Friday, February 23, 2018

Q.E.D. iff volume 9 review

(All rights belong to their owners. Image from Amazon used here for review purposes only.)

Q.E.D. iff, vol. 9, by Katou Motohiro. Grade: B

Inka (Spirit Fire, Magajin R #6, 2017)
Comic actress Juri Toba is in a haunted house with medium Denjirou Hakone, stage actor Tomohisa Arima, producer Kenji Dougo and writer/cameraman Kowa Kusatsu. It's pretty clear very quickly that these guys are a third-rate youtube video company trespassing on abandoned private property to record a fake haunting. After shooting the opening sequence where the lights mysteriously shut off (Kenji just threw the power switch) the group acts like they've been forced to split up, each one with their own hand-held video camera. The story mainly follows Juri. She's got the camera aimed at herself, when she encounters a floating ball of light, referred to as a spirit ball, supposedly the haunted soul of the previous inhabitant of the house, rumored to have been murdered. She fumbles the camera and yells out for the rest of the crew. Kowa is right behind her, and bops her on the head for almost attracting the neighbors' attention to them and getting the cops called on them. They encounter a pool of clotted blood, and both of them clean it up to hide any traces that they'd been there. Right after this, they find the producer unconscious in the recessed space on the floor in front of the main door. He comes to, and directs their attention to the second floor, where Denjirou has also been knocked unconscious. The remaining person is Tomohisa, and he'd been relegated to the toilets, and hadn't seen or heard anything. The group decides to cut the filming of the show and escape the building.

A day or two later, Juri meets with Kana at a coffee shop to ask for her help. This show had been her first real break as an actress and now it looks like it's going to be cancelled. One of her acting friends went to school with Kana, and he'd suggested Juri contact her. Kana knows that this kind of mystery would bore Touma, so she strikes out on her own to gather clues. They start with the writer, Kowa, who is currently in the studio editing the footage they'd shot. Juri just had coverage of herself, and Kowa and Tomohisa had nothing unusual. Denjirou had a second's worth of spirit ball, then the wall and ceiling, finally a close-up of his own unconscious face. Kenji had a shot of someone wearing a bedsheet like a ghost, then a close-up of his tie. Otherwise, there's nothing to work with. They visit with the producer, and he says that the show's not going to air because Tomohisa had already tweeted out that two of the crew had gotten injured, ruining the surprise. He then goes on to give the background on the house. It had been owned by Toshikazu Shirahama. On the night of the murder, the police had been called to the house, where they found Toshi drunk in the corner of the bedroom, his wife dead on the floor nearby, and a baseball bat on the ground, with both their fingerprints, and blood splatter from the wife. Toshi kept repeating that he didn't have any memories of what happened that night, and that they never owned a baseball bat. The case was pretty clear against him, and he could have been facing the death penalty. On the day of the sentencing, Toshi reiterated that he had no memories of that night, but since everyone claims he did it, he'd accept responsibility for his guilt. The court commuted the sentence to 7 years hard labor, and he committed suicide 2 years after his release. This is a personal connection, though - when he was younger, Toshi was on the university tennis club, and had acted as Kenji's tennis coach. It's the same school Tomohisa is attending now.

Kana admits defeat and asks Touma for help. He sets up an appointment with the Tokyo prosecutor's office, where one of his acquaintances there fills Kana and Juri on the details of the murder case. According to the police report, the neighbors around the house had heard Toshi and his wife shouting at each other earlier in the day. The conclusion was that Toshi drank heavily that afternoon (there were two empty whiskey bottles on the table), and that he'd killed his wife with one blow of the bat, then passed out in a corner, where the police had found him. The only unanswered question is where the bat had come from. At the end, the lawyer mentions that one other person had shown interest in the case some time earlier - Kenji, the producer. The only one acting suspiciously right now is the "spirit medium" Denjirou, who had disappeared right after the filming, and has just been found in Osaka. Juri and Kana travel down there, where Denjirou says he wasn't trying to run away, he just had a new job that he had to start. He says that he never thought the house was haunted, he was just reading from the script. Further, while he'd never passed the Japanese bar, he had studied law when he was in university. As part of his studies, he was in the court room during Toshi's sentencing phase, and he was there when Toshi pleaded guilty. If there is a spirit ball in the house, it's not Toshi's seeking revenge against the police.

Questions: What actually happened the night Toshi's wife died? Who killed her? Where did the bat come from to be used as a murder weapon? Who attacked Denjirou and Kenji in the house during the filming of the show, and what about the pool of blood, the guy in the white sheet, and the spirit ball on the recorder? Does it really matter that Tomohisa had tweeted about the show and got it cancelled?

Science: None.

