6/21/17

Dinner of the Dead

"Because... we're in a detective story, and we don't fool the reader by pretending we're not."
- Dr. Gideon Fell (John Dickson Carr's The Hollow Man, 1935)
Paul Halter's La mort vous invite (Death Invites You, 1988) is his twelfth detective novel to be translated into English by John Pugmire, a modern-day merchant of miracles, which marked the second appearance of Halter's primary series-characters, Dr. Alan Twist and Inspector Archibald Hurst – who made their first bow in the preceding book, La quatriéme porte (The Fourth Door, 1987). Well, Hurst was only mentioned in passing by Dr. Twist, but that is a mere trifle of a detail.

Pugmire published the English edition of Death Invites You early last year and it has earned the dubious honor of being liked by Halter's most persistent detractors. For example, Brad of the Ah, Sweet Mystery blog exclaimed, "EURAKA! Found a Halter I Like," which is a read he described as "a very enjoyable ride." 

So when even one of his most persistent critics managed to turn out a positive review, I decided to give a pass to the widely-panned L'arbre aux doigts tordus (The Vampire Tree, 1996) and move this particular item to the upper regions of the big pile. But does my take on the book concur with popular opinion? Let's find out!

The opening chapter of Death Invites You finds Dr. Twist and Hurst drinking a beer in a London pub, while the latter complains that "criminals aren't what they used to be" and laments the passing of "the age of the master criminal." Dr. Twist is not as pessimistic as his policeman friend, because "a particularly tricky case usually turns up" when the inspector talks like that and, as if on cue, they spot a police officer at the bar, Sergeant Simon Cunningham – a promising young man who played a vital role in capturing the "Lonely Hearts Killer." 

Cunningham is engaged to Valerie Vickers and she is the daughter of a famous mystery writer, Harold Vickers, who's the leading practitioner of the locked room mystery! Vickers is an eccentric man, stoic and prone to mood swings, and often locked himself in his study for days on end when working on a book. So Cunningham was more annoyed than surprised when he received an invitation from his future father-in-law to a very important dinner, which had to be kept secret even from Valerie. A dinner that forced him to cancel a date with a very disappointed Valerie.

A second invitation was dispatched to a newspaper reporter, Fred Springer, who's also "a renowned critic of crime fiction," but when they arrive at the home of Vickers they learn from Mrs. Vickers that her husband has one of his customary spells inside his locked office – where he has not emerged from for the better part of two days. The repeated knocks on the door are not answered and there's "an undeniable odour of chicken" emanating from the locked office. So they decide to charge the door, but when it gave way they tumbled into an otherworldly scene.

The body of Harold Vickers, seated on one of three chairs, is slumped over a table sumptuously prepared for three people. Silver plates are filled with salmon, vegetables, roasted chickens, cheese, grapes, bottles of Burgundy and stuffed pheasants flanked by silver candelabras – beautifully illuminating the macabre scene with their flickering flames. A bullet hole was visible in the right temple, but the rest of Vickers' head was submerged in a large frying pan of boiling oil, which disfigured both his face and hands.

The scene alone would pose a mind-bending challenge to Dr. Twist and Hurst, but there are other complicating factors. One of them is the inexplicable presence of a half-filled goblet of water standing beneath the window or how the crime-scene resembles the premise of both the victim's next book as well as an unsolved murder case from 1907.

Or what to think about the suspects: Vickers has a brother-in-law, Roger Sharpe, who's a stage magician and acted as a technical adviser on his locked room stories. He probably knows how to pull off such an elaborate and deadly illusion. There's a second daughter, Henriette, who can best be described as soft in the head and disliked her own father as much as she loved her late grandfather – whose lingering memory haunts the investigation. Vickers also has a twin brother, living in Australia (where else?), who went missing en route to England, which naturally adds yet another possibility to the complicated investigation. Finally, there's "a strange next door neighbor," Dr. Colin Hubbard.

And there you have it! All the ingredients necessary to write a first-rate detective story: a mouthwatering premise, a banquet of clues and a dinner table full of suspects, but what we got instead strongly resembled the plot of a relative well-known short story.

