Saturday, July 5, 2014

Q.E.D. volume 48 review

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Q.E.D., vol. 48, by Katou Motohiro. Grade: B

(Finding literary agent Shigeki Kabuto.)

Dairinin (Literary Agent, Monthly Shonen Magajin Plus, 2014).
The police receive a call about a disturbance at an abandoned house in Tokyo. When they respond, they find a body wrapped up in a bag on the floor, and a partly-dug grave in the middle of the room. The assumption is that the killer had been disturbed while digging the hole and ran away before the police arrived. The case is given to Det. Mizuhara, Kana's father, but it goes cold fast. Kana complains to Touma because the victim was Shigeki Kabuto, a literary agent handling the works of recluse novelist Ichika Semi. With Kabuto dead, publishers everywhere are demanding the police to solve the crime so that they can find out where Semi is hiding and bid on his next book. The company Kabuto worked for, Orange Agency, is also in a bind. Semi refused to deal with anyone other than Kabuto, and the president, Hiroshi Kuwagata, doesn't have anyone on staff that he can trust to take over from the murder victim. In a panic, he picks new-hire Seiko Tentou for two reasons; first, she's timid enough so as to not scare Semi off and second, because as a new hire if she screws up he can easily fire her. Seiko goes to Semi's house, and for the first couple of days he refuses to see her (talking only over the intercom and watching through the security camera). In a bind, Seiko asks her friend, Kana, for help. Touma is in the middle of Spanish lessons, so at the beginning it's just the two of them. Seiko finally tells Semi that she wants to ask him about Kabuto's death, and the guy lets her in. He's a young man, and acts like a shut-in. She asks who could profit the most from Kabuto's death, and he says, "You. You got this job because he's dead, right?"

(Kana doesn't like stalkers who intimidate her friends.)

Things continue in this same vein for a while. In the meantime, Semi claims to have finished his latest novel but won't turn over the manuscript until she solves the mystery. Simultaneously, Seiko's noticing that Semi has some weird ticks, such as splashing paint across one wall of a room, slashing all his shirts with a scissors, and having no food in the kitchen. He also insists that Seiko throw out all his mail unopened, claiming that the envelopes contain manuscripts from writer wannabes asking his help in getting them published. One day, Kuwagata is audited by Orange's bank and it's clear that the agency is suffering a money shortage which will get worse if Seiko doesn't get the manuscript soon. She and Kana suspect that Semi has a stalker, one that keeps putting envelopes with no return addresses into the mail slot in the wall fronting Semi's house. The two of them stake out the front door from across the street. Early the next morning, the paper delivery man arrives, with an envelope. Seiko tries to talk to him, but he bolts on his scooter, aiming right for Kana. She clotheslines him and calls her father. The guy turns out to be a stalker and had been stuffing his own stories into Semi's mail box. That night, to celebrate, Semi takes Seiko out to a restaurant and promises to give her the manuscript soon. But, they both get text messages from Kuwagata saying that he can't take anymore and is going to commit suicide in the park near the office. Seiko drives Semi to the park and they rush inside. It's hard to see in the dark, but Semi locates a ladder leaning against a tree. Seiko has Semi return to the car, then she unties a rope from the base of the tree, and Kuwagata's body drops to the ground below. His phone falls out of his pocket, so while she tries to revive him, she calls for an ambulance. But, he's already dead.

Touma has finished his Spanish lessons, and is now available to visit the scene where the first body was found. He says that he knows why Kabuto was found where he was, with the partly dug grave; why a text message from Semi to Kabuta said his manuscript was with a girl; and why Kuwagata had to die.

----- Spoilers -----

Everyone is assembled at Semi's house, and the writer is a nervous wreck at having his privacy invaded. Touma goes through the list of regular suspects, which this time is limited to the 3 other agents at Orange Agency. They all wanted Kabuto's job, and one female agent even wanted to see if she could trick Semi into marrying her. However, there really is only one valid choice here. What had happened is that the killer had strangled Kabuto, took the body to the abandoned house, half-dug the grave and then left. 2 days later, he called the police to the house so that the body would be found. In fact, the killer is a stalker, and had wanted to take over Semi's persona as the famous recluse writer. He moved into Semi's house, and then started searching the place for the real writer's latest manuscript. Which is why the house kept looking more ransacked everytime Seiko visited, and why the imposter couldn't turn it over to her right away. (The manuscript only exists in electronic form, having been emailed to a fake account Semi had created under a female name to store it safely in the cloud.) The only two people that knew what Semi looked like were Kabuto and Kuwagata, and at one point Kuwagata insisted on visiting the house. Knowing that he was going to be unmasked, the killer strangled Kuwagata from behind, took the body to the park and strung it up in the trees. He took the victim's cell phone and used that to send the fake suicide note to Seiko during dinner. When they rushed to the park, the killer pointed out where the ladder was, and as Seiko looked up into the trees, he dropped the victim's phone onto the grass. When Seiko untied the rope, the body landed so that it looked like his phone had fallen out of his pocket. At this point, everyone knows that "Semi" is the killer, but now the question is "where's the real Semi?" Touma says that the reason for half-digging the grave for Kabuta was to create a safe place for hiding a second body after the police had finished their investigations regarding the first one. The killer simply waited a few days, then brought Semi's corpse to the abandonded house and finished digging the grave to put Semi into it. The imposter cracks, and at the end of the story is convinced that he really is Ichika Semi.

No science, no math.

(Fayha finds normal school studies less fun than drawing cats.)

