Saturday, November 11, 2017

Q.E.D. iff volume 8 review

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Q.E.D. iff, vol. 8, by Katou Motohiro. Grade: B

Umibe no Mokugekisha (The Seashore Eye Witness, Shonen Magajin R, 2017)

(What Hassaku saw.)

This is another one of Motohiro's stories where everything is told from the first-person viewpoint of a character introduced specifically for the story. This time, we get Hassaku Mutou, a second-year high school student living on Kochira island in the Seto inland sea. Generally, Hassaku is an ignorable, average teenager, and on this day he and the rest of the class are taking the ferry to the main island for a school P.E. event. Along the way, the group talks about what they want for their career futures, while passing the fishing boat of the local "Madonna" (beautiful woman), Kyouko Kakimoto. The students play basketball, practice judo, etc. Near the end of the day, one of the more popular girls, the transfer student Rinko Fuji, says "hi" to Hassaku, making the other boys furious with envy. They demand to know how the two of them got to know each other, and Hassaku replies that Rinko had gotten lost on the island a few days earlier and he'd helped her learn her way around. Finally, the friends take the return ferry back to Kochira, and Hassaku glances at one of the storage areas near the warehouses that they're passing by. The door is partly open and he witnesses a man being hit in the back of the head with a piece of plate steel. The next day, he's in his room texting his friends, when one of them sends him a photo of the police surrounding a warehouse building at the docks. Hassaku runs downstairs to the kitchen, and his mother yells at him for wasting his time with text messages instead of studying. Then she says that according to the news, Densuke Kikuchi, a delivery man for a loan company, has gone missing. He was last seen in the container area of the island's docks, and the 12 million yen ($120,000 USD) he had brought with him from Fukuoka was missing. Suspicion is currently on Densuke's partner, a younger man that had driven with him, and has no alibi. However, the police think that Kyouko Kakimoto might have taken the cash, and they search her charter fishing offices and house without finding it. This puts Hassaku into a panic, and he goes to the crime scene to look for clues that could exonerate Kyouko. Once at the storage area, he spots the steel plate, which now has dried blood caked on it, and he realizes that he did indeed see a murder. Then, Rinko arrives and asks what he's doing. He tells her the truth, and she responds by saying that she has a friend back in Tokyo that can help. A day later, Kana arrives, dragging Touma with her (Hassaku is unimpressed).

(Touma recounts what Hassaku currently says he'd seen.)

In the middle of this, Kyouko's father finally dies. At the funeral, Hassaku pledged to Kyouko that he wouldn't stop until he found the killer. Touma tells the boy that he should go to the police with what he knows, and the main detective on the case is initially excited because they've got no leads right now. Unfortunately, Hassaku can't remember if he saw the attacker's face, and can't identify anyone out of the stack of photos the detective shows him. Touma gets the detective to tell them what he does know of the case, and he does so, even though it's highly irregular. The victim and his partner were coming back from Fukuoka with money being delivered to the home office, when Kikuchi got a call on his cell phone to meet someone at the docks on Kochira. The partner had gone to one end of the island to place a call on a pay phone there, and when he'd come back, he found Kochira dead and the money missing. Kyouko is a suspect because she's one of the few people with a working boat.

The only way on and off Kochira island is by boat - either the ferry, or a personal fishing boat. Kyouko fits the bill, but the engine on her charter boat was being overhauled and had been in pieces on the deck of the boat when the police visited her. Hassaku also works as a part-timer at a gas station, and the manager there fills him on additional details of Kyouko's past - her parents had run the fishing boat charter company, and she'd gone to university where she got top grades. Her father ran off with a younger woman, and her mother continued working to support her school costs. She then got a job in a bank in Kobe. But, her mother died and her father spent all his money on gambling and alcohol before collapsing and being abandoned by his mistress. Kyouko's father was then brought back to Kochira, and he'd been a bed-ridden vegetable ever since. Kyouko had to quit her job and take over the charter shop to pay off her father's loans, and tend to him. However, it seems that Kyouko did make a boyfriend in the bank in Kobe, Rihei Kuribayashi, who has come to the island to propose to her. The situation becomes more complicated when Kikuchi's partner mentions that the bank Kyouko worked at owns the loan company Kikuchi worked for, meaning that Rihei might have learned about the money transfer and decided to take the cash and frame Kyouko for the murder. And, Kikuchi's company is the one that Kyouko's father received all his big loans from.

