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Q.E.D., vol. 21, by Katou Motohiro. Grade: B-
(Checking the murder scene. Door: locked from the inside with the key on the desk. Windows: also locked from the inside. Yup, typical sealed room mystery.)
Tsugareta Himo (Joined Threads, Great Magazine, 2005). Kana oversleeps, so she's late getting to the school to go on a skiing field trip. She and Touma end up taking a regular bus out to Mount Fuji, but along the way Kana notices that a couple sitting in a nearby bench are looking really depressed. When the bus makes a stop at a remote section of the road, the couple gets out and Kana becomes convinced that they're going to commit suicide. She grabs Touma and they run from the bus with their gear. Soon, they lose sight of the couple, Kana accidentally covers up their own tracks by knocking snow from the overhead tree branches, and a storm whips up. Lost, they stumble on an old mansion in the middle of the woods, where they spy the couple coming down the stairs after having changed out of their snowsuits. Turns out that the owner of the place, Akinobu Higashiizumi, is the 5th generation president of the mammoth Higashiizumi trading group, and he's roundly hated by everyone. The despondent couple is Akinobu's son, Kouji, and his girlfriend, Satomi. Satomi has a child from a previous marriage and Akinobu refuses to let Kouji marry her because if something happens to him, the empire would go to the step-son, who'd be unrelated to the family by blood. Also in the mansion are the caretaker, who is going to be out of a job when the mansion is sold off next year, a banker that needs money from the trading group but keeps getting refused, and Yota Miyabe, an office worker at the company.
(What triggers the killer - Akibono delights in seeing his poverty-stricken widowed sister-in-law humbling herself before him.)
During the storm, both Akinobu and the caretaker are found hanged. When the police finally arrive a couple days later, it's assumed that the caretaker hanged his boss out of rage, then committed suicide from remorse. So, why was the president of the trading company hung from the rafters using two sets of ropes? Why would the caretaker have been worried about getting caught for the crime? Why is there only one set of footprints left in the frozen slush leading to the caretaker's hut? And why, when all of the other president's portraits are hanging on the wall, is the one for the 4th generation man missing? Hint - the 4th generation president died early, leaving behind a widow and young son. There were school books in the storage room, but no toys. Why?
No science this time. Interestingly, though, this is one of the few stories where Touma slips up, and doesn't realize the answer until after the case is closed.
(A flower pot barely misses Yukiyo.)
Nerawareta Bijin Joyuu, Suto-ka no Kyoufu Dangai no Zetsubeki ni kodamasuru Juusei Touma to Kana wa zutto miteita (The Beautiful Actress being Watched, the Fear of the Stalker, the Gunshot Reverberating from the Cliff Face, What Touma and Kana Saw, Great Magazine, 2005). Ok, based on the title alone, you can tell this is going to be a stupid story. Yukiyo Nagisa is a washed up TV actress. So, she and her manager, Hideo Ogata, concoct a story to get her back into the spotlight - someone is stalking her. Hideo has a friend on the police force, Sugimichi Kasayama, that is a huge fan of Nasiga's old cop shows. Sugimichi is assigned to find her "stalker", and starts out immediately by holding a big press conference. Things rapidly go downhill as Sugimichi bungles the case and eventually gets himself placed under house arrest. Then it starts to look like someone really is after Yukiyo, but the rest of the police no longer take her seriously.
(The big climatic cliff finale. The bumbling detective needs to refer to Touma's notes in the middle of reciting the evidence against the real stalker. And, if a knife isn't enough to scare someone, switch weapons.)
By accident, Touma and Kana get roped into helping Sugimichi by doing all his footwork for him, and they feel sorry enough for him that they arrange for a big confrontation ala every bad Japanese TV drama ever made, on a cliff overlooking the sea. Unfortunately for Kasayama, the real stalker really does want Yukiyo dead, and he shoots the cop in the leg to prod them into jumping off the cliff by themselves. Through sheer dumb luck, Sugimichi manages to defeat the stalker, and the story ends with him and Nagisa getting married in the hospital, and Nagisa's career taking off again.
No science. Just a brief comparison of "real cops" with "TV cops".
Comments: The cases in the Q.E.D. series generally fall into a few fixed categories: Touma and Kana happen upon a crime where they're stuck with the killer and suspects until the police can arrive; the story involves classmates in school; the story involves cops in the Tokyo PD. Most of the stories are contrived, but usually they're still pretty interesting. This time, both chapters are kind of weak. Recommended only if you like bad Japanese drama.