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Book Author: Keigo Higashino

NEWCOMER by Keigo Higashino: Book Review

Detective Kyochiro Kaga is viewed as something of a renegade in the Tokyo Police Department.  Perhaps for that reason, in spite of his history of solving murders he has been sent from the prestigious Homicide Squad to a small police precinct in that city.

The body of Mineko Mitsui has been found in her apartment, and Kaga is one of the detectives sent to investigate the crime.  She is a newcomer to the Nihonbashi area of Tokyo and seemingly led a quiet, almost reclusive, life.  She is divorced, with a young adult son she has not seen in nearly two years.

Mineko had been a housewife for nearly twenty years when she decided she wanted a “new life” and asked her husband for a divorce.  Before their marriage she had majored in English literature in college and wanted to become a translator, even planning to travel to England after graduation.

However, Mineko became pregnant with Naohiro’s child, and after they were married she became a traditional Japanese housewife, leaving aside her dreams of travel and career.   But after her divorce, she went for advice to a college friend, Machiko Fujiwara, and joined Machiko in her translation business.

Koki, Mineko and Naohiro’s son, didn’t seem to care one way or the other about his parents’ divorce.  Before it had occurred, he had already cut himself off from them because he did not get the emotional support he wanted when he told them of his desire to become an actor.  Angry at their response, he packed up his belongings and left home.

However, when Koki learns of his mother’s death, he experiences regret and tries to learn why she had moved from their previous neighborhood into one very close to his.  How strange, he thinks, that she never attempted to contact him if, in fact, he was the reason for her move.

Detective Kaga is assured by everyone who knew the victim that she was without enemies.  He has, of course, heard this in many earlier murder investigations, but in this case it appears to be true.  No angry ex-husband, no jealous boyfriends, no inheritance for her son.  So what was the motive for her murder?

Newcomer is an absolute gem of a mystery.  Its protagonist, Detective Kaga, is so low-key that other characters in the novel, as well as the reader, wonder about his involvement in the investigation.  Can the questions he asks the witnesses–about men wearing jackets vs. short-sleeved shirts or why the victim purchased a second set of scissors–really be important in helping him solve the crime?

The answer, of course, is yes, although the reader doesn’t understand until Kaga explains.  Then it all makes perfect sense.  There is something so charming, so attractive about him, that the combination of his personality and a really puzzling mystery will keep you reading until the novel’s end.

Keigo Higashino is a best-selling author throughout Asia and the recipient of many prizes and awards.  One of his earlier mysteries, The Devotion of Suspect X, has been made into a film and is available on Amazon Prime; my review of it is available on this blog.

You can read more about Mr. Higashino at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

 

UNDER THE MIDNIGHT SUN by Keigo Higashino: Book Review

Reading Under the Midnight Sun is like taking a twenty-year trip through Osaka and Tokyo, starting in 1971.  It’s an incredible novel, one that requires a lot of patience and concentration to read but is well worth the effort.

Right from the beginning, Osaka Police Detective Sasagaki finds the murder of Yosuke Kirihara, owner of a pawnshop bearing his name, distinctly odd.  His body, found in a desolate building, is punctured with several stab wounds to the abdomen.  It appears to Sasagaki that the victim was there for a sexual interlude, but why would any man bring a woman to such a dirty, unpleasant place?

Yosuke’s wife Yaeko, eleven-year-old son Ryo, and Isamu Matsuura, the shop’s lone employee, were all in the apartment behind the shop when the murder apparently took place; given that Yosuke was missing overnight, it’s hard for forensics to give an exact time of death.  Sasagaki follows the deceased’s trail and discovers that on the day of the murder Yosuke had cashed in a CD, leaving the bank with a very large amount of cash.  The money wasn’t found on his body, and his wife and the pawnshop employee say they know of no reason why Yosuke would have had so much money with him when he was killed.

About a year later, there’s another death in the neighborhood.  Fumiyo Nishimoto is found in the tiny apartment she shared with her young daughter, Yukiho.  She was overcome by gas coming from her stove, but whether it was an accident or a suicide is impossible to tell.

