Case Closed, Volume 4: Explosives on a Train by Gosho Aoyama, translated by Joe Yamazaki

The Verdict

Book Details

Originally published in 1995
English translation published in 2005
Volume 4
Preceded by One and the Same?
Followed by The Bandaged Be-header

The Blurb

Bloody murder is committed at a museum, reproducing a scene from a gruesome painting.

Later, the men in black are back! Will Conan be able to come any closer to getting his old body back? 

Also, Conan’s friends from grade school find a treasure map–but will it only lead them to a trove of trouble?

What? A medieval suit of armor was walking by itself?

My Thoughts

Today finds me returning to Case Closed, the manga series about a brilliant teen detective who has been transformed into the body of a grade schooler. It’s a fun, lighthearted series but given that it is best read in order let me send you back to the first review and I’ll see you in three books time!

Okay, where were we? While the previous volume featured just two cases, this one has three. The nice thing about this is that it does mean that there is a little more variety but that does come at the cost of depth. Each of these three cases feel a little simple compared to those in the previous volume.

The first involves the strange case of an ancient suit of armor that supposedly roams the halls of a museum. One day the gallery is being visited by its obnoxious new owner who steps into the Hell Gallery only to be run through by a sword.

The case is a solid murder mystery though it suffers a little from having just two characters who might be suspects, particularly when one becomes the focus of the investigation. I think though that rather than viewing this purely as a whodunnit, it is more interesting to view this as a howcatchem and ask what clues will lead Jimmy toward the truth.

While the case is short and relatively simple, it does offer some points of interest including a dying message and a pretty clever trick used to get to the truth. All in all, a very solid start to the volume.

In my previous Case Closed post I noted that I had one issue with the second and third volumes: that Jimmy seemed to have forgotten that his purpose in getting close to Rachel’s father and assisting him in his work as a private detective was to find out information about the gang who drugged and de-aged him. Happily the next story in this fourth volume sees Jimmy cross paths with two of its members, even if he gets sidetracked along the way.

He is traveling by train with Rachel and her father when he sees the two heavies climb on board carrying a dark briefcase. Following them to the dining car he learns that they have sold the case and its contents to a passenger but they have a secret. The buyer is unaware that their new locked briefcase contains a bomb that will detonate. Jimmy needs to find the buyer and dispose of the briefcase before that happens.

This is a fun setup and it feels like a nice change of pace from some of the previous cases. The time element certainly adds to the sense of tension but I also appreciate that this is another example of a story where Jimmy’s small size and apparent youth is a real barrier to his investigation. This is not just physical though there are moments where that comes into play – it’s also that Jimmy has to contend with Rachel trying to babysit him.

It’s a fun adventure and there is a subtle element of deduction involved. More than anything though I just feel it’s nice to acknowledge properly that Jimmy is supposed to be looking for the solution to his situation and while I understand that this obviously will be stretched out, it’s nice to see that addressed from time to time.

The final story sees the return of an idea from the second volume that I liked in theory, even though I felt that the case was not wholly satisfying. This is another case featuring the characters from Jimmy’s class in school who this time find themselves involved in something of a treasure hunt.

While the reader doesn’t have much opportunity to solve anything, the idea is a lot of fun and I do enjoy the dynamics of that group of children. It is always interesting to see Jimmy put in awkward situations and I do appreciate that the series is not forgetting to show the other half of his issue with de-aging – that he is intellectually far above those who are supposed to be his peers.

Overall then I felt this was another very solid installment in the series. I appreciate that each of the three stories feels quite distinct from the others though I did feel that the first two could each have benefited from a little more space to add complexity. In spite of that though this is a lot of fun and I look forward to seeing what other adventures Jimmy has in store for him…

Case Closed, Volume 3: One and the Same? by Gosho Aoyama, translated by Joe Yamazaki

Book Details

Originally published in 1994
English translation published in 2005
Volume 3
Preceded by The Woman of Mystery
Followed by Explosives On A Train

The Blurb

Jimmy, Rachel and Richard take a vacation aboard a cruise ship, but little do they know that the patriarch of the wealthy Hatamoto family is about to be murdered.

