Friday, November 10, 2017

C.M.B. volume 36 review

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

C.M.B., vol. 36, by Katou Motohiro. Grade: B+

(Visiting the temple Chantam made.)

Yama no Ishi (Doctor in the Mountain, Monthly Shonen Magajin, 2017)

Tatsuki and Shinra are in Tibet, relaxing after Shinra finished helping the head priest of a Hindu temple recover their "treasures." The priest says that there's someone that also needs the boy's assistance, and introduces a young doctor-in-training to them, a guy named Yamtam. Yamtam grew up in Tibet, and was under the tutelage of an experienced herbalist named Chantam. Chantam was a big believer in examining all elements of the patient before making a diagnosis (such as noticing a leaf on a sick girl's sweater as an indication that she'd secretly eaten a wild plant before coming home and then collapsing. Without seeing the leaf, Yamtam would have accidentally prescribed the wrong medication.) Chantam died of old age a little while ago, bequeathing his fortune to Yamtam to allow him to enter a western university and study western medical practices, but only if the guy can solve a series of puzzles to show that he's ready for the challenge. The first clue is a piece of mountain coral. Yamtam is lost on his own and needs Shinra's help. At the same time, though, three villagers overhear their conversation and rush up into the mountains to steal Chantam's fortune for themselves.

Questions: What's the secret of the coral? How does it relate to the fortune? Is there a real fortune? Do the thieves get to it first? Does Yamtam decide to leave Tibet to go to a foreign university?

Natural history: A description of mountain coral, and lots of traditional Tibetan artwork.
Payment: Nothing specifically mentioned

--- Spoilers ---

Millions of years ago, Tibet used to be under the ocean, which is where the coral came from. Over time, continental plate shifting pushed the land up out of the ocean, and resulted in the formation of the Himalayan mountain range. That's why sea coral can still be found at the tops of the mountains and is called "mountain coral". The thieves go up into the foothills, and locate one of the coral sites under a mound of rocks, but the rocks collapse, injuring all three of them. Yamtam discovers the men and treats their broken bones for free, shaming the guys into apologizing and confessing their plans to him. They return to the village and promise to turn over a new leaf. Shinra and Yamtam work together at nearly the same speed to identify a small temple that Chantam had constructed in the mountains, and had decorated with various paintings, sculptures and other artwork. The paintings depict Yamtam on a spiritual and physical journey, and if taken at face value are completely misleading. But, when interpreted properly point to a second door frame hidden around the front door. Closing the front door and then pushing from the inside causes the second door to open, revealing a very narrow secret stairway leading to the second floor. Yamtam goes up the stairs and finds a small box filled with precious stones worth a fortune. Having seen Shinra's grasp of western science and history, Yamtam prays to the memory of his teacher and pledges to leave Tibet, and then return when he has become a better doctor.

(The death of Kon Souka.)

Rubaya-to no Monogatari (Tale of Rubaiyat, Monthly Shonen Magajin, 2017)
Ok, if you're not familiar with the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, then you're going to need a fair bit of background filled in for this next 2-part story to make sense. Omar Khayyam was a mathematician and astronomer who lived in Persia from 1048-1131 AD. His greatest contributions to science include his work on cubic equations, and his efforts at calendar reform. However, his name is most closely associated with a selection of poems (ruba'i is the Arabic word for a 4-line poem in quatrain format with an AABA or AAAA rhyming scheme). Omar was not known as a poet in his lifetime, and it was only through the writings of historian Imad ad-Din al-Isfahani (a younger contemporary of Omar's) that Khayyam was ever identified as a poet. Quatrains from that period have then been assigned to Omar, which may or may not have actually been written by him. The Rubaiyat did not attain any level of recognition in the west until the English poet and writer Edward Fitzgerald started printing his English translations around 1861.

The second major player in this story is going to be Hassan-e Sabbah. Hassan lived around 1034 to 1124, and was a Nizari Isma'ili missionary who converted a Persian community, in the 1090's, in the heart of the Alborz mountains. He then later seized the mountain fortress, Alamut, and founded a group of fedayeen that eventually gained the name "hashshasheen" (AKA: "assassins"). Although the wikipedia entries do not indicate that Omar knew Hassan in any way, Motohiro has them growing up as friends, with Omar being a carefree, wine-loving dilettante, and Hassan as the more serious, unamused one of the pair.

Now, the story. Things start out in Persia, with Hassan meeting Omar in town, and Omar ribbing him with a short poem about drinking (which is against Hassan's religion), which is then immediately recorded by a young boy named Safeed. (Safeed follows Omar everywhere and writes down every poem that Omar recites). Hassan is not amused. Then we jump to the present, where a Japanese guy visits an antiquities dealer in Tehran, Iran, claiming to have an original printing of the Peacock Edition of the Rubayat of Omar Khayyam, and asks the dealer to buy it at a high price. The dealer looks vexed and tells him to wait in a back room while he speaks to a new customer. The Japanese, Kon Souka, goes into a storage room, locks the door from the inside, and gleefully starts opening the chests and cabinets to look at the treasures there. Suddenly, he's stabbed to death, and a bloody knife lands on the ground next to his body.

