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The Locked Room Murders or Kagi no Kakatta Heya or 鍵のかかった部屋 (2012) Episodes 8 to end

September 7, 2014 Leave a comment

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The eighth episode in The Locked Room Murders or Kagi no Kakatta Heya or 鍵のかかった部屋 (2012) has Gou Serizawa (Koichi Sato), our enthusiastic lawyer, trapped into investigating the case of an accidental death with a manga artist/author dead in her own studio — he appears on a television chat show and is ambushed. He further piles misery on himself by announcing this is a murder before the expert is anywhere near the solution. All the doors and windows were locked, but this is not a locked room mystery because of the locks. In fact, several people had duplicate keys and could have entered. Except the owner of the house, having seen neighbours victimised by burglars, got a big dog that barks when anyone it does not know tries to come on to the land around the house. So the dog did not bark at any time during which the forensic analysis says the death occurred, i.e. apparently no-one entered or left the house. Except that would not explain the beer. . . It’s so refreshing when the first real clue is beer. Anyway, it’s obvious whoever did it not only had a key but threw drugged food to the dog over the hedge. With the dog incapacitated, the person with the key can now come and go without any of the neighbours hearing the barking. Except there’s then a break in at the house and not only is the dog silent but it’s also completely unharmed. So why would anyone come back into the house? And why were none of the collectible watches stolen and, hey, why has one of those watches stopped working? There’s also the fascinating way in which Japanese local authorities discourage young people from congregating in the civic parks after dark to consider.

Gou Serizawa (Koichi Sato)

Gou Serizawa (Koichi Sato)

The ninth episode has our lawyers called in to advise a firm on an international deal only to find this is probably a front for the yakuza. It seems one of the senior executives was found dead in his office, so the president of the company calls in Kei Enomoto (Satoshi Ono) to improve the security system. He installs multiple locks on the only door and a new camera system but, almost immediately, another employee is found shot inside this room. Obviously this looks bad for a firm doing its best to appear legitimate, so the team is “encouraged” to take on the case to establish how the deaths occurred. For once, I actually got a part of the answer right, but the bigger picture is very nicely rounded out with touches that never occurred to me. Indeed, the one place where the evidence can be found is pleasingly just out of sight all the time. Gou Serizawa does his best not to be intimidated despite the fairly obvious gangster backgrounds of some of the employees. But Enimoto is strangely unmoved, even when threatened.

Junko Aoto (Erika Toda)

Junko Aoto (Erika Toda)

The final two episodes run together to provide the big finale. This has a man killed inside his office on the twelfth floor of the block. There’s bulletproof glass in the windows, there are locks on the doors up from the main staircase and from the roof, there are cameras on the corridor showing all the office doors, and there’s a keypad lock on the elevator to ensure no unwelcome visitors stop at this floor. This is a company about to seek a listing on the Tokyo Stock Exchange. It specializes in medical devices to help nurse the elderly. Their two major projects involve the use of a robot to lift and carry patients around, and training monkeys to fetch and carry things for the patients. Shortly before the launch, there’s an attack on the president’s office. A bullet is found embedded in his door and there’s a break in the glass with glass fragments on the floor inside (the glass was not as bulletproof as people thought). It’s concluded that someone believed they could assassinate the president and Kei Enomoto is called in to beef up security. But before he can put the plan in motion, the president is found dead in his room. It seems he was stuck on the very top of his head where he had a skull abnormality. Although it was only a light blow, it nevertheless caused a haemorrhage and he died. When the internal office layout is investigated, only one man could have entered the president’s office to deliver the fatal blow. There’s a connecting door with the vice president who claims to have been asleep. The police duly arrest him. However, the police then receive an anonymous tip that there had been bad blood between Kei Enomoto and the president five years earlier and, with his known ability to beat security systems, he could have killed the president out of revenge.

Kei Enomoto (Satoshi Ono)

Kei Enomoto (Satoshi Ono)

This proves to be a very satisfying final case for this team to solve. With Kei Enomoto out of the picture, it falls to the lawyers to do some spade work. Junko Aoto (Erika Toda) slowly puts together a profile on one of the suspects, showing he has changed his identity. And then, when Kei Enomoto is released through lack of evidence (and an ambiguous confession from the vice president), Gou Serizawa has his first major idea about what actually happened. This involves the use of the medical robot which was standing in the president’s office. Unfortunately, when put to the test, the robot’s internal programming refuses to perform the predicted movements. However, this does trigger an answer from Kei Enomoto who is able to demonstrate one of the ways in which the robot could have been used. The full explanation does come at the end but, given what we’ve seen in the first nine cases, this is rather unusual. It also leads to an ending which, again, is not quite what might have been predicted. Nevertheless, it does bring this highly entertaining series to a bitter sweet conclusion. For anyone even vaguely interested in locked-room mysteries, this should be mandatory viewing. Here are ten very different types of case with very ingenious mechanisms in play.

