Saturday, June 15, 2013

Q.E.D. volume 17 review

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Q.E.D., vol. 17, by Katou Motohiro. Grade: B

Saiyaku no Otoko no Saiyaku (The Worst Man's Worst). There is a character that pops up in the Q.E.D. universe occaionally. He's Alan Bred, president of Alan Soft software. (I'm guessing at the romanization of his last name. In romaji, it's Bureedo, - "Bred" or "Bread". He's kind of a parody of Bill Gates)  He's attempted before to get Touma to join his company, and this time he's desperate to find someone brilliant willing to put up with him. He tasks his assistant, Elly Francis, with sending out invitations to his primary targets in a game of burglary. The guest list includes Kana and Touma, Loki and Eva Sukta, Ryu Han and Elliot Web. Ryu heads a software conglomerate that competes directly with Alan Soft, and Elliot is a world-renowned hacker that had gotten caught and used by the FBI to capture other hackers. Ryu, Elliot, Loki and Touma have all been assaulted by Alan before, and each has turned him down. This time, Alan proposes a game at his South Seas private island. There are 4 cabins, plus the main mansion. Each of the principals is given a suitcase by Elly containing $100,000 USD. At the end of the 4-day stay, whoever fails to return their suitcase must work for him. Touma and Loki are in one cabin, Eva and Kana in another, and Ryu and Elliot each have their own places. After the first night, both Loki's and Touma's suitcases disappear. A search is made of their cabin, plus the women's, and the main mansion - the missing cases aren't found. The next night, Elliot's vanishes, and the night after, so does Ryu's. By the final day, Alan is furious at not being able to find any of the cases, and everyone else pleads innocence. Since no one else is on the island and there's no other hiding places, who's taken all the money?

Inuhoosuke (Black Nightshade). Kana's police detective father is tasked by some movie fan in the department with providing security on a movie set. Basically, this means keeping autograph-seeking fans away from the star actors. The main cast consists of notorious womanizer Toujiyaku Karasawa, aging beauty Harueyaku Misaki, Misaki's beautiful daughter Natsuki Kojima, and the hard-nosed director Kazumasa Oosawa. Plus the regular production crew, including prop master Yanagisawa. When Yanagisawa finds a loose strand of hair on Misaki's outfit, he pockets it after taking a long whiff of it. He has a shrine in his apartment plastered with posters from her various movies and is very jealous of Karasawa. Some time ago. Karasawa and Misaki were engaged to be married, but Misaki called it off for some reason. Natsuki is going to have her acting debut in this film, and currently she looks just like her mother did 20 years ago. When she exits her trailer to join the set, Karasawa tries to ask her on a date. The director, watching all this, has picked the cast specifically for its history and current chemistry. He's even written a scene specifically where a drunken Karasawa tries to assault Natsuki, thinking that she's Misaki. The director later says that he'd certainly kill anyone that interferes with one of his films.

Anyway, in the final scene, Oosawa shows Misaki how to lean in with a prop knife as she kills her ex-lover. He gives her the knife, the cameras start running, she does the scene exactly as instructed, and both Karasawa and Misaki fall to the ground. Oosawa yells "cut", but neither actor moves. Turns out the knife is real, Karasawa is dead, and Misaki has passed out in shock. Both Kana and her father try to question the cast and production staff, but they make no progress. The prop knife had been on a table in front of Oosawa and in full view of the staff. There was never an opportunity to switch it, outside of when Oosawa and Misaki were handling it, and after the murder the prop couldn't be found. Later, when everyone else goes into the screening room to watch the rushes, Yanagisawa locks himself in the editing room to do some final work (the editing room is actually several stacked movie set panels in one corner of the set stage, and the sliding door is blocked by a table if the person inside doesn't want to be disturbed.) After the screening, Yanagisawa doesn't respond, and Touma is the only one light enough to climb over the wall to get inside to move the table out of the way. When the door is opened, Yanagisawa is revealed to have cut his throat with a box cutter; on the table in front of him, under the blood splatter, is the missing prop knife and a note confessing that he was the one to switch knives. Without any other evidence, Yanagisawa is identified as the culprit, who had then committed suicide in a locked room. After the movie comes out in the theaters, a special version is screened to fuel rumors that Misaki is the guilty party, based on her grin as she stabs Karasawa. Touma finally decides that now is the time to tell everyone what had really happened during the filming.

Comments: This isn't one of the stronger volumes. One of the "rules" in mystery writing is that the protagonist isn't supposed to be the criminal. Motohiro breaks this rule occasionally, so Saiyaku no Otoko no Saiyaku is treated more for laughs than anything else. Inuhoosuke has kind of a plot hole, in that the motive for Yanagisawa's death is never fully justified. But, overall, this volume is as entertaining as any of the early Ellery Queen stories. Recommended.

(As mentioned before, Motohiro embeds the Q.E.D. letters in the manga after Touma does his recap of the important clues to the case. This is to encourage the readers to develop their own answers before the big reveal.)

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