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The Locked Room Murders or Kagi no Kakatta Heya or 鍵のかかった部屋 (2012) Episodes 1 and 2

September 2, 2014 1 comment

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The Locked Room Murders or Kagi no Kakatta Heya or 鍵のかかった部屋 (2012) is based on the novel of the same name by Yusuke Kishi. The television series plays with character stereotypes to produce a very entertaining format in which three people combine not only to solve apparently insoluble cases, but also to achieve the right legal result. Gou Serizawa (Koichi Sato) is one of these expensive lawyers who earns small mountains of money for every minute he spends working on complex corporate matters. At the beginning of the series, he acquires Junko Aoto (Erika Toda) as a personal assistant. As a lawyer in her own right, her first job is to go to take simple instructions from Kusakabe (Keisuke Horibe), legal advisor to a long-standing client. Not seeing any problem, she agrees to investigate a death. The police have classified it as a suicide because the body was found in a locked room. But Kusakabe is not convinced. She joins her boss who is inside a bank vault checking the contents of a special deposit. He has already shouted at her for agreeing to him doing something outside his comfort zone and for which he cannot bill his usual amount. She’s anxious and distracted. This triggers a moment of what she believes to be abstract curiosity, and she decides to find out what happens when she presses a button by the safe. Unfortunately, this closes the safe which is then on a time-lock. Since this is a Friday, that means the vault cannot open again until Monday morning. A security officer calls in Kei Enomoto (Satoshi Ono) who, to everyone’s amazement, opens the vault in seventeen minutes. Impressed by this, Junko Aoto not only persuades Gou Serizawa not to fire her, but also to employ Kei Enomoto as an expert to show how a locked room can be unlocked.

Junko Aoto (Erika Toda)

Junko Aoto (Erika Toda)

The scenario is beautifully contrived. All the windows were locked and could not have been tampered with. There’s no cellar, no air-vents, no secret passages, etc. The only door into the room was blocked by the seated figure of the deceased. Moreover, before his death, he had moved heavy items of furniture to make it difficult for the door to open, and had physically covered the door with a silk banner, securing it to the frame with one-hundred pins. When people break through one of the windows, they find the body with blow flies already hatching, i.e. he’d been dead about three days. The answer is very, very clever. What makes the episode so satisfying is that Kei Enomoto is one of these brilliant but socially inadequate people who will work away at puzzles, but find it very difficult to make friends. More importantly, he’s not at all interested in anything but the puzzle. In this, he’s similar to Galileo who stops working the moment the mechanism of the crime has been understood. In this series, that means Gou Serizawa has to join up the dots as the lawyer and get the right answer. This leaves Junko Aoto to run around to collect information, and encourage the two men to get on and do their thing.

Kei Enomoto (Satoshi Ono)

Kei Enomoto (Satoshi Ono)

The second episode sees Gou Serizawa seriously upset because someone has broken into his apartment and stolen his collection of collectable watches. He calls in Kei Enomoto who explains how it was one and how big the bill is going to be to make his apartment secure again. Since our lawyer has not yet paid the expert for his consultancy work, the expert waives the fee in return for Gou Serizawa consulting on another case. This time, Aiichirou Aida (Shido Nakamura) is the uncle of a young man who has apparently committed suicide in a locked room. The lawyer and Junko Aoto are asked to act as go-betweens to gain access to the room. In fact, there does prove to be a legal framework to investigate and this provides a motive should it be a homicide. Whereas the solution to the first episode turns on the forensic evidence, this is a very ingenious method for locking the room after the death. Again, this was completely novel. I pride myself on remembering how authors arrange locked room mysteries and these two episodes are impressively breaking new ground. I understood which piece of evidence was significant in the second, and came up with a way of taping up the door which was adjacent to that given. But the way the whole plot comes together is a delight to anyone who wants intellectual rigour to the solution of such cases. Here we see Yoshio Takazawa (Masahiro Takashima) as the science teacher father and his surviving daughter, Miki Takazawa (Mayuko Fukuda) watching each other like hawks in case there’s another death in the household. The fact Aiichirou Aida has spent time in jail for burglary also proves surprisingly relevant. Put all this together and this proves to be a genuinely exciting opening pair of episodes.

