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.