuten Saiban 2. I also think the structure of the Gyakuten Saiban series might have hindered the development of the Dai Gyakuten Saiban series. Traditionally, each game has always consisted of distinct episodes (which may or may not also have interlinking story elements), but I feel that some parts of the Dai Gyakuten Saiban series would've worked better as a contineous story, rather than arbirary seperating them in episodes. So following the Sherlock Holmes model, I think a "novel" structure would've worked better for some elements than the short story collection model.

Another reason why the two Dai Gyakuten Saiban games feel like they were originally one set is the extensive reuse of assets. Many characters, locations and music tracks return from the first game, making it difficult to differentiate them. The new tracks are all great, but there are only relatively few original compositions, so that's a bit disappointing. So while it really does look and sound great, there's also a great sense of déjà vu, again weaking the feeling that you're truly playing something new, instead making it feel like you're just playing the continuation of something that shouldn't have been split up in the first place.

Dai Gyakuten Saiban 2 ~ Naruhodou Ryuunosuke no Kakugo is an excellent mystery game, but it can not stand on its own. It works because there is a Dai Gyakuten Saiban that posed the questions answered in this sequel. The game offers, on the whole, interesting and captivating mystery plots that make good use of the unique setting, and it also plays a lot with the Sherlock Holmes character for surprising results, but from start to finish you feel that this is simply the second half of a story. So I can only recommend the game if you've played the first game. Together, they form a fantastic series of mystery games that rank among the best, but its ambition is also what makes each individual game not as strong on its own.

Original Japanese title(s): 『大逆転裁判2 -成歩堂龍ノ介の覺悟』

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Time Hollow

The days and the months are drifting by
As though they didn't notice seasons changing in the breeze 
They all look the same but I sense something's there
"Time Hollow" (Mouse)

It might be because of where I live, but I've never really understood the preference of some cultures/societies for the am/pm denotion of time, rather than a twenty-four clock. Why would you choose to say 08:00, but add am/pm to specify what you really mean because 08:00 on its own is confusing and you know it, while you could also use 08:00 and 20:00: two distinct denotations of two distinctly different points in time. It's way more efficient!

It was attorney Morie Shunsaku's assistant Tomoka who was the most excited about her boss's latest gig, even though she wouldn't be involved herself. Morie had agreed to take over a certain task from one of his colleagues, and this task brought Morie all the way to the countryside, to the ancestral home of the Amachis. Keijirou had inherited the place as the head of the family after the death of his father, immediately followed by the death of his older brother. Keijirou had remained single until death, and poured all his attention to collecting antique Japanese clocks: at the time he died, his home was full of restored Japanese clocks, and there was even a clock tower with the traditional Japanese time system. Morie is sent to this Japanese Clock Mansion to read Keijirou's will, but little did he know that his task would be the start signal for murder. Morie wakes up in the middle of the night after the reading, and he is witness from his room in the annex to a struggle going on in the main mansion, which eventually becomes a murder. But he learns to his great surprise there was no murderer inside the room where it all happened when the door was forced open, even though Morie had his eyes on the room right up to the moment the other group entered the room in question. The police quickly learns of Morie's reputation as a gifted amateur detective, so they ask him to think along too in Ashibe Taku's Wadokei no Yakata no Satsujin ("The Japanese Clock Mansion Murders", 2000).

Right from the start Wadokei no Yakata no Satsujin lets you know that you are indeed reading a very, very classically-structured mystery novel. The characters themselves are luckily meta-concious enough to notice that 1) a reading of a will for a wealthy family with complicated interpersonal relations and shady pasts, coupled with 2) a mansion filled with Japanese clocks and a genuine clock tower in the countryside and 3) a mysterious bandaged man appearing in the house, well, this combination can not end well. If you're faced with these elements, yes, you are very likely a fictional character in a story highly inspired by Yokomizo Seishi's novels. Wadokei no Yakata no Satsujin might be written in 2000 (the paperback version I read dates from 2004), but in terms of atmosphere, it's definitely a throwback to Yokomizo's postwar classics.