For a review of other episodes, see:
The Locked Room Murders or Kagi no Kakatta Heya or 鍵のかかった部屋 (2012) Episodes 1 and 2
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 5 to 7

September 5, 2014 2 comments

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The fifth episode restores my faith in The Locked Room Murders or Kagi no Kakatta Heya or 鍵のかかった部屋 (2012) with another completely unique situation. Once again, I’m caught by the creative brilliance of this set-up. If you go back through the annals of locked-room mysteries, there are locked doors and windows, often with bars on the windows or a sheer drop no-one could climb. This time the door had no lock but it could not be opened. Yes, that’s right! There had been an earthquake and, because of the shoddy building work, the house had suffered serious physical damage, subsiding on its foundations so that the openings for the doors and windows were no longer in true. So most of the doors were caught in place by the movement of the walls. Windows were locked, but also very difficult to open because the frames were bent. One of the two doors into this particular room had been forced open. The only way in which it could be closed again would be by someone with a soft mallet knocking the door into the frame from the inside, focusing effort on the top corner of the door. Obviously there’s a man dead inside. He apparently fell and hit his head. But, of course, there’s no mallet or any other heavy tool that could have forced the door closed without seriously damaging it. The only oddities about the room are two vents, one at about head height and the other just above floor level. Someone could have put their hand and a part of their arm through into the room, but neither vent is anywhere near the door. There is a suspect but he has an alibi. As a teacher in the local school, he was coaching the baseball team for four hours. I managed to guess the basic principle involved, but the detail of the execution is one of these delightful reveals to produce a really pleasing outcome. For once, it doesn’t matter whether it might have been practicable in the time available and I don’t care that the design of the room and the effect of the earthquake have produced exactly the right conditions. It just feels good.

Kei Enomoto (Satoshi Ono)

Kei Enomoto (Satoshi Ono)

The sixth episode is a locked-room situation rather than one physical location. Events all take place in a theatre. While the live show is on, a man is killed in a room under the stage. Most of the cast is on stage all the time. Hence, only a very limited number of people could have committed this crime. The problem is that the only escape routes from this room either require the killer to leave the theatre and re-enter through the front doors which would have been rather visible, or to physically cross the stage (something which you would expect members of the audience to notice). This is another of these plots where the solution of the mystery only comes when the motive for the killing is understood. Once it’s possible to say who might have done it, we can then move on to decide how it might have been done. This is another answer that works completely from one point of view, but you have to wonder about those with a different point of view. However, if you put doubt to one side, this is another very satisfying answer to a fundamentally interesting question. The demonstration of the practicality and psychology involved is fascinating.

Junko Aoto (Erika Toda)

Junko Aoto (Erika Toda)

The seventh episode has us in a one-hundred-year old farm house out in the countryside. The ground around the house is very muddy and the front door is only approached over stepping stones to keep shoes dry. On the day in question, we have a woman working in her orchard, pruning apple trees during the critical period of time. She had a clear view of the front of the building at all times. Although a side window was open, anyone stepping out on to the mud would have left clear footprints and there were no marks. There was nothing inside the house that could have been used to enable someone to cross over the mud and so escape on the grass beyond. And then there are the supernatural phenomena that seem to have spectral apparitions and lights in the sky just to add a little spice. The answer to this is nicely obscure until we are asked to consider just how many crimes have been committed. It’s not just the death of the girl. There’s also the theft of a substantial amount of gold bullion and who knows what else.

The characters are developing nicely. Although Gou Serizawa (Koichi Sato) is somewhat shallow and has poor social skills when it comes to relating to the general public, he is a good lawyer. So when there’s a need for a useful overview or the right consequences have to flow when Kei Enomoto (Satoshi Ono) unlocks the room, he usually gets the necessary done. However, he’s also puffing up with the vicarious success of the team. Instead of modestly allowing credit where credit is due, he keeps inflating his own role and so attracting more cases for him to solve. Junko Aoto (Erika Toda) began as a meek and submissive assistant, but she’s beginning to show signs of greater independence. When the need arises, she’s willing to walk around the neighbourhoods to interview potential witnesses and she’s also prepared to speculate with Kei Enomoto as to how the crimes might have been committed. Indeed, there’s even a hint she might be forming some emotional feelings for the young man. At present, they are just team-members, but as time passes, who knows what might happen. As to the man himself, Kei Enomoto remains as enigmatic as when we first met him. He’s clearly obsessive when it comes to physical locks and finds the challenge of solving crimes to be irresistible. He’s very watchable.

For a review of other episodes, see:
The Locked Room Murders or Kagi no Kakatta Heya or 鍵のかかった部屋 (2012) Episodes 1 and 2
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 8 to end.

The Locked Room Murders or Kagi no Kakatta Heya or 鍵のかかった部屋 (2012) Episodes 3 and 4

September 4, 2014 1 comment

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The third episode of The Locked Room Murders or Kagi no Kakatta Heya or 鍵のかかった部屋 (2012) sees a body found with a single stab wound to the back in a hotel bedroom which had a chain put in place from the inside. This makes a change because, from the outset, this is treated as a murder investigation. For all practical purposes, it’s impossible for the chain to be lifted into place from outside. Yet, if the killer was inside to put the chain in place, how did he or she get out? We are into the land of the elite Shogi players. As our entry into the story, Gou Serizawa (Koichi Sato) is general counsel to the National Association and fielded a call from the deceased, one of the senior professionals, just before he was found stabbed to death in his hotel room. The police begin harassing our lawyer who refuses to reveal anything of what was said. Because he finds this embarrassing, he sends Junko Aoto (Erika Toda) and Kei Enomoto (Satoshi Ono) to investigate. The most obvious possibility is that someone knocked on this man’s door and then persuaded him to turn around so he could be stabbed in the back. But if there was such a level of distrust that the man would not unchain the door, why would be casually turn his back on the attacker? So here we have a locked room and Kei Enomoto decides the only way in which he can unlock it is to understand the motive. This breaks his usual pattern which has ignored the people involved and focused on the facts.

