Usotoki Rhetoric Volume 2 is the second tankōbon in Ritsu Miyako’s historical mystery manga series. Usotoki Rhetoric was published in Bessatsu Hana to Yume from June 26, 2012 to March 26, 2018. I reviewed the first volume here.
The same knack that made Urabe Kanoko a pariah in her home town gives her a job in Tsukumoya. Urabe has an infallible ability to tell when someone is consciously lying. This makes her of great use to struggling detective Iwai Soma.
Detectives need to get paid. Nevertheless, when Urabe inadvertently eavesdrops on a lover’s quarrel between artist Kanji and waitress Lily, Urabe is compelled to act even if she’s not going to be paid. Lily believes that Kanji missed their movie date because he was cheating on her. Urabe can tell that Kanji’s protestations of innocence are true. Lily claims the date meant nothing to her. Urabe can tell that Lily is lying.
Lily was handed Kanji’s drawing of Lily and the movie ticket by a strange woman who hints that she and a drunk Kanji spent the night together. Kanji denies this, explaining that he missed the date because while fleeing from what he thought was a ghost, he was hit by a car. This is where he lost the ticket and drawing, intended as a gift for Lily.
Step one: Iwai, Urabe, and their police friend Hanasaki Kaoru head to the abandoned Western-style mansion in whose window Kanji saw the ghost. Ten years before, a woman was murdered there. The murder was never solved1. Could Kanji have seen the ghost of the victim?
Probably not. The victim was stabbed. Kanji saw the supposed ghost at a window, in a pose suggesting that the victim had been hanged. Iwai deduces that Kanji saw a living woman standing on a chair to reach something concealed in the ceiling. An experiment (Urabe reaches for the ceiling, Kanji looks up from below) suggests that this is just what Kanji saw. But Kanji cannot figure out what the mystery woman was doing or why she lied to Lily.
The next case Urabe takes on pro bono seems even more straightforward. A precious spoon is missing. Urabe is sure she knows who took it. She learns a painful lesson about the limits of her ability, one that leaves her questioning her suitability for detective work and her fitness to live in society.
It is a running theme in this series that Iwai and Urabe live on the ragged edge of insolvency. It’s not because the town of Tsukumoya doesn’t have crimes and mysteries. However, the town does appear to have a shortage of people willing to pay for answers. It does not help that Urabe is so willing to jump into situations without negotiating a fee. In her defense, she’s desperate to find a role in society, having alienated her old community by compulsively blurting out her perception whenever she believed someone was lying.
I was somewhat frustrated that the author doesn’t outright tell us what the mystery woman was retrieving, why she felt the need to discredit Kanji (if it was the same woman), or if there was any connection to the original murder. What do we learn? Iwai finds a missing cat hiding above the ceiling. Since the cat belongs to a local rich man who might pay a reward2, the detective decides that this case has been closed. A financial win!
It’s very odd. Nothing got answered in a useful way but everyone acts as though it had been.
The other case is far more open and shut: Urabe accuses an innocent man of theft and is very lucky that the only cost to her is embarrassment. Luckily for her, Iwai is there to provide her moral support in the aftermath.
The first mystery being unsolved, I wonder if the series is intended as a subversion of the usual detective stories. Perhaps all the cases will end with more questions than they began with. Maybe the detectives will never find secure employment. Or maybe the pair is just still finding their footing. Perhaps Volume 3 will answer these questions.
1: The murder case wasn’t properly closed because nobody was tried and convicted. However, the police are sure the murder was domestic violence. The husband vanished before he could be arrested.
2: A glance at Volume 3 to see if Iwai and Urabe ever figure out who the mysterious picture-snatching woman was (and why she was doing what she did) told me nothing more about the Volume 2 case. Moreover, the rich guy didn’t fork over any money. No financial win after all. More subversion of detective story tropes?