Saturday, June 27, 2015

C.M.B. volume 29 review

Warning! Spoilers! (Maybe)

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

C.M.B., vol. 29, by Katou Motohiro. Grade: B

(Making protective amulets in Thailand.)

Purakuruan (Phra Kruang)
Silver Ruben was an oil baron that amassed a huge fortune. After he died, he left his estate to his grandchildren, consisting of 2 greedy brothers and a more sympathetic sister. The three of them, and their lawyer, have invited Shinra to the U.S. to assess what they're really hoping is a valuable trinket. Turns out that it's just a Phra Kruang, a cheap pendant that's sold by the thousands on the streets of Thailand as a good luck charm. The two brothers leave in a huff, but the sister, Priscilla, thinks there has to be more to the story, based on an incident that happened to her a few years earlier. Silver had a reputation for being a monster, but when Priscilla was suffering from a moment of self-doubt (she'd been trying to set up an NPO to help the poor), her grandfather told her to "look for someone that can act as a mirror to reflect your life back at you". She takes this to mean that the pendant is connected to someone important to Silver. Priscilla flies Shinra and Tatsuki to Thailand, and they fairly easily track down the maker of this particular pendant. Then, based on an odd flaw in its construction (the Buddha is missing its legs), the factory owner recalls that some years ago he gave it to a happy-go-lucky boy from Myanmar that had been traveling through Thailand doing odd jobs to raise eating money. The boy had been living in a hut in the jungle, but it's abandoned now, and empty liquor bottles are strewn all over the floor. The three detectives stop for lunch at a cafe that has a picture of Silver next to a young man, named Shida. The cafe's owner says that Silver had been visiting Thailand, riding in a boat down one of the rivers, when it got rammed by another boat and he was thrown into the water. Shida saved the older man, who then would wire money to him via an ATM every month, and visit the guy once a year. But, according to rumor Shida stopped working, turned alcoholic, and eventually disappeared. Priscilla is satisfied with this story (knowing from experience that money corrupts the poor) and she's happy to return home.

****** Spoilers *****

Shinra's not happy, though, and he sets off on his own to track down the family lawyer to get to the truth. Which is that Silver was indeed a monster. He hated the idea of owing his life to someone else, and felt that he really did die in the accident. While Shida was his "mirror", it was one that had to work correctly. That is, when Silver died, Shida had to die, too. To this end, when Silver visited the boy annually, he forced Shida to drink with him. Eventually, Shida became addicted to alcohol, and needed medicine to stay alive. When Silver died, the lawyer was instructed to stop the ATM payments. Shida could no longer afford medical care, and finally committed suicide by drowning himself in a river. Shinra takes the Phra Kruang pendant from the lawyer, and says he's going to bring it to Shida's grave so the man won't meet that monster a second time in the afterlife.

The only natural history is the examination of Thai protective amulets, and the process by which the cheaper ones are made (there are more expensive collector's versions, though.) Shinra doesn't keep any payment that we're shown.

(The altercation.)

Higaisha, Kagaisha, Mokugekisha (Victim, Assailant, Witness)
Shinra, Tatsuki, and her family are celebrating New Year's, and her grandfather wants to participate in Hinode - the first shrine visit of the new year. He, Shinra and Tatsuki go to a big Shinto shrine that is packed with other people all having the same idea. Tatsuki gets separated, and witnesses two people fighting over a leather bag. She runs through the trees to get to the scene, but it's deserted except for the bag that's now lying on the ground. She locates a policeman and hands the bag over just as a man and a woman run up, both claiming the bag is theirs, and both denying that they know the other person. The policeman can't solve this riddle so he drags all three of them to the nearby koban (police box). Shinra and old man Nanase arrive to find out what the delay is. Both the guy, university student Hanao Mimishita, and the woman, university student Hitomi Mayuguchi, can describe the contents of the bag, and can explain why it has something belonging to the opposite sex (a wallet, 3,000 yen and a make-up pouch). Tatsuki couldn't see the event clearly, so she doesn't know who the attacker was. After a while, Hanao and Hitomi confess that they know each other, but they both say the other person was evil and cheating on them so they broke up and refused to admit what was actually going on. At the end, both of them say they don't care any more, they just want to leave and the other one can keep the bag. Shinra suggests to the police that they allow both suspects to go free.

****** Spoilers *****

Back at the Nanase house, Shinra says that the police have probably arrested the real criminal by now. The entire point of the episode was for a witness to see that altercation and the police to get involved as a smoke screen. The real goal was to get access to the victim's bank card and use it to clean out their savings account before they had time to notice that it was missing. The police intercept Hanao as he's about to use the stolen card at an ATM. He'd been leeching off of Hitomi for months, then set it up so that she'd walk in on him when he was sleeping with another woman. He put Hitomi's card in an outer pocket of her bag, then allowed her to throw him out of her apartment. At the shrine, he swept in to grab her bag and during the struggle took the card out of the pocket before leaving the bag on the ground. Shinra knew the bag was Hitomi's because the lipstick in the make-up pouch matched what she was wearing (Hanao claimed the pouch belonged to the woman he was dating after Hitomi broke up with him).

No natural history. The only payment is that the Nanase family gives him a free dinner.

(The smoking jacket.)