Gou Serizawa (Koichi Sato)

Gou Serizawa (Koichi Sato)

This takes us inside the world of the professional Shogi players. The qualification event that’s currently causing waves offers the possibility a woman might finally reach the highest level. She has one more match to play and if she wins, she will make history. By a curious coincidence, the other man who has qualified for this final match should have played the deceased in a previous round. The form book says he would have lost, but there’s doubt as to whether this would give him a motive for murder. The female player also had a sexual relationship with the deceased, but immediately before and after the time of death, she was apparently calling the deceased from her home on the telephone landline (old technology). Although the theme for the motive is fairly obvious, there’s just enough in the rest of the story to keep this fresh and these represents another winning locked room.

Kei Enomoto (Satoshi Ono)

Kei Enomoto (Satoshi Ono)

The fourth episode, however, sees a slight misstep. Gou Serizawa’s beginning to gain some fame because he’s been taking the credit for solving these locked room puzzles. Normally, nothing would have persuaded him to accept this obviously fairly poor and rather obsessive man as a client but, with a photographer looking on, he’s trapped into accepting him.The man wants the lawyer to gain entry to an apartment that has been set up to keep an expensive collection of spiders. The man asserts a claim over two of the spiders but, with the collector dead, neither the mother nor the widow are prepared to allow him into the room. As the story is revealed, it seems the collector was found dead a few days ago. There was a security lock on the outside door and every single window, vent and drain through which a spider might otherwise have escaped, was covered by a mesh or taped up. It seems the collector was bitten by one of the spiders and died. But this is problematic because if he had known he was bitten, why did he not call for help? He was carrying a cellphone and there was a landline in the room. So, on the face of it, this is a very intriguing mystery, but the answer turns out to be one that might conceivably have worked if it had been in written form. We tend to find more things plausible when we see them in our mind’s eye. But as seen on the television screen, this strikes me as seriously implausible. This is unfortunate because, if you accept the basic premise, the various factors do all fit together perfectly.

For a review of other episodes, see:
The Locked Room Murders or Kagi no Kakatta Heya or 鍵のかかった部屋 (2012) Episodes 1 and 2
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.

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.

Galileo 2 or ガリレオ (第2期) (2013) episodes 7, 8 and 9

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Continuing with Galileo 2 or ガリレオ (第2期) (2013), episode 7 breaks the mould by having Professor Manabu Yukawa (Masaharu Fukuyama) aka Galileo front-and-centre from start-to-finish. The role for Misa Kishitani (Yuriko Yoshitaka), the new detective, is limited to sitting in his lab to bully his students into translating his receipts for expenses into the type of language the police accounts department can understand. While waiting for them to do the work, she tries to assemble the model of a Tyrannosaurus Rex sent by the detective despatched for further training to America. Needless to say, this does not please the scientist when he sees her at work using a remote camera system. Anyway, on his way back from a conference with Hiromi Kuribayashi (Ikkei Watanabe), his assistant, and one of his students, he’s diverted to consider whether it’s possible to view the inside of a tomb when the opening has been concreted over. There’s a complicated story about a local mythological animal that may have been trying to steal the body from the tomb and the priest sealed it up to prevent this from happening. The priest then died and his skeleton was picked clean by local birds and predators. Anticipating the difficulties, the student has brought along a high-powered portable drill to get through the concrete and a camera to poke through the hole to view inside the tomb. They are able to establish the body is missing.

The monster signs his name above his victim

The monster signs his name above his victim

 

Meanwhile, what looks like a double murder takes place in the village and the name of the mythological beast is written on the wall. The front door of the house was locked and all the windows were locked from the inside with the shotgun used to kill the man outside the house on the grass at the back. The inexperienced local policeman hypothesises the beast used the gun and then walked through the wall, dropping the gun as he retreated into the woods. The professor is particularly interested in the rocking chair in which the dead man is found and the wet umbrella by the front door. The result is an elegant mystery to unravel and a quite sophisticated moral judgement at the end. It actually makes quite a pleasant change to see the professor in the real wold without having the spiky new detective by his side to provoke him. Although he’s still essentially disinterested, he shows some ability to judge the emotional qualities of those around him. He does listen to people and, to some extent, empathise with them.

 

Episode 8 has a slightly different form of impossible crime. It’s the unbreakable alibi but multiplied by two. The most obvious suspect is miles away in the presence of a colleague when, in sequence, they both receive a telephone call from the victim but neither results in actual words exchanged. When they go to his apartment, they find him dead with a knife through the heart. So the first part of the alibi is working out how the suspect might have arranged for the two calls to be made after the death of the victim. Once that is clear, the police further examine the phone and find a photograph stored in the phone’s memory. It was taken at about the time of the murder, but the only place from such a picture could have been taken was some miles from the scene of the murder. For once, I got the answer to this in principle although the detail of the execution eluded me. This is two interesting ideas padded out to fill time available. The result lacks pace, repeating itself a couple of times and distracting itself with a few fireworks.

The ultimate in method acting

The ultimate in method acting

 

Episode 9 deals with the inevitable situation when the mass media become aware that a reclusive university professor has become a consultant to the police. This outing is accomplished by an unbalanced physicist who, in a conference ten years ago, was profoundly embarrassed when the young professor pointed out an error in the man’s presentation. This led to his loss of a job with a lesser university. In short order, he went through several other jobs. Each time he was fired, he felt he was able to blame others. It wasn’t that he was not good enough. It was the fault of others in failing to recognise his genius. Anyway, after being out of work for six months, he decides to take his revenge on the professor who had originally shown him up. He dubs himself The Devil’s Hand and takes the credit for a death the authorities had considered an accident. In due course, he claims a second death.

