Sunday, September 15, 2013

The Devotion of Suspect X: Keigo Higashino

This book is an inverted mystery; the reader knows from the beginning who committed the murder. Thus the mystery is more involved in how the murderer is discovered. And in this case, there is so much more, with twists and turns you do not expect.

Yasuko Hanaoka is surprised when her abusive ex-husband Togashi shows up at her apartment. He wants money from her and threatens both her and her teenaged daughter Misato.Togashi ends up dead, strangled. Yasuko’s next door neighbor, Mr. Ishigami, offers to help them dispose of the body. Of course, once the body is discovered, the police consider Yasuko one of the suspects and life becomes very tense for Yasuko, her daughter, and her neighbor.

I will start out by saying I enjoyed the book very much. I only rate books on Goodreads, and there I only gave it 4 stars, not 5. But in reality, I would make it 4.5 out of 5, very close to the top.

On the back cover of the edition I read, Jan Burke compares this book to a Golden Age mystery and I would agree. It has a similar setup to The Tattoo Murder Mystery (reviewed here), which was published in Japan in 1948 and features a very intelligent man (genius) helping the policeman with his case.
The Devotion of Suspect X has all the brilliant intricacy of the best Golden Age mysteries - puzzle within puzzle, twist after twist - with a modern sensibility.  It is a wonderful, fresh take on the classic mystery's intellectual struggle between protagonist and antagonist, adds to it all the right amounts of tension and pacing, places it in a fascinating setting, and gives to all of this plenty of heart.
-- Jan Burke
This book is part of a series known as the Detective Galileo series. Manabu Yukawa, a physicist, known affectionately as "Detective Galileo," has been friends with police detective Kusanagi since attending college together and they often talk about Kusanagi's cases. Per Wikipedia, the first two books in the series were short story collections, so this would be the first novel in the series. This book  is set in Tokyo, Japan. However, the setting is not a strong part of the novel, although we do learn about social interactions and relationships in Japan.

The author kept me involved in the story, as I tried to figure why and how the neighbor was involved with the coverup. I actually felt myself rooting for Yasuko Hanaoka and her daughter, hoping that they would not be found at as murderers. Yet I was pretty sure that with a genius helping the police, there was going to be a solution. All of the characters were either appealing or interesting.

The review by Naomi Hirahama at Criminal Elements is very positive but does point out some quibbles with the book. One I agree with is that the author does not reveal as much about the daughter's thoughts or state of mind as the other characters. This may have been intentional, but I agree that it could have improved the story to give her more depth.

At Chasing Bawa, Sakura draws the same comparison to The Tattoo Murder Mystery as I did, and she also discusses the Galileo TV series.

My husband did give this book 5 stars and has a brief review at Goodreads:
This might not be a perfect "inverted" mystery but it is very, very clever and held me from first chapter to last.

The numerous characters are all sharply drawn and the plotting is - no other word for it - elegant.
Other reviews which provide more information on the book and the author are here:

Submitted for the Alphabet in Crime Fiction for the letter X. This community meme is hosted by Mysteries In Paradise.

Also for the R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril VIII event, hosted by Stainless Steel Droppings. Reviews for that event are here.


29 comments:

  1. I agree with you on your criticisms as I thought the book was completely lacking in setting in order to make you feel as if you are *there* or to remind you that you were in Tokyo, Japan but it was devoid of any such setting. It is fairly generic and slightly disappointing. I don't know why I was so swept up in the story. Like you I was rooting for the mother/daughter to get away with it. I enjoyed the novel immensely even despite the flaws. Have you read Villain by Shuichi Yoshida yet? I enjoyed that one too. Different styles/structure. i just thought I'd ask. I wish there were more books to read from Japan. I have a few titles but not a whole lot. Oh, I read the next Galileo mystery and wasn't successful in finishing it. I may try to give it another shot at another time.

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    1. Keishon, I think that "puzzle" mysteries are not really my thing, but it always depends on the writer. Agatha Christie is an obvious exception for me. In this case, I think the uniqueness of the story and the fact that I was sympathetic to the mother and daughter made a big difference. My husband just read the second book in the series and enjoyed it a lot.

      I have not yet read Villain but hope to in the next two or three months. I am glad to hear you enjoyed it because I have read varying reviews. I would like to read another Japanese book for the Japanese Literature challenge.

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  2. I liked this book a lot, thought it a unique story and one that is definitely not Western in its style or characters. So, always on the lookout for a different type of mystery, this book was an excellent read.

    I don't really have any quibbles with it, and rated it 4.5 out of 5.

    This book was an intellectual puzzler, and the author's next book in this series is even more so: Salvation of a Saint. There, the brilliance of the mystery solver only slightly outweighs that of the culprit.

    Quite a series. I look forward to more books like these.

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    1. Kathy, Glad to hear you liked this book and Salvation of a Saint. My husband really likes this series so I am sure he will keep supplying me with copies of the books. I don't know why I am not more into puzzle type mysteries; my background is math and programming, so I should like logic and puzzles.

