I saw a video essay analyzing poetry not too long ago and the lovely commentator warned that too much alliteration can make your writing seem amateurish. I took that as a challenge!
So yes, this post is going to be a brief review of Lost Lad London but I also wanted to take the opportunity to talk a little bit about the general genre of the murder mystery and how we don’t see much of it in manga form.
I think I’ve mentioned before that I really like mysteries. It doesn’t have to be a murder mystery but generally speaking, I like to have a bit of intrigue to keep me on my toes. I find that it’s a very quick way to get me engaged in a story and make me want to keep reading. And murder mysteries often get treated like a puzzle with an actual answer. Something the reader has a chance of solving for themselves if they try and not just an out-of-left field magic explanation. This is probably why I have read many a murder mystery in my time!
But when I started to explore the world of manga a bit more, I noticed that there were very few entries in the genre. You might get a mystery dropped into a larger storyline here and there, but few titles made it the focus of their plot, in my experience. This was really interesting to me as the mystery in general and more specifically the murder mystery has been a staple of fiction in the West for as long as I can remember.
Granted, I haven’t read Case Closed so maybe this is just a case of my sample size being too small and me having some sort of selection bias. Still, I have read maybe two or three titles that I can put solidly in the murder mystery genre.
And when I take a look at the suggestions out there. Here we have a list of 10 Mystery Manga to Investigate and Unravel (https://bookriot.com/mystery-manga/). I’ve only read three: BSD, Another and MDP Psycho) and I wouldn’t really put any of them in the classic murder mystery genre. BSD is clearly action, I can see both Another and MDP being broadly mysteries as you do wonder what’s going on but they are also presented as supernatural and MDP actually is. Anilist also has a top 50 mystery manga that features a lot of stuff that I wouldn’t have put in the whodunit category, (Attack on Titan is 13) https://anilist.co/article/Top-50-Mystery-Manga-of-All-Time so maybe it’s just that my view the genre is too narrow. In any case, these are all broad mysteries, not the specific murder mystery genre that litters my bookshelves.
This is why I was so excited when I started Lost Lad London. Right for the start you see that you’re in for a classic whodunnit experience. We get a body, obvious foul play, and a potential suspect who we want to root for but cannot be entirely sure of. For good measure, the manga even manages to give us an unreliable narration with perspective skips and selective panels.
There’s a scrappy young man with a possible if tenuous motive, a hardened old detective, and a murder weapon that appears out of nowhere in someone’s pocket… Or does it? It’s a great setup. Oh, why am I being so coy, let me just tell you about it.
We meet this kid named Al and he’s a university student in London. He’s kind of lackadaisical but seems like a normal enough young man in his early 20s. We quickly and organically learn that he’s adopted and that he sells essays for extra cash, sometimes to his roommate. We also learn that the mayor of London’s body was found stabbed to death on a subway car in a train that Al also happened to be on, along with hundreds of other people.
And then, Al finds a bloody knife in his jacket pocket with no clue how it got there and a detective knocking at his door. From there, things get a little complicated.
I’m about to give you a very minor spoiler. It happens in the first few chapters. Oh by the way, the entire series is 3 volumes so you can easily get through it in a day if you want. So back to my very minor spoiler. This is one of the things that endeared me to Lost Lad London early on. Al has just found the weapon and the police are interviewing everyone that was on the train which is why a detective is knocking at his door. Classic scene right, Al is going to freak out and misunderstandings will ensue. At this point, we the readers aren’t sure if Al is guilty of anything or not but he is acting very surprised. Then in a complete subversion, when the detective asks him if he knows anything, Al just immediately tells him the truth or at least a story that matches what we’ve seen. He shows him the weapon right away, tells him he has no clue how it got there, and asks if he should go to the police.
This little subversion of my expectations set the tone for a more naturalistic and down-to-earth murder mystery. And indeed, it was. No unbelievable action scenes. No nerdy student suddenly turns into an action star. I quite enjoyed that aspect. As well as the honest and sometimes depressing look at the office politics that guide police departments and ultimately can have a serious impact on society.
On the other hand, making the story straightforward and avoiding extravagant explanations might have been one of the reasons I guessed everything pretty early on. Personally, I don’t think that’s a bad thing at all but if you’re the type that really wants to be wondering what’s happening, you might be a little disappointed.
This said I did find the mystery a little weak. Maybe because it was short, things seem to fall into place a little too quickly and neatly for my taste. The first two volumes set up this fairly elaborate plot and then it gets wrapped up in a neat bow with rather little effort in a few chapters. I wanted a bit more.
There are a lot of good elements in Lost Lad London. I’m certainly glad I read it. And if you are also a fan of murder mysteries, you might like how familiar this feels. It’s a tone I have not really seen in manga at all. I might suggest a digital version rather than splurging on the hardcopy but hey, if you like the art then why not add it to a bookshelf 😊