Originally published in 1995
English translation first published in 2005
Preceded by The Last Loan
Followed by Who is the Night Baron?
On a remote island, a job request comes in from a pianist who’s been dead for over 10 years. Can Conan solve the case of the cursed piano?
And later, a mysterious woman shows up claiming to be Jimmy’s girlfriend. The only problem is, Conan’s never seen her before in his life!
Today’s post is brought to you by my need to get a bit of an early night tonight. Rather than rush jotting down thoughts on one of the novels I have read, I thought it would be a good opportunity to reflect on the next volume in the manga detective series Case Closed.
As you may recall, the previous volume ended with an incomplete story and this volume begins with the conclusion to that adventure. As a quick recap of the premise, a famous writer was found murdered in his hotel room during a fire festival. The obvious suspect is a fellow writer who had been lodging with him but he has a seemingly unbreakable alibi – there is photographic evidence that he had been attending the festivities that night with our heroes actually appearing in one of the snaps themselves.
I noted last time out that the previous volume had ended with the reader having everything they needed to work out the solution to the case and I stand by that assertion. It’s done pretty well, and I certainly enjoyed its ideas and following it to its conclusion, but I think it suffers from delivering exactly what I had expected. There is no new evidence here, nor any surprising twists or moments of action and I think I would likely have felt a little underwhelmed had I waited any length of time between finishing the previous volume and starting this one.
The bulk of the book is given over to the next story which is the only complete one in the volume – The Case of the Moonlight Sonata. This begins with Richard Moore receiving a letter which prompts him to travel to Tsukikage Island.
When he arrives he learns that the sender, a famous pianist, had died over a decade before after apparently going mad, killing his family and playing his piano while his house burned to the ground with him inside. When the same tune is heard and the island’s mayor is found dead it seems that history has been repeating itself and, of course, further murders follow.
There were some aspects of this story I enjoyed a lot. I think particularly of the history of the piano and the somewhat eerie suggestion that there might be a supernatural explanation for what is taking place. While I am never going to take that seriously in anything purporting to be a fair-play detective story, it does create a fantastic atmosphere and tone for the piece that I think makes its early chapters particularly engaging to read.
I also enjoyed the pacing of the case with a number of murders happening in very quick succession. This helps to emphasize how out of control the situation is and it did have me gripped to see what would happen next. Unfortunately I think that fast pacing is also responsible for some of what I don’t like about the story – I think a couple of elements of the solution just don’t work for me.
One of them is related to the musical piece that is associated with the killings. I had really loved this as an idea running through the adventure so I was a little disappointed with a revelation that occurs in one of the later volumes that I felt detracted from it.
Another is related to the killer’s identity. On the one hand I really liked the handling and discussion of the killer’s motivations which gave them a surprising amount of emotional depth and characterization. I also think that, while an aspect of the solution had the potential to have not aged well, the motive for it did make sense to me. The problem is that I’m not sure there’s anything approaching a clue to that in the version that I read. That may reflect changes made in the English language translation, which would not be the author’s fault, but it did keep the reveal from feeling entirely satisfactory.
The last is that I feel the way Richard and the others are brought into this story feels rather contrived and unconvincing. It’s not just that on getting said note his first instinct is to bring two children with him but that on reflection I cannot see a good reason why Richard would receive that note. That includes the attempt at a justification made by Conan on the case’s last page.
None of these three issues are serious enough for me to suggest that the story doesn’t work, but I do think that the final product never quite matches up to the promise I felt in its more atmospheric first half. Of all of the stories I have read so far however, I think this is the one I am most interested to watch the anime adaptation of as I can imagine that the musical elements would be very appealing.
This brings us to the final story in the volume which will be completed in the next installment. This sees a teenaged girl turn up at Richard’s home asking to talk to Jimmy. When she is asked about her reasons, she declares that she is his girlfriend. This is news to our hero who has never seen her before!
It’s a pretty entertaining way to open the story and I enjoyed Rachel’s bursts of jealousy as she becomes certain that Jimmy must be secretly seeing her. Perhaps more than anything though I appreciated that once again we were getting an acknowledgment that Jimmy’s absence is presenting problems and requires some extra explanation, and I think you’d be right to suggest that there is an element of filling space to this story thread, it does feel a little overdue to address the idea that Rachel is taking a lot on trust and clearly must be missing him.
There’s some other enjoyable comedic moments, such as a pretty ridiculous ‘invention’ from the Doc that comes in handy in this story and Conan’s foiled attempts to try to speak to Rachel amused too. As for the case – I enjoyed some of the early, admittedly rather simple deductions made from looking around the apartment. It’s not particularly complex but unlike the story that opened this volume, I felt that I still have more to learn in the next installment before I’ll be able to solve it which does make the way this is split feel a little less frustrating.
Also, you do get a nice little note about one of my favorite detectives – Columbo – to end the volume along with a recommendation of the episode Any Old Port in a Storm, so it at least ends on a bit of a high.