Kana, Rinko and Hassaku visit Rihei at his hotel, but the man's face doesn't remind Hassaku of anything. At the end of the conversation, one of the hotel staff comes up to mention that Rihei's suit is ready to be put into a tailor bag for his trip back home, and the guy puts on a pair of reading glasses to look at the paperwork. That's enough to convince Hassaku that Rihei is the one that he saw killing Kikuchi. He tells the police, then goes out to Kyouko's boat to tell her that the detectives re-examined the crime scene and found a tailor's tag on the ground nearby, placing Rihei at the scene. Kyouko thanks him, but mentions that she's had enough of the island, fishing boats and the charter company. She's going to go away and escape all this.

Questions: Did Rihei kill Kikuchi? If so, how did he get on and off Kochira island, since he wasn't seen taking the ferry boat? Where did he put the body and the money? If it wasn't Rihei, who else could it have been?

No science this time.

--- Spoilers ---

Touma calls all the witnesses, the suspects and the police together at the docks, and recounts what Hassaku has seen, and that it all points to Rihei being the killer. Except. Touma tuns to Hassaku and the camera viewpoint finally changes so we can see his face directly for the first time in the story. Except, that Hassaku has been lying to everyone all this time, and especially to himself. He actually had seen the killer's face at the time, and the shock was so great that he'd blocked it from his mind. The real killer was Kyouko all along. She'd made the call luring Kikuchi to the docks on the island. Then she'd taken her boat over, met the guy at the shipping containers, killed him, brought his body back to her house and hid it and the money under the covers of her father's bed (which the police hadn't checked during their search of her house). She also spread the parts from a different engine on the deck of her boat so that when the police arrived, it had looked like her boat was dead in the water. When Hassaku met her to say that the police were going to arrest Rihei, Kyouko was in the process of dumping Kikuchi's body into a construction site in the middle of the bay. The police pull a bag out of the water, and Kyouko's one chance at having a new life disappears just like that. Later, Hassaku has gotten over the loss of his "Madonna," and is now close friends with Rinko.

Shiroi Karasu (The White Crow, Shonen Magajin R, 2017)

(Kana tells her idea for a story the newspaper club should run.)

Kana is at her school, trying to give her friends in the newspaper club a story to print - a guy buys a turtle, but it escapes its aquarium. He then gets a baby crocodile, and it then escapes, too. Later, sewer workers encounter a gigantic turtledile that is impervious to their guns. The club writers aren't impressed, so Touma says that he'd actually seen something even more unusual - a white crow. Kana gets disgusted at being upstaged by something so blatantly impossible that she throws a tantrum and refuses to help him clean up the school yard at the end of the day. But then Touma gets a phone call and he drops everything to go help someone.

The scene changes to follow university student Eito Katta. He's having money problems, and is unable to pay for his classes this quarter. When he gets home, his mother tells him that his grandfather has died and has left them some kind of an inheritance. She can't be bothered to go to the reading of the will (there's been bad blood between her and the other family members), but if he wants, he can go in her place. The grandfather, Kouzou Iwanuma, had made a fortune running a gold mining company in Peru, and the money will be split four ways, between Kayo, Kouzou's first wife; Chihaya, his oldest daughter; Eito; and Hinano, Kouzou's second wife and widow. Chihaya hates Hinano, and is really unhappy with Touma and Kana also being at the reading. The lawyer, Makoto Sendai, doesn't know why the two kids are there, either, but they were named as part of the requirements of the reading, and they aren't actually getting any of the money, so Chihaya tolerates their presence. Makoto says that the company had gone bankrupt, and all that remains of the old man's estate is 7,000,000 yen in cash. Between the four of them, that comes out to about $17,500 USD each. Chihaya and Kayo argue that that can't be right, and Hinano leaves, saying that she doesn't want the money, she just can't stand all the bickering. Having finished his duties, Makoto also leaves, but Eito spots the lawyer and the widow outside, laughing and joking together. Eito demands to know what Touma knows, and our hero says that the lawyer has laid a trap for them. Kouzou had a lot of bank accounts, but the lawyer had only showed them the bank book for one of them. They should try tracking down the other accounts and see what's in those. However, Touma is still angry with Kana, and he leaves, telling her that if she's so concerned about these people getting cheated, she should help them herself.

