Friday, July 8, 2016

C.M.B. volume 32 review

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C.M.B., vol. 32, by Katou Motohiro. Grade: B

(Barry wants the skull in England for study, Anahita thinks he's just being selfish.)

Tomoshibi (Light, Monthly Shonen Magajin, 2016)
Barry Lowell is a British archeologist working in Iran, and he's had a bit of a bad streak of luck. After years of rounding up funding on his own, having his research stalled with local government paperwork and even halted for a year, he's finally made a big discovery - fossil bones of a neanderthal woman in a cave outside Tehran. The problem this time is that the Iranian government is tired of having foreign groups shipping their antiquities out of the country, and they've barred Lowell from sending the skull to England for research and display. He's livid, and is stirring up so much commotion that one of the university researchers summons Shinra and Tatsuki to Iran to resolve the issue. The researcher gives the boy an ancient nomad blanket as payment. Shinra takes turns interviewing the Brit, and his local partner, the female university researcher, Anahita Esphahan. Barry doesn't care who the boy is, he wants the skull in England, as promised to him when he started his excavations, for testing and to get credit for the discovery. Anahita shows Shinra and Tatsuki around their museum, saying that all the exhibits here are replicas, because the actual objects (the Code of Hammurabi, and a tile wall from Persepolis, among others) are either in the Louvre in France, or the Royal Museum in London. Eventually, Anahita and Shinra take the skull and lock it up in a storage room in the museum. The next day, the lock box with the skull is missing, and Lowell is going to the airport to return home. Security fails to locate the skull and Barry is allowed to leave the country.

Questions: What happened to the skull? Did Barry take it, and if so how did he get it past customs at the airport?

History: Shinra talks about early human migration routes, how the fossil in Iran could link with those in Africa and Russia, and we get a brief glimpse into the world of archeology.

Payment: An old blanket.

----- Spoilers -----

(Putting the fossil skull in storage at the university museum.)

The museum itself is very old and made up of impractical art objects. One of which is the iron gate used as the barrier to the storeroom. While the gate was indeed secured with a padlock, it's designed to look like leaves and branches on a tree. The branches can be leveraged with a metal bar to create an opening large enough to pull the lock box through. Then Barry just paid some nomads to take the box across the desert and out of the country for him. However. Shinra had speculated that the corpse looked like it had died while trying to protect something. By finishing Barry's excavation work, Anahita uncovered the bones of a baby beneath the first fossil, implying that the mother had been carrying her infant in her arms in the cave when the roof collapsed. The bones of a neanderthal infant, discovered in Iran, would be an even bigger prize than the first skull, so Barry apologizes, offers to give the lock box back, and asks if there's any chance he'd be allowed to return to Iran to do his research again. (Shinra assures him the answer is "yes.")

("I want a cell phone for Christmas! Uhh, what's this thing?")

Konshin (Interference, Monthly Shonen Magajin, 2016)
Yoshihiro Yasunaga is an elementary school student who is unhappy at being the only kid in his grade to not have a smartphone. He complains so much that his parents give him a walkie-talkie set for Christmas. He and his brother are outside playing with it during New Year's Day, when Shinra and Tatsuki return from a shrine for Hatsumode (first shrine visit of the year). Shinra sees the handset and asks to look at it for a second, then hands it back, saying that it's a very good model. He later tells Tatsuki that it's uncommon to see an adult multi-band transceiver in Japan, and that it's probably illegal for the child to own one. Knowing that the walkie-talkie is something special now, Yoshi spends a lot more time walking around the city playing with it. One day, he picks up a transmission from a stranger who identifies himself as a former member of the Strawberries professional soccer team. Yoshi is a fan, and the two talk a bit when the reception is good. The guy says that he had been a great player, but he'd fallen afoul of the yakuza, who had brought him increasingly deeper into the world of crime (starting with throwing games to get gambling money, then building up to torturing rival gang members). He wants out, but he doesn't know what to do next. At some point, one of the other yakuza members catches him talking on his handset, and Yoshi hears the sound of someone being hit. This happens again a couple days later, and after a "crunch" sound, a different voice comes on the air threatening to kill the boy. Yoshi panics and has no idea what to do next.

Science: A discussion of UHF signals, and assignment of radio bands in Japan.

Payment: None we know of.

----- Spoilers -----

(Yoshi plays with his transceiver, and Shinra talks about the differences between restricted-use commercial units and the children's toys.)

