Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Japanese Literature Challenge: A Midsummer's Equation


A Midsummer's Equation by Keigo Higashino is the first book I am reviewing for the Japanese Literature Challenge, hosted at Dolce Bellezza. It started this month and continues through March 2023.

Summary from the book dust jacket:

Manabu Yukawa, the physicist known as "Detective Galileo," is at a fading resort town to speak at a town meeting on a planned underwater mining operation. The town is sharply divided over mining for minerals from the seabed. One faction is concerned about the environmental impact on the area, known for its pristine waters. The other faction believes it is the only hope for the rapidly declining town.

The night after the tense meeting, one of the resort's guests is found dead at the base of the cliffs. The local police at first believe it was a simple accident–that he fell over the sea wall while wandering around unfamiliar territory in the middle of the night. But Tsukahara, the deceased, turns out to be a former Tokyo police detective, and he died of carbon monoxide poisoning. Now, instead of misfortune, the police are investigating his death as a probable murder.

My thoughts:

This is a wonderful mystery, but a very complex story, not too long (357 pages), but with lots of various groups involved: the town's people, the local police, the police from Tokyo who carry out their own independent investigation, and the people from outside who are pushing for mining along the sea coast. Manabu Yukawa, the physicist and sometimes consulting detective, is an outsider, doing research for the mining company. He stays at the hotel owned by Shigehiro and Setsuko Kawahata, and he gets to be close friends with Kyohei, their young nephew who is in the fifth grade and visiting while his parents are traveling. He and Narumi, the Kawahata's daughter who helps out at the hotel, discuss the pros and cons of the mining operation. This access gives Yukawa the ability to conduct his own investigation and decide whether he wants to consult with the police or not.

The entire story (which goes back to an earlier case of Tsukahara's) takes a long time to unravel and kept me mystified all the way. There were some confusing factors, especially that the Tokyo police and the local police in Hari Cove were more in competition than working together. It made for a more interesting story but didn't make sense to me. Is this common in the Japanese police system? Because there were so many police working on the case, I did find following that part of the investigation confusing.

My favorite part of this story was the characters. I was pulling for all of them and could not figure out who could be a murderer. The two police officers who work with Manabu Yukawa are Kusanagi, a more experienced detective, and Utsumi, a young female detective. They work well together and with Yukawa. But my favorite character was Kyohei, the young boy who is visiting the hotel owners and develops a relationship with Yukawa. Kyohei is lackadaisical about his studies and Yukawa helps him with a science project. 

I think this is a great series, and I don't think it makes much difference in what order it is read. This book is the sixth book in the series but only the third book translated into English. But I would not start with this book if you have not already tried a book by Keigo Higashino. A number of reviewers liked this book but not nearly as much as the two previous books in the series. 

My husband did not find this book as much to his liking as other books by the author, and he points out some flaws that also bothered other reviewers.

My husband's review on Goodreads:

I’m a fan of Japanese mystery/murder/detective/police novels especially Keigo Higashino and especially his elegantly plotted “The Devotion of Suspect X”. I’m afraid though that this entry in the author’s Detective Galileo series is something of a disappointment. The often used device of past events impacting the present is a favorite but here it is all so subtle (vague? meditative?) that I’m not even sure (until the “hurry up and resolve this” last 30 pages) what is going on. It could very well just be me so by all means give this one a try if you like Japanese mysteries and/or Higashino and don't mind opaque plotting.

I have read four other books by Keigo Higashino: The Devotion of Suspect X and Salvation of a Saint, both in the Detective Galileo series; Malice (Kyoichiro Kaga series) and Under the Midnight Sun (standalone).


Publisher:   Minotaur Books, 2016 (orig. pub. 2011)
Translator:  Alexander O. Smith 
Length:       358 pages
Format:       Hardcover
Series:        Detective Galileo
Setting:       Japan
Genre:        Police Procedural
Source:       Borrowed from my husband.


Margot Kinberg said...

I do like Higashino's 'Galileo" mysteries, Tracy. He's got a way, in my opinion, of weaving complex plot threads together so they mesh. I like the way he draws his characters, too, so it's good to hear you enjoyed this one.

Kay said...

I have meant to try this series for a really long time. One day. I enjoyed reading your thoughts (and your husband's) on this book.

TracyK said...

Margot, I have enjoyed the three books in this series, and my husband has another one on his shelf. Looking forward to that one.

TracyK said...

Thanks, Kay. The series is worth a try, even though it is a quieter story than a lots of mysteries these days. Maybe that is why the series is often cited as similar to Agatha Christie's books. Whenever you get to it, I hope it works well for you.

Cath said...

It seems Japanese crime fiction is on the ascendent - Margot was talking about a book by Hideo Yokoyaha on Youtube a few days ago. So that's two authors I ought to check out. Crime fiction is an excellent way to find out a bit about the culture of a country I find, quite different to reading non-fiction. Sometimes it's nice to mix the two.

TracyK said...

Cath, I first got interested in Japanese crime fiction because my husband likes it. I have read a few other Japanese authors, but I have read more by Higashino than any other Japanese authors.

I agree that fiction can give a good picture of a culture, and with crime fiction you see the various legal procedures and how the police work.

CLM said...

If you tell me your husband's favorite Japanese mystery, I will buy it for my nephew's birthday as he studied Japanese in Kyoto last summer.

TracyK said...

Constance, I asked him his favorite and he said it was The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino. That is the first one that was translated in the Detective Galileo series. It is an inverted mystery, so you know who has committed the crime from the beginning. What a great way for your nephew to spend his summer.

Lark said...

This is an author I want to try!

TracyK said...

Keigo Higashino is a good one to try, Lark. The books in this series are compared to Agatha Christie's writing. I don't really get that except that they have a consulting detective and they are not thrillers. But I find each book a bit different, in this series and the other books I have read by him. That keeps me coming back for more.