Holmes of Kyoto, Vol. 7

By Mai Mochizuki and Shizu Yamauchi. Released in Japan by Futabasha. Released in North America by J-Novel Club. Translated by Minna Lin.

This volume was already starting off in a big hole as I read the synopsis before getting the book. I have to be honest, “I’m breaking up with you to keep you safe” is something that I really, really hate. It didn’t help that we get another of the plot devices I hate, which is the threat of rape framed as “I will despoil her”, because Virginity Is Important, Franklin. So yeah, this was already starting from a deep hole, and it’s a credit to the author that I will still likely be reading the next book. That said, they really need to accept that they are better at writing mysteries, antiquing and travelogues than they are romance, and also that the books work better in short story collections. It helps that the first half of the book does NOT involve this plot, even though it too has a trope that I’m not fond of, the “I’ve misunderstood a secondhand conversation and think my boyfriend is in love with someone else”. Honestly, this whole book is land mines.

Holmes and Aoi are dating, and are both calm and intelligent, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t free from stress. When Aoi hears that Holmes and Yoshie, the owner’s girlfriend, had an intimate conversation while in America, she knows it’s gonna be a misunderstanding but goes there anyway. After this Holmes is asked to judge a tea ceremony between two brothers to help figure out who’s going to take over the family. Unfortunately, after this, everyone’s least favorite Moriarty shows up to ruin the book. Ensho is back, trying to get Holmes to appraise an incense container and also to be creepy and threatening. After being startled that it’s actually genuine, he vanishes… only to show up at Aoi’s high school to threaten her. This is enough for Holmes, who decides to break up with her in order to keep her away from Ensho, who clearly has a vendetta.

It is suggested at the end of this book that we’ve seen the last of Ensho as a recurring villain, and thank God. It’s reminiscent of Jon Pertwee’s second season of Doctor Who, where you know who the villain is because The Master is in every story that season. He’s worn out his welcome. As for Aoi, honestly, given everything that happens to her here I’m rather stunned that she managed to sail through her college entrance exams. The “theme” of the book, such as it is, is that words can hurt and affect people even if they are aware that the words are complete bullshit. We see that with Holmes’s grandfather, father, and him, and it’s all the more startling because it’s people we know are calm and intelligent. That said, this series continues to be at its best when discussing antiques or touring landmarks of Kyoto, and those were once more the better parts of the book.

That said, the writer may be running out of Kyoto, as the next volume sees Homes and Aoi headed to Yawata City! Which, yes, is also in Kyoto Prefecture, but it’s the thought that counts. In the meantime, if you do read this for the potboiler soap opera, this will be filled with that sort of thing. For the rest of us, let’s hope it’s done.

Holmes of Kyoto, Vol. 6

By Mai Mochizuki and Shizu Yamauchi. Released in Japan by Futabasha. Released in North America by J-Novel Club. Translated by Minna Lin.

After five books that are essentially interlocked short story collections, this volume is the first to have one story for the entire book. It has a lot that it’s trying to do at once. Holmes and Aoi are now a couple (her 18th birthday comes at the very end of this book, though these two are not going to be getting more intimate anytime soon), and are negotiating contact and embarrassment. Someone is stealing a bunch of minor pieces of art, the only connection between them seemingly being a link with Buddhism. And Komatsu, the detective we saw in a previous volume, tries to go to Holmes for his detective skill rather than his antiquing skills, as his daughter has gone missing. All of this ends up interconnecting with kids using cannabis and a meditation and study seminar ending up being the gateway to a dangerous cult. And… this is starting to sound a bit ridiculous, isn’t it? And yes, it is. I’d argue this is the first volume in the series that simply didn’t work for me.

The parts of the book that do work are the parts we’ve seen in previous novels. There’s a lot of fun nerditry going on here about both various types of antiques and also Buddhism in general, and Holmes explaining it is a lot of fun. His pedanticism is even weaponized towards the end, as he tries to cause a distraction by rambling on to a guard about his need to whistle loudly before he sleeps being related to a misapprehension as a young boy, and keeps spewing garbage for so long it’s really impressive. I was also amused at everyone seeing Holmes’ attention to detail as being scary and villainous, and Aoi – not denying this, but saying she’s used to it. They have a fun relationship, and I am pleased that it’s developing at a slow pace. That said, due to the nature of the book Aoi is far more of a passive narrator than usual.