Robert Arthur's "The 51st Sealed Room," collected in Tantalizing Locked Room Mysteries (1982), tells of the gruesome killing of a mystery novelist, specialized in locked room stories, whose headless body is found inside a sealed cabin, propped up in front of his typewriter, with his severed head placed on the topshelf of a bookcase – as if it overlooked the bizarre scene of his own murder. Unfortunately, all of the clues and the setting of the scene were revealed to be nothing more than red herrings planted in order to muddle the waters. The murderer staged an elaborate and bizarre crime-scene purely to mystify the investigators. Only the solution to the locked room proved to be relevant to the plot. Same is kind of true for Death Invites You.

The sumptuously prepared meal, the water-filled goblet and the burned features only served to mystify without rhyme or reason. You can't help but feel disappointed about that. Since you expect a John Dickson Carr fanboy, like Halter, to come up with at least a halfhearted attempt to provide a logical answer to all of these so-called clues. On top of that, the murderer was not particularly well-hidden, either, but (to be honest) neither was my identification of this character picture-perfect, because I assumed the obvious murderer was an obvious red herring and the obvious red herring the obvious murderer. 

In my defense, there was something in the narrative, early on, that put me on the wrong track and may not have been entirely fair. Anyhow, I switched to the correct murderer when the motive became clear to me, which was nicely worked into the overall plot. As a matter of the fact, the motive may very well be the best worked out aspect of the story.

Gratefully, the locked room situation was also not entirely without interest and the technical nature of the trick, alongside with the motive, placed the book closer to the works of S.S. van Dine than to Carr's – especially his locked room novels (e.g. The Kennel Murder Case, 1932). I know the mere mention of Van Dine will probably make some of you curl your upper lip in disgust, but The Kennel Murder Case is, in my experience, the best and most readable title in the Philo Vance series. So it should not be taken as a slight towards Halter.

Well, I feel very divided about Death Invites You. On the one hand, I feel disappointed, even cheated, by the sumptuous banquet of red herrings that only served to (unfairly) obfuscate a relatively simple and straightforward plot. You can argue it served as plot dressing, but when you present such a crime-scene in a classical-styled locked room mystery, I expect at least an attempt at a logical answer. On the other hand, the story moved along nicely and the murderer, in combination with the motive, fitted together logically with murders. And the locked room trick was not bad either.

The end result is a middling effort that is miles ahead of Le roi du desordre (The Lord of Misrule, 1994) and ranks roughly alongside Le cercle invisible (The Invisible Circle, 1996), but is left in the dust by Halter's best impossible crime novels – such as La septiéme hypothèse (The Seventh Hypothesis, 1991), Le diable de Dartmoor (The Demon of Dartmoor, 1993) and La ruelle fantôme (The Phantom Passage, 2005).

Personally, I would not recommend the book, like "JJ" did, to people who are new to Halter, but readers who are already familiar with his flaws will probably be able to appreciate the story and forgive some of its short comings. After all, the book is a fun, quick read with the biggest flaw being that it did not delivered on all its promises. Since some of the criticism leveled at Halter is that he tries to deliver on the promises of a fantastic premise (e.g. Le brouillard rouge, 1988; The Crimson Fog), I can understand why readers like Brad liked Death Invites You

Well, I rambled on long enough in this slightly muddled blog-post and hope everyone can put up with a few more locked room reviews, but after the next three or four posts I will mix things up again.

6/18/17

Murder on Paradise Island

"Whenever bizarre phenomena occur that seem to defy human understanding, there are very few who can actually fish out the evil plots lurking behind them. And the longer one waits, the truth grows exponentially distant." 
- Lai Shang-rong (Ashibe Taku's Murder in the Red Chamber, 2004)
Recently, two of my fellow bloggers, Kate and "JJ," wrote tepid reviews of Robert van Gulik's The Chinese Maze Murders (1956) and The Willow Pattern (1965), which tempted me back to my beloved Judge Dee series to provide a counterweight to their blog-posts, but the last remaining title on my TBR-pile is Murder in Canton (1966) – generally considered to be one of the poorer entries in the series. So I decided to backtrack over previously traversed ground and return to one of my favorite titles from the series.