 

The way it works is that, the night before the death is due to take place, he posts a message to a website forecasting the victim. After the death, he writes a letter to both the police department and the professor pointing to the message. What interests Galileo is that the written letter claiming the first death followed immediately the next day, whereas there was a gap of three days between the next announcement and the letter. When the detective asks the right questions, she discovers it took three days for the man to die. So whatever method the man us using, it’s fallible and he has to wait to see whether each attack is successful. Galileo sets his research students working on trawling the internet to find other messages announcing deaths. When one is discovered, the detective finds the woman survived without injury. As Galileo talks with her, he realizes how the man is attacking these people and why they do not always die. So this is quite an interesting mystery, somewhat enlivened because our less successful physicist befriends Hiromi Kuribayashi, Galileo’s assistant, and tries to pump him for inside information on how the investigation is progressing. Naturally, the assistant quickly gets drunk and is a useless source of information. So far, Galileo 2 or ガリレオ (第2期) (2013) is not as good as the first season, but I live in hopes because the last two episodes are an adaptation of Salvation of a Saint, a superb Galileo novel.

 

For other work based on Keigo Higashino‘s writing, see:
11 Moji no Satsujin or 11文字の殺人 (2011)
Broken or The Hovering Blade or Banghwanghaneun Kalnal or 방황하는 칼날 (2014)
Bunshin or 分身 (2012)
Galileo or Garireo or ガリレオ
Galileo 2 or ガリレオ (第2期) (2013) episodes 1 and 2
Galileo 2 or ガリレオ (第2期) (2013) episodes 3 and 4
Galileo 2 or ガリレオ (第2期) (2013) episodes 5 and 6
Galileo 2 or ガリレオ (第2期) (2013) episodes 10 and 11
Galileo: The Sacrifice of Suspect X or Yôgisha X no kenshin (2008)
Midsummer Formula or Manatsu no Houteishiki or 真夏の方程式 (2013)
The Murder in Kairotei or Kairoutei Satsujin Jiken or 回廊亭殺人事件 (2011)
Naniwa Junior Detectives or Naniwa Shonen Tanteida or 浪花少年探偵団 (2012) episodes 1 to 4
Naniwa Junior Detectives or Naniwa Shonen Tanteida or 浪花少年探偵団 (2012) episodes 5 to 8
Naniwa Junior Detectives or Naniwa Shonen Tanteida or 浪花少年探偵団 (2012) episodes 9 to 12
Platinum Data or プラチナデータ (2013)
Thursday Theatre Keigo Higashino Mystery or 東野圭吾ミステリーズ (2012) episodes 1 to 5
Thursday Theatre Keigo Higashino Mystery or 東野圭吾ミステリーズ (2012) episodes 6 to 11
White Night or Baekyahaeng or 백야행 : 하얀 어둠 속을 걷다 (2009)
The Wings of the Kirin or Kirin no Tsubasa: Gekijoban Shinzanmono or 麒麟の翼 ~劇場版・新参者~ (2012)

 

For a Galileo novel, see Salvation of a Saint.

 

Galileo 2 or ガリレオ (第2期) (2013) episodes 5 and 6

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In Galileo 2 or ガリレオ (第2期) (2013), episode 5 takes us in the difficult and enigmatic world of twins. We’re shown twin sisters both engaged in the activity of cooking. One has the television on. The other has a live feed from her husband’s business consultancy seminar. They both hear a noise from outside. One goes into her garden and finds the wind has blown over and broken a plant pot. The other goes into the street but sees nothing suspicious. While she is out, a man breaks into her house. When she comes back in, he hits her on the head with a hammer. Two-hundred kilometers away, the other twin has a terrible pain in her head. She calls her brother-in-law’s assistant and begs him to go round to her sister’s home. When the husband and assistant arrive, they found the sister seriously injured and in a coma.

The twins rule

The twins rule

 

This is great fun because Misa Kishitani (Yuriko Yoshitaka), our detective, now goes all out to get Manabu Yukawa (Masaharu Fukuyama) aka Galileo interested. She wheels sets of twins into the lab to demonstrate a telepathic link or something approximating it. Naturally, while admiring her enthusiasm, the professor is dismissing everything he sees and hears as coincidence and not reliable evidence. Nevertheless he does become energised when the detective says the twin now claims she saw the face of the man who attacked her twin sister. This might be a claim that can be scientifically verified. He first asks the twin if she can draw the face. The result is amusingly childlike. There’s a complete lack of artistic flair on display. It’s a shame no police sketch artist is tried. Nevertheless, the professor engages the husband to find photographs of everyone in their joint lives. When shown these pictures in the hospital room where the twin is lying in a coma, the sister cannot recognise any one as the attacker. But one picture falls off the wall triggering the now traditional flood of scientific writing. As a result, the professor brings the twin sister and her brother-in-law to a lab where he explains a fairly massive piece of equipment as a very sensitive machine to measure brain activity. When the results are inconclusive, he proposes stepping up to the ultimate machine which results in the solution of the case. This is fortuitous because the reputation of our lady detective is slowly going down the toilet as her colleagues now consider her too interested in occult and otherwise supernatural cases. Being able to arrest and charge actual human suspects does help keep her in employment.

