Monday, November 20, 2017

For Science!

Ironically, science really isn’t my thing.

Image result for galileo series
While I haven't mentioned him on this blog yet, I’m a fan of Keigo Higashino. To me, he does an excellent job of combining both the more modern mystery story with the classic ideas of old. He’s not perfect, and I’m sure that modern critics like him for very different reasons than myself, but I’ve enjoyed everything that I’ve read of his so far. Such as two novels starring Manbu “Galileo” Yukawa, a physics professor who keeps getting involved in police investigations, mainly those involving the impossible. The novels didn’t really focus on this (barring Salvation of a Saint) but the short stories tend to focus more on physics part of things. But they’re all in Japanese. What’s a fan to do?

Watch the live action drama, of course.

Galileo is a J-drama consisting of eleven episodes, though episode four is not available due to something with one of the actors being involved in something criminal. The episodes star the Holmes/Watson team of Yukawa and police officer Kaori Utsumi. While I’ll end up tagging this as “Locked Room Mysteries” or “Impossible Crimes” (once I get the tags figured out, so sometime in 2020), only one of the episodes involves an actual locked room, the rest deal with phenomena that seems impossible, but can be explained by science (even though Yukawa scrawls math formulas on everything when he solves the case, even when they have nothing to do with anything). The two leads have the obligatory “will-they-won’t-they” chemistry, but it works well, with neither really having the upper hand on each other.

But then, you aren’t here for that.

(Disclaimer: I got these titles from the subs. If they're inaccurate, inform me and I'll edit accordingly.)

The first episode “Ignite” opens with a bang, when the head of a delinquent catches on fire while he and his friends are trashing a dock. The audience sees who was responsible, but not how he did it. Yukawa finds himself called in, and deduces the truth, based on burn marks around the scene of the murder. Sadly, there’s almost no chance that the average viewer can come up with the solution, except by guessing. There’s an attempt to twist the plot at the end, but it’s too obviously foreshadowed and set up. Personally, if they had played with the sequence of events at the end of the episode, the twist would have had more impact. But that’s a spoiler.

The next “Astral Projection” is one of the more disappointing episodes for me. A woman is strangled to death and the police quickly zero in on a suspect. His alibi is that he was in his car hungover, but no one can back him up...or so it seems. A young boy claims to have seen the car as the suspect states, but he must have seen it while astral projecting, due to the large factory doors blocking his view. The idea is a good one, but the episode itself fell flat for me. I think this is because I expected more from the murder angle, but most of the episode was focused on the boy and his father’s attempts to milk his newfound fame. Though I have to ask: Did the police just announce that they needed help backing up a suspect’s alibi? Because I don’t know how the boy or his father knew about the case.

“Poltergeist” reverses the normal formula, as Yukawa comes to Kaori: The sister of one his students wants a police officer to look into her husband’s disappearance. He was last seen entering the house of an old woman who died of a heart attack after his visit. A late-night stake-out reveals the four people living in the house leave at nine every night...and an investigation reveals why: the house violently shakes at that time. Is it the ghost of the old woman? Obviously not, but Yukawa’s explanation for it is both unsatisfying and underclued. Still, the end wrings some genuine pathos out of the set-up.

The next in the line-up is “Fireball” and it’s a genuine locked room! A man is drugged and strangled in a hotel room under observation, and the only clue is a fireball seen buzzing in the room at the time of the murder. There’s some good bits, such as the deductions that Yukawa makes at the crime scene leading to his final solution, but the solution is one that I normally find very unsatisfying, and the lack of fair cluing doesn’t help. Also, why in the world does the office worker not mention <that important fact> until later? You’d think you’d bring it up first thing!

The next episode “Dream” is a flawed masterpiece (mild exaggeration there, but you get my point). A childhood friend of Utsumi’s is caught in the act of breaking into the home of a girl named Remi Morisaki, but is (non-fatally) shot by her mother in the process. Utsumi turns to Yukawa for help, mainly due the the odd backstory of the case. You see, her friend has been dreaming for Morisaki for twenty years….even though Morisaki is only nineteen. Combine that with words seemingly calling the friend to her appearing in ordinary water, and it seems that there’s more behind this case. And there is and I love it. Sadly, the execution stumbles. The trick with the words in the water isn’t fully explained (how did the words remain when the water was disturbed, for example) and the backstory is discovered off-screen by Yukawa. And one wonders if the motive behind this plan was worth the risk. And one would think that Utsumi would remember what she did much earlier.

Next up is “Sight.” A man is called on his honeymoon by the woman he’s having an affair with, and when he opens his curtains, he sees her ready to hang herself. Despite his best efforts, she takes the plunge and the fallout ruins his marriage. However, there’s still an unsolved question about the incident: A few weeks before the hanging, he saw someone else hang herself in that same apartment. A series of events brings the case to Yukawa, who seems oddly interested in it. In  fact, he and Utsumi more or less switch roles for this episode. It’s a good one, mainly just for Yukawa playing the role of a more traditional detective, though most will understand the plot pretty quick, even if they don’t get the mechanics.