Yoshi encounters Shinra again and begs for help. Shinra has him go to the four locations around the city where the reception with the soccer player was strongest. Taking photos with his smartphone, Shinra pinpoints the most likely location for the hideout as being at the top of an old abandoned building near the center of the city. He contacts Det. Kujirazaki, and the police raid the building only to find it empty. But, Tatsuki spots a little tent in one corner of the roof, which has a telescope, magazines, food and water. They guess that the soccer player was left there by the gang as a lookout, but that doesn't explain why the gang used a walkie-talkie, or where everyone went. Shinra realizes that the transceiver served a specific purpose, and that the gang has built their hideout at the bottom of the elevator shaft, where they have several kilos of cocaine they planned to sell on the streets. The people in the shaft are arrested, and one more member is found lying next to a car in the garage, covered in blood. He's assumed to be the soccer player and is taken to the hospital for treatment. When Shinra gives him a transceiver to say "thanks to the strawberry fan", the guy says "Strawberries? What for?" Shinra handcuffs him to the bed and claims that the guy is another yakuza member that had banged his head against the wall in an attempt to trick the police into letting him go. The real soccer player is still in the building somewhere, and the police eventually find his body. Later, Yoshi is in the park, wondering why the soccer player isn't talking to him anymore.

(Shinra talks about the history of protection against the evil eye, and the fact that blue-eyed people were considered less common and more attractive, which is why some of the souvenir amulets have blue "pupils" in the center.)

Jashiyoke (Amulet Against the Evil Eye, Monthly Shonen Magajin, 2016)
Kujirazaki comes to Shinra's museum to ask for help. He has a photo of a necklace and asks if it's something special. The boy comments that it's a talisman against the "evil eye," and is a common trinket sold on keychains, cellphone straps and necklaces as souvenirs. You can find them everywhere. The detective goes sad, saying that it's the only lead they had on a strange "closed room murder mystery." Shuuzou Yoneda was the manager of a clothing store in Shinjuku. He was found in the store at 10 AM a few days ago, in his office, with a knife in his chest. The suspects are the four part-time workers at the store - Sankichi Hie, Takeo Mameda, Mika Awashima, and Yuuji Mugihara. On the day in question, Sankichi was out of the store. Mika had come in at 9 AM to set up a clothing display, and had talked to Shuuzou in the office (he was shaving and had his shirt off; she saw the necklace then). At about 9:25, a naked guy, looking like Shuuzou, ran through the store and out the back. Mika thought that Yuuji had stolen the manager's clothes again and that the manager was chasing him out the store. At 9:30, Takeo arrived to start the day, and Yuuji showed up shortly after, to Mika's surprise. At 10 AM, Shuuzou still hadn't made an appearance on the sales floor, and when Mika needed to get change from the safe in the office, she found the manager dead on the floor with a knife in his chest.

(Common-themed last names again. Yone = rice; Hie = millet; Mame = beans; Awa = foxtail millet; Mugi = barley)

Tatsuki and Shinra question everyone. Turns out that a few months back, a rival clothing company, Yunikuro (a play on Uniqlo) had opened up a shop nearby, and Shuuzou had demanded that the part-timers all work until midnight every night of the week in order to remain competitive. Sankichi is an older guy and couldn't afford to say "no" to the new demands, so he put in the unpaid overtime until collapsing and having to be hospitalize. The other three are university students, and had a slightly easier time of it. Takeo was a pushover, though, and gave up his classes to keep his job. Mika, being a woman, was able to get out earlier and keep going to school at night. Yuuji fought back, pouring water all over Shuuzou's shoes, stealing his clothes when he changed into his uniform at night, etc. By the end of the investigations, Kujirazaki is back at square one. Yuuji had apparent motive but wasn't in the store at the time of death. Mika had opportunity but no motive. Takeo was being overworked but also didn't have opportunity.

Questions: Who killed Shuuzou, and how did they do it when the door to the office was in clear view of everyone at all times? Why did Shuuzou run through the store that morning without wearing his shirt? What happened to the necklace, which wasn't found with the body by the police?

History: Just a brief description of how protection against the "evil eye" has changed over the centuries.

Payment: Shinra gets to keep the necklace if it's found.

----- Spoilers -----

(The list of suspects: Takeo at right, Yuuji at left. Sankichi at top left, in the background. Shouuzou at bottom left, having his clothes stolen while changing from his uniform.)

Shuuzou had gotten the necklace from a friend as a souvenir from a trip, and there had been a photo of him wearing it. But, both Mika and Yuuji claim to have never seen the talisman. Shinra speculates that at the time of the murder, the killer had wanted to make Yuuji the main suspect by showing Shuuzou naked again, and the schedule got messed up. Instead, the killer murdered Shuuzou at about 9:20, put on the necklace and ran through the store when Mika would only see his back and the necklace around his neck. The killer slammed the back exit door open to make it look like he'd escaped that way, then hid in an empty changing room, and put his clothes back on, then snuck out the back to make his entrance at the front door. The problem was that Yuuji arrived at about the same time, and Mika got confused over the locked room mystery and failed to tell the police what she'd seen. On top of this, Takeo was the only person to identify the talisman as being on a necklace, since he'd been the one to take it off the body (neither of the other two workers had known about what was on the necklace.) Seems that Takeo had watched Yuuji sparring with Shuuzou and had gotten jealous enough of the other student as to want to frame him for the murder.

(Shinra talking about black magic spell books. Mou shows the jade cat and talks about her employer, Pedeo.)