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  3. I have this waiting to be read. I'm hoping that someday I'm actually able to get to it.

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    1. Ryan, I think you will enjoy reading it when you get to it.

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  4. This is on my list to read, Tracy. Thanks for the review.

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    1. Sarah, I am looking forward to seeing your review when you read it.

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  5. Tracy - I think one of the most interesting things about crime fiction from other, very different, cultures is the look readers get at the way other cultures view things like murder, its investigation, and writing about a police case. With all of that richness in the novel, it's interesting that there isn't a stronger sense of setting. At any rate, I'm glad you liked this as much as you did.

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    1. Margot, it is surprising about the setting, but I guess that wasn't the author's focus. It definitely did have a Golden Age feel to it, although I wasn't aware of that when I was reading it. Of course, it is always good to be immersed in the book and paying more attention to the story and characters.

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  6. This sounds like a fascinating read. I recently started reading translated fiction and have really enjoyed it, so I might pick this one up :)

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    1. Katie, I did enjoy and I hope you give it a try.

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  7. This keeps popping up in various book stores and 'customers also bought...' lists around me. Might have to give it a go.

    Given the author's Japanese, might the lack of 'setting' in Tokyo be a cultural thing? If the target audience was originally Japanese, then going over what they already know might be a touch redundant. Not that it invalidates your complaints, but it might explain them.

    Have you read any Miyuki Miyabe? My wife's just gone through a (slightly disconcerting, if I'm honest) period of devouring pretty much all her books, and she's written a lot. A fair amount is available in translation as well. I've only read one myself, but that wasn't half bad.

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    1. Kamo, my husband and I were just discussing the lack of "setting" yesterday, and I was sort of saying the same thing as you are. He had not even noticed the lack of emphasis on the physical setting, and he usually is very aware of that. I think we were both focused on the story to the exclusion of other elements... which is fine with me in reading a novel.

      I have not read any Miyabe, but my husband has read All She Was Worth. And liked it. So it is available to me when I want to try it.

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    2. All She Was Worth is the one I've read too. In many ways it's fairly simple and traditional, but it's got a fair bit about Japanese society at the end of the bubble which you might find interesting. Worth a look. (A few more of my thoughts on it are here, if you're at all interested - http://fightstart.blogspot.jp/2012/06/all-she-was-worth.html )

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    3. Kamo, I will definitely be reading All She Was Worth eventually. I liked your post about the book especially because you draw the contrast between when it was written and Japan today. Very interesting.

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  8. I really like your review - even if it disagrees in every way with my experience of the book :) but life would be boring if we all had the same thoughts about things

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    1. Bernadette, I read your review just now and you did have an entirely different take on it than I did. Very interesting. I did have times when I was irritated with the style and I am not ever very impressed with logic as a solution, because when you include people in the equation, it can easily fall apart. But overall the story pulled me in.

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  9. Thanks for this review TracyK - I have read so little Japanese fiction outside of the like of Murakami that it is great to hear good things about something that is easily accessible in rtanslation - thanks very much, especially as I am a fan of the COLUMBO style inverted mystery.

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    1. I think you would like it, Sergio. Not so much fun as a Columbo, but that was Peter Falk. I have liked all the inverted mysteries I have read.

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  10. I've wavered on this book several times when out shopping, picked it up, put it back down, went back to it, finally left it. I'm still undecided....maybe next time I see it. Glad you and Glen enjoyed it.

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    1. Based on the books you read, Col, I am not sure you would like it. Maybe you should trust your instincts. But it is different, and worth a try if you get a chance.

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  11. I didn't even think about the setting issue, and usually I'm drawn to books with a developed sense of place. But that was okay here because of the story, puzzle and characters. It may be culture, but may be this author's style.

    I don't look for the same things in every book. It's worth broadening out one's tastes, especially as the author -- and his characters are incredibly smart.

    And Miyuki Muyabi is very good, well worth reading. I do not recomment Natsuo Kirino.

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    1. Kathy, I agree the story and characters in this book override any other possible quibbles... for me anyway.

      Your comment on Natsuo Kirino was interesting. I only have that book because my husband passed it on to me, and he could not finish it. So I am prepared that I may not like it either. It will probably be the last on my list of Japanese books to read.

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  12. That book by Natsuo Kirino was criticized by Japanese women's groups. I'm not sure what their reasons were, but may have been the same as mine.

    Anyway, I would not throw out all of Japanese crime fiction. Salvation of a Saint is very good, a cat-and-mouse game of investigation with very smart players: an intellectual puzzler.

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    1. Kathy, I will probably read a few chapters of Out just to see what I think. And I will definitely be reading at least a couple of Japanese crime fiction novels a year.

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  13. I had not heard of either book or author, but it certainly sounds interesting. I would like to read more Japanese books, so should think about this one.

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    1. Moira, I would definitely recommend this. I have only read this and one other Japanese book, and I have more in line to try.

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    2. I'd suggest Miyuki Miyabi's All She Was Worth. That was an unusual book and worth reading. Quite interesting.

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