For reviews of other episodes, see:
The Locked Room Murders or Kagi no Kakatta Heya or 鍵のかかった部屋 (2012) Episodes 3 and 4
The Locked Room Murders or Kagi no Kakatta Heya or 鍵のかかった部屋 (2012) Episodes 5 to 7
The Locked Room Murders or Kagi no Kakatta Heya or 鍵のかかった部屋 (2012) Episodes 8 to end.

A Cup Full of Midnight by Jaden Terrell

September 1, 2014 2 comments

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Having had some issues with the narrative pacing of the first in the series, I metaphorically pick up a digital copy of A Cup Full of Midnight by Jaden Terrell (Permanent Press, 2012) featuring ex-cop and now PI Jared McKean. This continues in the best raditions of a serial with characters who were slightly less prominent in the first book, now stepping into the limelight. This time, the focus of attention is Josh, our hero’s nephew. Much to the despair (if not anger of his father), the young sprog comes out as gay and, to add insult to injury, becomes involved with the Goth scene. Except, even this version of the Goth scene is tainted with darker colours as he moves into the world of vampires, witches and others who claim some kind of supernatural status or powers. This leads to him becoming involved with a manipulative man who claims to be a real vampire. A short while after the young man loses his appeal, said vampire is killed in what seems to have been a ritualistic way. Except it’s not at all clear what the ritual might have been, so mixed up is all the symbology. What’s particularly clear is the depth of anger in the killing. Normally, this would not be a problem, but the sprog and a young woman were in the neighbourhood about the time and, worse, the young girl makes a generalised confession that she was responsible for the death. When two less than caring police officers come to interview the sprog, they frighten him and he attempts suicide. This inspires McKean to investigate. He may have thought the man deserved to die for abusing minors, but the suggestion his nephew might have had something to do with it passes a red line.

Jared (Beth) Terrell

Jared (Beth) Terrell

So this book adheres more closely to the optimal PI narrative pacing model. We have a gentle introduction to the problem and then our PI sets off to investigate. The first hurdle he meets is the number of people the victim had angered in his relatively short lifetime. It was probably something he worked at consciously, seeing how far he could push a real talent for upsetting others. One person describes the victim as a man who’d dipped into the Great Darkness and scooped out a cup full of midnight. So whether it was others in the Goth scene, or the gay scene, or the parents of the young kids he slept with, or the locals in the neighborhood where he lived, there were probably a lot of people waiting in line for their chance to kill him. Anyway, after doing the first round of talking with all the possibles, he knows he’s on the right track because someone with supernatural powers materialises a rattlesnake in his truck in that cold interstitial period before Christmas becomes New Year.

Very much as the first book, this is primarily interested in relationships. You may think you know people, but even those you’ve known for years can surprise you. Take your best friend who’s dying of AIDS. He has a steady boyfriend but he’s prepared to sacrifice that relationship to help an ex-boyfriend who’s that much closer to death. It’s all about priorities and the sacrifices you’re prepared to take to help others or just fit in with the crowd. That’s why Josh is something of an enigma. This is a boy McKean has known from birth, except just how well does he know him? It’s not just a simple matter of him running with the wrong crowd, meeting up with them on a casual basis. He’d been a willing catamite for the victim and who can be entirely sure what he might have done while under that man’s influence. The result as described here is full of resolutions (it’s almost New Year, after all). Some of these endings are tragic, others merely sad. For those left standing, life goes on for now but little in life is ever certain. A traffic accident or some other unexpected event could end it tomorrow. The young never have enough experience to understand how short their lives are. The older people have enough experience to be able to live with the knowledge they will die one day (some sooner than others).

A Cup Full of Midnight turns out to be something of a tour-de-force. The pacing is just right and, more importantly, the people ring true. No matter whether we’re dealing with the more extreme or marginalised members of society, or those whose middle class status is supposed to make them more law-abiding and less dangerous, everyone reacts in the moment. It’s the fallibility of humanity that everyone can be tempted or manipulated into doing the wrong thing. All it takes is someone with sufficient insight and determination to cause chaos, and the world can fall apart. Then it takes someone like McKean to help stick plaster on the wounds and hope people can recover. If that means, sometimes, he has to look the other way, that’s a price worth paying to protect the weak and vulnerable from doing further damage to themselves. Protect and serve doesn’t just apply to police officers. It also applies to PIs and concerned citizens like McKean. Overall, this is an impressive character study and recommended.

For reviews of two other books in the series, see:
Racing the Devil
River of Glass.

A copy of this book was sent to me for review.

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