Madou no Sho (Grimoire, Monthly Shonen Magajin, 2016)
Mou is back! She has Shinra and Tatsuki meet her in London in an attempt to locate an old book of black magic spells that Pedeo, a local crime boss, is paying her to find. So far, the only clue is a jade statue of a cat that Pedeo had found in the safe of someone that had owed him money (the guy was "roughed up"during this process). The bottom of the statue has the name "Water Townley" inscribed on it, so the boy takes the group to a bookstore called Thomas Books, where the owner, a young man named Thomas Book, is unhappy to find the boy there to make more unreasonable demands for hard-to-find stuff. They go to a restaurant to eat lunch, and Thomas surprises everyone by eating entire bowls of hot peppers (he likes spicy food). Thomas says that Water had been a famous old coot living in a castle nearby, and he'd had a massive library. But, the building burned down, all the books were destroyed, and Water was never seen again. As the trio leave the restaurant, they're kidnapped by a rival gang led by a man named Bolo. He wants the grimoire himself and is willing to pay 3 times what Pedeo is offering. Otherwise, he'll kill all three of them. He lets them go, and Shinra walks out, saying that he's washing his hands of this mess. Later, Thomas meets up with Mou and Tatsuki again and takes them out to the old castle ruins in the hopes of finding clues.

(Bolo gets the drop on Pedeo, and everyone goes into the charred room, where they locate a pentagram.)

Eventually, the new trio locate what seems to be a small study on one floor, with an intact desk and prayer box, and an alcove in the wall where the cat statue could go. Mou realizes that the inside of the building only has 4 windows on the top floor, but she'd seen 5 windows from outside. She and Tatsuki go to the roof and locate a turret that has a door leading down a secret staircase to another room on the second floor. There's a steel door in that room, with signs of fire around the edges. Before they can open it, Pedeo and his goons come in after them, guns drawn. They're followed by Bolo and his men, who out-number the first gang. Both sides want this book of black magic to gain control of the crime in London. The door is knocked down, and the room inside is covered in ash and soot. Mou notices the pentagram on the floor, and there's a charred corpse in the corner, holding a knife. The blade is inscribed "Water Townsey". Under him is a burned up book, with the word "sham" carved on it. Bolo angrily throws the useless book away, hitting one of Pedeo's thugs. That guy had pulled out another gun, and it goes off by accident. They drop their flashlights and both sides start shooting at each other in the dark. Suddenly, a demon arrives in a flash, threatens everyone, and the bad guys' skins all start to burn. Both gangs race out the door and drive off.

Questions: Is the demon real? Was the corpse really Townsey? What does "sham" mean? Was the grimoire destroyed in the blaze? What's going on?

History: A short discussion of black magic tomes, and what was needed to transcribe books professionally.

Payment: I think Shinra got to keep the jade cat statue.

----- Spoilers -----

(And, the remains of Water Townley and his black magic book.)

Shinra had walked out of the investigation in order to set up Mou as bait. He then worked with Thomas to get both gangs to go to the castle just to scare them off at the end with a fake demon (the demon face was a piece of cloth on a metal rod). The skin burning effect was a mace solution made using Thomas' hot peppers. Shinra speculates that Water had worked as a transcriber, hand writing out the contents of various books for people in exchange for various objects, such as the cat statue. The study Mou had found contained a writing desk, positioned next to a window to get maximum sunlight. The "prayer box" was really a stand used for holding the original book in place while Water copied it. The old man did indeed try to summon a demon in the enclosed room with the steel door, but apparently had knocked over an oil lamp placed on the floor, starting the fire. Water pleaded for the grimoire to save him, and when it didn't perform any kind of magic, he'd angrily carved "sham" into the cover before burning to death. One clue is that the book stand used for holding the original books had two horizontal gaps in the front of it, about 10 inches apart. These were for those times when the original manuscript was a scroll rather than a bound volume. Naturally, when you're done with the scroll, you put it inside the stand. Shinra pulls one side of the stand open, revealing a number of scrolls rolled up inside. Later, the scrolls all go to auction, where the bidding starts at 10,000 Pounds. Mou and Thomas had agreed that she'd get 30% of the final sale price, and he'd get 10%. The allure of owning this type of book is really where all the magic comes from.

(Back cover, with the Nazar Bonkuk (Turkish for "blue bead") amulet as a keychain.)

Summary: I like the history stuff, so the pictures of Iran in the first story are good, and I also liked the illustrations of the various grimoires in the last story. The ending for Interference was pretty sad, since the boy never learned what had happened to the man he'd tried to save. The plot for Evil Eye was a bit hard to follow and the motive was weak (but, given some of the recent murders in Japan, it is still believable, I guess). The main issue I have with Motohiro's murder stories is that when he draws a knife in someone's torso, he gets it wrong. The blade is always shown entering the body vertically, where it would usually jam between the ribs without going very deep. He never has the blade horizontally. And, the bit with the demon scaring off the gang members so they all rush to their cars and drive off is also weak. Otherwise, this is a good book. I just wish Mou was treated as being as smart as Shinra this time (she didn't make any useful deductions at all in the last story. Sigh.) Anyway, recommended if you like the series.

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