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Q.E.D. iff, vol. 3, by Katou Motohiro. Grade: B
The current pattern for this series is to have two stories per volume, with the first half of each story dedicated to setting up the mystery and the second to the resolution. Both halves run in the same volume of quarterly magazine Magajin R as a complete chapter.
(Yamaguchi's mansion, the night of the art auction party.)
Sannin no Shikaku (The Three Assassins, Magajin R, 2015 #4)
Kenji Yamaguchi is a swindler, thief and con artist running an art investment service. Three of his victims are the women Yui Kurotsu (whom he married, then divorced after cleaning out her bank accounts), Miki Okada (her family lost their orange orchard due to a foreclosure when Kenji mismanaged their finances) and Akiko Fujishima (same situation as with Yui). All three women become desperate enough to vow revenge against him. A fourth victim is the grandfather of one of Kana's friends; Kenji stole a priceless plate that had been a family heirloom, and the friend wants Kana to ask Touma for help. The challenge, of course, is to give Touma a reason to want to figure everything out. A few days later, Yamaguchi hosts an art auction party at his mansion, telling his assistant to hire a cheap caterer, fill expensive looking bottles with no-name wine, and use bargain basement shochu with lime juice for the cocktails. Kana drags Touma to the party, where they spot the stolen plate. Kana wants Touma to steal it back, and he refuses. Meanwhile, the three women also arrive to carry out their plans.
("Yamaguchi must die." The three swindle victims, and Yui's plan for the trick she wants to use.)
Miki had hired on with a cleaning company to do housekeeping at the mansion so she could hide a knife under the bed in advance. She's going to wait until Kenji goes to sleep, sneak into the room and stab him to death. Akiko buys a poisonous African snake from an exotic pets store and brings it to the party in her bag, which is supposed to be checked into the coat room. However, she orders a bloody mary from the bar, feigns a reaction to the alcohol and gets put in a guestroom with her bag to recover. She leaves the snake in the master bedroom, returns to the bar, gets another drink, then has to be taken to the hospital. Yui's plan is to sneak up behind Kenji in a hallway and hit him on the back of the head with a vase, hide his body in the living room, and join in the search when someone notices him missing to establish an alibi. Afterward, she'd bring the body out and when it's found everyone would think the killing had happened more recently. Miki sneaks a sleeping pill into Kenji's gin and tonic (he demands the good gin). A few minutes later, Kenji realizes he's been drugged and he tells his assistant he's going to lie down and try to recover. Akiko has already put her snake in the bedroom. Miki goes to the bedroom too, gets the knife from under the bed, and stabs the sleeping body in the chest. Yui takes longer to start moving, and she spots Kenji wandering the hallway, grabs a heavy gold vase and bashes him in the back of the head with it. She hides the body, waits until the assistant initiates the search for his boss, then brings the body out to the middle of the living room where someone else finds it. At this point, there's a huge blood stain the middle of his chest. Kenji is declared dead by the witnesses and the police are called. But, when they arrive, the body is now floating in the middle of the pool at the front of the mansion. During all this, Kana has been feasting on the catered buffet, and she's noticed that the caviar is a fake, cheap brand, which just goes to show that Yamaguchi is a bad guy who can't be trusted.
(When the police find the body, it's in the pool.)
The police question everyone and then they are released. The next day at school, Kana wants to know how they're going to get the plate now. Touma replies that it's going to be tied up in the investigations, then probably auctioned off by a bank along with everything else to pay off debts. Kana gets furious, so the two of them go to Yamaguchi's assistant at the mansion to get a list of suspects. The assistant tells them that he'd almost immediately recognized all three women at the party, and knew that Miki was working for the cleaning company. The assistant goes to throw some garbage away, and discovers a dead snake and a knife in the trash can.
Questions: How did the body get into the pool? Is there a fourth suspect? What happened to the snake and why was it and the knife in the kitchen garbage can?