The Red Pavilion (1961) begins with Judge Dee, accompanied by Ma Joong, breaking their homeward journey from the capital at the Sin City of 7th century China, Paradise Island. A town with gambling halls, wine shops and brothels on every street corner.

Personally, Judge Dee does not approve of what goes on Paradise Island, but realizes such resorts are "a necessary evil" and a good warden, like Feng Dai, ensures that it is "a controlled evil." So, much to Ma Joong's delight, they decide to overnight at the pleasure resort. There are, however, a rapidly mounting pile of problems and unforeseen circumstances forcing them to extend their stay at Paradise Island – which begins with the difficulty of finding a place to spend the night.

Upon their arrival, Paradise Island is in the middle of celebrating the Festival of the Dead, when the souls of the departed mingle with the living, but the consequence of these festivities is that lodgings are scarce. The Hostel of Eternal Bliss does have one unoccupied room, called the Red Pavilion, which has been the scene for a string of violent and inexplicable deaths. Someone took his own life in there only a couple of days ago!

Nevertheless, Judge Dee waves away the objections uttered by the inn keeper and takes possession of the accursed room. A decision that would come back to haunt the magistrate, but he would make another one before the end of the day.

The second lapse of judgment came during a brief encounter with a colleague, Magistrate Lo, whose presence on the island pertained to the tragic suicide of a promising Academician, Lee Lien – recently appointed a member of the Imperial Academy. On his way home, Lee tarried at the island and became infatuated with a woman, but when she turned him down he "cut his jugular vein with his own dagger" behind the locked door of the Red Pavilion. An elaborate key of "intricate pattern" was on the inside of the door and the only window barred with iron bars no more than a span apart. So it had to be suicide, assured Lo, as he asked Dee to stay a day, or two, in order to wind up the affair for him. And then hightails it out of there.

Magistrate Lo had a good reason to leave the pleasure resort in a hurry: a famous courtesan and Queen of Flower of Paradise Island, named Autumn Moon, tried to sink her claws into the magistrate. Judge Dee had already met her, before taking over the investigation, but had given her the cold shoulder and angrily she mentioned that, only three days ago, a scholar killed himself because of her – which is the death Lo had been investigating. But the room would soon claim another victim.

When he returns from dinner, Judge Dee finds that the bedroom door of the Red Pavilion is locked on the inside and a glance through the barred window reveals the form of a naked woman on the floor. The door is battered down and the body is shown that to be of Autumn Moon. She appears to have suffered a heart attack, but the doctor also discovers bruises around her throat. This suggests someone had been throttling her, however, there were "no marks of fingernails." So how was she attacked and how did the murderer entered, and left, the room when the key was on the inside of the door?

Meanwhile, Ma Joong strikes up an acquaintance with a pair of delightful characters, Crab and Shrimp, who work for the warden of Paradise Island and they refuse to believe the Academician was the type of commit suicide, but, more importantly, they tell about another fishy suicide that took place in the same room over thirty years ago – when the father of the local wine merchant reputedly took his own life in the locked and barred bedroom of the Red Pavilion.

So that's three inexplicable deaths, separated by three decades and three days each, which all had the same locked room as the scene of the tragedies, but Van Gulik provided the story with a different explanation for each case. A very ambitious attempt that has to be appreciated, but two of three impossibilities were a trifle weaker than I remembered.

The past murder is only nominally a locked room and the then magistrate of the district only passed it off as a suicide because a deadly smallpox epidemic was ravaging the region at the time, which will come to play an important part in the two deaths several decades later. So the lack of a proper locked room trick can be forgiven as this supposed suicide and epidemic has far-reaching consequences. On the other hand, the locked room problem surrounding the Academician turned out to be a routine affair (Lo was sort of right there) with one of the oldest and unimaginative tricks in the book.

However, the explanation for the death of Autumn Moon is one of those one-of-a-kind locked room trick tailored to the specific events and setting of the story (e.g. Alan Green's What a Body, 1949).