From here, Kana comes up with a plan worthy of Touma - they're going to fake a big gold discovery in Peru, and that the speculator finding the gold is going to make a deal with the lawyer such that he'll need the lawyer's approval to wire the profits to Kouzou's bank. This will force Makoto to identify Kouzou's main bank account in some way, letting them locate the correct bank book to see for themselves where all the money really is. Chihaya and Kayo love this idea, while Eito just goes along for the ride to be able to pay for his classes. To make this work, they need someone to play the part of a metals speculator, and to have a large house for the actor to meet Makoto in. Chihaya knows just the actor, and Kayo's closest friend has a house they can borrow. Kana creates a fake website announcing the metals discovery to back up the speculator's claims. Kana meets the actor at a bar, and he turns out to be an alcoholic. Kayo's friend's house has posters on the walls for a bunch of get-rich schemes. So, both the actor and the house need to be cleaned up. On the day of the meeting, the lawyer arrives and gets introduced to the speculator, as Eito, Chihaya and Kayo watch through a partly open door. The actor slips up a couple times, but recovers at the end and seemingly hooks Makoto completely.

(As Makoto guides Eito and Chihaya through the storage shed, Kana climbs into Kouzou's office to photograph the correct bank book.)

The lawyer gives the actor the bank and recipient account information, but the group is still stuck because the bank book they want is in a drawer in Kouzou's office, and only the lawyer has a key to the door. Kana suggests that they email Makoto saying that there's a problem with the information he'd given them, and ask him to reconfirm the account number. Makoto is forced to return to Kouzou's house, and finds himself surrounded by a bunch of over-eager people. He refuses to let any of the people named in the will into the office, but allows Kana into the room to "keep him honest." While he's digging through the desk drawer for the correct book, Kana edges over to a window and slides the lock open. Makoto leaves, locking the door again, and Eito and Chihaya force him into opening up a storage shed in the back of the house. He lets them in, and points out all the artwork on the shelves, saying that this is all worthless junk, replicas and forgeries that have been removed from the house and are to be disposed of. Meanwhile, Kana runs across the roof of the house and drops down into the office, where she finds the correct bank book and takes a photo of it with her smartphone. Later, the group reconvenes, and Kana shows them the picture she took - it's of the correct page, and there really is only about $70,000 left.

Questions: What happened to all the money? Is the lawyer cheating with Kouzou's widow somehow? After all these charades, is Eito going to have to drop out of school anyway? How about Chihaya - are her two kids going to go hungry? And what is Kayo going to live on since she's too old to find a job? And how long is Kana going to be angry at Touma?

The only math is a reference to the logic question of "how do you prove all crows are black?"

--- Spoilers ---

Kana confronts the three heirs, and tells them that none of them deserve even the $17,000  each they'll be getting. All that junk in the storeroom? Kayo, the first wife bought all that. She's an airhead easily duped by her friend into paying for fake art, and buying into every get-rich scheme that comes along. That's why Kouzou divorced her. Chihaya is just as bad, putting large chunks of her father's money into a theater to bank roll her drunk actor friend. And, while she claims to only be thinking about her children, she spends all her remaining money on herself in order to wear designer clothes and drive expensive cars. Finally, the only time Eito ever visited his grandfather was when he wanted to ask for money. The reason he can't afford his classes is that he keeps losing at pachinko. The three finally shut up and accept what little they are bequeathed.

However. The phone call Touma had received was from Kouzou, when he was lying on his deathbed. The two were chess partners, and Kouzou wanted to ask the boy how to keep his greedy relatives from taking more of his money. He's in love with his current wife, and wants everything to go to her. Touma comments that this is like proving that all crows are black. He and Kana devise a plan to let the remaining heirs "discover for themselves" that there's no money left in the estate.  During the scam, which both Makoto and Hinano were in on, Eito had commented that that "Touma guy" is kind of smart, and Kana had answered back that he's in a whole other world apart from theirs. Now that the plan has played out and Touma thinks that Kouzou would have approved of the outcome, Kana asks why he'd embarrassed her in front of the newspaper club by making such an outrageous claim. He says that he really did see a white crow, and he takes her to a crossover bridge in the city to show her the white crow flying in with the rest of the flock. Kana is happy knowing that an event like this can be the link between her world and Touma's. Touma doesn't know what she's talking about.

Summary: I've said it before, and I'll say it again - I prefer the Q.E.D. stories that are math and science based. The ones in this volume are ok, but I dislike the "protagonist as first person narrator" spins when the reader isn't told everything that the narrator knows. And we get that plot twist type in both chapters this time. When the narrator lies to the reader, it's like they're lying to themselves at the same time, and that undermines their value as a narrator. Anyway, the artwork is good, and I'd just recently read about the crows problem in a book by Martin Gardner on recreational math problems, so that was fun, too. Recommended if you like the series.

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