 

Episode 6 is a locked room mystery. After meeting online, five women decide to go on a short hiking holiday. They book rooms in a hotel close to a bridge over a deep gorge. The detective is the first to arrive, closely followed by one of the two physicists who work together. This scientist says she’s tired and immediately goes to her bedroom. Later, after the other three women have arrived, her colleague knocks on the door and is seen to try opening it but it is locked. When it comes to the time for eating, her colleague and the detective take a torch and go outside to try her window. But when her colleague shines the torch on the window, the detective can clearly see the window is locked. There’s no reply when they knock on the glass. The following morning, the woman is found dead at the bottom of the gorge. The local police have this down as a suicide but our detective knows just enough science to have caught our the scientist colleague in a lie. This may be a trivial lie, but it makes her suspect the possibility of murder. But since she can’t work out how it could have been done, this means calling in Galileo. Somewhat hilariously, he proves the detectives theory is complete impractical. It’s physically impossible. When Galileo and the detective confront the scientist, she freely admits the lie and has an explanation for it. Since this seems to solve all the problems for Galileo, he leaves our detective chewing on the facts. In the end, she decides to pursue the case despite being warned off by her boss.

 

The precise answer to the problem depends on the scientific work the scientist was doing. It provides the mechanism to make the locked room puzzle complete. It’s not something I would ever have thought of but, now I know, it a modern scientific version of a very old stage trick. It’s impressive to apply such a mechanism in this case. I thought the resolution too easy. Where the explanation for how the crime was committed is completely without evidence in support, you do not expect the accused to literally break down and confess. Although an explanation for this is supplied, I don’t think it very convincing. Nevertheless, this is a novel variation on the locked room mystery and worth watching.

 

For other work based on Keigo Higashino’s writing, see:
11 Moji no Satsujin or 11文字の殺人 (2011)
Broken or The Hovering Blade or Banghwanghaneun Kalnal or 방황하는 칼날 (2014)
Bunshin or 分身 (2012)
Galileo or Garireo or ガリレオ
Galileo 2 or ガリレオ (第2期) (2013) episodes 1 and 2
Galileo 2 or ガリレオ (第2期) (2013) episodes 3 and 4
Galileo 2 or ガリレオ (第2期) (2013) episodes 7, 8 and 9
Galileo 2 or ガリレオ (第2期) (2013) episodes 10 and 11
Galileo: The Sacrifice of Suspect X or Yôgisha X no kenshin (2008)
Midsummer Formula or Manatsu no Houteishiki or 真夏の方程式 (2013)
The Murder in Kairotei or Kairoutei Satsujin Jiken or 回廊亭殺人事件 (2011)
Naniwa Junior Detectives or Naniwa Shonen Tanteida or 浪花少年探偵団 (2012) episodes 1 to 4
Naniwa Junior Detectives or Naniwa Shonen Tanteida or 浪花少年探偵団 (2012) episodes 5 to 8
Naniwa Junior Detectives or Naniwa Shonen Tanteida or 浪花少年探偵団 (2012) episodes 9 to 12
Platinum Data or プラチナデータ (2013)
Thursday Theatre Keigo Higashino Mystery or 東野圭吾ミステリーズ (2012) episodes 1 to 5
Thursday Theatre Keigo Higashino Mystery or 東野圭吾ミステリーズ (2012) episodes 6 to 11
White Night or Baekyahaeng or 백야행 : 하얀 어둠 속을 걷다 (2009)
The Wings of the Kirin or Kirin no Tsubasa: Gekijoban Shinzanmono or 麒麟の翼 ~劇場版・新参者~ (2012)

 

For a Galileo novel, see Salvation of a Saint.

 

In the Morning I’ll Be Gone by Adrian McKinty

March 3, 2014 2 comments

In the Morning I'll Be Gone, Adrian McKinty

In the Morning I’ll Be Gone by Adrian McKinty (Seventh Street Books, 2014) finds Sean Duffy in the final volume of the trilogy set in The Troubles. He’s been through the wringer of being the wrong-shaped peg in a hole not of his own making. A Catholic serving in the police force is never going to win him friends on either side of the sectarian divide, but he shaded the odds in favour of being unacceptable to everyone by breaking all the rules in solving the cases he’s given and never being prepared to apologise for anything he does. At the end of the last book, he was demoted back to uniform. This puts him at the sharp end of policing and, when he happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, he’s scapegoated and forced to resign the force. This leaves him at a loose end. The trigger for his official revival goes back to September 1983 when a few prisoners broke out of the notorious Maze Prison. It doesn’t take MI5 too long to link our hero with one of the escapees, Dermott McCann. They were at school together and have some “history” as the republican activist and theoretical urban terrorist. The Brits are not going to pass up the chance that the local man can do what they have so obviously failed to do. So Duffy is reinstated into Special Branch to talk with the families and relatives to see whether he can pick up any clues as to where Dermott has gone. At first there’s nothing but hostility, so Sean does what every respectable police officer would do. He beats up a heavy, threatens to shoot a drug pusher and pimp, burns down a newsagents, and rescues one of the McCann clan from a fate worse than death. He asks for no reward which may be why the IRA may later be less unsympathetically inclined towards him.

Adrian McKinty

Adrian McKinty

The first glimmer of light comes from Mary Fitzpatrick. Dermott married her second daughter and then divorced her when he was taken off into the Maze. A Faustian deal is made. Mary has never believed the death of Lizzie, her youngest daughter, was accidental. If Sean is able to prove to her satisfaction what happened that night, she will tell him where to find Dermott. There’s just one problem. Lizzie was found dead inside a pub that was not only locked but barred from the inside. The police who investigated this locked-room mystery, are convinced the death was an accident. After throwing out the last of the customers, Mary barred the doors, switched off the lights and climbed on top of the bar to change a light bulb. Unfortunately she fell, breaking her neck. The only three people who believe this is problematic are the elderly coroner who did the autopsy, her boyfriend and her mother.