With the perpetrator still aboard ship can you figure out whodunit before Conan does!?

The Verdict

This volume offers two solid cases. While the solutions may not necessarily surprise, I really enjoyed the process of reaching them.

“No, this was murder and a very simple one at that.”

My Thoughts

Case Closed is a long-running manga series with the entertainingly far-fetched concept that a genius teenaged detective is transformed into the body of a young child. He continues to solve mysteries however, helping his almost-girlfriend’s private investigator father without his knowledge, all the while trying to keep Rachel from realizing her crush who is supposedly away solving a case is actually right there with her. If that sounds like a somewhat convoluted and fantastical premise, it absolutely is, but I enjoyed both the previous volumes and would suggest reading them in order (for my thoughts on Volume One, see here).

This third volume contains two complete cases. The first, which is the longer of the two, concerns the murder of the head of a wealthy family on board a yacht following the marriage of his granddaughter. The victim was found dead inside his locked cabin to which there was just one key.

This is technically a locked room and you may have noticed that I have tagged this book as such, though I would caution readers not to expect too much in that regard. The locked room problem is pretty simple with a fairly familiar solution and it is solved by Jimmy in just a couple of pages. It is however just the start of a case that ends up incorporating several other mysterious twists. The solution, while not startling, is competently handled though I was not entirely convinced by the killer’s motive. In spite of that however I found the story to be both entertaining and engaging.

Though the second case is shorter, I found it to be the stronger of the two stories. In his first outing we were told that Jimmy wants to be the new Sherlock Holmes and this case feels rather reminiscent of a Holmes short story in that it is an exploration of some odd circumstances rather than an overtly criminal act.

This story begins with Rachel’s father being approached by a man who wants to hire him to investigate who is the mysterious benefactor sending him large gifts of money and children’s toys each month. The client has felt uncomfortable for some time, particularly concerning the gifts of money, but what prompts him to seek advice is a letter that came with the most recent gift saying that the benefactor will visit soon to ‘complete the transaction’.

As with the previous case the solution was not particularly hard to guess but this is not a story that really is about springing a surprise on the reader. Instead the solution feels like a very logical explanation and we just need to wait for all the relevant information to be shared with us to be able to piece it all together. It is nonetheless a pretty powerful conclusion, in part because it hits some unexpected emotional notes that I think are earned. It’s a pretty great case and of the two cases, it is certainly the more original storyline.

Perhaps the most striking element of the second story is the way it begins to more seriously float the idea that Rachel might recognize Jimmy, even in his de-aged form. In the comments to my previous posts, TomCat (who is responsible for initially interesting me in these books) has suggested that her inability to recognize her crush is frustrating and I can see why. Her obliviousness in some of these stories can seem quite ridiculous.

Here at least she notices some of Conan’s frankly odd and decidedly Jimmy-like behavior. These observations feel natural and I appreciate the way these thoughts grow in her mind as she watches him work on the case. Given how fantastical and ridiculous the idea is, it is understandable that she holds back on asking some questions, and I think the way Conan resolves this does at least provide a solid reason to delay those questions again, if only for a short while. I will say though that I may not feel quite the same way in another seventy volumes time…

The other thing I appreciate about this third volume over its two predecessors is that it allows itself to call back to and reuse elements from previous stories, whether it is showing us memories of events in previous installments or using one of the professor’s devices without feeling the need to introduce it within that same story. It feels much more natural than the Bond-like introduction of a gadget that will solve exactly the issue our hero will be confronted with and I am hoping that this will be the norm in the subsequent volumes too.

In terms of the bigger mystery, there is really nothing that relates to that bigger mystery at all. It does feel a little odd that Jimmy, who is living with Rachel and her father specifically to research the villains responsible for his transformation has seeming done nothing with regards finding them. It’s not exactly a problem with the book – more just a little odd. I can understand why those details need to be rationed out slowly, particularly given the number of volumes I have ahead of me.

