Wednesday, August 03, 2011

BOOKS: The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino

Keigo Higashino's The Devotion of Suspect X is my new favourite book. I tell everybody I know to read it and so far, everybody has the same complaint that I do. Why haven't the other books in the series been translated into English?

The mystery takes place in Tokyo and matches the wiles of a high school math teacher with an assistant professor, nicknamed Detective Galileo. The whole series is built around the observant and brilliant Yukawa, who's actually a former college chum of his opponent in this book, Ishigami. 

One level of this book is a kind of chess match between Yukawa and Ishigami. One has committed to covering up a murder. The other trying to piece together why a seamless cover-up shouldn't be believed. Back and forth they go until Ishigami gives up the 'game' late in the book revealing why the iron-clad alibi of the murderers is so soft. Even that late in the book, he moves forward with a Plan B that achieves its aim, if not the reader's.

The other level of the book is straight out of the crime mystery handbook. Mother and daughter Yusako and Misato kill Yusako's ex-husband, a nasty piece of work that you'll probably agree had it coming to him. That said, there's enough moral ambiguity that you can't even be sure of that. Not too much later, actual detectives, Kusanagi and Kishitani show up. And now there's the battle between those two sides to resolve the murder. But Ishigami, who has a quite unrequited love for Yusako, has interfered and is plotting the cover-up with almost perfect abilities to predict what comes next from the detectives.

In fact, the younger detective, Kishitani, doesn't think Yusako (or Misato) are involved. But something doesn't sit right with old veteran cop Kusanagi. And so, he goes off and starts talking through the case with his old friend, Yukawa. As the case goes on, even Kusanagi starts wondering if he's off track here. It's Yukawa, playing amateur detective, who keeps moving things along. Even to the point of showing up and socializing with his old Imperial University classmate.

I have no idea if this could be converted into a movie. I don't think so, although I've mentally cast all the parts. Part of what makes this whole thing work is the misdirection of having to see things in your mind's eye ... and missing a clue or two. There's no car chases, just sad people bicycling to and from between their houses, the sandwich shop, the high school and the university. It's tiny, contained, moody and just right. You'd need thought bubbles to get across all the mental gymnastics at play.

For the record, I didn't 'solve' the big reveal before it happened. Wasn't for the lack of trying. And while there's not really a happy-ever-after ending, you do get the idea that Yukawa isn't the happiest after everything is resolved. 

And I'm not happy either. Although I could be. If Alexander O. Smith would just hurry up with the translating work.

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