This is a neat authorial trick of piling Pelion on Ossa. When Sean is given something impossible to do, the key to doing it must be the solution of an impossible crime. In this case, the problem is the complete absence of a motive. Although there are always ways in which a locked room situation can be set up, the real question is why anyone would have wanted to produce anything so complicated. The accidental death scenario is so much easier to understand and accept. As is required in books like this, there’s a long wait for the first hint of a motive to emerge, but even then it’s still not obvious why Lizzie should have been targeted. Believe me when I tell you the wait is well and truly worth it. The ultimate explanation of the how and the why of the death are outstanding.

This brings us to the weakest part of the book. By now we’re well into 1984 and those of you alert historians will recall this is the year in which the IRA planted a bomb in the Brighton hotel occupied by Margaret Thatcher. Writing this episode into the book is fair game, but the confrontation between Sean and Dermott is hopelessly contrived. Until I reached this part, I was lining this book up as unlikely to be beaten as the thriller of 2014. It’s such a shame. All the set-up in Northern Ireland and the subsequent investigation of the locked-room mystery is outstanding. Then we have to get the hackneyed ending.

When you put the three books together, The Troubles is one of the best thriller trilogies of the last decade. Despite my being less than enthused by the final confrontation, the quality of the prose remains pitch perfect and the unsentimental dark humour of the people and their political situation make In the Morning I’ll Be Gone a remarkable achievement in producing a plausible outcome for our hero. Incidentally, the next book is a standalone historical mystery called The Sun Is God.

For reviews of other books by Adrian McKinty, see:
The Cold Cold Ground
Falling Glass
I Hear the Sirens in the Street
The Sun Is God.

 

Follow this link for An interview with Adrian McKinty.

 

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

 

The After Dinner Mysteries or Nazotoki wa Dinner no Ato de or 推理要在晚餐后 (2011): Episodes 3 and 4

February 4, 2014 Leave a comment

The After Dinner Mysteries

The After Dinner Mysteries or Nazotoki wa Dinner no Ato de or 推理要在晚餐后 (2011) episodes 3 and 4 see us reprise the basic set-up with some nice stop-frame sequences to show Reiko Hosho (Keiko Kitagawa), our heiress as a child, riding a lion and dining with the President of the United States (no relationship implied between the two kings of their respective jungles). This time, she’s called out on a Sunday. Such inconsiderate murderers. Why can’t they restrict their killing to ordinary working days during the week? Fortunately, Kageyama (Sho Sakurai) is able to offer comfort and consolation. This only lasts until she sees the body. He’s lying with his head in a pool of blood wearing only his underpants. It seems someone hit him over the head and then undressed him. There’s no sign of his clothes and there are carpet fibres on his forehead. Better still, he’s a congressman and a rising star of the democratic party, investigating possible corruption on Capitol Hill. This suggests the murder was to keep him quiet. The killing took place in a hotel room which he had on a yearly contract. The safe he had installed has been opened and is empty. As against that, he appears to have been a womaniser which could have produced dangerous jealousy. The reveal is actually rather neat if somewhat long-drawn-out. The use of the cardboard cutout action figure is nicely appropriate and the logic of how there seemed to be two murderers is rather elegant. The explanation for the carpet fibres is typically Japanese and the significance of the trip to the beach is an outstanding deduction. Put all this together and you have to feel sorry for the murderer. Indeed, the way the plot is designed, the intention is to give our heiress/butler pair a chance to discuss how infidelity might be inadvertently disclosed. The final frames of the episode leave us with a rerun of the early line — that all a man need do to hide the fact he’s dating several women is to habitually avoid using their names and only refer to them as “you” as in “I love you” and so on. It leaves so much unsaid between Reiko Hosho and Kageyama.

Kageyama (Sho Sakurai)

Kageyama (Sho Sakurai)

This leads to a really pleasing opening section to episode 4 as Reiko Hosho accepts an invitation to her friend’s wedding. Except, when you come down to it, her friend is doing the wrong thing by marrying before the top heiress. This shows disloyalty from someone so low down on the heiress ranking order. What makes it so much worse is that Kyoichiro Kazamatsuri (Kippei Shiina), the noveau riche detective, also turns up as a guest. This is the first time the dunce has had a chance to identify the heiress. To throw him off the scent, Kageyama must therefore give a false name to his mistress and act as escort to her in the reception. The theory is that their act as a couple will deter the detective. Unfortunately, the challenge of a rival merely encourages him. This leaves us wanting a crime and it turns out to be a locked room mystery. The bride is attacked in her bedroom. There’s a long fall to the ground underneath the bedroom window and no sign anyone recklessly attempted the jump. Going the other way courtesy of a rope and hook is too athletic an exercise for any of the guests at the wedding. So it has to be someone who can manage the mechanics of locking the door.

Appropriately enough, as the first one through the door, Reiko Hosho is immediately suspect because she could have falsely claimed it was locked and only pretended to use the key to open it. She was jealous of her friend’s marriage and so has motive. As nutty detective in chief, Kyoichiro Kazamatsuri takes change of the case and is unable to come up with any other explanation. The idiot is going to arrest Reiko Hosho who’s only fault is to use her brain cells only some of the time. Fortunately, Kageyama knows whodunnit. The only problem is how to prove it. However, it ultimately proves quite easy because the situation requires the commission of a second crime. When our pair disrupts this crime, the truth must come out. Again the answer proves rather sad. No matter what the culture, this is an entirely human reaction to a very difficult situation.