A few days later, Anaheeta, a female archeologist, calls in Shinra to help deal with the scandal. The local police aren't interested in the case, thinking it's just a suicide. But, Anaheeta believes there's more to it than that, since the Rubaiyat the dealer saw wasn't in the room when the door was broken down. Sangorski and Sutcliffe is a British bookbinding company that was commissioned in 1911 to create a printing of the Rubaiyat in jewels and gems with 3 peacocks on the cover. This book was lost at sea when it sunk along with the Titanic when it was being sent to the U.S. in 1912. There were a couple of other "peacock editions" printed, but their locations are also well documented. If what Kon had was the real thing, it would be worth a fortune. Anaheeta says that a prince in Qatar had been asking after the book, and that this may be Shinra's first lead. The boy and Tatsuki fly to Qatar and meet the prince, Asfar, and his assistant, Sakanir. They both state that they knew the book Kon carried was a replica, but they'd been told that Kon's boss, a treasure hunter named Bruno, thinks he knows where the original Rubaiyat can be found and wants backers for the expedition.

Shinra flies to Italy and meets Bruno, along with 2 employees - a dark-skinned guy named Plum, and the lighter-skinned woman, Rose. Plum shows Tatsuki the shark bite scars on his arm to demonstrate that treasure hunting is a dangerous job. Bruno discounts Kon as a dealer-wannabe that had kind of forced himself on Bruno. The current discussion is that Omar's own writings are buried in a mountain ruins that could be the original location of Alamut, and Bruno needs someone to front the cash to start an excavation. Rose is staunchly in the "it's there" camp, while Plum is more skeptical. Shinra returns to Tehran to inspect the storeroom Kon was killed in. The room has a small, barred window in one wall, and Tatsuki notices someone looking into the room through the window, so she bolts outside and chases the suspect down.

(Omar tries to save someone whose throat was cut by Hassan.)

In the second half of the story, Tatsuki catches the suspect, only to realize that it's Asfar's assistant, Sakanir. The guy claims he's doing his own investigations to ensure that Bruno isn't trying to rip off his boss. The story then unfolds with Hassan becoming more murderous in killing off infidels and Omar unable to prevent his friend from disappearing into the darkness. Hassan visits Omar one last time, to say "goodbye." He and his men are relocating to Alamut, and he's never coming back to Samarkand. As a farewell gift, Omar gives Safeed's book of rubaiyats to Hassan and the guy leaves in the night. Shinra, Tatsuki, Sakanir, Asfir, Bruno, Rose and Plum travel to Samarkand and inspect the area where Bruno wants to host his dig. Rose keeps talking about this having to be the place, and Plum constantly raining on her parade. Bruno is more optimistic, and Sakanir looks ready to bring out his checkbook. The group stays the night in a kind of inn converted from an old brick and timber grain silo. During the dinner, Plum says he's going outside for a cigarette. A few minutes later, there's a heavy thud. Everyone rushes out, where they find Plum lying dead on the ground near the door. There's a smudgy hand print on the back of his shirt, indicating he'd gone to the top of the silo and had been pushed off, but Sakanir's bodyguards were stationed in the area and they claim they hadn't seen anyone close to Plum on the top of the silo.

Questions: Who killed Kon Souka in the locked storeroom, and did they steal the Peacock Rubaiyat? Are they the same ones that killed Plum? Why kill Plum at all - was he silenced for knowing something? Why haven't Omar's original writings been discovered before, and are they waiting in Alamut for Bruno to uncover them now?

Payment: Shinra gets the Peacock edition of the Rubaiyat that Kon had been carrying.
Natural history: Lots of background on Omar, Hassan, the Rubaiyat and grain silo architecture.

--- Spoilers ---

Shinra realizes that the locked room mystery and the falling body mystery are related, and point directly to the killer's motive. Boiled down, Bruno had sent Kon to Sakanir with a known replica of the Peacock edition of the Rubaiyat specifically to sucker the Prince into funding the excavation of the suspected Alamut site. Unfortunately, Kon didn't recognize the book as a fake and attempted to sell it on the black market to line his own pockets. The antiquities dealer knew something fishy was going on and didn't want any of his customers to think he was handling fakes, and had sent Kon to the storeroom to get him out of the way. The killer didn't want their own plans disrupted, and killed Kon by stabbing him with a spear though the barred window, and used the same spear to lift up the book (which was wrapped up in a scarf) and remove it from the room before the dealer could look at it more closely. (The knife was just something Kon had been looking at in the storeroom at the time.) Later, Plum's pessimistic claims that Omar's original wouldn't be found at Alamut sealed his own fate. The top of the silo was covered with loose wooden planks, and when Plum was walking around up there, smoking his cigarette, the killer used a pole and the support beams within the silo to lever the plank Plum stood on to force him to fall to the ground. The killer then simply used the dust in the ground to draw a palm print on the back of Plum's shirt to make it look like he was pushed, while also attempting to frame Bruno for the incident. In fact, the killer is Rose, and she did everything to make sure nothing stopped the dig for Alamut from going forward. Now that the scam has been revealed, Sakanir decides against giving Bruno his funding. As for the original Rubaiyat... Hassan had it placed in a crate, which was included with everything else on the caravan going to the new hideout. But, during the trip the caravan encountered a sandstorm. That specific crate was blown loose by the strong winds, and it vanished into the sands. Centuries later, the grapes inside the crate had taken root next to a river, and the tree that grew from them became a landmark for desert travelers in need of water. The story closes with an old man commenting that alcohol is what connects people from the past to the present, with a picture of Omar standing and holding a cup of wine.

