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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.