These two deaths are the seeds from which the rest of the novel grow.  One of the plot lines deals with computers and hacking, and it’s very interesting to go back over forty years and read about life at the beginning of the computer age.  Personal computers are just beginning to appear in homes, cell phones are unknown.  In terms of the subtext of the plot, 1971 is another world and a distant one at that.  It must be noted that the book was published in 1999, so technology, DNA testing, and forensics were much more primitive then than they are now.

To go back to the first paragraph of this post, it’s only fair to point out a few things that make Under the Midnight Sun a dense and difficult read.  First is the length of time the novel covers and the size of the book–twenty years and 554 pages.  Second is that it takes a while to realize how much time has gone by at different points in the novel–events aren’t separated by chapters or headings with dates, so suddenly someone who was eleven on one page is five years older on the next.  Third is that there are many characters and, of course, they all have Japanese names.  Many of the names were very similar, and I had to keep referring back through the book to remember who they were in the story.

That being said, Under the Midnight Sun is a wonderful novel.  The book is beautifully translated, with a style so smooth that readers will think English is the original language.  I reviewed Higashino’s The Devotion of Suspect X several years ago and found this novel equally enjoyable.

Keigo Higashino is the winner of multiple awards for crime fiction in Japan, and several of his books have been adapted for television and films in Japan, South Korea, and France.

You can read more about Keigo Higashino at various sites on the web.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.

 

 

THE DEVOTION OF SUSPECT X by Keigo Higashino: Book Review

It’s a familiar beginning to a crime story. A woman, divorced from an emotionally and physically abusive husband, believes that she and her daughter are free of him.  Nevertheless, she continues to take steps to distance herself from him, changing her job and moving to a different apartment.  But still he finds her.

The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino starts off with this premise. But within a few pages it changes direction.  When Yasuko Hanaoka’s former husband, Shinji Togashi, finds her and her daughter, he says he wants to reconcile with them.  Having gone through this routine with him before, Yasuko refuses to discuss it and gives him money, not for the first time, to get him to leave.

Before he goes he tries to talk to his teenage stepdaughter, but she wants nothing to do with him.  Infuriated, he begins hitting her, and Yasuko tries to pull him away.  The daughter then tries to come to her mother’s rescue and, even more angry, Togashi starts punching both of them.  Desperate to protect herself and her daughter, Yasuko grabs the cord that heats the kotatsu table (it’s a heated table, apparently very common in Japan) and strangles him from behind.  Togashi is dead.

Frightened, Yasuko starts toward the phone to call the police and confess her crime when there’s a knock on her door.  Her neighbor, a man she barely knows or has spoken to, appears there to say he heard a commotion and came over to see if Yasuko and Misato are all right.  When he sees the body on the floor, it’s obvious to him what has happened.

Ishigami, the neighbor who is almost always referred to only by his last name, is a brilliant mathematician teaching below his abilities at a local high school. He’s a man proud of his logical mind, and realizing that Yasuko and her daughter were protecting themselves and that the death was more accidental than deliberate, Ishigami devises a plan to help them get rid of the body.

He has only one condition, that the mother and daughter must follow his advice to the letter. When the police find out that Togashi is missing or dead, they will certainly question his ex-wife, Ishigami tells the mother and daughter, so they need to do exactly what he tells them to avoid suspicion.

And the police do come. Detective Kusanagi doesn’t exactly suspect Yasuko, but there’s something odd in her low-key yet completely alibied story that doesn’t quite ring true for him.  He goes for some help to an old friend, Professor Manabu Yukawa, a physicist who happens to  have been a classmate of Ishigami, and who is known as Detective Galileo as an acknowledgement both of his knowledge of physics and his assistance to the Tokyo police in previous cases.

Keigo Higashino is one of Japan’s most famous mystery writers, and one can see why in this excellent novel. The plot is skillful and the characters believable.  The translation appears flawless, with the characters speaking so naturally that the reader doesn’t realize that the words were originally in another language.

Many of Higashino’s books have been made into films or television programs.  He doesn’t appear to have a dedicated web site, but you can read a brief biography about him at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Keigo_Higashino.