----- Spoilers -----

To get to the heart of the case, the culprit is Kenji, the show's producer. He'd stood in front of the front doors of the house and used a flashlight to shoot the "spirit ball" on his own camera (which Juri had accidentally seen reflected a little farther down a side hallway). Kenji had then shot images of the hallway, before putting on the sheet, sneaking up behind Denjiro, and hitting him in the head with a stick. With Denjiro unconscious, Kenji switched cameras, aiming his at Denjiro's face, and putting the other camera under the sheet to shoot a close-up of his tie. Kenji had poured the blood in the hallway earlier to slow down Juri and Kowa, knowing they'd try to clean up the mess, so he could return to the front door and pretend to have been hit from behind when they showed up. Kenji had originally planned to leak the story to twitter himself to have an excuse for cancelling the show, but Tomohisa had beat him to it. The motive was that before the shoot, Genjiro had told Kenji about having been in the courtroom when Toshi had confessed to the killing, and Kenji went into a rage that someone as pure and focused about tennis as Toshi was could be a killer. He set up the entire ruse to get revenge on Genjiro. Touma has the gang meet in the old house, with the police waiting outside. When Kenji confesses to the attack, the police come in and arrest him for assault. As for the baseball bat - Toshi and his wife had used that as a prop for holding one of the windows open during the summer to get a breeze at night. During the day of the killing, she and Toshi had gotten into a big argument over something not specified, and Toshi started drinking. His wife retreated to the bedroom to get away from him, and used the bat to prop the sliding door closed. Toshi bashed the door in, picked up the bat, and hit his wife in the head with it, which is why both their prints were on it. In the end, Touma suggests there really are spirit balls, and that they float among all of us.

Utsukushi E (The Beautiful Painting, Magajin R #1, 2018)
Get ready for some really bad names, because that's what you're going to get. In England, Inspector Bone Ivory is getting close to retirement. One day, he's driving outside of London and sees a car with suspicious liquid coming out of the trunk. He pulls it over and has the driver pop the trunk open, which reveals the dead body of Russian crime boss Ink Black (the driver of the car was one of Ink's thugs, Grass Green, and the passenger was another thug, Cloud Gray). Cloud is arrested, but posts bail soon after and walks free. Ivory investigates the case, and there are some loose ends he's struggling with. At this time, Kana and Touma show up at Scotland Yard. Ivory had worked on a case in Tokyo with Kana's father, and her father wanted to give him a pair of katana-like pruning shears as a retirement gift. Touma is just there to carry suitcases.  Then, the results come back on Ink Black's autopsy report, and Ivory has to go out to the scene of the crime, and he drags Kana and Touma along with.

The murder had supposedly taken place on the rolling estate of Fox and Rose Vermillion. They'd just had a charity party the day before the murder, and Ink was one of their guests. He was also there to receive a suitcase filled with 2 million pounds in notes, for which he gave Fox a signed receipt. After the party, Ink insisted on staying overnight, and was shown to a guest room. The next morning, Fox and Rose ate breakfast by themselves, then Fox took his horses out for exercise with his horse handler, Lake Blue, and Rose wrote up thank you notes to the party guests. The housekeeper (Plum Purple) and the maid (Milk White) went to the servant's entrance to pick up the day's vegetable delivery and discovered a note on top of the package, which they handed over to the butler, Wood Brown. Brown read the note, which said that the writer knows that a group of illegal refugees is living in the Vermillion's boat house, and that the police should be notified. Fox and Rose already knew this and had fought over it. When Wood showed Rose the letter, she ordered him to take food, blankets and unused clothes to the boat house to give to the refugees. While Wood was gone, Cloud Gray came to the house to pick up his boss, Ink. White went to Ink's room, but he was gone, the room was cleaned up, and the briefcase with the money was missing. Cloud pulled a pistol to threaten the family, but Wood came back from the boat house and got the drop on Cloud from behind with a shotgun. Wood got Cloud to hand over his pistol, which was then locked in a cabinet. Wood took Cloud's key and drove his car around to a parking lot in the back of the mansion, and then everyone took part in searching the mansion for Ink.

Eventually, they gave up, and Cloud came to the conclusion that Ink absconded with the money, leaving him and Green to explain to their higher-ups in the mafia what happened. Wood gave the car keys to Lake, who retrieved Cloud's car. Cloud and Green left to go to the airport to fly home, when Ivory spotted the blood at the back of the car, pulled them over, and discovered Ink's body. The question then is why Fox gave Ink the 2 million pounds. Fox explains that the family had come upon hard times, and he'd needed to borrow some cash. Fox had met Ink at a financial party, after an introduction by the president of a gas company. Ink was a loan shark, and eventually, he wanted the loan paid back, at interest. To raise the money, Fox had sold one of the family's oil paintings at an auction 2 days before his charity party, and wasn't able to wire the money to Ink any earlier because he had to wait until the auction house paid him. Then Ink showed up at the party and collected the money then. Now, they've got Ink's body, but the suitcase is still missing.

