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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

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