Overall, I felt that this volume more or less matched the quality of its two predecessors. Both cases entertain and while I have a preference for the second, I enjoyed both and felt they were each paced pretty well. As for this series, I already really enjoy them and given that apparently the stories get even stronger in a few volumes’ time, I am excited to see where it goes!

Case Closed, Volume 2: The Woman of Mystery by Gosho Aoyama, translated by Joe Yamazaki

Book Details

Originally published in 1994
English translation published in 2004
Volume 2
Preceded by The Sherlock Holmes of Modern Times
Followed by One and the Same?

The Blurb

Conan must contend with the murder of a man who burns to death while the prime suspect has the perfect alibi; he helps a seemingly sweet and innocent girl look for her missing father; and he still has time to explore a haunted house with some of his new friends from elementary school!

All the clues are there–can you piece them together and solve these baffling cases before Conan does?

The Verdict

This second volume of Detective Conan stories is as entertaining as the first, though the cases feel a little simpler.

“Hah! Nobody will believe you… What’s the word of a child?”

My Thoughts

A few weeks ago I reviewed the first installment of the long-running Manga series Case Closed. I had not planned on posting about the second volume so soon but I found myself with less time to read than I would like this past week and rather than rushing some posts out I decided I would go ahead and release one of these a little earlier than planned (sorry, no impossibilities this Monday – I hope to make it up later this week!).

The premise of the series is that teenaged Jimmy Kudo, a brilliant amateur detective who has styled himself on Sherlock Holmes, stumbled onto the activities of a group of mysterious villains who force-fed him a drug that they thought would kill him. Instead it de-aged him by ten years meaning he now has the body of an elementary school student. Until he can identify the villains and find the formula they used on him, he cannot tell anyone his secret. Instead he has adopted the identify of Conan Edogawa and is staying with a private detective, secretly assisting him with his cases whenever possible.

Case Closed volume two contains three standalone cases, though I would agree with TomCat (who inspired me to try the stories) that the series ought to be read in order to follow the overarching story of Jimmy’s transformation. While there are not many developments in these three stories, there is one moment that seems to play into that plot line. With that in mind, let’s start talking about the specific action in this volume.

The first case file begins with Conan being introduced to his new classmates. While this is not directly related to the action in this particular case, it reminds us of the overall premise and reintroduces us to the problem that he always has to overcome – how to exert his influence as a detective when he looks like, and has the body strength of, a young child. Perhaps more importantly it introduces us to some supporting characters who will feature in this volume’s final case, establishing their relationships a while before we get to that action.

The case proper begins with Rachel’s father, Richard Moore, being hired to follow a man around for several days. Shortly after he finishes his assignment however the man’s body is discovered in a fire tower during a village’s fire festival. While this story is not exactly inverted, I think it is safe to suggest that there is an obvious suspect with a strong motive and that this is an example of an unbreakable alibi problem.

I do not think that this is a particularly challenging case to solve – you can imagine many of the developments that will occur by working through the scenario logically – but it is entertaining nonetheless and moves quickly enough that its relative simplicity isn’t a problem.

It also does a couple of things that I really like. For one, there is a visual representation of the unbreakable alibi timeline that works very well, condensing what in a novel would be several paragraphs or bullet points into a single small graphic. For another, I really enjoy the problems Conan encounters trying to steer this investigation and his interactions with the killer, even if I am less enamored of the way this case is resolved. All in all, this is not mind-blowing but a good, solid start to this second volume.

The second story is much meatier involving a high school girl visiting Richard to ask his help in finding her father who moved to Tokyo to find work but then disappeared. Conan thinks to himself that disappearances aren’t much in his line but before long he will find himself also investigating a murder.

This story initially struck me as quite predictable but it picked up for me as it progressed. It is not so much that the facts of the case become more complex but rather the situation surrounding it becomes increasingly intriguing. I also really like that this case sees Rachel take a more prominent role, becoming emotionally involved in the case and showing her toughness in a memorable sequence in which she chases a suspect down. While I have liked the character since she was first introduced, it is nice to see her in a role other than simply being oblivious to Conan being a de-aged Jimmy.