Wadokei no Yakata no Satsujin, and Ashibe Taku's Morie Shunsaku series in general, is usually fairly reserved when it comes to playing the meta game compared to works from other writers like Ayatsuji Yukito and Arisugawa Alice, whose books are usually filled with references. In comparison, Ashibe usually keeps references to other mystery novels just below surface (usually through comments made by assistant Tomoka). Ashibe does know his stuff though (as seen in his The Exhibition of Great Detectives series among other), but he chooses to not indulge too much into that in this particular series. Still: even without the references you can clearly tell Ashibe likes his classics, as Wadokei no Yakata no Satsujin is brimming with familiar tropes and elements. The book is never really surprising, and a lot of situations feel, well, not clichéd perhaps, but a bit too familiar. Is that a bad thing for a classic puzzle plot mystery? Not per se, but I have to admit at times the book almost felt more like a parody, because it was so straight a take on classic tropes that it felt almost as a critique. Perhaps it's just me, and perhaps I've seen too many of these situations, but the basic outline of Wadokei no Yakata no Satsujin felt at times more like a Stereotypical Japanese Mystery than a genuine Japanese mystery, and I doubt that was the intention.

As a mystery tale, Wadokei no Yakata no Satsujin is a reasonably complex one, with multiple murders including an impossible one (with a disappearing murderer) and one has to praise Ashibe for connecting a lot of loose elements into one, consistent plot. There are a lot of things going in terms of the mystery plot, and some of the ideas are pretty clever. There is a pretty subtle misdirection trick early on in the novel for example, and another with a certain kind of secret message (which by the way is basically impossible to translate in a natural manner). Most of these elements are on their own not very surprising, but by expertly linking them together, Ashibe manages to come up with a satisfying plot. Craftmanship is something that can change simple ideas in great execution, and I think this novel is an example of how to use plotting effectively.

The one big problem of Wadokei no Yakata no Satsujin is also its greatest strength. I have noted in previous reviews of Ashibe's works that his stories often entail a lot of historic research, especially in regards to bibliophilic topics. While the main theme of this particular story might not be about literature, it is clear that Ashibe did read up on the topic of Japanese clocks, and pre-modern time systems in Japan. Japanese clocks are pretty unique, we are told, as whereas most cultures adopting Western clocks also adopted the Western two-times twelve hours system that go with those clocks, Japanese engineers used the Western mechanics to show Japanese time (which was quite different, with "hours" with variable lengths depending on the season). The start of Wadokei no Yakata no Satsujin is admittedly a bit slow, as Morie (and the reader) are given a lecture on ancient Japanese time systems, but like I often feel about this side of Ashibe's work, I I thought it was pretty interesting. I already knew a bit about it, but I thought the topic engaging, and of course, I knew it'd pop up later in relation to the main mystery.

And that's also the problem, because when you have a story about a mansion filled with Japanese clocks, and you're given a lecture about it, you can bet it will be of importance to the mystery plot. Considering the theme, I think most people can make a fairly good guess about the role of the Japanese clocks, and that kinda spoils the surprise of the novel. Ashibe boldly references another, fairly well-known mystery novel that used a similar idea (though in a completely different manner), which shows even more of his cards (I have a review of the book in question, but I'll refrain from linking to it). The actual trick behind the main mystery is...too complex for its own good by the way. It's clever, yes, but the puzzle asks so much of the reader, you're inclined to just give up and nod to what you're told. Puzzle plot mysteries are fun, but there's a line between a fun puzzle plot, and a puzzle plot that becomes a chore. Here, large parts of the puzzle almost feel like a chore, even though I can see that on a structural and contents level, it's a crafty one.

So I'm a bit divided on Wadokei no Yakata no Satsujin. I can't deny it's a very cleverly structured puzzle plot mystery, even if the premise is undeniably a bit too familiar, but the main theme and mystery of the novel are also a bit too clever for its own good, weakening its own position. I wouldn't recommend the book to someone as an introduction to Morie Shunsaku, I think, as it feels a bit uneven because of the points raised above, but it is certainly not a bad, nor even mediocre mystery novel.

Original Japanese title(s): 芦辺拓 『和時計の館の殺人』

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Sing A Song of Sixpence

"No lesser crime than murder will suffice."
"Twenty Rules for Writing Detective Stories"

Not that this is a bad cover (to the contrary!), but I do miss the bold use of the color yellow of the previous two volumes.... 