While I did enjoy this volume, I do have to stress that this is by far the most frustrating one I have encountered so far and the reason is the division of the stories into these volumes. While Moonlight Sonata feels like a substantial work, neither of the other cases feel weighty or puzzling enough to match it. If you’re reading these in order (as I have previously recommended and am doing) this is not much of a problem, but if you’re planning just to dip into occasional volumes, I think only getting one complete story could be a little frustrating. For that reason I’d suggest having the next volume readily to hand…
The Verdict: A bit of a mixed bag for me. I liked the complete story and thought it did some interesting things but the stories on either side feel a little slight by comparison.
Second Opinions: I linked to it above but check out Isaac Stump’s Solving the Mystery of Murder blog where they are writing about and ranking all of the Detective Conan Cases, tackling them in order. I’m not going to keep pace with these but I have enjoyed reading over the posts and comparing how we felt about each of the volumes I have read so far.
6 thoughts on “Case Closed, Volume 7: The Case of the Moonlight Sonata by Gosho Aoyama, translated by Joe Yamazaki”
Sorry if you enjoyed the Bento Box, because you will almost never see it again. 😛
Thanks for the shoutout to my blog! I’ve been really enjoying comparing notes with you. Since I know you like Columbo, look out for Volume 11, which is my favorite volume so far. It has one really lame “three suspects, check alibi” with the neat premise of involving triplets but a really lame “slip of the tongue” solution. The other two stories are fantastic, though, including a Soji Shimada-esque hyper-scale-technical impossible(-ish) crime and a fantastic inverted mystery. Volume 11’s inverted mystery has my favorite denouement in the entire series.
There are actually two anime adaptations of the Moonlight Sonata: it was originally adapted “as usual” in 1996, but the story is so iconic in Conan-history it was remade last year as episode 1000 of the anime to celebrate the occassion. Both are good: the newer version looks a lot prettier of course, but I generally prefer the darker look of traditional cel animation of the original adaptation over digital cel animation (Conan switched that somewhere around 2000?).
About the “Japanese” clue: (ROT13) Xnawv (punenpgref bs Puvarfr bevtva) pna or ernq va zhygvcyr jnlf, fb jura n anzr vf jevggra jvgu gur rknpg fnzr punenpgref, vg bsgra unf zhygvcyr cbffvoyr ernqvatf. Jura gur anzr “Frvwv” svefg qebcf va guvf fgbel, jr bayl yrnea gur cubravp ernqvat bs gur anzr, ohg gur zhfvp furrg qbrfa’g npghnyyl gryy lbh jvgu jung punenpgref gur anzr “Frvwv” vf jevggra. Nf rkcynvarq yngre, gur anzr “Anehzv” (hfhnyyl n jbzna’f anzr) vf jevggra jvgu gur fnzr punenpgref nf “Frvwv” (n zna’f anzr), fb n irel nggragvir ernqre va gur Wncnarfr irefvba pbhyq’ir gubhtug: “Jnvg n frpbaq, gung Anehzv qbpgbe, vs gurve anzr vf jevggra jvgu gubfr punenpgref, qbrfa’g gung zrna lbh pbhyq nyfb ernq vg nf Frvwv??”
In the Detective Conan Discord I’ve been going to great pains to demonstrate how a lot of these Japanese-centric clues and kanji riddles could VERY easily be localized into the English language. It’s actually frustrating, because I feel like I’ve conceived of passable solutions to this problem and few of the stories were actually that much of a localization obstacle.
Jbhyq vg or ernyyl or gung qvssvphyg gb hfr n havfrk anzr juvpu bsgra unf n qvssrerag fcryyvat hfrq sbe n obl be n tvey. Nf n obl ur jnf Pnzreba, ohg jura ur cergraqrq gb or n jbzna rirelbar jbhyq whfg npprcg “Pnzrela”? Gur jnl V’q qb vg vf… gur qnq ersref gb uvf fba nf “Qnaal”. “Qnaal” zhgngrf vagb “Qnav”, naq va uvf srznyr qbpgbe crefban ur tbrf nf “Qnavryyr Nfnv”. Sbe gur erfg bs gur fgbel, gur punenpgre whfg tbrf ol “Qe. Nfnv”, fb lbh’er abg orng bire gur urnq jvgu “Qnavryyr”. V srry yvxr guvf vf rdhnyyl grahbhf naq rdhnyyl ivnoyr sbe gur jnl gur anzr svgf vagb gur tenaq-fpurzr bs gur cybg, fvapr vg vfa’g ernyyl n “pyhr” naq zber whfg n qrgnvy gung svgf vagb cynpr qhevat gur qrabhrzrag.
Ah, I had forgotten the Viz version of the manga uses that strange mix of both (rot13) lybpnyvmrq naq Wncnarfr anzrf.
Yes! They do! Which makes it even more frustrating that they refuse to localize the names in the actual stories where it would be helpful and important to do so! I even proposed a solution to the Shogi Message in THAT one story… I actually got so frustrated I just started reading the series in Japanese instead partway through volume 13. 😛
Sorry, Ho-Ling, I meant to reply directly to this comment. 😛 See my comment below.