A trick splendidly using such clues as the victim's poor health, the strange bruises, past epidemics, the supposed suicide from three days previously and the room itself to create an impossible crime that, in itself, function as a clue to the overall solution. But where that overall solution really excels is when all of the plot-strands, including the three locked rooms, are twisted together with the theme of the book showing the consequences when the evil of past events are left unresolved – which revealed the excellent mystery I remembered reading all those years ago.

A second consequence, story-wise, is that the nature of the case does not allow Judge Dee to act as an examining magistrate or detective, but as a correcting factor who lays the restless spirits of the sin-filled pleasure island to rest by covering everything up. Nobody is arrested, sentenced and escorted to the execution grounds. And he has a good reason to sweep everything under the carpet. So the past and its ghosts are finally laid to rest at the end of the Festival of the Dead, which was a nice, stylistic touch to the story.

Overall, The Red Pavilion definitely stood up to re-reading with a solid, well-crafted plot that, when everything came together, strengthened the individual parts that looked a trifle weak on their own – which is the hallmark of a good plotter. 

I previously rambled about The Chinese Maze Murders (1956) and Judge Dee at Work (1967).

6/17/17

Unseen Thorns

"The point is that there are a million ways for you to die that you can't possibly guard against."
- Lincoln Forrestor (William Gray Beyer's Death of a Puppeteer, 1946)
The Rosenkreuz Mansion Murders is a five-part (episode) story-arc in the Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo R (The File of Young Kindaichi R) series and arguably has the best all-around story-telling and plot of all the episodes previous reviewed on this blog, which largely rests on a pair of clever locked room murders and the role played by Kindaichi's nemesis – who acts here alongside the high-school detective. And for a very good reason!

Yoichi Takato is talented magician and criminal, known as "The Puppeteer from Hell," who designs perfect crimes for people with a deep-seated grudge and controls the executioners of his schemes like stringed puppets, which he showcased in The Prison Prep School Murder Case. However, this time he has to dance to the tune of another plotter with a talent for murder.

A mysterious person going by the moniker of "Rosenkreuz" is sending out invites to celebrate the completion of the Blue Rose at the Rosenkreuz Mansion, but the letter delivered to the Puppeteer also contained a threat. One of the invitees to the party is his long-lost sister and he has to attend or else she'll leave the mansion in a body bag.

So this places Takato in a precarious position and he dislikes "the thought of unseen thorns," but what he excels at is murder, "not at the inverse," which gives him the idea to slip "a joker" into whatever game Rosenkreuz has planned – namely Hajime Kindaichi. Takato strikes a deal with Kindaichi that if his sister is among the guests, and she makes out of the mansion alive, he will turn himself in to the police to atone for his past crimes. It's an offer that proved to be impossible to ignore or turn down and this gives the story a very different dynamic, because Takato acts a secondary detective.

Someone who's right next to Kindaichi to help him in every step of the investigation, but whose role always appears to have a shadow-side. As you can never be entirely sure how much of a hand he (might) have in the unfolding drama. I found this to be a pleasant divergence from the unusual, often formulaic, narrative of the series.

Takato, Kindaichi and Miyuku arrive at the mansion, which is a European-style, cross-shaped house encircled by thick, impenetrable hedges of rose bushes that could have been pulled from the Queen of Heart's hedge maze. The person known as Rosenkreuz plays the role of absentee host and only communicates with his guest through letters delivered by the butler of the mansion, Mouri Mikado. So there you have the first suspect, however, the remaining guests are also an interesting bunch.

One of the first surprises for Kindaichi and Miyuki is that their biology teacher, Shiraki Benine, is among the guests and she has shown a personal interest in (blue) roses at the opening of the episode – which she shares with the others who received an invitation. There's a CEO of a biotechnology company and a rose garden manager, but also several artistically inclined people such as a photographer, a kimono designer, an artist and a flower poet. So this nicely sets the stage for murder and the first body turns up before the ending of the first episode.

On a brief note of negativity, the first two murders were rather disappointing as the first body turned up, impossibility, on the dinner table, but this piece of cheap trickery was (thankfully) almost immediately explained. The second person died when he tried to escape from the premise by going through the rose bushes, but the thorns had been poisoned and he dropped dead on the spot. Very, very pulpy. Luckily, these two murders did not set the tone or quality for the remaining four episodes.