The final story is a bit of a change of pace as Conan is begged by several of his grade school classmates to join them as they investigate a house that is supposedly haunted. Several years earlier a man had been murdered there though the police were unable to discover the killer’s identity. Soon after they arrive however the group begin to disappear one-by-one…

I am in two minds about how I feel on this one. On the one hand it is nice to see the book properly lean into the premise of him having become a young child, involving him in a case that would certainly interest someone of that age. I enjoyed the mix of personalities among his classmates and it is interesting to see him interact with characters who are supposed to be his peers but that he feels quite separate from. That presents him in a slightly different light which I feel is welcome. I also quite like the idea of him effectively taking of a cold case, albeit quite unwittingly.

On the other, I don’t feel that the case is particularly satisfying. While I can understand the motives being explored here, I think the characters and the explanation feel rather flat and they are not properly introduced prior to the case being explained reducing the impact of that moment a little. Still, I appreciate this for trying to do something a little different and I really like the ending of the piece which sets up a fun idea that I hope would be picked up soon.

Overall I found this to be another quick and entertaining read. The cases here are perhaps a little less striking than those found in the first, but the stories all move pretty quickly and I enjoyed seeing how Jimmy would find ways to assert himself in his much younger Conan persona. I certainly plan on continuing to read this series though ideally these posts will be a little more spaced out in the future!

Case Closed, Volume 1: The Sherlock Holmes of Modern Times by Gosho Aoyama, translated by Joe Yamazaki

Book Details

Originally released in 1994
English translation released in 2004
Volume 1
Followed by The Woman of Mystery

The Blurb

Ghastly beheadings, bloody murders, and coldhearted child abductions–

Precocious high school student Jimmy Kudo uses his keen powers of observation and astute intuition to solve mysteries that have left law enforcement officials baffled. Hot on the trail of a suspect, Jimmy is accosted from behind and fed a strange chemical which physically transforms him into a grade schooler! Taking on the pseudonym Conan Edogawa, he attempts to track down the people who did this to him. But until he finds a cure for his bizarre condition, Jimmy continues to help the police solve their toughest cases.

Can you crack the case before Conan does?

The Verdict

An entertaining introduction to the series and its young protagonist. This volume is really about setting up the key elements and so the first two cases can feel a little slight but they were great fun nonetheless.

“I don’t want to write about detectives… I want to be one!!”

My Thoughts

The detective manga Case Closed has been on my radar for some time thanks to Tomcat’s enticing reviews of the later volumes in the series. Rather than jump in at the end I thought it best to start at the very beginning with this first volume which Wikipedia tells me is titled The Sherlock Holmes of Modern Times.

The protagonist is Jimmy Kudo, a rich and unsupervised teenaged detective story fan. He has grown up studying his parents’ library of vintage detective novels and fancies himself to be a new Sherlock Holmes, honing his deductive and physical abilities in the hopes of emulating his fictional hero’s feats. Though he is only a junior in high school, Jimmy is already putting his skills to the test and building a reputation for himself by assisting the police in their investigations. For instance, when we first meet him he is on the way to announcing the identity of an unlikely murderer in front of a group of suspects.

There is a further short case (which I will get to in a moment) that follows this introduction before an event happens that changes Jimmy in some quite profound ways. After he solves that case he grows suspicious of a pair of men and follows them, only to get caught. Rather than shoot Jimmy, the men decide to poison him by feeding him an experimental drug and leave him for dead. The drug does not work as expected however and rather than kill Jimmy, instead it deages him by about ten years.

Turning to a family friend, an inventor, for help, Jimmy is told he needs to find the original formula to try and reverse its effects on him. To do this it is suggested that he adopt a false identity so the would-be killers do not know he survived and live with his friend Rachel and her private detective father. The idea is that Jimmy will be able to use the father to help him research the villains who had attacked him. Unfortunately Rachel’s father turns out to be a rather inept detective however Jimmy, who rebrands himself as Conan Edogawa after two favorite detective novelists, finds ways to help him solve his cases.

