Thursday, January 22, 2015

Salvation of a Saint: Keigo Higashino

This was one of the last books I read in 2014. I read it for the Japanese Literary Challenge 8 hosted by Dolce Bellezza.

Description from the dust jacket of the edition I read:
Keigo Higashino’s The Devotion of Suspect X was widely proclaimed one of the best books of the year and a finalist for the world’s top award in crime fiction. The first major English-language publication from the most popular writer in Japan, it was acclaimed by critics as “stunning,” “brilliant,” and “ingenious.” Now physics professor Manabu Yukawa –Detective Galileo – returns in a new case of impossible murder, where instincts clash with facts, and theory with reality.
When a man who was about to leave his marriage is poisoned to death, his wife becomes the logical suspect, except for one simple fact: She was hundreds of miles away when he was murdered. Tokyo police detective Kusanagi and his assistant, Kaoru Utsumi, cannot agree on a suspect. Was it his wife, his girlfriend, his business associate? Or was this a random crime? When they call upon their secret weapon, Professor Manabu Yukawa, even his brilliant mind is challenged by a crime that is implausible, methodical, and perfect.

The Japanese  crime fiction novels I have read are not thrillers, but more like character studies, looking into the how and why of the crime. This one is a locked room mystery, and although the puzzle to be solved in this one is very ingenious, I am not usually into that type of story. Nevertheless, there were many elements of the story I found interesting and entertaining.

The detectives seem to be at odds or in competition. There is a new young detective, Utsumi, bringing in new ideas. The head detective, Kusanagi, is in disagreement with her almost immediately. He is also at odds with his old friend, Yukawa. Because the two detectives have very different ideas about who the murderer is, Utsumi goes to the professor and asks for his help. He is reluctant at first, and Kusanagi is less than thrilled at his interference.

This story explores the how and why of the murder less than who did it.  It also delves into relationships and behavior of many of those involved. The importance of children in this culture is emphasized. A lot of the story revolves around the inability of Ayane to have a child, and her husband's reaction to this. The couple's friends have a new baby and are proud and happy.

Although I preferred The Devotion of Suspect X, this book was also very good. It had more aspects of a police procedural, which was a plus for me, and I liked the new young detective it introduced.

See Margot's view at Confessions of a Mystery Novelist...

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Publisher:   Minotaur Books, 2012 (orig. pub. 2008)
Translator:  Alexander O. Smith with Elye Alexander
Length:       330 pages
Format:       Hardcover
Series:        Professor Galileo, #2
Setting:       Tokyo, Japan
Genre:        Mystery
Source:       Borrowed from my husband.

26 comments:

  1. I thought this was very well done, an investigation Sherlock Holmes would have approved of, with science as the basis of the solution. I was fascinated by the detailed examination of how the murder was committed, although I did think the suspect was clear from the get-go. But how it was done was the crux of the story.
    It was figured out brilliantly, I thought.
    What work the author must have done to plot it so precisely.

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    1. I agree, Kathy, I am amazed at how mystery authors construct plots at all, let alone something as complex as this.

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  2. This is another author that I plan to sample this year. I think I've had the first book on my Kindle for a 2 or 3 years. Looking forward to it!

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    1. I am sure you will enjoy the first book when you read it, Kay. Hope you get to it soon.

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  3. I haven't really enjoyed the very few admittedly Japanese books I've read to be honest. I may have the first one in this series - I'm not too sure but I don't think I'll be rushing to try this - based on my limited experiences so far. There's always going to be one to buck the trend though....

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    1. Col, my experiences so far with Japanese mysteries is that they are more in the traditional vein. Thus I would not be surprised if you did not like them that well. There are plenty of other books and international authors to read.

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  4. Tracy - Thank you for the kind mention and link :-). I agree with you that this one shows readers more of the police point of view in this investigation. I thought one thing that worked well was the way the detectives worked together. It's also interesting (at least to me) to see how the principles of math and physics help solve the case. Oh, and you're absolutely right, I think, about the focus on the personal relationships involved.

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    1. Margot, it was interesting to see a physicist playing detective. You don't see that often.