----- Spoilers -----
Kana asks a couple simple questions to each of the three women (Why were you at the party? If alcohol makes you so ill, why did you order a second drink? If you hated your ex-husband so much, why were you so concerned about him that you immediately joined the search for him?) A little later, Touma calls a meeting with the women and the assistant, but without the presence of the police. He explains that what happened that night went something like this: Miki slipped the sleeping pills into Yamaguchi's drink, and he immediately realized why he was feeling wiped out. He went to his room, but stopped at a washroom along the way to splash cold water on his face in an attempt to wake up. Akiko had put a chemical heating pad in the bed to keep the snake happy and prevent it from slithering off some place. When Miki entered the bedroom, she saw the bunched up covers and stabbed that, killing the snake. Kenji reached his room, got in bed, and panicked on getting blood all over his undershirt. Seeing the knife and snake, he suspected someone was trying to kill him, but he didn't want to raise an alarm which would put a crimp in his art auction plans. He took the knife and snake body down to the kitchen and disposed of them in the trash can. As he made his back to his room, Yui saw him and hit him from behind with the vase. Her trick was that the living room furniture set included two wooden tables - a larger magazine table and a shorter coffee table. If you put the coffee table under the magazine table, there's enough space to hold a body, but if they're covered with a cloth sheet, anyone looking under the sheet is going to think there's nothing there. After the search party checked the room, Yui removed the body from between the two tables and set it in the middle of the floor. However, because the vase was made of soft metal, it absorbed a lot of the blow, and Kenji hadn't actually been killed. He regained consciousness, and, convinced now that someone was trying to off him, the first thing he worried about was whether the police were going to find all the money he'd made illegally.
The group goes to the pool, which has been drained (Kenji insisted on letting it fill with rain water, being too cheap to use regular tap water). The assistant removes the grating in the bottom of the pool to reveal several large gold ingots. Yamaguchi wanted to pull the gold bars out to hide them somewhere else, and ended up drowning himself. Since this is no longer a murder case, Touma tells the three women to turn themselves in and confess. They'd probably then be able to file claims against the estate and get their money back. They agree. The plate is returned to its owner, and as thanks the old man gives Kana some cans of caviar.
Science, math or technology: Nothing.
("Nature hides deep secrets." Touma, doing weeding work 6 years ago.)
Jitensha Dorobou (Bike Thief, Magajin R, 2016 #1)
6 years earlier, Touma had had a school break in the U.S. at the same time that his globetrotting historian/archeologist parents were in Japan to help on some work at an old shrine, so the family had kind of a reunion in Japan for three weeks. During that time, Touma found a used book of woodcut prints at the local bookstore, and he needed a way to make 3,000 yen to buy the book. He became friends with another boy his age, Akiyuki Sawaihara, and learned that Akiyuki's older brother was running a small business and needed part-time helpers. The older brother, Takahiko, accepted odd jobs from the senior citizens in town. One of the jobs was to cut grass in a large yard. As Toumi was busy with this task, he happened on a new bicycle that had been reported stolen. He turned it in, but the police accused him of stealing it and insisted on having him confess to the crime. Back in the present, Touma and Kana, plus some of the other year 3 students, have been roped in by the 2nd years to arrange for a venue for their class' Christmas party. The group finds a large rental hall, but Touma gets a phone call telling him that he's been named representative for one Takahiko Sawaihara. He, Kana and some of the other kids go out to the remote town, where Touma gives permission to a moving crew to clear the old junk from a building that's scheduled to be torn down. In the main room are shelves of souvenirs from around the world, and the walls are covered with glossy travel photos.
(Takahito wants a $2,000 bike. His mother resents his choices.)
As Touma relates it, Takahiko had hired three workers - him, Akiyuki and some high school student, based from this building. Taka would divide the jobs up into three sealed envelopes, which he'd hide behind his back and have the kids each pick one (top, middle or bottom). The tasks would be things like doing someone's shopping, cutting grass, or housecleaning. While the money coming in was ok, it wasn't quite enough to let Taka buy the $2,000 touring bike he had his eye on in the local bike shop. While drooling over the bike, his mother came up and demanded that he stop all this foolishness and return home with her. He refused, saying that this was his way of proving her wrong. Apparently, when Taka had failed to get into university on his first try, his mother had been laughing and joking with her neighbors, and she'd told them that Taka was a hopeless case who had never succeeded in anything in his life. Taka overheard this and moved out of the house the next day to never go back. His mother resents the fact that he's actually making money in this new business venture. A few days later, Touma gets the task of cutting grass on a large estate, discovers the stolen bike, which is worth $200, and is accused by the local cop of being a thief. Touma's parents show up and are ready to bring in a team of lawyers to raise holy hell, but Touma has the situation under control and he talks his way out of all charges. Akiyuki finds Touma and tells him that Taka has suddenly bought the touring bike after all. He visits the bike shop and notices two small pieces of paper on the floor near the fax machine, with the characters for "ta" and "te" on them.