Unfortunately, that leaves the main plot as the part I didn’t like. Not to get political at all, but “cannabis is bad and leads to taking stronger drugs and also getting drawn into creepy cults” is not going to win me over even when it’s well written, which this isn’t. The relationship between the detective, his ex-wife and his (kidnapped) daughter is meant to be sympathetic and realistic, but it feels like it was piling complication on top of complication in order to make the stakes higher. As for the cult itself, having some of the staff be genuinely part of the meditation seminar, some of them part of the cult, and all of it being secretly controlled by a politician, except wait, WAS IT REALLY? There are at least two twists too many towards the end, and honestly I got lost. I also suspect the author was trying to contrast the heated, emotional relationships of the other high school girl in this book with Homes and Aoi’s mild, restrained “we’re waiting on intimacy” pairing, and… it’s OK, I get it, so you don’t have to shove it in my face.

I am hoping that this is just an unfortunate blip in the series, though the blurb for the next volume does not fill me with confidence. In the meantime, perhaps we can get back to antiques?

Holmes of Kyoto, Vol. 5

By Mai Mochizuki and Shizu Yamauchi. Released in Japan by Futabasha. Released in North America by J-Novel Club. Translated by Minna Lin.

If nothing else, Holmes of Kyoto has let me know that I would be an absolutely terrible detective. Each of my last two reviews has had some equivalent of “well, I was wrong about _____, but I’m pretty sure I don’t have to worry about ________” for a while. And each time I’ve been wring. And I’m wrong again. Fortunately, that’s not the only mystery in this series, which holds an awful lot of genre balls in the air. It’s a travelogue, as we see Holmes and Aoi (and others) traveling to Amanohashidate and getting long scenes explaining why it’s so amazing. We get mysteries, as a Sherlock Holmes society is startled to find they have their own mystery to solve at one meeting. We have the ongoing not-quite-there-yet romance between Holmes and Aoi, and the book sometimes feels like a ticking clock counting down till her 18th birthday. And we get another appearance by Holmes’s Moriarty, Ensho, and their ongoing cat and mouse battle, which is far more deadly serious than previous books. The series gives you bang for your buck.

We get four stories here. In the first, Aoi and Kaori go on a hot springs trip they were invited to before, with Holmes and Akihito tagging along (and Holmes’ dad, so it doesn’t look skeezy) and meet up with Kaori’s sister, who’s now working at the same hot springs… and has a secret. In the second story, Holmes takes Aoi to a meeting of the Sherlock Holmes Society in the area, and there’s also a potentially valuable manuscript… which is promptly stolen. In the third story Holmes and Aoi go to a soccer exhibition match and try to resolve a burgeoning love affair between a player and his ex-teacher. And finally Holmes has to deal with Ensho, who is reduced to burgling the antique shop… as well as dealing with things he’s been putting off for some time.

I want to dance around actual spoilers, so let’s discuss some other stuff. I’ve said this before, but the series is very frank about knowing about what is and isn’t acceptable in terms of an age-gap relationship, and Aoi being seventeen still is mentioned quite a few times. The Sherlock Holmes Society was the funniest part, with lots and lots of Doyle and Holmes trivia (I am amused Holmes saw the manuscript was a fake because of the handwriting, rather than, judging by the summary, because it was mawkish crap). I was also highly amused at Holmes’ soccer fandom, as he talks about the excitement of the local team constantly being promoted and relegated… as if that’s a good thing. That said, the highlight of the book is absolutely the final story, which is 100% thriller. I also have to empathize with Ensho a bit here… Holmes’ “you can achieve anything in life, no matter how poor you are, if you work hard enough” is kind of ergh.

There’s still many, many volumes of this series to go in Japan, and I am curious to see where the series goes from here. If you enjoy mysteries, antiques, or deftly handled college boy/high school girl romance, this is a good read.