When Fox and Rose finish their story, Kana notices that it's snowing outside. Det. Ivory didn't put snow tires on his car, so Rose talks her husband into letting the detective, Kana and Touma stay overnight. Kana loves the food they get for dinner, but otherwise the time is spent interviewing the staff and worrying about what they learn. Ink's autopsy report set the time of death around noon of the day his body was found in the car. And, everyone in the estate had alibis during that time frame. Wood had helped Rose check the thank you letters she was writing. Fox was at work. Lake was at the pub drinking beer. Milk and Plum were in the kitchen preparing dinner, and the refugees were all at the boat house. The only real option was that somehow Ink had snuck out of the mansion, hid in the parking lot, and got into the car before Lake brought it up to the front door. And that Cloud killed Ink after leaving the estate but before Ivory found them. Either Ink or Cloud stashed the money somewhere to pick it up later unnoticed. But, if Cloud killed Ink, why not do it at the mansion and leave the body there?

Questions: Who killed Ink? Why? Where's the money?

Science: None.

----- Spoilers -----

16 days after the murder, Touma is back in London to talk to Ivory. The detective has enough evidence to pin the case on Cloud, but he'd mentioned before that to him, a case is like a beautiful painting when all of the pieces fall into place. Touma asks if he's unsatisfied with his painting as it stands now, and Ivory decides to listen to the boy's solution. The only real possible suspect is Wood, the butler. He was everywhere, and he's the one that had access to Cloud's car before the body was found. He also had motive, wanting to protect his employer. However, Ivory has no way of connecting the butler to the mafia leader. In fact, the night of the charity party, Wood had suggested that Ink stay the night, which Ink then insisted on doing. The next morning, Wood left the letter on the food delivery at the back door for Milk to find, he stabbed Ink in the chest with a knife in the guest room, and wrapped the body in a bed sheet. He packed Ink in the back of his own car, covered him with sheets, and went into the house so Milk could show him the letter. Wood took the letter to Rose's room, but she was so busy with her letters she never noticed him change the hands on the grandfather clock near the door. When he showed the letter to her, Wood called her attention to the clock, creating the alibi for both of them. He helped her with the thank you notes, corrected the time on the clock, went to the kitchen, got the food, clothes and blankets from Milk and Plum, then drove to the boat house. After he was done there, he went back to the parking lot behind the mansion, and moved Ink's body into the trunk of a rental car that looked identical to the one Cloud was renting.

On returning to the mansion, Wood intercepted Cloud in the house, where he confiscated both Cloud's gun, and his car key. Wood parked Cloud's car, then gave Cloud the key to the second car to hold onto. After the search of the house turned up empty, Cloud gave the key for the second car to Lake. Lake didn't know which car Cloud had arrived in, and he used the key fob to unlock the wrong car by remote. Lake brought the car with Ink's body up to the front door, and then Cloud and Green drove off, unsuspecting. Wood's plan was for the body to be discovered by the rental car people, but Ivory got involved by accident. Touma's final bit of proof is just about to arrive. He and Ivory are sitting in a coffee shop across the street from the auction house that had sold Fox's painting for 2 million pounds. Who was the buyer? Well, the person walking through the entrance of the auction house to pay for his new painting is a butler named Wood Brown, carrying a suitcase holding 2 million pounds (the painting is to be returned to its place in the mansion). Ivory gets up to talk to Wood, however, the implication is that the crime is still going to be hung on Cloud. Ivory just wants to confirm what Touma had told him.

Summary: Inka was ok, but as always, the motive is weak. Beautiful Painting was a bit better, but I kept hoping that we weren't going to get another "the butler did it" thing, because that would have been way too obvious. The only thing that I couldn't guess on my own was Wood's use of a second rental car. The actual solution is a bit unsatisfying as it stands. There was blood, which should have clotted, flowing out from the trunk hatch, but no one at the mansion noticed this when Grass drove down the driveway. And, the auction house should have taken a percentage of the sell price for the painting. But, Motohiro makes it look like all the money Fox made in selling the painting was given to Ink, which was then taken by Wood to pay back to the auction house without the auction house taking their cut (unless Wood made up the difference from his own pocket, but that's never mentioned). Anyway, the artwork is good, as are the character designs. The names in the second story are dumb, but not unexpected. Recommended for anyone that likes the rest of the series.

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