Urazome Tenma is almost an urban legend at his high school, as while he's easily one of the top students there, Tenma seldom interacts with his fellow classmates and the few that do know him, mostly know him for being incredibly lazy and selfish. What even fewer people know however is that he's actually living on the school grounds, as he's secretly confiscated one of the club rooms after having run away from home. Most of his free time is spent on his hobbies, like watching anime, reading manga or sleeping. But that Tenma's actually capable of miracles if he sets his mind to it, as was proven in the few months before the summer holiday of his second year, as he managed to solve the impossible murder that happened inside his school's gymnasium, as well as a gruesome murder that was committed in the local aquarium. Aosaki Yuugo's Kazegaoka Gojuuendama Matsuri no Nazo ("The Kazegaoka 50 Yen Coin Festival Mystery") details a series of smaller adventures that Tenma and his friends encountered during the summer holiday after the previous two cases happened.

Kazegaoka Gojuuendama Matsuri no Nazo ("The Kazegaoka 50 Yen Coin Festival Mystery") was originally published in 2014 as the third book in Aosaki Yuugo's Urazome Tenma series, and the first short story collection in this series. I read the paperback version, which was released in 2017. The book, as well as all the stories included, all feature alternative English titles by the way, which are not direct translations of the original titles. Aosaki is an author who is obviously inspired by Ellery Queen, and the previous novels all featured alternative English titles named in the Queen spirit ("The [Color] [Noun] Mystery"). In this book, the stories have English titles in the spirit of Ellery Queen's early short story collections The Adventures of Ellery Queen (and The New Adventures of Ellery Queen), and thus feature the title format "The Adventure of...".

The book opens with Mou Isshoku Eraberu Donburi ("A Rice Bowl Where You Can Choose One Extra Dish"), which carries the alternative English title The Adventure of the Missing Chopsticks. I had already read this particular story earlier this year, and even wrote a review about it, and there's little I want to add to that. It's a brilliant short story that presents a very normal, but puzzling mystery (Why did a student dump their tray and half-eaten rice bowl just outside the school cafeteria, even though it'd have taken no effort to bring it to the drop-off point?) as a meticulously constructed logic puzzle for the reader to deduce this seemingly nonsensical deed was done. It is a perfect example of the everyday life mystery, that changes an innocent, almost meaningless circumstance to an amusing mystery story by simply asking "Why?" and "How?" about things you normally wouldn't think twice about. The mystery also fits the school setting of this series perfectly, much more actually than the murders we saw in the previous two novels.

The title story Kazegaoka Gojuuendama Matsuri no Nazo ("The Kazegaoka 50 Yen Coin Festival Mystery"), or The Adventure of the Summer Festival, is set at a summer festival held at a shrine. Yuno's brother (a policeman) has to swing by with some drinks for the local policemen on guard here, with Yuno tagging along to enjoy the festival mood and food. She meets with Tenma at the festival, as well as with schoolmate Kaori and Tenma's younger sister Kyouka. During their chats however, they realize something weird is going on at this festival, for a great number of food stalls at this festival are returning all of their change in 50 yen coins, instead of the more common 100 yen coins. But why?

A surprisingly normal, yet weird puzzle, but one with roots in reality. For this story is actually a variation on a real-life mystery the author Wakatake Nanami encountered once when she was working part-time in a bookstore. Each Saturday, a man would appear with twenty 50 yen coins, asking her to exchange it for a thousand yen bill, with no explanation as to why. This enigmatic incident later formed the basis of a collaboration work published by Tokyo Sogen, with both professional mystery authors (like Norizuki Rintarou and Arisugawa Alice) and amateur writers offering their reasons to Wakatake's conundrum. A second volume was also released, with even more possible solutions.

But back to Aosaki's story. The problem is deliciously innocent yet puzzling, because whether you get your 200 yen change back as four 50 yen coins or two 100 yen coins shouldn't really matter, but it's still a problem that will slightly bug you. While the story revolves around such a 'nonsensical' problem, the actual plot structure is quite good, with proper hinting and even false solutions to put you off-guard (with adequate hints and proof to show why the false solutions are wrong). The solution is also wonderfully innocent, yet convincing enough to what at first sight might seem to be a rather mundane occurance.

Harimiya Eriko no Third Impact ("Harimiya Eriko's Third Impact"), or The Adventure of Rieko Harimiya, stars the titular Eriko, once a problem child who bullied others, but who of late has been trying to become a better person, or at least not a bully anymore. Part of the reason for her change is that she recently started dating Saotome, who's one year younger than her. Saotome is also the only boy in the school's brass band, and they are also rehearsing during the summer holiday at school. Eriko learns that the last few days, Saotome has been sent out to buy water for everyone to drink during their practice sessions, but that every time he returns, the girls have locked the room, forcing him to cry out loud for them to open the door for him. Eriko suspects he's being bullied by the other girls in the band, but can't really accuse them of anything considering her own past. Desperate, Eriko decides to ask Tenma to figure out why they're bullying Otome and to solve the problem for her.