(Touma's parents don't like local cops harassing they boy.)
Back in the present again, Akiyuki arrives, looking 6 years older, and they all watch the building being torn down.
Questions: Who stole the $200 bike? Why was Touma set up as the main suspect? What's the real motive?
----- Spoilers -----
Akiyuki says that this was all done by his mother, who wanted Taka to come back to her. She stole the $200 bike and spread the rumor that a child took it. The idea was that Touma's arrest would cast a pall on Taka's business and he'd have to give up and close shop. The plan didn't work, though, because Taka had enough money to buy the $2,000 touring bike and has been traveling the world ever since. Akiyuki apologizes to Touma, but his friend suggests that there's a second possibility. Actually, Taka told the bike shop owner that he was going to buy a customized version of the touring bike so the owner would start filling out the order forms to fax to the manufacturer. While the other man was busy, Taka grabbed a key for the locks of the regular mamachari bikes and walked off with the $200 bike unseen. He then used two small pieces of paper (the ones that looked like "ta" and "te") and stuck them to the order form to make it look like the shop owner wanted 2 ("te" is really "2") bikes to be delivered in the evening ("ta" is really the kanji character for "yuru", evening). Afterward, Taka brushed the pieces on the floor before the owner noticed the changes. The delivery truck came to the shop past closing time and just left the two boxes propped against the front door. Taka took one, and the owner arrived the next morning to find the other box waiting for him. Taka then apologized and canceled his original order.
(A picture from the woodcut book Touma wanted to buy, representing Taka's attachment to his fears and guilt.)
Because the daily tasks were handed out to the three part-time kids in identical sealed envelopes, there was no point to Taka holding them behind his back when his workers selected them. In fact, Taka wanted to rotate the kids so that they only did the more arduous job of cutting grass and weeding at the large estate once each, so he put a small cut in the envelope for that sheet of paper, which he could feel with his finger. He masked the cut by opening the envelopes with a pair of scissors, cutting over the telltale slit. The reason for framing Touma was two-fold. First, the boy was going to be returning to America in 3 days, and therefore had no motive for stealing a bike. Any charges against him would eventually be dropped. Second was that when the shop owner realized that Taka had modified the fax to get a free touring bike, he'd be reluctant to complain to the police a second time without really convincing proof.
(Modern-day Akiyuki arriving to watch the building tear-down.)
But, if Taka was the culprit, why was Touma named as his representative for tearing down this old building? The answer is that once he had the bike, Taka felt so guilty that he never went riding with it. Instead, he locked himself up in his shop and filled it with souvenirs and photos he'd gotten somehow (probably ordered over the internet) to live the lie of being a world traveler. And for the next 6 years, that's where he stayed. But, the building was scheduled to be turned into a parking lot or apartment building, so Taka had to move, and he figured Touma was the one person able to figure everything out for him so he could move on with his life. One of the last things pulled out the debris is the touring bike. The classmates return to Tokyo, where Kana's friend had been stuck doing all the work to set up the 2nd year Christmas party. It's a successful party, too. Meanwhile, Akiyuki visits an apartment building somewhere else, and tells his brother that it's time for them to go meet their mother.
Science, math or technology: Nothing.
Comments: Again, not one of the stronger volumes. "Three Assassins" is a comedy of errors, and having Yamaguchi do himself in because of his greed feels pretty weak. "Bike Thief" was kind of predictable, too. The problem is that if Taka really was a failure and didn't have that much money to his name, how did he survive as a recluse for 6 years, much less afford all the statues and trinkets he filled his room with? The artwork is typical Motohiro, and the pacing is good, so I recommend this book to anyone that likes the series. Also, I should emphasize that this is the first time ever that we get to see the faces of Touma's parents...