Let's start and make a reset together with you
I want to take the next chance that comes
"Start" (Auichi Rina)
I think that Shinjuku Station is still the most complex railway station I've ever visited. It's more like a chimaera, with a maze-like structure of stations from different railways and metrolines merged together with other facilities like department stores. Ikebukuro Station is a solid second place.
Ueno Station is one of the major railway stations in Tokyo, used extensively not only by commuters, but also by tourists from outside Tokyo (or the country), being near Ueno Park and the Keisei-Ueno Station which connects to Narita Airport. And traditionally, Ueno Station has also been the terminal station for the lines that connect to the north of Japan. With many people moving from the more rural northern areas to the big city, Ueno Station is to any both the terminal station, as well as the starting point of a new part of their lives. To seven friends from F High in the Aomori Prefecture, Ueno Station stood symbol for their new lives in Tokyo and seven years passed, each going their own way in the metropolis. Now the seven friends once again gather to fullfil an old promise: to go on a short trip together back to Aomori in the night-train Yuzuru. Six of the seven friends board the train together, thinking the last one just couldn't make it, but little did the group know that their friend had been murdered in the bathroom of Ueno Station. When another friend disappears from Yuzuru overnight, the group of friends, as well as the police start to think something is going on. While Inspector Totsugawa is leading the investigation of Nishimura Kyoutarou's Terminal Satsujin Jiken ("The Terminal Murder Case", 1980) from the Tokyo-side, his faithful subordinate Kamei is taking the case personally, as he himself also hails from Aomori and he knows what it is to be far fom his hometown.
Nishimura Kyoutarou is best known for his Inspector Totsugawa series, starring the titular inspector in what is often called a travel mystery in Japan: mystery stories with a travel theme (usually by train), often set outside Tokyo or the other major cities. And when you're talking about mysteries involving trains, then the words alibi trick probably pop up in your mind, and indeed, Totsugawa's M.O. often involves figuring out some ingenious alibi with the use of the railway timetable. Terminal Satsujin Jiken (1980) is one of Totsugawa's best known adventures, having won the Mystery Writers of Japan Award and been made into a TV drama three times. Detective Conan's Aoyama Goushou also recommended this title in his regular corner where he introduces the reader to other mystery series (in volume 22, which also features an Inspector Totsugawa-esque story involving a train).
I haven't read much of the Inspector Totsugawa series: some random volumes (like The Mystery Train Disappears, available in English) and none of them were really remarkable. But considering it's basically always an alibi trick, I was sorta interested in this well-received volume of the series. And indeed, it has a rather alluring situation, where one man is killed, while all the suspects were on a moving night-train towards the north of the main island of Japan. There are also some other complications, like a (rudimentary) locked room murder, but the main dish is the alibi trick. Which is actually very disappointing. For someone as experienced as Inspector Totsugawa, you'd think that actually checking out the railway timetable in detail should be one of the first things he'd do in such a case... The trick used in the book is only surprising in the sense that you wonder why the police hadn't noticed it right away. Even the other elements of the story can't do much to make the story more appealing on a plot-level. Matsumoto Seichou's Points and Lines is somewhat similar in that the main trick makes use of a blind spot, but there's a lot going around besides that.
On a sidenote, I am pretty sure that stories involving alibi tricks using trains/the subway only work well in Japan, as in general, the trains do actually run according to schedule. By which I mean to the minute, and not with two to five minutes of leeway. I still remember that some years ago, the train I took to school in Tokyo had a very minor delay (less than five minutes), but the company still issued official papers stating they had indeed a delay (to show at school/work, to prove you're not lying). It must be great if you live in a country where you can depend on the punctuality of the trains when commiting a crime.
I do have to admit that Nishimura does a fantastic job at depicting Ueno Station as a special gateway point of Tokyo: the place where people from the north arrive to start their new lives in the metropolis, or where people leave to go back to their real home. Nishimura succeeds in portraying Tokyo as a sometimes alienating melting pot of people from many different regions, not nearly as nice as the more rural areas further away from the capital. I never really felt it in other works I read by Nishimura, but here you really get the feeling you're reading a travel mystery novel, involving human beings moving around the country, each of them carrying their own past and the scent of their hometown. Shifting the focus from Totsugawa to Kamei, like the victims and suspects someone from Aomori working in Tokyo, was certainly a great idea. The book reminded me of the film Kirin no Tsubasa, which was also about people from outside Tokyo arriving there and building up a new life.
The motive for the crimes is rather weak, or at least not very convincing as it is written now, and basically impossible for the reader to guess in advance because of the lack of proper hints, but I have to admit: the build-up to the reveal of the motive is absolutely fantastic and when all the curtains are drawn, it still manages to impress, despite the earlier mentioned hiccups.
Is The Terminal Murder Case a real masterpiece in the travel mystery subgenre? No, the mystery plot is a bit too underwhelming for that, even if it certainly does some great things in terms of characterization. When the alibi trick was first revealed I was really disappointed with the story, but having finished it and looking back, I'll admit that I enjoyed the book a lot more than I myself had expected to do.
Original Japanese title(s): 西村京太郎 『終着駅（ターミナル）殺人事件』