This reminds me, the previous two novels were filled with both obvious and obscure reference to manga and anime, because of Tenma's hobbies, but as he isn't the main character in these stories, there are actually fewer of these references in this book. Or at least, I noticed fewer of them. The Third Impact from this story is obviously a reference to Neon Genesis Evangelion however. As for the story itself, it features a mystery that is obviously very strongly connected with the school setting (suspected bullying), but the truth behind the case is also wonderfully fitting, and is ingeniously hinted at through various hints and happenings that occur throughout the story. The everyday life mystery is a difficult genre, as it is difficult to have puzzling situations and solutions that are both mundane yet alluring. While the problem in this story might seem a bit too mundane, the solution is really convincing, but with just enough of wonder to surprise the reader.

Tenshitachi no Zanshomimai ("A Visit During A Lingering Heat By Angels"), or The Adventure of the Twin Angels, is about a curious incident described by a senior member of the school's Theater Club in one of his idea notebooks, with the writer claiming that he really experienced the following tale. He was one day dozing off after school soon after the summer holiday was over, but then made his way over to his classroom on the second floor, only to see two of his female classmates in a passionate embrace standing near the window. He quickly backed away, turning back to the hallway. But after some time, he decided to go in anyway, only to see the two girls had disappeared, even though he had his eyes on the classroom door all the time. So how did those girls leave that room completely unseen? The solution was something I had not thought off, though I think that Japanese readers have an advantage here, as it involves a certain custom not as common where I grew up, but more so in Japan (in fact, I first experienced myself in Japan too). Once you think off it, the mystery of the disappearing girls makes a lot more sense, and once again the hinting is impeccable, with careful wording and seemingly innocent statements always coming back at the end of the tale to explain what happened in a logical way.

The final full story in this volume is Sono Kabin ni Gochuui wo ("Please Mind That Vase"), or The Adventure of the Silent Vase, which stars Tenma's younger sister Kyouka, who studies at an elite junior high. She's having a talk with her friend Himemari in a classroom when it is discovered that the flower vase placed in the hallway outside the classroom was broken, with the shards, flowers and water spread all across the floor. As a member of the student council, Himemari obviously has to investigate who broke the vase, until she realizes something strange is going on: neither she nor Kyouka had seen anyone pass through the hallway while they were in the classroom, nor had they heard the sound of the vase breaking. So did it break on its own, silently? The story is very similar in idea to the earlier two novels in the series, as it focuses on the movements (and alibis) of characters and there's even a diagram of that section of the school for the reader to trace the movements of everyone involved, but the story feels a bit too hasty for its own good. The basic idea behind this story is to figure out who could've broken that vase without anyone hearing it, but the reader is given next to no time to contemplate the problem themselves, and the mystery itself feels much more 'constructed' than the previous stories, which felt much more natural and in line with the everyday life mystery. This story on the other hand features a character who acts just like the culprit in a complex mystery story with almost uncanny knowledge about the movements of all the other characters in order for them to commit that heineous crime of breaking a vase unseen and unheard. While this was in a way the M.O. in the two novels in this series, it really doesn't fit the tone of the other stories in this volume. So it's a bit too smart, a bit too 'conventional crime'-esque.

The volume also contains a very short bonus story, Sekai Ichi Ikokochi no Warui Sauna ("The Worst Sauna To Be In"), which is not a proper mystery story, but shows a bit more insight in Tenma's relation with a certain family member. I suspect it might also serve as 'laying the ground' for the fourth book in the series.

While the last few stories were not as strong as the first few, Kazegaoka Gojuuendama Matsuri no Nazo has proven itself to be an excellent short story collection that mixes impressively structured detective plots with incidents that seem mundane at first sight, but prove to be vexingly puzzling, resulting in very alluring everday life mysteries. The school setting is used to its fullest, and the volume also fleshes out the various characters and school setting better than the previous two novels, making this series a richer environment. I for one can't wait to read the next volume!

Original Japanese title(s): 青崎有吾 『風ヶ丘五十円玉祭りの謎』: 「もう一色選べる丼」 / 「風ヶ丘五十円玉祭りの謎」 / 「針宮理恵子のサードインパクト」 / 「天使たちの残暑見舞い」 「その花瓶にご注意を」 / 「世界一居心地の悪いサウナ」