Title: Black Butler
Author: Yana Toboso
Publisher: Yen Press
Volume: Volumes 9-10
Vintage: 2010 by Square Enix, April 2012 and July 2012 by Yen Press
Genre: Victorian, black comedy, drama, supernatural
With the Noah’s Ark Circus story arc at an end, it’s time for a new tale. Though this two volume murder mystery is really more of a transition than its own plot thread. It has little to do with the events before or after (at least, not at first). But that doesn’t make it any less interesting. In fact, it’s all sorts of interesting. It’s not quite Detective Conan/Case Closed, but it certainly seems to be influenced by it and other stories the detective/mystery genre. Things start out innocently enough. Partly out of necessity and partly out of punishment, Queen Victoria has ordered Ciel to hold a dinner party for a German businessman named Georg von Siemens. Also attending the party are Lau and Ran-Mao, Earl Grey, president of a diamond mining and polishing company Karl Woodley, opera singer Irene Diaz, stage director Grimsby Keane, shipping magnate Patrick Phelps, and oculist and amateur author Arthur. The young author, from whose point of view much of the story is told, feels horribly out of place among such prestigious company, but his presence will end up being one of the most important. The dinner party gets off to a shaky start when a sudden storm delays the guest of honor, who then quickly becomes drunk and rather boorish. And then winds up dead. Murdered, within a locked room. After going over everyone’s alibis, it becomes apparently that only Ciel himself could have killed Siemens. With everyone stuck in the manor due to the storm outside, arrangements are made for the guests to stay overnight. For everyone’s piece of mind, Ciel is shackled to and placed in the same room with Arthur. During the night, Sebastian visits the other Phantomhive servants, making sure they will be well prepared for caring for the guests until the storm is over. When dawn breaks, Ciel immediately notices something is off when Sebastian does not come to wake him. Tanaka comes instead, because Sebastian’s body has been found, stabbed and bloody. Then, over breakfast, another guest turns up missing – Patrick Phelps.
Things get quite confusing from that point, especially considering Phelps was killed inside Ciel’s bedroom, which is locked by a key that only Sebastian knows the location of. And he died during the night. After lining up all the alibis, it becomes apparently that no one person could have committed all three murders, and also that the only person who is completely free of guilt is Arthur. Thus, Arthur is put in charge of the investigation. With the key to Ciel’s room missing, Arthur asks to search everyone’s belongings. But the only thing of an note is a glass bottle filled with red liquid that Mey-Rin (or Meilene or whatever she’s called in the manga) finds inside Irene’s suitcase. While the servants, distraught over the loss of Sebastian, and struggling to keep all the guests happy in his absence, are worrying themselves over how to feed the guests, a new face appears from the storm still raging outside – Vicar Jeremy Rathbone. Jeremy has a flair for making astute observations, as well as an interest in science and mysteries (apparently). With Jeremy’s help, the case starts unraveling. He discovers the truth behind the method of Siemens murder, and has ideas brewing about the others, but makes plans to reveal all that night when the circumstances are right. Using Ciel as bait, they discover Phelps’s murderer, and learn that Phelps was an unfortunate victim of a plot to kill Ciel himself. Deducing things from there, Jeremy points out the culprit and he is taken away by Earl Grey. With the mystery solved and the storm over, the guests are at last free to leave, but Arthur maintains some lingering doubts that send him running back to the manor. He may come to wish he had stayed away.
Lots of things going on in these two volumes, but also not a whole lot. Things are fairly self contained here. I’d even venture to say that if you’ve never checked out this series before, pick up these to volumes for a decent taste of things. You’ll get to see the “useless” servants in action, rather than spend volumes wondering why such incompetent people are employed at the Phantomhive manor. They actually have some very lovely scenes, starting out with a fight, and winding down with memories of when they were saved from their past lives by Sebastian and Ciel. The latter explains their incredible devotion to their master and his butler, and it’s really quite touching to see them break down (some of them into tears) over Sebastian’s death. Sebastian just does his regular butler stuff. The focus isn’t really on him. Well, not technically, anyway. Ciel is, well, Ciel. Creepy and cold and master of his domain. Putting a rowdy guest in his place one moment, and smiling like an innocent child the next. Arthur, for such a minor character, maintains much of the story’s focus, but then, the story is mainly told from his viewpoint, as if he’s writing about it some time later (which is exactly what his narration suggests). The setting of Black Butler – in Victorian England with Earls and shipping magnates and thespians and…Lau – is perfect for a murder mystery. As is the large Phantomhive manor, and the raging storm that traps everyone inside. The two volumes make a good read, whether or not you’re following as an already established fan of the series.