The third murder is discovered when a note by Rosenkreuz commands everyone to come to the circular reception room on the north side, where he will reveal "the blue rose," but what they discover is a locked room and they make a gruesome discovery when they inspect the outside windows – inside lays the body of man on a cross-shape bed of flower petals. A wooden stake has been driven through his heart!
 
The Rose-Petal Locked Room

What makes this murder an impossible one is the door, which opens inward, but the flower bed, placed all the way up to the threshold, was undisturbed. So how did the murderer closed the door without sweeping the lower part of the petal cross into the hallway outside? The explanation proved to be as a good and novel as the locked room situation, which combined the flower motif of the story with certain aspects of the murder room to great effect.

I believe this is the kind of trick John Dickson Carr or Joseph Commings would have admired and something Yozaburo Kanari would love to pass off as his own.

The second impossible situation is of a different order altogether: a woman is being attacked in a room that can only be reached by taking a large detour around the house (some short cuts were boarded up). When they reach the section of the mansion, where the room is situated, the only person they find there is Takato and he swears nobody had passed while he had been standing there – which makes the murder they discover in the room an impossible one. The trick is yet another variation on the idea Seimaru Amagi played with in The Prison Prep School Murder Case and The Kamikakushi Village Murders from Detective Academy Q, which even uses a similar sun-light clue.

Obviously, Amagi loves the idea of this trick and gets a ton of mileage out of it. Sure, it's an idea with a lot of possibilities and has barely been looked at by Western mystery writers (except for Paul Halter), but, in this case, I believe the first locked room trick is superior to the second one.

Anyhow, the combination of a collaboration between two enemies, Kindaichi and Takato, and a pair of excellently imagined impossible crimes is what, largely, made The Rosenkreuz Mansion Murders my favorite story from this series. But the identity of the (somewhat obvious) murderer and the underlying, hidden relationships were also of interest. As to be expected, there was the good old avenger-motif at the heart of the case, but this time there was an extra dimension to the motive as it answered why Takato had to be present and what the murders had to do with his sister. Fascinatingly, this showed the story was written around several characters with parallel relationships, which recalled similar, sometimes mirror-like, relationships found in Gosho Aoyama's Detective Conan (or Case Closed).

All of these parallel relationships, rose-themed clues and two locked room illusions that took full advantage of their surroundings created some beautiful plot-patterns together. The Rosenkreuz Mansion Murders completely exorcised the dispiriting disappointment left behind by The Legendary Snow Demon Murders.

Hopefully, the next story will be able to maintain this level of quality. So I guess it will be a coin toss between The Death March of Young Kindaichi and The Foxfire-Floating Murders. Any and all recommendations are welcome!

6/16/17

Something Funny is Going On Here

"I would rather have a flock of penguins around the place any day than a raven perched on the bust of Pallas above my chamber door."
- Stuart Palmer
Stuart Palmer's Cold Poison (1954), alternatively known as Exit Laughing, is the penultimate title in the Miss Hildegarde Withers series and the last one to appear in print during his lifetime, which was followed fifteen years later with the posthumous publication of Hildegarde Withers Makes the Scene (1969) – completed by Fletcher Flora. So you can read this next-to-last novel as the official ending of the series with the posthumous title serving as a curtain call.

In Cold Poison, Miss Withers has retired from her teaching position at Manhattan's Jefferson School and retreated to "the bland, monotonous climate of Southern California" in order to alleviate her asthma. Gratefully, she still has a passion for sticking her nose into other people's business and has a friend back home who recommended her services, as a private snoop, to the big boss of a movie studio.

Ralph Cushak is the studio manager of Miracle-Paradox Studios and his problem concerns the animation department, tucked away in a back corner of the lot known as Cartoon Alley, where several poetic poison-pen letters were delivered to his employees – all were adorned with an illustration of a dead Peter Penguin with "a strangling noose about his throat."

A gross violation of "the unwritten laws of cartoondom" that strictly forbids depictions of snakes, cows with udders, blood and death. So the drawings are a very serious infraction of cartoon etiquette. Oh, and the death threats were not exactly appreciated, either.

