In 1994 a sunspot 30 times as huge as the earth was discovered and by its influence the planet has been in disorder since then. The world is said to meet its demise in 1999. It is in that year, that a certain request for detective Minami Miki drops in. He proceeds to Clock Castle, whose outer wall is furnished with 3 huge clocks which display past, present and future, and whose interior is divided into 3 separate mansions as well. The proprietor's daughter, Kurou Ruka, is said to be Midnight's Key, a crucial being in earth's final moment. She asks Miki to investigate the eerie face staring out of the cellar's wall. Ruka suspects a ghost called Skipman, which rumor has been passed on in the mansion for generations. This Skipman is supposed to be able to rip a hole into time and travel into the past and future. Soon after Miki begins his investigations, a seemingly impossible murder resembling the legend of Skipman ensues...
For a moment I thought I already told too much in this summary but... nope. Kitayama Takekuni builds up such a unique (within this genre) setting with many SF- and/or Fantasy-aspects that made the whole plot a fun read even without the whole crime story. It is true that this might have been kind of an overkill for a mere 250 (double-columned) pages and several aspects of the setting did not really get a conclusion or explanation in the end. One has to admit though that Kitayama addresses lots of stuff in this compact novel. Switch out the usual cultural references in other crime fiction with Gestalt psychology, research on sleeping diseases, the Montauk Project and other fun stuff in connection to the whole apocalyptic theme.
In general the book really works like in the Gestalt theory where you are only presented with outlines but nonetheless something else ensues from those. For me it was how humans deal with the thought of their world coming to an end and how they should live their remaining life at the sight of that unavoidable development. The ending worked like some of those experimental shorter anime series or movies for me, where the background of the setting stays rather unexplained but you have enough outlines to work with and explain it for yourself. Personally I don't even really feel the need to explain everything though. I have a satisfying plot with satisfying characters connected to a distinct theme and worldview, that already sufficed for me and made sure the book did not have a single section where I felt bored. Furthermore I prefer works, that provide me with something flawed but unique and enjoyable than something decent without any apparent flaws, which on the other hand does not affect me at all because nothing stands out.
Furthermore there still is, of course, the crime. The trick itself isn't that hard to find out even without accidentally glancing at the picture near the end of the book like I did... The complete incident and all its details are constructed really well and are twisted again at the end more or less. The SF-part does not play a direct role in the murder so the crime can definitely be considered an orthodox one. While the setting and plot are rather anime-esque, Kitayama is apparently determined on staying with the classical mystery formula in contrast to examples like Nishio Ishin, so I'll definitely have to check out the following novels in this jou-series. Next up will be this one since I want to know how Kitayama challenges Christie's concept and supposedly also refines his finesse in physical tricks since I guess he isn't commonly associated with that branch of tricks for nothing. I just hope the content of the series does not get monotonous. Even if the books aren't connected by locations or characters, the settings always make use of the end time theme. Which can be fairly neat as long as the characters aren't repeating the same things over and over again from novel to novel but since the settings seem to be totally different in each volume I don't expect this problem to come into effect.