Tsubaki Yashiki (Camellia Mansion)
Yukitaka Horiba is the current CEO of Horiba Trading, a happy-go-lucky slacker that has been foisted on Hibio Kanbe, the company's accountant. The company is doing poorly and needs more money coming in, but Yukitaka isn't too concerned. Then, he gets a letter from his grandfather's lawyer. The old man had died the previous year and had gifted his beloved estate, Camellia Mansion, to his grandson. Yukitaka sees this as the windfall that will save the trading company, but the place has been abandoned and is in a shambles. Hibio thinks they should raze the building and just sell the land, but Yukitaka has a better idea - pump a fortune into refurbishing the place to its former glory and sell it to someone rich. A few months later, the place looks fantastic, but there's no buyer in today's market. Hibio suggests selling the land again, but the lawyer says the dead grandfather had told him that if things went south they should contact Shinra for help. The boy comes out to the house, and fails to find anything of any particular worth. He is interested in a very colorful smoking jacket that has flower prints all over it, but it's not very valuable. They go out to the newly landscaped yard, and there's nothing important there either, just some trees, a pond and a small bridge. Shinra apologizes and prepares to leave, with Yukitaka heartbroken.

(The newly refurbished estate, and finding its secret.)

****** Spoilers *****

At the last minute, Shinra realizes that the bridge is in the wrong location. The trees in the garden match up with the patterns on the smoking jacket. Yukitaka's grandfather used to gamble playing hanafuda, a Japanese playing card game, and the patterns on the jacket match the most valuable cards in the deck. The old man used to wear the jacket when making big business decisions. The thing is, only four of the five hanafuda trees are visible from the current bridge, which Yukitaka had installed to allow people to cross over the pond. Shinra realizes that the bushes had grown in together to block a previously overlooked pathway, and that the landscapers hadn't realized it, either. The boy crawls under the bushes and finds the missing camellia plant next to another, smaller bridge. Beside which is a small shrine box containing a number of large gold bars. Later, Yukitaka learns why his grandfather had specified that he should under NO circumstances tell ANYONE about the estate, and he is now visited by government agents trying to get their hands on the estate back taxes.

There's a discussion of the hanafuda cards, and their relationship to the trees planted in the garden. Shinra gets the smoking jacket as payment.

(Part of the account of Kagou's robbing Ryuuboku.)

Jihaku (Confession)
Natsuki Kagou is a burglar that has been arrested on murder charges. After months of denying that he killed anyone, he finally confesses. The victim, Ryuuboku, had been a regular visitor to Shinra's museum, and Shinra has a vested interest in helping Det. Kujirazaki in solving the case. Kagou's lawyer, Mariko Ueno, suspects that Kagou is the victim of police manipulation and that the real killer is going to get off scot-free. The current theory is that Kagou had broken into Ryuuboku's house, accidentally encountered the victim before tossing the room, hit the guy in the head with a hammer, and then gone into another room to look for money. On going to the front door to exit the house, Kagou was stopped by Ryuuboku, who was standing in the way holding an umbrella stand. Kagou had taken a knife from the kitchen, there was another struggle, and Kagou stabbed the victim in the chest before running out the front door. A security camera outside captured his face, and the police tracked him down to his apartment, where he still had the money and hammer. Additionally his fingerprints were all over the crime scene. The problem is, the knife wound was messy and there was blood all over the victim's floor, but no splatter on Kagou's clothes. Kagou admitted to the robbery, but insisted that he hadn't stabbed Ryuuboku. Mariko argues that someone else came into the house afterward, killed the victim, then left through the back window the way they'd came, out of view of the security camera.

Questions: Why are there no fingerprints on the knife, and no splatter on Kagou's clothes? Why did Ryuuboku go to the front door to grab the umbrella stand instead of just calling the police on the phone? Who killed Ryuuboku?

****** Spoilers *****

Shinra notices that there are some strange marks on the wooden handle of the kitchen knife, and they match the wire pattern of the umbrella stand. On top of this, Ryuuboku had a young son, who would come home at about 3 PM when the school bell would sound. Shinra speculates that when Ryuuboku had been hit in the head with the hammer, he heard the school bell. Fearing that his son would come in through the front door soon, he staggered to the kitchen to get the knife and then tried to block the doorway. Kagou wanted to exit that way and he grabbed the umbrella stand to defend himself. There was a struggle, and Ryuuboku dropped the knife, which stuck in the floor point down. Kagou swung the stand to hit the knife away, and it got stuck between the metal tines of the wrapped wire. This extended his reach and allowed him to stab Ryuuboku in the chest without getting any backsplash on his own clothes. Kagou freed the knife handle from the stand and tossed it aside so no one would figure out what happened. Then he got arrested and fought to avoid the murder charge. After several months, he realized that if he confessed now, he'd have the benefit of the doubt and his lawyer could argue that he was the victim of police brutality. What makes Shinra so angry is that the man refuses to accept responsibility for the pain Ryuuboku's widow and son are experiencing now, and he wants the killer to live with that every day while he is serving his sentence.

No science or natural history. No payment, in that Shinra is taking this case as a personal favor for the victim, who had been a regular at his museum.

(Back cover)

Comments: The two police cases are fairly standard and not overly interesting. Phra Kruang is very dark and disturbing, although it is one of the two stories this time to actually have any natural history associated with them. Camellia Mansion is a much lighter-hearted tale with a feel-good ending and is the one that I like of the four. The artwork is standard for C.M.B., but I love the design of the smoking jacket, and the garden layout is really nice, too. Recommended if you like the series.

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