There are three complete cases contained within this volume though they are not all given equal space. The first is easily the simplest, taking place in just one chapter (which are termed files), and it is really used to provide an origin story for the character. It is quite a colorful case however in spite of its short page count.

Jimmy has taken his friend Rachel to the theme park where they go on a roller coaster ride. Everyone is securely strapped into the cars in pairs. During the ride one of the passengers is suddenly decapitated though it does not appear that the ride itself is at fault. Given the distance between the cars and the use of mechanical restraints it seems that the only possible killer would be the victim’s girlfriend who was sat next to him. Of course appearances can be deceptive…

Because the conditions seem to preclude anyone but the girlfriend from being the killer, I think this can be considered an impossible crime. Certainly I think the question of how the crime was achieved receives the bulk of the focus and while I have some doubts whether the killer could actually pull off their rather daring crime without being seen and suspect most will instinctively guess at at least one element of it, I still think it is a pretty creative murder method. It certainly gets things off to an entertaining and rather macabre start!

The second case involves the kidnapping of a rich businessman’s ten year old daughter by a mysterious figure in black. This case initially seems relatively straightforward with it quickly seeming clear what has happened, only for an end of chapter revelation to spin things off in a somewhat different direction.

The main purpose of this case is to establish the challenges that Jimmy in his Detective Conan guise will face in trying to get adults to listen to him. That makes sense as a choice in developing the series though I think it is unfortunate that it results in a case that it driven more by action than points of deduction. I think it does a good job of establishing the basic structure where Rachel’s father is hired to look into a case and Conan finds a way to tag along and influence the investigation, subtly inserting his own theories, and so it is important to the overall development of the series.

The final case is far cleverer and, offers the reader a locked room murder. A beautiful and popular idol consults Rachel’s father to ask him to investigate a series of home intrusions, strange messages and silent phone calls made to her. He accompanies her to her apartment which she left locked but when they open it they find an unknown man lying dead with a knife in his back.

It seems logical that the idol would not have hired a detective to draw attention to the death if she had committed the murder herself but she was the only person who should have had access to her apartment. Of the three cases, this one was easily my favorite. This case is less twisty than the previous one but I think that the solution is much better clued and rather imaginative.

Having discussed the cases briefly, I think I should end by reflecting a little on our young sleuth.

Jimmy is certainly a rather arrogant kid but I could relate to his detective novel fanboying. There is something rather appealing about the idea that simply reading lots of mystery novels could be the basis for a great career as a detective. The change he undergoes is largely physical but it does mean he must adapt his methods too. For one thing, he is incapable of performing some actions physically while perhaps most significantly, he must figure out ways to be able to influence cases when no one will take him seriously. This leads to many of the book’s most comedic and madcap moments.

One complication that Jimmy has to work with is that he must pretend to not be himself around Rachel, apparently to protect her as if the criminals who transformed him learn his identity then she might be in danger. This is perhaps not the most convincing reasoning but at the same time it does avoid the potentially rather uncomfortable problem of the person she is in love with being in the body of an elementary schooler. While the setup is a little weird, I do like the character and I think she has a few nice character moments late in the volume.

Overall then I enjoyed my first encounter with Detective Conan. I enjoyed the silly premise of the series, loved the references to classic crime writers and appreciated the blend of cases. While none of the solutions are likely to blow the reader’s mind, I like the creativity involved. These stories were great fun to read while I look forward to learning the truth behind the greater mysteries concerning the men who attacked Jimmy.

The Detection Club by Jean Harambat

Book Details

Originally published in 2020 in two volumes.
This review covers the works as a totality.

The Blurb

In 1930s England, the best mystery writers of the era come together to form the Detection Club. G. K. Chesterton, Agatha Christie, John Dickson Carr and others gather to eat, drink, and challenge one another. They are in for a bigger test, however, when eccentric billionaire Roderick Ghyll invites them all to his mansion on a private island off the coast of Cornwall, promising to enchant them with his latest creation: a robot that can predict the culprit in their novels. But when someone ends up murdered, who will lead the investigation? 

