Saturday, December 28, 2013

C.M.B. volume 04 review

(All rights belong to their owners. Images used here for review purposes only.)

C.M.B., vol. 04, by Katou Motohiro. Grade: B

(Title splash page.)

Yudaya no Zaihou (Judean Fortune, Monthly Shonen Magajn, 2006).
This story is unusual in that it takes up all four chapters of the book. Things start out with an Israeli archeologst named Carl making a phone call and saying that he's discovered the "Judean Fortune". He next shows up dead in a small stall at the Colosseum with a 3-tonged pitchfork through his stomach. Immediately after, black government vehicles pull up at the Nanase sento, and Shinra gets out. Seems that the murder of a Jewish worker in the jurisdiction of the Vatican, over the possible existence of Jewish artifacts within the Roman ruins is threatening to blow up into an international conflict, so the Vatican contacted the British Museum to be a third party mediator. Which of course means that Shinra is being asked to fly to Italy, but he won't go unless Tatsuki goes with. Mr. and Mrs. Nanase see this as a chance for a family vacation, and the company that had employed Carl is willing to foot the bill. While they're gone, Japanese secret service stay behind and run the sento.

(Tatsuki is the only one that doesn't want to go to Italy for free.)

On the plane, Tatsuki encounters the company's president, the Israeli Jamie Charles. Her company had been contracted by the Israeli government to search Roman ruins for Jewish artifacts. In Rome, the older Nanase's do the tourist thing, while the others meet up with the authorities trying to solve the case: Cardinal Saul, Vatican security member Carlo McPhearson (a member of the Knights Hospitaller), and Israeli investigator Hanna Greenfield.

(Hanna and Carlo don't like each other. They make accusations about why a trident was used as the murder weapon.)

Carl's death is immediately suspicious in that the handle of the trident is 9 feet long and would jam up against the walls around the maze-like area that Carl was found in. And, anyone trying to throw the weapon down into the stall while standing on top of the wall wouldn't have a foot hold for getting leverage with the trident. So, essentially this is another closed room mystery. A second member of Jamie's company, Walter, stole Carl's research data and disappeared. That night, someone dressed up as a knight attacks Jamie and Tatsuki on the street with a sword, and Jamie thinks it's Walter. The next day, the Vatican police locate Walter in a hotel room and burst in while he's shaving. Walter looks up and sees Carlo, Jamie and Hanna in the midst of the police group and points his finger, saying "you killed Carl". He lunges for a pistol in his luggage, and someone hits one of the cops in the back. The cop instinctively pulls the trigger and shoots Walter in the head.

(Tatsuki and Jamie enjoy some of the Italian night-life.)

The police search the room but the research data can't be found. As the body is carried out on a stretcher, Shinra notices that Walter has a braided band on his left wrist. Later, Shinra and Tatsuki are having dinner with her parents, and Shinra comments that he needs to learn more about that wristband. Mr. Nanase holds his hand up and says "You mean, one like this?" He adds that some stranger had been accosting all the Japanese tourists in the area, putting wristbands on them and that he can't get this one off. Shinra and Tatsuki track down the the stranger, who points them to a souvenir seller that hands over a packet, commenting that she's supposed to give it to the first Japanese that approaches her. In the packet are ground-penetrating radar images of the area around the Colosseum, but the images are marked showing that what's buried there is simple stone; i.e. - statue relics. A few minutes later, another knight, this time on a horse, attacks Shinra with a spear, and steals the data.

(Shinra speculates over what the Jewish fortune might be, implying that Carlo may be behind part of the conspiracy.)

All along, the Cardinal and Carlo have been acting suspiciously. Carlo tells Shinra that he thinks that the Judean Treasure is either the Ark of the Covenant, the urn that contained Manna from God, or the Rod of Aaron. The latter two items were to have been put into the Ark, along with the first Torah scroll. The problem is that the Ark had been in the first temple - (Solomon's Temple), which had supposedly been destroyed in 586 BCE when the Jewish nation was exiled to Babylon.

(The police find Walter, but not the stolen data.)

The second temple of Solomon was built in 516 BCE and disappeared in 70 CE. No one knows where the Ark was taken, but it shouldn't be around Italy. Conversely, Jamie tells Tatsuki that whatever the treasure was, Walter and Carl got into a dispute and Carl was killed over money. Tatsuki asks Jamie about why she started her company, and the woman replies that she'd taken it over from her father, who was also an archeologist until his death a few years earlier.

(Shinra talks about Pope Benedict XIV, who decided in the 1700's to protect the Colosseum from dismantling by people wanting to use the stone for other construction projects.)

Questions: How was Carl killed if the trident wouldn't fit in the corridors around the stall he was found in? Who stole Carl's research data? Who were the "knights" that attacked Jamie and Shinra? If the research data only indicates rock ruins near the Arch of Titus (dedicated to Titus' older brother, who led the Siege of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. (when the second temple was destroyed) does it mean that there's no treasure? Was a trident chosen as the weapon to send the message that the Christian devil is involved, or because it's the weapon used to spear Christ on the cross? Why did Pope Benedict the 14th insist on keeping the Colosseum in good repair while the other Roman ruins were allowed to slip into decay? Does Jamie's father have any bearing on what has been happening?

(Tatsuki tells Shinra to keep out of the way with the recovered data while she deals with the mounted knight.)

Lots of history. While we do get to see inside the Vatican a little bit (with a cameo appearance by the Pope), and there's some mention of ruins like the Arch of Titus and the Roman Forum, the majority of the discussion revolves around the history of the Jewish people, the first and second temples of Solomon, the creation of the Colosseum, and Pope Benedict XIV.

(The back cover shows the "admissions price" to the Wunderkammer.)

Comments: There's lots of misdirection this time, and turning the story book-length makes it feel fairly drawn out. The first trick, with the trident still wouldn't right as explained at the end, and the motive may or may not make sense depending on what religion you're from. Motohiro kind of makes an unfounded historical leap to justify the "Judean Fortune", and true archeologists may raise objections to it. Still, it's an entertaining story, and Tatsuki's parents get to have fun in Italy for a while. It makes for a funny scene when the Japanese secret service take over the cleaning duties of the sento while the family is gone. Plus, we get to see Tatsuki fight a horse. Shinra's payment for opening the Wunderkammer is an authentic Vatican Guard uniform.

One more side note: Tatsuki makes a big deal about having to leave Japan with Shinra, as do her parents until they learn that they're going to get a free vacation out of this. However, Tatsuki follows Shinra around the world to other locations in later books and there's no further conflict about it. Why she stops complaining is never explained.

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