The good: Much more interesting than The Devotion of Suspect X; how the murder was committed will have you puzzling.
The not-so-good: Sometimes it’s more focused on the how the murder occurred than the whodunit.
Why I chose it: Love Japanese fiction.
Publisher: Little, Brown
Setting: Tokyo, Japan
My rating: 8.5 out of 10
After reading The Devotion of Suspect X, I wasn’t too fussed about reading another book by Keigo Higashino. The book, although an interesting premise, felt awkward and stilted. But after reading Reading Matters’ review of Salvation of a Saint, I felt I should give Higashino another go. This book seemed more up my alley – a police procedural, an unusual form of murder and set in Japan. So with a birthday book token in hand, I bought the book. This time I certainly wasn’t disappointed.
Although the book features the same detectives as we met in The Devotion of Suspect X and honorary Detective Galileo (really a university physics professor called Yukawa), it stands alone perfectly. The backstory between Kusanagi and Galileo is explained briefly and there’s a new female detective, Utsumi. Utsumi brings a female perspective to this case that contrasts beautifully with that of the rest of the (male) team – highly important as the major suspects in this murder are both female. There are very few social snippets about the detectives, very different to many of the English written police procedurals. Nobody has a drinking problem or complicated marital life, yet the characters (especially Utsumi) are easy to warm to.
The book opens with a brief discussion between a married couple, the Yoshitakas. It seems that all is not well in their marriage – in fact, he wants a divorce. Ayane, his famous quilting artist wife, is upset but later goes on to host a successful dinner party before departing to Hokkaido (northernmost island of Japan). While away, Mr Yoshitaka and Hiromi (Ayane’s apprentice at her quilting school) continue to conduct their secret affair until Hiromi finds him dead. The marital strain between the Yoshitakas and the fact that Hiromi is pregnant makes Ayane the obvious suspect. However, she was definitely away from Tokyo. So how did she do it?
One of the hooks on the back cover suggested that Kusanagi was falling for Ayane, which clouded his judgement. While his colleagues are openly suspicious that this is occurring, it didn’t feel that way to me. Perhaps that’s because there’s not that much about feelings in this book – Kusanagi doesn’t have lovesick fantasies about Ayane, he’s more likely to water her plants – that it didn’t ring true. Fortunately, this is only a minor thread and doesn’t have repercussions to the major parts of the plot. The mode of murder is incredibly intricate and relies on so many ‘what if’ factors that it would be unlikely to be possible in real life, but it was enjoyable to see how it was committed. The field of suspects narrows very quickly, so the latter stages are more about the how than who the murderer is.
For those who may be put off by not being familiar with the Japanese names or Japan, don’t be. There are not that many characters and the setting could be almost any large city. It doesn’t focus specifically on Japanese customs (the closest we get is a shrine in a tatami mat room) or anything the average Westerner may be unfamiliar of.
This book has redeemed Keigo Higashino for me – I’ll be eagerly awaiting the next translation in this series.