The Verdict

A simple but colorful mystery comic with a memorable setup and entertaining characters.


My Thoughts

Most of the time I find browsing my Amazon Kindle recommendations to be an exercise in futility. Having read several Gladys Mitchell books and a handful of Perry Masons, my recommendations are always pages of the same two or three authors.

Except this week. Suddenly The Detection Club Volume 2 turned up – the question of why not Volume 1 is a bit of a mystery in itself – and after a quick look at the sample pages I decided to give it a go.

As its title indicates, this tells a story involving members of the Detection Club, the famous society of mystery authors that included many of the leading figures of the Golden Age. The story takes place shortly after John Dickson Carr has been admitted to the group.

During a dinner a letter arrives inviting the members of the Detection Club to visit an island off the coast of Cornwall. The invitation comes from Roderick Ghyll, a billionaire who wants them to come and see Eric, a robot designed to predict the culprit in detective novels.

After giving the group a dinner, everyone heads to bed. During the night there are sounds of a struggle and cries for help from within Ghyll’s room. The door is locked but when it is broken down they find the window smashed and signs of a dressing gown submerged in the waters at the foot of the cliff. Realizing that they have a real mystery in front of them, the writers try to work out exactly what happened to Ghyll in their own distinctive fashions.

Perhaps the first thing I need to make clear is that Harambat is rather selective in the members he chooses to include. Unfortunately that means there is no Rhode, Berkeley or Crofts. Instead we are given Carr, Christie, Knox, Mason, Orczy, Sayers and, of course, G. K. Chesterton.

From left to right: Chesterton, Christie, Mason, Knox, Orczy and Sayers

The decision to trim the numbers does make sense – a bigger group would have been unwieldy – though it would have been nice to take a moment to reflect its broader membership. Of those used, several are obvious selections and while Orczy and Mason will be less familiar names to some readers, they do represent different personality types ensuring that each member of the party feels quite distinct from everyone else.

Smartly Harambat chooses to give some additional focus to Christie and Chesterton, establishing them as a sort of double-act. The pair trade witticisms and tease each other, providing much of the book’s sense of warmth.

Of the other characters, Knox and Carr fare pretty well. While they are primarily treated comedically, they both show off their styles and sensibilities well and each has some entertaining comedic moments that plays off their respective styles and reputations. The remaining members are treated mostly as comic relief and they often seem least engaged with the broader plot.

This brings me to one of the principle problems that the two volumes face and struggle to resolve. Who is the intended audience for this – Golden Age mystery fans or comics readers with a casual interest in mystery fiction? The book tries to be accessible to those with no knowledge of the genre but the humor is so based in a knowledge of these personalities that I do not think it works without that.

On the other hand, I think more seasoned fans of the genre may well wish that the various characters demonstrated their own approaches and their personalities in further detail. Sayers fares particularly poorly, being reduced to a running gag where she fires a handgun into the air and the other members dismiss her work.

I also enjoyed some of the extra elements that get thrown into the mix. At one point I found myself researching Eric the Robot and was delighted to find that it was a real thing and that the look here is pretty much spot-on. The styling of the piece seemed successful and established Ghyll’s character and personality well.

The mystery itself is, happily, pretty well crafted although my enjoyment suffered a little from my thinking up a solution that I believe would have been more satisfying than the one given. The solution basically works though and while the case is not particularly complex, it fits the length of these two books pretty well.

This brings me to my other complaint – the decision to split this into two volumes. The reason for doing this obviously makes business sense, pitching this at a lower price point to grab shoppers’ attention but the delivery is unsatisfying. The second volume feels incredibly short in comparison to the first and some aspects of the solution feel rushed or insufficiently clued.

Still, while it may not have been everything I hoped for from a Detection Club comic, I did find it to be lively, colorful and enjoyable. The books are fast, entertaining reads and I was left with a deep interest to go off and find out more about Mason’s Inspector Hanaud – a character I haven’t read before. If nothing else, I chalk that up as a success.