Saturday, July 13, 2013

Q.E.D. volume 5 review

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Q.E.D., vol. 5, by Katou Motohiro. Grade: B

(The scene of the crime.)

Hisunda Senritsu (Twisted Melody, Great Magazine, 1999). This is the first time Motohiro tries doing a Colombo-style story. The antagonist, Reiji Hirai, has just killed his sponsor, Kousuke Okabe. Okabe is a greedy capitalist and has created lots of enemies, so Reiji wouldn't be the only suspect. He is the one with a body to dispose of though, and he's in the process of creating his alibi when a bus carrying Kana and 2 of her classmates arrives 5 minutes early. Touma's been forced to come along as well. Fortunately for Reiji, the plan goes smoothly; he plays a Bach piece for the group on his cello, the group wanders through his cabin and sees nothing unusual. They leave, and a couple days later Okabe's body is found jammed in an old well at his home. The entire point of this kind of story is to watch the detective gradually tearing down the alibi and then setting up the big denouement. In this case, though, the ending becomes more of a clash between the villain and his betrayed girlfriend ala a Law and Order: Criminal Intent episode.

(Playing Bach for the kids.)

While the alibi unravels pretty fast (the supposed phonecall to the victim while Kana and friends are in the room is interrupted by the squeal of having two active cellphones too close to each other; the victim had his return train ticket in his pocket, but those are usually collected when you exit the station; the girlfriend was directed to visit the victim's house to set her up as a suspect, but the only reason she would have gone there is if Okabe had rejected Reiji's request for continued financial support and made him the prime suspect again), the unanswered question is "where was the body hidden when the kids were in Hirai's house"?

No science this time, just a discussion of cellos made by Domenico Montagnana, and two classical pieces: Bach's "Suites for Unaccompanied Cello" and Kodaly's "Sonata for Solo Cello". Hirai says that he convinced Okabe to support him by playing the Kodaly piece just before the kids arrived, after which he played the Bach piece for them. The problem being that the cello has to be detuned for Kodaly's sonata and there wouldn't have been enough time to retune it for the Bach suite. This kind of undermines Hirai's claim that he's the perfect cellist, because he got tripped up on this point so easily.

(Discovery of the Leica camera at a flea market.)

Hikari no Zanzou (Light Afterimage, Great Magazine, 1999). Kana has dragged Touma out to a flea market to have him pick out underpriced items that she can buy for cheap. The boy is about to turn around and leave when he spots a vintage Leica camera someone is selling for 100 yen ($1 USD). It has a market value of $1,000, and Touma wants her to split the money with the seller. They go to Touma's apartment, where he has a darkroom set up. Because of the way the film is loaded into the camera (from the bottom, underneath the instruction plate), no one had noticed that there's still film in it. He develops the first 5 frames, and Kana insists that they try finding the original owner to return the photos to him or her (a picture of a ceiling with someone's shoulder in the corner, a child dressed up in kimono in front of a temple, three children in a room, a mountain landscape and the back of a white building). Eventually, they make their way to a village in the mountains, where they match up the one photo. Asking the villagers for directions, they find the white building. It's an abandoned storehouse. Kana is about to sneak past the "keep out sign" when a local patrol cop shows up on his bicycle and asks what they're doing. While showing the photo to him, it slips and falls under the storehouse door and Kana is allowed to break the door open with a rock to retrieve it (no one knows where the only existing key is). Inside, there's a child's toy ball (a temari). The plaster on one wall is cracking, and when the cop taps it, the wall collapses to reveal a dessicated corpse - the key to the storeroom door still in its pocket.

(The 5 photos.)

In investigating the storehouse, Touma discovers that it had once been used for quarantining a young girl named Taki Kuwano, who apparently suffered from tuberculosis. One day, she described events that had happened outside that she couldn't possibly have seen (no windows in the building). When her mother visits again a few days later, the girl does the same thing. Word gets out that she has clairvoyance, and reporters and university professors start visiting. Eventually she receives the medicine she needs and recovers from the disease. She then goes on tour with one professor - she'd be locked in a big box and yell out the names of whatever the professor was holding. One reporter tried to unmask them as frauds when he spied a small hole in the side of the box, but it was too tiny for anyone to see through. Soon after, the professor ran off with the money and the girl was left penniless. While Touma and Kana are waiting in the village as the cop writes his report on the body, one of the newspapers runs a story on the case and includes copies of the photos. Three people arrive to claim the pictures, saying that they're the children of the original owner of the camera.

(Skeletons in the wall.)

The oldest, Yutaka Kusamori, took the photo of the mountains to give to their mother, who was bedridden, to show her as a reminder of her hometown. Their mother took the one of the 3 kids and the one in a kimono. The pawnbroker that bought the camera from Yutaka took the one of the ceiling by accident when he discovered the shutter was sticky. But no one says anything about the photo of the storehouse. The second son, Michio, lets slip that their mother had a reputation as a liar. The youngest, the daughter Tamayo, doesn't contribute much. Touma turns over the photos, but the cop says that they have to give him the negatives the next day for the report. That night, Kana is attacked by a hooded figure that demands the negatives, and the girl easily throws her opponent. The thug pulls a knife, but runs when Touma shows up. The next day, Tamayo leaves early without talking to her brothers. Touma explains what happened during the crime 20 years earlier, adding that it's up to the cop to decide whether to go forward with the case (he doesn't). Yutaka and Michio run into each other at the train station on their way home, and Yutaka lets his younger brother keep the photo of the three of them together as kids. So, how did Taki do her clairvoyant act? Why did Yutaka become a plasterer to support the family when their mother died? Who was in the wall, and how did the storeroom get locked behind him if he had the only key in his pocket? Why wouldn't anyone claim taking the photo of the storehouse? Who tried to steal the negatives? Why did Tamayo leave without talking to her brothers? And why did Yutaka give the family photo to Michio?

The main science discussions this time are on optics and the nature of pinholes. There's a brief history of the Leica camera and the company started by the founder, Ernst Leitz.

==================== Spoilers ==================

Comments: These are the two main stories that I remember most clearly from when I read them on Manga Fox. Coming back and reading them again, they're two with the biggest plot holes. The first is on the design of the dresser cabinet in Hirai's house. Most cabinets have wood between the drawers to give the cabinet structural support, so the trick used to hide the victim's body would either require a dresser that lacks that support, or that had the wood sawed out of the way before the crime was committed. The second is with the presumption that light from a pinhole would cause the image from outside to be bleached into the plaster of the opposite storehouse wall over time. The problem here is that the outside scenery isn't static, and would change with the seasons. By rights, there should just be a big blur, like you get when you have a really long exposure and the subjects move. But still, they're both entertaining stories. Recommended.

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