by Gosho Aoyama
published by Viz; $9.99 US
It’s always fun dipping back into the various mysteries solved by the six-year-old-who-is-really-a-15-year-old — but I still wish that the books were divided up differently. This volume has two chapters finishing up the case from the last book; a four-part complete story; another three-chapter quandary; and then two chapters beginning a new puzzle. To find out what happens there, with a teacher setting a game for her students, I guess I’ll need to get the next book in March.
Once you get past all of the stories involving death — this is a murder mystery series, after all — the tales have a variety of moods. The first, incomplete conclusion is almost romantic. A female detective, dressed in a traditional kimono, bets a rich male detective that a third detective will arrive before sundown. If he does, she’ll marry the new guy; otherwise, she’ll marry the one she’s talking to. It’s a dumb way to decide your future, but maybe I’d feel otherwise if I’d read the previous setup. (Cue complaints that it was my responsibility to seek it out before reviewing this one. Obviously, I disagree. The way the series is structured, that logic leads to me having to read 32 books just to talk about what happens in this one.)
Even not knowing the emotional setup, the characters are well-scribed to a degree that I still got caught up in the adrenaline rush of “will he make it? especially since he doesn’t know what depends on his arrival?” There’s even a puzzle in the case he has to solve before he can arrive. The reader can’t play along, unfortunately, since the solution depends on cultural clues specific to the Japanese, including a language quirk. Still, it was entertaining to follow, with the flavor of exoticism to make it seem even more unusual.
Romance underlies the next story, too, as girls travel to a special lodge to make Valentine’s Day chocolates. But the overall mood is one of nostalgia and loyalty. The mystery revolves around the lodge’s owner, her husband’s grave, and the nearby haunted woods. Various guests have different connections to the mountain location, where the events of the past reach into the present.
Putting dogs with the cute kid drawings of Conan is sometimes adorable, since the wolf-like animals are as tall as he is. That counteracts the bittersweet feel of Conan being near Rachel yet being unable to tell her the truth. She’s in love with him, but as his older self, which provides the ongoing complication of the series. Otherwise, the art is sufficient but nothing outstanding, based in caricature to convey the excessive emotions that drive people to crime or are suffered by the victims.
In both this and the previous story, the end comes about partially through convenient, unexpected interruption. One might think that, although the mysteries are based on puzzles, the stories themselves don’t play fair with the reader. That changes in the last complete story, about a videophile film buff in thrall to a money-hungry landlord. The mechanism for the murder I found ingenious. There are also increasingly heavy hints about a bigger plot coming that will involve Conan, the group of villains who de-aged him, Rachel, and her father.
It’s rather like watching several episodes of a procedural like CSI. Entertaining formula, with vague hints of more to keep you coming back, even though the bigger plot is rarely advanced. (The publisher provided a review copy.)