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  5. Tracy, I'm so used to reading books by writers on either side of the Atlantic, UK on the continent, that I seldom think of fiction from other parts of the world, that I know I should visit once in a while and make an effort to read. I do enjoy reading a good translated work.

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    1. Prashant, sometimes reading translated books is challenging to me because the style of writing is so different from the majority of mysteries written in English. Worth the effort though.

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  6. I read this one after reading MALICE by the same author. The method of the murder is reminiscent of some of the deathtraps used in vintage Golden Age detective novels. Higashino proves that there is still the possibility to bamboozle the modern reader in the age of DNA and high tech police methods. None of those methods are very helpful in solving the crime though science is still key in rooting out the murderer. MALICE, this writer's latest, is a very intriguing crime novel that explores motive more than anything. The revelation of the "why" of the crime is truly original. The whole thing is kind of breathtaking in its bravado and the manner in which he breaks free of tired crime fiction formulas. It's a very subversive crime novel.

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    1. John, I am glad to see your praise of MALICE. My husband and I both want to read that one.

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  7. I read this in the original Japanese and liked it a lot; but I thought the method didn't actually work. That is, if you think about what the murderer needs to happen to get everything they want, and about how much was in their control, there are too many ways it could go wrong. (I don't think that's too spoilery, but if you do, please delete this comment.)

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    1. Nigel, I had similar thoughts to yours about the likelihood of the success of the method. They did not really occur to me until days after reading the book, probably because my focus was not so much on the how as the why. Even with those reservations, I like it a lot, as you said.

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  8. Some things could go wrong here, but at least the perpetrator thought of the intricate murder method and the investigator figured it out.
    Sherlock Holmes also figured out complex murder plots that relied on exact timing, the probability that the victim would be at a certain place at a certain time and not someone else and that all of the factors would coincide at precisely the right time.

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    1. Kathy: Many mystery plots (in books and movies) are hard to believe in retrospect if you think about them, but I usually suspend disbelief and go with the flow. I haven't read any Sherlock Holmes at all. I have got to try some of his novels and short stories. I like just about any adaptation of Holmes and Watson, so don't know why I have avoided them. It was a goal for 2014, will have to move it into 2015.

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  9. Enjoyed your review, Tracy and glad to see you enjoyed this one. While not my favorite title, I do like this writer.

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    1. Thanks, Keishon. I look forward to trying Malice, and I believe there is another "Detective Galileo" coming out this year.

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  10. Good review! If you like the police work and get a book about the ' how and why' of murder I can understand your disappointment. There was a puzzle to be solved....did you see any clues while reading the story? I am still 0 for 2 trying to be a detective. I'm hink I wouldn't see a ' clue' even if it hit me over the head!

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    1. Nancy, This is almost (but not really) an inverted mystery, where you know from the beginning who did it. In this case it is left in doubt, and I never did figure it out. Sometimes when I am reading older, vintage mysteries I do a pretty good job of guessing, but usually I am fooled. I usually miss the real clues. I almost always try though.

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  11. I liked The Devotion of Suspect X. Your review has left me intrigued enough to try this one too!

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    1. This one is similar, Sarah, but definitely with different aspects. The writing seems different in Japanese mysteries (or it could be the translation), but I like the focus on the characters lives.

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  12. I stopped by your blog today. It looks like we have similar tastes in books. I'm adding you to my favorite blogs list.
    Ann

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    1. Thanks, Ann. I pretty much like all types of mystery fiction, although I try to stay away from stories that are too violent. It all depends on the author, though.

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  13. Interesting - I like the sound of this. I have read a few Japanese books, and this sounds worth a try. When choosing mysteries I'm always torn because I like to extend my horizons, but I also like books with familiar surroundings, which for me means UK or US, because I think I have more of an understanding of what's going on....

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    1. It is true, Moira, that books in foreign settings by foreign authors sometimes take me out of the mystery story due to paying more attention to the interactions or the tone. As usual, it really depends on the author. Higashino's books are a bit more of a puzzle mystery than I generally like, but I still like his books so far.

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