8 August, Seiichirō Ōyama

文字数 4,934文字

The Mystery of the Blood Red Lantern


It was a sprawling garden, landscaped with rolling hills and a placid pond, dotted with a sentinel procession of lanterns made of stone. Under ordinary circumstances, the garden would surely have seemed a meditative study in aesthetic refinement. But after the preceding night’s events, the illusion of calm had been irrevocably shattered. For under the cover of darkness, one of the lanterns had been doused in paint, shrouding the stone in a glistening, blood-red veneer.
  The lord of the manor’s voice trembled as he contemplated the ticking hands of his pocket watch:
  I woke up this morning, only to find this terrible mess. Detective, I trust that you will get to the bottom of the matter. Who would do such a thing? And why?
  The famed detective peered intently at the bright red lantern for a moment, before proclaiming his diagnosis with a confidence true to his well-deserved reputation as the most acclaimed sleuth in the land:
  I see a few possible motives.
  Oh? The landowner’s eyebrows arched in earnest interest.
  Firstly, we must consider the obvious possibility that the paint was meant to conceal bloodstains that splattered on the lantern.
  Blood, you say?
  Indeed. The culprit would have butchered his victim with a blade beside the lantern, sending errant drops of blood flying onto the stone. In an effort to cover his tracks, I propose that the culprit concealed the bloodstains beneath a coat of vermilion paint.
  An intriguing theory, but let me point out that the stone was painted late last night. I don’t suppose the alleged blood would have been visible in the darkness. Even if the crime were premeditated, how could the murderer have anticipated that his victim’s blood would land on the lantern? Surely the murderer would not have been able to procure a bucket of paint in the dead of night.
  Which leads us to the second possibility: that this particular lantern is not made of stone at all, but is rather a cheap imposter, fashioned out of flimsy plastic and papier-mâché. The red paint was thus meant to hide the fact that the new lantern was a fake.
  A fake? You’re suggesting that we have on our hands a classic switcheroo? Of course, these stone lanterns weigh a full 600 kilograms apiece. It would take an entire crew to pull off the heist, which would be awfully risky to attempt in the still of night. Surely, someone would have been awoken by an operation on that scale.
  On the contrary, the maneuver would have been a rather simple matter, for there was no lantern in this particular spot to begin with. The culprit merely placed his plastic lantern here, and applied a quick coat of paint.
  Please, detective. Even if someone managed to surreptitiously plant a lantern in my garden, I would have noticed the new addition posthaste.
  Indeed. By process of deduction, this can only mean one thing: you, my good sir, gave a false testimony. Your claim that you awoke this morning to find your stone lantern painted red was, in itself, a big red lie.
  A lie?
  One might even think this was all an elaborate ruse to test my deductive prowess. . . .
  The proprietor once more glanced at his pocket watch and grinned.
  I am happy to report that you have passed the test with flying colors. You are precisely the man I need. Now, let’s discuss the terms of your employment.
  Employment? I’m afraid I don’t quite follow. . . .? Even the famed detective did not foresee this unexpected twist.
  I devised this test to find a detective capable of taking on another, more pressing case. Out of five detectives, you were the only one who successfully spotted the fake within a minute’s time.
  I’m flattered and honored. However, tell me: where did you come up with the idea to paint your lantern red?
  The proprietor blushed with a bashful smile:
  In my youth, I was something of an aspiring novelist, and attempted to write a story hinging around a similar plot.

The

Mystery

of

the

Blood

Red

Lantern

. The title has a certain atmospheric, moody ring to it, no? But that was a long time ago. Unfortunately, the case I’ve called you here to solve today is far from fiction. . . .


Translated by Daniel González/Arranged by TranNet KK

Seiichirō Ōyama
Born in Saitama Prefecture, 1971. While enrolled at Kyoto University, he was a member of its official Mystery Club. Made his literary debut in 2004 with

Arufabetto

pazurāzu

(Alphabet puzzlers). Won the 13th Honkaku Mystery Award for Best Fiction in 2013 for

Misshitsu

shūshūka

(Locked room collector).

Aribai

kuzushi

uketamawarimasu

(I will offer to ruin the alibi) placed first in 2019 Honkaku Mystery Best 10, and has been adapted into a serial drama. His works include

Kamen

gensō

kyoku

(Song of the masked twin illusions),

Akai

hakubutsukan

(Red museum), among others.

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