Kyoichiro Kazamatsuri (Kippei Shiina) tries to impress Reiko Hosho (Keiko Kitagawa)

Kyoichiro Kazamatsuri (Kippei Shiina) tries to impress Reiko Hosho (Keiko Kitagawa)

We even get quite a long discussion of the true nature of the relationship between a butler and his mistress which is fascinating. The ground rules as laid out by our hero are a route to sadness but, in the world of the rich, it would be difficult for there to be any other system of behaviour. I’m reminded of the tragedy in the British Royalty when Princess Margaret told her family she proposed to marry beneath herself. When rank and status are so important, there have to be rules about such things and both sides of the equation have to understand the purpose of the rules and so accept them. All this is, of course, window dressing for what’s obviously intended to be a struggle for both our heroes to avoid the “love trap”. Her family would never agree and she knows it. As to the plot, the significance of the family butler not wearing his glasses is a very pleasing touch. The result is a slightly better episode because it avoids rerunning the formula of the argument before dinner, then the reveal when she has consumed something delicious. Being set entirely in the bride’s family home doing double duty for the wedding and reception, it gives us a chance to see everyone in a slightly more natural setting. This is not to say the episode is without flaws. That no-one comments when our heroine adopts a false name to throw off Kyoichiro Kazamatsuri is a surprising lapse from a team that usually gets the details right. The failure to disapprove Kageyama attending the wedding is more complicated. He’s recognised as a butler but the prospective mother-in-law understands a crisis must have forced this breach of protocol. Without asking the reason, she turns a blind eye.

For reviews of the other episodes, see:
The After Dinner Mysteries or Nazotoki wa Dinner no Ato de or 推理要在晚餐后 (2011) Episodes 1 and 2
The After Dinner Mysteries or Nazotoki wa Dinner no Ato de or 推理要在晚餐后 (2011): Episodes 5 and 6
The After Dinner Mysteries or Nazotoki wa Dinner no Ato de or 推理要在晚餐后 (2011): Episodes 7 and 8
The After Dinner Mysteries or Nazotoki wa Dinner no Ato de or 推理要在晚餐后 (2011): Episodes 9 and 10.

The Bullet Vanishes or Xiao shi de zi dan (2012)

October 16, 2012 2 comments

The Bullet Vanishes or Xiao shi de zi dan (2012) provokes me into a slightly introspective mood. I was happily going with the flow right up to the last ten minutes and then found I didn’t like the ending. No, I need to put it more strongly than that. I hate the ending! This is going to make writing this review somewhat complicated because, as a general rule, I avoid spoilers. In this case, we have a series of murders in which the victims are shot but the bullet vanishes, plus a locked-room mystery. Because the solutions are particularly ingenious — indeed, I can’t remember this particular solution to the vanishing bullet phenomenon before — I can’t discuss the detail. Everything that follows this point is somewhat hypothetical, discussing the principles involved so you can understand why I hesitate on whether to recommend this film.

 

Thematically, we’re into the difficult area of deciding what constitutes justice in a Confucian social system with the frame of a formal judgment at both ends of the film. Confucius was absolutely clear on the role of Heaven as a Supreme Being, “He who offends against Heaven has none to whom he can pray.” This means Heaven watches what we do and is ultimately responsible for the administration of justice. If we violate Heaven’s will, it will turn away from us. Indeed, the threat of losing Heaven’s blessing is a deterrent sanction to ensure we retain our integrity, no matter how corrupt those around us. This reinforces the general rule that, if we have faith and are innocent of wrongdoing, we should always be able to rely on Heaven to keep us safe.

Lau Ching Wan at his very best with a sample bullet

 

The film begins with what looks to be a formal invocation of the Way of Heaven to determine who is “right” in an accusation of theft at a munitions factory. Heaven appears to decide the accused is guilty. But, uncharacteristically, the spirit does not leave Earth as it should. Rather it stays and appears responsible for a curse on all those who continue to work in the factory. At first, no-one is inclined to believe in the curse but, when a foreman is shot and there’s absolutely no sign of a bullet, the workforce begins to lose its nerve. When a second death occurs, the body being found in a room with no means for the killer to escape, panic edges closer.

 

The investigative duo assigned to the case is Guo Zhui (Nicholas Tse) and Song Donglu (Lau Ching Wan). Both have highly refined powers of observation and impeccable powers of deduction. Guo is also a fast-draw expert and crack shot, while Song is deeply into practical investigation. If he can try a method of killing on himself or others, he will study what happens to the body during the process of coming closer to death. Up to the start of the film, he has always managed to avoid death. Neither are inclined to believe in the supernatural, but they are slow to come up with methods that will cause death and not leave a bullet or a trace of some kind, e.g. if the bullet was made of ice and could somehow be kept cold enough to be carried around and then fired from a gun, would there not be traces of liquid or a stain at the scene? This obviously calls for testing. The “locked-room” puzzle is equally challenging. Our detectives are walking down a corridor, approaching a room when they hear a shot. When they open the door and enter, they find a man dead, but no weapon and absolutely no way anyone could have left the room (there’s no-one hiding behind the door).