(Shinra shows off his fake mermaid to Kick.)

Kasumi-sou Jiken (Kasumi-so Case, Monthly Shonen Magajin, 2017)
Kikuno Tanabata (Kick) is back. She's still a neophyte on the Tokyo Police detective squad, and is accompanying one of the older detectives as he makes the rounds of his snitches, looking for leads. One particular snitch mentions a smuggling ship coming in to the docks that night, and the detective pays him for the tip. Kick asks if they're going to the docks then, and the guy laughs at her, saying "no." Based on his gut feeling, it's a false lead, but she can go instead if she wants to. Being the gung ho rookie, she spends the night outside in the cold and rain and shows up for work the next day, sick. A second veteran detective takes her on his own rounds, and a homeless man tells them that he's heard a rumor that some old guy in town disappeared and a suspicious man has been hanging around the victim's house since then. Kick thinks this is a true lead, and she drags her "sempai" (older coworker) with her to the house. There, they find a guy in a business suit waffling in front of the house. When confronted by the police, the guy introduces himself as Kunihiro Kikuo. His father owns the house, and he'd gotten worried that something was wrong when he'd not heard from his father in a long time. Now that the police are there, he'd like them to go into the house with him to check on the old man. The inside of the house is a shambles, there's some blood on the floor, and the safe has been emptied out. The old man had been renting the place to college students who apparently trashed it. Kunihiro says that he'd been approached by a strange guy from a construction contracting company, who'd given him a business card. Kick and her sempai check out the address - it's an abandoned warehouse, but there's a truck nearby with a shovel in the flatbed. Kick takes a sample of the dirt, but no one in the department wants to commit the resources to find out where the dirt came from.

So, Kick visits Shinra to ask for help. The boy isn't very enthusiastic, until he discovers a yamato senburi in the dirt sample, a rare alderfly thought to have gone extinct in 1957, but had been rediscovered in 1994. Shinra keeps the alderfly as payment, and pinpoints the dirt as coming from a specific region in the countryside. Kick and her partner go there, and poke around in the woods until they locate a fresh patch of dirt, and a hand that's buried underneath. A DNA sample indicates that the hand probably belongs to Kunihiro's father, who is then presumed dead. Kick visits Shinra again to thank him for his help, but the boy takes her to a glass display case to show off the small mermaid body inside. It's a fake, one that had been manufactured by sewing the lower half of a fish to the upper half of a monkey some time between the 1600 and 1800's, and part of an ongoing trade in hoaxes. This is the boy's way of hinting that Kick should be looking more closely into the case.

Questions: What does Shinra's hint mean? Who killed Kunihiro's father, and where's the rest of the body?

Payment: The alderfly.
Natural history: Just the information about the alderfly and the mermaid fake.
Note: "-sou" is Japanese for "apartment block" or dormitory. Therefore, "Kasumi-sou jiken" would be "The Kasumi Dormitories Case."

--- Spoilers ---

Kiku and her partner are in a restaurant eating dinner when the news comes on the TV, showing Kunihiro being interviewed by a news crew. Kick notices something and jumps up in shock. Three month's later, Kunihiro is at a law office, preparing to sign the paperwork for taking over his father's estate, when Kick and the rest of the police department arrive to arrest him. Kick explains that Kunihiro is a con man who would pose as the beneficiary of different estates, and then sell off the houses and land for a profit. The real owner of the house was simply some old guy that suffered from dementia and wandered away one day. Kunihiro staged the entry into the house with the police, the abandoned contractor's office and the pickup truck with the dirty shovel to create the story that something had happened to "his" father, and to make the police complicit in the scam. In fact, the hand that was found in the woods did indeed belong to Kunihiro's own father, who had died of natural causes some weeks earlier. Kunihiro had cut it off the corpse around the time of the funeral to ensure there'd be DNA linking him to the "owner" of the house. What had broken open the case for Kick was seeing the original snitch on TV in the background behind Kunihiro during the interview. She uses this case to show that she is learning to trust her intuition, too.


Summary: Well, yes. I do like these books. They're a quick read, and I like the natural history parts. The artwork is good when it's based on real-life photos, although the character designs occasionally suffer from inconsistency and small feet. The mystery set ups can be awfully forced at times, and I don't always buy the characters' motivations. I liked the artwork for Doctor in the Mountain, and the secret doorway. Rubaiyat was pretty good, although the link between Omar and Hassan seems extremely weak (I wouldn't know, though. I don't know anything about the history of Omar Khayyam). The Kasumi-sou Case was also kind of weak, and I don't really care for the entire "gung ho rookie cop" storyline. I liked the information on fake Japanese mermaids, though. Overall, not too bad. Recommended if you like the series.

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