'The Straw Cat'. A and a friend are visiting a retrospective exhibition of the works of a painter famous for obsessive perfectionism, although their interest is actually for the fossils preserved in the gallery wall. While there, A puzzles over the various unexpected 'mistakes' he finds in the paintings. Do these have a connection to the deaths, apparently by suicide, of three people, the artist's most famous model, his wife and himself. And what was the meaning of the straw cat that his wife was clutching at her death?
|gasshouzukuri in Shirakawa village|
'Suzuko's Disguise'. A fan of a singer who was lost in a plane crash at sea goes to see her last film, accompanied by a competition for a new singer to take her role. This seemed to me the weakest story in the book.
'An Unexpected Corpse". The title (i-ga-i-na-i-ga-i) is a palindrome in Japanese (which has a syllabic alphabet). Awasaka has a fondness for these kinds of games, reflected in his novel Palindrome Syndrome. A different bit of detective story playfulness is at the heart of the puzzle this time, though, the "nursery rhyme murder", in which the disposition of a body is for some reason made to reflect aspects of a children's rhyme.
'The Screwed on Hat' follows A and his current employer (an obsessive busybody), as they attempt to return a hat to a man who abandoned it at a service station parking area when the wind blew it off. But why was he wearing such a large misshapen hat and why did he not wait when A chased after it for him?
'The Four Great Fighting Heads' has a retired policeman looking into the strange behaviour of a young woman's grandfather for her. A slightly jokey story of finding the common element of a variety of odd clues, perhaps a little reminiscent of the lighter Sherlock Holmes stories.
'On the Streets of Saburou Town' is another impossible crime. A taxi driver puts down a passenger, then when the next one flags him down he finds the corpse of the departed passenger somehow still in the taxi, with his head severed.
'A Blade for the Invalid' is also an impossible crime, for me the best in the collection. On a hospital visit, A and his friend, a patient, take a walk on the roof, which has a recreation area for convalescents. Another patient collapses and when they run up to him they find that he has been stabbed. Neither the victim nor the only person close enough to stab him could have been carrying a knife.