On the recommendation of Inspector Oscar Piper of New York City, the studio attracted Miss Hildegarde Withers to discreetly poke around Cartoon Alley.

Formally, the studio hired Miss Withers' poodle, Talleyrand, who acts as a live model for the animators working on a feature-length cartoon, entitled The Circus Poodle, which gives her an excuse to wander around the place as the dog's chaperon – asking all kinds of impertinent questions. Palmer used this angle of the story to provide some padding by giving a detailed, and slightly unnecessary, rundown of the story behind The Circus Poodle, but it helped giving you the idea that Miss Withers was actually at an animation studio. A background practically unique in the genre. Anyway, it doesn't take very long for Miss Withers to stumble upon a body.

The practical joker of the animation studio, Larry Reed, had called in sick around the time the threatening poems were passed around. So Miss Withers decided to pay him a personal visit, but she had to break into his pink-coral, cliffside home with the assistance of a bent hairpin and what she found was the bloated, twisted body of the animator. Something had made him swell up like "a poisoned pup" and the autopsy revealed this something was the garden-variety poison-ivy!

A very unusual kind of poison in murder cases and Miss Withers reaches out to Inspector Piper with the question whether he has ever heard of "a murder being committed with poison-ivy," which he affirmed and the example he knows of currently resided on the pile of New York's unsolved murder cases. So this begs the question whether there's a connection between both poisoning cases and the homicide detective takes the next plane to California.

On a side note, a similar connection between two unusual murder cases brought Piper to Hollywood in The Puzzle of the Happy Hooligan (1941).

So they begin to dig around together, just like the good old days, but this is the point where the primary weakness of the book begins to manifest itself. Cold Poison has a plot that's on the slender side and buried beneath a barrel full of red herrings, which did no favors to the fair play element of the story. Miss Withers and Piper are constantly kept busy with sorting out all of the false leads, but this sumptuous buffet of red herrings only prevented the reader from having an honest shot at beating the detectives to the solution – as nearly all of the clues turn out to be nothing more than distractions. And this makes it slightly frustrating that the book did not contain illustrations of the visual clues used to identity the poisoner.

At the end of the story, Miss Withers asks all of the suspects to make sketches of the murdered character of Peter Penguin and compares them to original drawings from the poison-pen letters. The thing that betrays the murderer in these drawings is something a regular reader, who's not familiar with the animation business, could still have picked upon. Yes, it would have been a slender clue, but a clue nonetheless and should have been included in the story.

So, you probably assume Cold Poison was an enormous letdown, but not as much as you might think.

Sure, as a detective story, the plot completely underperformed, but, as a fan of the series, it was still an enjoyable read. Granted, the book could have been really great had the clueing been up to scratch, but long-time readers of Palmer will be still able to appreciate this penultimate entry in the Miss Withers series. One that ends on a note suggesting that the series really had come to a close. So the story, in spite of its short comings, is of genuine interest to fans of Palmer, Withers and Piper.

Well, thus ends this poor excuse of a review and wish my brief break from the locked room sub-genre had been on a more positive note, but, hopefully, the next break will turns up a non-impossible classic. 

In the meantime, there are several locked room reviews in the pipeline. I have yet another review of a Kindaichi episode lined up and should return to Case Closed one of these days, which has an impossible crime story involving a certain gentleman thief. I'm also eagerly awaiting the arrival of a short story collection and placed a handful of locked room novels at the top of my TBR-pile, of which two will be re-reads. So you all have some more miracle crimes to look forward to!

6/14/17

Snowy Death

"Crimes 're committed by people. There ain't nothin' impossible about it! What are ya stupid?"
- Harley Hartwell a.k.a. Heiji Hattori (Gosho Aoyama's Case Closed, vol. 50)
Last Sunday, I posted a review of my third foray into the Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo R (The File of Young Kindaichi R) series, The Alchemy Murder Case, which closely followed the formula established in the original incarnation of the series, but the plot had a grand and original locked room illusion – a two-sided trick that also explained the secret behind the vanishing of a gigantic sword. So it was the third (episodic) story in a row that did not end in disappointment.

But than an old friend of this blog, "Origami," turned up in the comment-section and jinxed my epic rediscovery of the series. Oh, yes. This is going to be a good, old-fashioned bashing of Kindaichi.