Nicholas Tse showing a different way of holding a gun

 

Frankly, this is all beautifully done. The period detail of the 1930s looks and feels right, the CGI of the munitions factory has a generally threatening air, and the level of technology seems to have been faithfully recreated. Indeed, in the more traditional style of Sherlock Holmes, we have everything in the set-up going along smoothly. But the role of Little Lark (Mini Yang) is the first sign of confusion. She’s one of these wheeler-dealer fortune tellers with little birds that are trained to hop out of their cage and pull a little envelope from a pack of envelopes, each containing a prediction about the future. For reasons not immediately clear, she’s threatened and this sparks the previously undeclared love with Guo. This love affair is not really developed and adds nothing to the ending. Moving closer to the end, a phenomenal number of bullets are fired and the munitions factory is blown up. To my mind, this is unnecessary pandering to the lowest common denominator section of the market that believes a good film must always contain shooting and explosions. And so it is we come to the end. I suppose one way of looking at the question Heaven is asked to decide is whether the ends justify the means. Just how far can the wronged go in pursuit of justice? In a utilitarian world, the answer would be a moral thumbs up if there’s a major benefit to the many. But the Confucian Heaven is a slightly more unpredictable quantity. Personally, I think the gun should have jammed or the bullet failed to fire. If we’re going to invoke a supernatural agency, that’s the least we can expect. What we actually see is completely contrary to natural law and deeply annoying to viewers like me.

 

So what’s my conclusion? Well, I’m not going to condemn The Bullet Vanishes or Xiao shi de zi dan just because of the way the final loose ends are tied up. Director Chi-Leung Law has done a remarkable job in engaging our interest and involving us in this difficult moral debate. I’m prepared to give him great credit. Too often I walk out of a cinema feeling unmoved. This film succeeded in making me angry which is a sign of its quality. Lau Ching Wan is wonderful to watch as the more brainy detective — a far better performance than in Mad Detective — and although some of the villains are stereotypical and cardboardy, there’s a high level of commitment from a good all-round cast. Had it not been for the end, I would have been hailing this as one of the best films out of Hong Kong this year so, if for no other reason, you should go and see it. You never know, you might like the ending!

 

Other films by Lau Ching Wan:
The Great Magician or Daai mo seut si (2011)
Life Without Principle or Dyut meng gam (2011)
Mad Detective or San taam (2007)
Overheard or Sit yan fung wan (2009)
Overheard 2 or Sit yan fung wan 2 (2011)

 

Other films by Nicholas Tse:
The Beast Stalker or Ching Yan (2008)
Storm Warriors or Fung wan II (2009)
Treasure Inn or Cai Shen Ke Zhan (2011)
The Viral Factor or Jik zin (2012)

 

The Harry Houdini Mysteries: The Houdini Specter by Daniel Stashower

History is always a set of facts available for the modern author to manipulate in order to achieve the desired effect. In this case, the straight historical novel meets the murder mystery as Harry and Dash Houdini get caught up in the commission of a murder. For the record, it’s obvious from the outset that the ghost summoned during the séance by a famous medium was the murderer. Since all the people around the table were holding each other’s hands, the windows were barred and the only door into the room locked, no human could have done it.

 

I’m going to pause for a moment to admire the opening paragraph. As a contribution to the locked-room trope, this wins the prize for the most innovative. In the traditional detective novel, people have to break down the library door and enter to find the body battered to death with the candlestick. We then engage in the ritual of deciding how someone could commit the murder and leave the victim inside the locked room. That’s now completely passé. This is a murder committed in plain sight. Well that’s not strictly true. Obviously the lights were dim and people’s attention was rather distracted by the appearance of a ghost holding a knife. But the remarkable thing is that when there was light and everyone alive looked around the room, one of their number stubbornly refused to move because of the knife rather prominently sticking out of his back.

Daniel Stashower both author and amateur magician

 

Let’s rewind again. This is the third of The Harry Houdini Mysteries: The Houdini Specter by Daniel Stashower (Titan Books, 2012). It’s set in the late spring of 1898, i.e. before the word Houdini entered the public’s consciousness as meaning a master showman and escape artist without equal. Indeed, one of the running jokes through the book is Harry’s bombastic confidence that he will one day be great. I suppose some self-confidence is always desirable to drive people to achieve greatness but this representation of the “great man” is less than flattering. His brother Dash (christened Theodore) comes out of it as the quietly thoughtful one who has the thankless task of smoothing the ruffled feathers his brother leaves behind. His wife Bess also has considerable common sense and the ability to command Harry to silence when he’s becoming too embarrassing.

 

Anyway Harry and Dash are two of the eight people around the table for the séance which narrows down the field of suspects somewhat. Not unnaturally, they are present to expose the medium assumed to be fraudulent. Except, for most of the book, neither Harry nor Dash have any reliable understanding of how the effect of the ghost was created nor how the murder was committed. One of Harry’s less flattering qualities as displayed here is his arrogant assumption that his every analysis must be the right answer without the need to quietly investigate. This leads to him making the most overly dramatic revelations only to find each analysis, while admirable in its own way, is not the right answer. I suppose his indefatigable confidence he will solve the crime is why he did eventually become great. He just doesn’t know when he’s beaten. Obviously, it’s Dash who leads the real investigation but, in the end, it’s a partnership solution and while the answer is not, “The butler did it!” the butler is pivotal in that there’s a place for everything and, if everything is not in its proper place, this offends the eye of professional butler who may be provoked to comment and reveal all.

 

As to one key element, all I will say is that I did spend a little time goggling when I finished reading. In all the best historical books, there’s always at least one element that presents a different or unexpected view of the past. As a result of reading this, I’ve recalibrated my general timeline of when people first did things or developed ideas. It doesn’t really matter whether this would have worked. I enjoyed the answer and find it adds to a general sense of fun about the entire exercise. The Houdini Specter may not be the most historically accurate book ever written, but it’s wonderfully entertaining and you can’t ask for more than that.

 

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

 

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