Sadly, “Teleportation” is another weak episode. A woman is stabbed to death by a stalker a few hundred times before the attack is interrupted by a security guard. The man falls to his death in the escape, which would seem to make the case open and shut if it weren’t for the victim's sister, who claims to have seen the victim out her window...while she was being stabbed to death across the city. The idea is neat, but…

In my review of A Caribbean Mystery, I mentioned how different detectives deal with different cases, and that’s fine, in fact, preferred. Marple isn’t going to go traipsing all over the city to deal with ABC, and Poirot isn’t going to be challenged by what happens in A Caribbean Mystery, because they’re different people with different focuses and different styles, even if there are similarities. When it comes to series’ like Galileo, with a detective with a certain unique specialty, I expect the Great Detective to deal with crap that appeals to that specialty. This case does not. Really, Yukawa isn’t needed at all for this, Utsumi could have handled this on her own. The solution is simple, in spite of a mild trick the director throws at you.

The two part finale, “Burst Open” has an interesting hook. Utsumi and colleague, are doing a (under attended) presentation at a school when attention is drawn to a student’s art project “Death Mask of a Zombie” a realistic face of a dead man...then a woman runs in and identifies the face as that of her son. The student got the mask by modeling a weird metal faceplate he found in a river, and the investigation leads to a body. But how did the metal take that shape in the first place? The resulting investigation leads to more deaths, radiation and an old figure from Yukawa’s past. All of this implies good stuff, but the end degrades into cheesy Bond level of suspense, and in a way that doesn't even make sense when you consider the villain’s ultimate goal.

I admit, I wasn't sure about an adaptation of the short Galileo stories, since Ho-Ling’s reviews implied that they weren’t as good as the novels. Still, I had hope, but I wasn’t fully satisfied. There are interesting premises here, but the resolutions and the fairness thereof are usually lacking. If you’re going to watch, I’d recommend “Dream” and “Sight.” Otherwise, only recommended if you need something light, and are willing to watch it as a cheesy but fun J-drama and not a complex mystery series.

Also, apparently there's a second series out there, but I didn't know about it until I was looking up images to put in this post! I shall try and track it down then.

Next time: Ace Attorney!

Thursday, November 2, 2017


Image result for the howling beast noel vindryA note to all French authors who want to use or imply wolves: I only have so many jokes I can make with this title. This applies if you’re dead. Or if a publisher puts a picture of a wolf on the cover of your book after you died.

Noel Vindry, known to some as the French John Dickson Carr, first came to the attention of the English-speaking world with Locked Room International’s translation of The House That Kills, and frankly he needed a better introduction. Not the worst book of whatever year it came out, and with some good ideas, but all in all it felt thin. This is much better.

The Howling Beast starts with M. Allou, magistrate, on vacation, ignorant of the recent happenings. This allows him to provide some assistance to the desperate and disheveled man he meets who says, “I have not eaten in three days monsieur.” Said man is Herry Pierre, who is currently on the run for a brutal double murder. M. Allou is willing to hear out his bizarre story, under the logic that a liar will surely trip themselves up…

JJ of The Invisible Event has stated that this is a book best left unspoiled, as the blurb gives too much away, which I suppose is fair (then again, those who read the back of The Crimson Fog or even The Seventh Hypothesis know better than to trust whoever does the blurbs at LRI.), but I don’t feel that it gives away anything else that anyone who’s read a mystery before can see coming. Still, in the interest of generosity, I shall stick to vague descriptions. The book is split into two narratives, one concerning events at the home of Comte de Saint-Luce, four years ago, and one concerning the events of three days ago and Allou’s unraveling of everything. Herry gives us information is perfect and exact detail, which is acceptable to make the plot work. The former narrative involves Herry more or less crashing at the fancy and creepy castle of a man he hasn’t seen in years. The result brings with it a Buddha statue, a love triangle, a pair of brutal assaults in the night, and the disappearance of one of of the guests, as well as a note implying murder.

Also, there’s the slight matter of those mysterious, barely audible howls in the night, that sound like no animal in France….

The second part is where the real meat is, but all I’ll say about it is that it involves a sudden double shooting, as well as attempted murder, with all shots fired by an apparently invisible murder inside a literal locked fortress.

All in all, a much better book than The House That Kills, though the two are similar, what with a group of people isolated in a fortress-like environment under siege from a seemingly unstoppable foe. Carr would have played it up for more horror, but Vindry does a decent job of showing the paranoia and isolation of the main cast, even as they go on and on about how brave they are. All the time. Herry brings it up to the point of nausea.

Still better characterization than The House That Kills.

The main gripe is that the shooting comes so late in the book, that there’s really not a chance to solve it, it’s more watching Allou piece the crime together, which he does without issue. The solution is a simple one, but because of how quickly it’s introduced and solved I don’t have an issue with it. The few elements of horror, such as the nature of the beast, are well done, though the reader doesn’t have much in the way of cluing for it.

All in all, I enjoyed it. It may not be the best thing to come from LRI, but it’s a very competent mystery/suspense story. Recommended.