Faiha no Gashuu (Fayha's Book of Paintings, New to this volume, 2014).
Lalashu Fayha is a brilliant young girl living in the poorer parts of Morocco. She is skilled at sketching cats, but that's all she does during school. Her teacher berates her for spoiling her school notebooks this way, but she does seem to understand the girl's feelings. The teacher visits Fayha's parents to see if they can afford to send her to a better school, but her father is an overworked village doctor, the family gets almost no income and the youngest daughter is really ill. That night, Fayha packs up some food and one of her sketchbooks, and she runs away. Her cousin, Mosley Hamdan, had been talking about running off to find an uncle that had gotten rich working in Spain. She and Mosley hop a truck to the coast, but only the boy has the cash to pay his way onto a boat run by a smuggler named Hari Bandar, and his assistant Berio Javier. Both of them threaten to kill the refugees climbing into the boat if they don't behave and keep quiet, so Fayha decides to keep her money and swim onto the boat when it passes close to some of the rocks along the shore. She stows away in the engine room and falls asleep. She wakes up to the sound of gunshots, and, peeking out of the door, sees someone shooting someone else. The killer spots her, so she grabs a life preserver and jumps into the sea. The killer is prevented from shooting at her when a border guard ship run by Frontex intercepts them. The police on the border ship order the smaller boat to stop, but Bandar shoots at them from the wheel room, and the police fire back, killing both Bandar and several of the people being smuggled.

(In the Louvre.)

In Barcelona, Touma and Kana are talking to Alan and Elly Brad (Alan is founder of Alan Soft, the big computer OS maker). Elly runs the charity foundations that Alan funds, and one of the branch foundations helps sponsor third-world children to attend higher-level education in the U.S. One of the applicants for aid is Lalashu Fayha, whose teacher had submitted the paperwork. When the foundation's people had gone to the village, the girl was gone, then her backpack was discovered on the ship operated by the well-known smuggler, Hari Bandar, now deceased. Elly is worried, and she tells Alan to appeal to Kana's sense of honor in order to loop Touma into doing the actual detective work. Alan has gotten the assistance of the Barcelona police and they've been sweeping locations known to be frequented by illegal immigrants, but so far it's been unfruitful. Spain had been a popular spot for immigrants to start at while trying to create new lives for themselves, up until the anti-foreigner riots of 2009, which is why Alan thinks that Fayha is there. In fact, she is. She reunited with Mosley, and they're living in a secret attic in a house in town along with a Chinese girl, Bee. Bee can speak 5 languages, but her family is too poor to send her to school. Mosley locates his uncle, who is living in a slum. The older man admits to having lied about becoming rich. He works all day at a construction site, and sleeps in a flop house at night. He refuses to return to Morocco because there's no work at all there.

After a few days, Touma tells Kana that the key to the search is in Fayha's family photo, found in her backpack. She had a cat with a cross-shape in the fur on its back. Most illegal immigrants in Spain make money selling beads and jewelry, but Fayha would be producing drawings. They locate a street seller that has several pictures with cats that have the cross patch on their backs, and eventually determine that the girl is in one specific house. The police raid the house, and Lalashu is found hiding in the attic; however, an assassin positioned in the building across the street opens fire with a rifle and tries to kill her. Kana deals with the assassin, but Fayha runs out of the window and across the roofs, and disappears into the street. Touma asks: "Why did the smuggler shoot at the border patrol ship? Why would someone shoot at the girl? Where is the girl now?"

----- Spoilers -----

Hari Bandar not only smuggled people, but also drugs. On the night in question, his partner, Javier, had stolen the bags and put them somewhere else. The plan was for the boat to intercept the border patrol and then make it look like Hari was killed in the shoot out. Javier kills Hari, but is seen by the girl. She grabs the life preserver with the drugs inside and leaps into the water. The border patrol picks that moment to arrive, so Javier props Hari's body up in the wheel house and hides behind it to start shooting. The police open fire and think that they're the ones that killed Hari. The smuggling gang knows that the girl has the drugs, and because of links with the police, are able to send the assassin to kill her during the raid on the secret sweatshop. Now that the smuggling operation is unmasked, the Spanish police locate the life preserver on the shore near where Hari's boat had been found, with the drugs sewn inside. The next question is, where's the girl? Touma figures that there is only one dream for an artist. They go to France, to the Louvre. Alan talks the museum curator into chasing visitors out 2 hours early to give the girl a chance to tour the place uninterrupted, and bribes him with a Gauguin masterpiece from his own collection. Later, Lalashu is given paperwork admitting her to the U.S. to attend school. However, she spots Mosley and Bee in the immigrations line on their way to being deported back home. Lalashu gives the paperwork to Bee, and Elly decides to accept the strange girl while bopping Alan on the head to keep him quiet. Lalashu has achieved her dream of seeing the Louvre and wants Bee to have a chance for herself. She and Mosley disappear in the crowd of deportees on their way back to Morocco.

No science, no math.

(Back cover.)

Comments: The main reason I like Q.E.D. is for the math and science history, so yeah, I'm disappointed that this time we just have two regular mysteries. Fortunately they're not fluff, and Fayha's Book of Paintings was pretty good on its own. Literary Agent had too many recycled plot elements, and the foreshadowing prior to the big reveal was an excessive 18 pages. It was still a decent story, but the only thing that the reader wouldn't be able to figure out on their own was the killer's real identity, and that's never given beyond "a random stalker". Still, it could have been worse. Recommended if you like the series.

Note that "Faiha no Gashuu" translates literally to "Fiea's Sketchbook" or "Fiea's Book of Drawings". However, in preparing to write this review I ended up visiting Motohiro's Facebook page. He announced there, in English, the release of a youtube trailer (below) promoting vol. 48. The official names for Fayha, Hamdan, and the chapter title are all in English, so that's what I went with.

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