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Monday, January 30, 2017

Review of UNDER THE MIDNIGHT SUN by Keigo Higashino

4 Stars
This is a non-traditional mystery by one of my favourite mystery writers.  It focuses on the fallout of an unsolved murder over nearly two decades. 

In 1973, Yosuke Kirihara, a pawnbroker, is found murdered in an abandoned building.  Detective Sasagaki investigates.  Suspicion falls on Fumiyo Nishimoto, a frequent customer, and her lover, but there is no evidence of guilt and so the case remains unsolved.  After this inciting incident, the book follows the lives of Ryo, the ten-year-old son of the victim, and Yukiho, the daughter of the customer.  Through their adolescence and their young adulthood, misfortune befalls many of Ryo and Yukiho’s acquaintances, friends, and family. 

Point of view is used in an interesting way.  Ryo and Yukiho remain very much in the background because chapters are narrated from the point of view of various minor characters.  Obviously, this is an effective technique to create suspense.  Since Ryo and Yukiho’s thoughts and feelings are never directly revealed, the reader can only guess at what motivates them or at their degree of involvement in events.

The plot can best be described as labyrinthine with numerous twists and turns, but in the end, all the details of the various subplots come together.  How these subplots will be connected is one of the things that keeps the reader’s interest.  The ending is not really a surprise; in fact, I would argue that the book could not have ended differently. 

The cast of characters is massive.  A character may show up in one section and then disappear, only to reappear years later.  Non-Japanese readers might have some difficulty with the names.  The first chapter introduces Yosuke, Yaeko and Ryo Kirihara; Isamu Matsuura; Fumiyo and Yukiho Nishimoto; and Tadao Terasaki.   Other significant characters are Eriko Kawashima, Yuichi Akiyoshi, Miyako Fujimura, Fumihiko Kikuchi, Tomohiko Sonomura, Namie Nishiguchi, Kazunari and Yasuharu Shinozuka, Makoto Takamiya, Chizuru Misawa – and the list could go on and on.  I would advise readers to perhaps begin a chart to remember characters.

The book is certainly dark with some very dark characters.  However, even the villains are in the end shown to be human.  When the reader learns about the backstories, motivations become clear and some sympathy is even felt for the bad guys. 

The duration of the novel is almost twenty years, and the passage of time is shown through references to events in Japan; it is the allusions to advances in computer technology between 1973 and 1992 that are most distinctive. 

This is a clever book which I found to be a compelling read.  I was disappointed when I reached the end of this novel; as lengthy as it is, I would have liked it to continue.