The Legendary Snow Demon Murders is stretched across four episodes and takes place against the endless, snow-capped mountain tops of the Snow Goblin Ski Resort, which has recently been developed by an investment group and a handful of people have been selected for a trial run – including the protagonists of the series, Hajime Kindaichi and Nanase Miyuki. However, they're present at the resort as part-time workers to help take care of the testers. And, as to be expected, there's a dark, bloody history attached to the place.

On New Years Eve, 50 years ago, the now long-abandoned mountain village was visited by the legendary Snow Demon, who left behind a trail of blood and empty houses, but the remains of his many victims were never recovered. Everyone in the region believed that the missing villagers had all been "eaten by the Snow Demon." Well, so far, so good. But not for very long.

The legend of the Snow Demon and the miraculous vanishing of his victims enters the picture when one of the guests, Kumosawa Natsuki, disappears from her log cabin without leaving a single footprint in the large, unbroken blanket of virgin snow outside – which had began to fall when she had retired and stopped when she was discovered to be missing. She had been spirited away! An unlikable guest and "creepy otaku," Sabaki Kaito, disappears during the second episode, but his body is found and vanishes again, which is the point where the story begins run out of fuel.

A large swath of the second episode and pretty much the entirety of the third is nothing more than filler material. And not very good filler material at that!

There are two basic, and simplistic, problems at the heart of these two episodes: the (non-impossible) disappearance of Sabaki's body from a casket and who flung a bloodstained meat-cleaver through the window of the main cabin when everyone was alibied. The answer to the first problem is a reworking of a cheap, dime-store magic trick, but with a body and casket replacing the coin and small box, while the meat-cleaver trick is embarrassingly childish and bad – even the Ayatsuri Sakon series would have shied away from using it.

So, I was thoroughly unimpressed with the plot, but hoped that the explanation of the impossible disappearance would save the episode. After all, I had my doubts about the previous episodes I watched and they turned around in the end with some splendid solution. Well, that did not happen in this case, I'm afraid.

Sure, the explanation for the impossibility is, in principle, an excellent one that might also be completely original, but I had two problems with it (you can re-reverse, or decode, the spoilers with copy-paste here):

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2) .tolp eht fo xurc eht neeb taht dah gnivigrof erom tol a neeb evah dluow I .yrots neeuQ yrellE suomaf taht morf esuoh eritne na fo ecnaraeppasid eht sa hcuS .nibac gol elohw eht fo gnihsinav eht tuoba neeb ytilibissopmi eht dah detanimile ,evoba denoitnem ,ssenkaew eht dna denehtgnerts neeb ev'dluoc tolp llarevo ehT ?deraeppasid dah stnirptoof emos dna nosrep eno fi sa raeppa ti ekam ylpmis ot kcirt elacs-egral ,etarobale na a hcus esu yhW

The Snow Goblin Ski Resort

As to be expected, the who-and why behind the killings weren't particular ingenious, innovative or very surprising, because the murderer's identity and motive were written around the avenger-motif used in nearly every single story in this series. I suppose the choice of the murderer was the only notable aspect of the plot, since this person was below suspicion, but hardly enough to save this dull, slow-moving episode stuffed with mostly second-and third-rate tricks – which triggered traumatic flashbacks to my first encounter with this series. The original Kindaichi series is like my 'Nam or something.

Surprisingly, this blog-post turned out to be not half as harsh as even I expected it to be. I'm disappointed, more than anything else, because the premise and main trick of The Legendary Snow Demon Murders had potential, but everything ended up being half thought-out or completely wasted. Such as the horrible filler material and the series formula didn't do the story any favors either. However, this will not deter from continuing with the series and you can probably expect a review of The Rosenkreuz Mansion Murders next. That's a good one, right?

On a final, unrelated note: allow me to draw your attention to my previous review of Stacey Bishop's Death in the Dark (1930), which is a very rare detective novel that has recently been reissued and the plot toys around with no less than three impossible crimes! So you might want to take a peek at that review. By the way, the next review will be of a non-impossible crime novel. Yes, I'm still aware of their existence! :)