Mystery writer Keigo Higashino is the one of the most widely known and bestselling novels in Japan. Or so says the jacket blurb for The Devotion of Suspect X, and I don’t doubt it. Translated from Japanese to English by Alexander O. Smith, the mystery’s writing style is like the spring-time ice on a river, smooth and finished, while below, the river eddies and churns. Here’s a sample:
“At 7:35 a.m. Ishigami left his apartment as he did every weekday morning. Just before stepping out onto the street, he glanced at the mostly full bicycle lot, noting the absence of the green bicycle. Thought iwas already March, the wind was bitingly cold. He walked with his head down, burying his chin in his scarf.”
Ishigami will soon become Suspect X, when he devotes himself to saving his neighbor Yasuko (she of the green bicycle) and her daughter from life in prison after the women kill Yasuko’s ex-husband. That Ishigami has loved Yasuko from afar is soon made clear. The lengths he will go to in order to save her is not apparent until the book’s last few pages. That his efforts are all for nothing, sentencing both Yasuko and Ishigami to a life of penance, makes the Devotion of Suspect X a particularly resonant and memorable read.
The characters are well-drawn and compelling:
- Ishigami, the math genius whose devotion to family led him away from the university and to teaching high school math
- The lovely Yasuko, a former bar girl and essentially decent woman, and her schoolgirl daughter Misato
- Detective Kusanagi of the Tokyo Police, working through what is essentially a police procedural, only suspecting that Ishigami is perpetually two or three steps ahead of him
- Physicist Dr. Manubu Yukawa, former classmate of Ishigami and friend of Kusanagi, who sees more deeply than the police do
- Plus a host of other characters, including police officers, the nice couple who own the lunch take-away where Yasuko works, and of course the abusive ex-husband.
Here’s what I liked: the book was very well-plotted and intricate, with a nice “uh-oh” ending, the cat-and-mouse between the physicist and the mathematician, Yasuko’s overall plight, and the story of unrequited love.
Negatives: only that the story is told at such a remove that it is hard to really emotionally engage with the characters.
So, in the race for the Edgar, how does it stack up against 1222? Definitely superior. Here’s the ranking for MWA Best Novel from Literary Lunchbox so far: