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Thursday, March 16, 2017

Japanese Crime Writers (Especially Keigo Higashino)

I came across this article about some recommended Japanese crime writers:

One of the authors mentioned, Keigo Higashino, I’ve recently read.  Here’s my review of Keigo Higashino’s Under the Midnight Sun, one of his standalone novels:


Higashino has also written several books in the Detective Galileo series.  The first book is The Devotion of Suspect X.

Review of The Devotion of Suspect X
3 Stars
Tetsuya Ishagami, a math genius, helps a woman, Yasuko Hanmaoka, hide the murder of her ex-husband. Motivated by his infatuation for Yasuko, Ishagami disposes of the body and constructs an alibi for both Yasuko and her daughter.

Kusanagi, the lead detective, tells his friend, Manabu Yukawa, a university physics professor, about the case. What results is an intellectual battle between two geniuses, one intent on constructing the perfect crime and the other on using logic to solve it.

The ending is an unguessable twist because the author withheld information from the reader. Even after everything is explained, the conclusion is unsatisfactory: the extent of Ishagami's devotion seems unbelievable, and Yukawa's behaviour, especially considering his friendship with Ishagami, is hurtful.

The pace is quick and the book is very readable, but one cannot help but feel cheated in the end.


There is also a second Higashino series, this one featuring Detective Kaga.  The first novel in this series to be translated into English is entitled Malice.

Review of Malice
4 Stars
This Japanese mystery is a must-read.

Osamu Nonoguchi, a children’s author, discovers the body of Kunihiko Hidaka, a childhood friend and fellow author. Detective Kyochiro Kaga investigates and soon comes to suspect Nonoguchi though he seems to have a perfect alibi. The difficulty is identifying a motive. Kaga begins digging into the past and uncovers startling information about the two men’s school days and their literary careers. But theory after theory about the motive proves to be incorrect. Will the case ever be satisfactorily solved?

As a whodunit, the story is a locked room mystery which is solved rather quickly. It is when the book becomes a whydunit that it excels. The book could really be identified as a study of the psychology of murder. And what it reveals is chilling.

This struck me as very much a Sherlock Holmes mystery. There is little reliance on forensics. It is the determination and intelligence of the detective that solve the case. The novel is narrated through a series of journal entries kept by Kaga and Nonoguchi so the reader is given all the information Kaga has at his disposal. The reader is expected to be observant and try to make sense of the clues. (Hint: if something doesn’t seem quite right, it probably isn’t.) So many mysteries cheat by keeping information from readers; this was a problem with the other Higashino novels I’ve read (The Devotion of Suspect X and Salvation of a Saint). In Malice, however, there is no such ploy so the book really challenges the reader.

Because we learn so much background about Nonoguchi, Kaga and even Hidaka, they emerge as characters with depth, not the flat characters often encountered in second-rate mysteries. Kaga certainly earns the reader’s admiration and respect, and both the victim and his murderer will garner some sympathy.

This book appeared on the 2015 summer mystery reading list compiled by a panel on Shelagh Roger’s The Next Chapter on CBC Radio. I am certainly happy that it made it to my reading list.


Another Japanese crime writer I would recommend is Six Four by Hideo Yokoyama which I read earlier this month: