Tag Archives: Keigo Higashino

Higashino’s Under the Midnight Sun

midnightKeigo Higashino’s Devotion of Suspect X was a finalist for the MWA Edgar Award for Best Novel in 2012.  I liked it, but ranked it in the middle of the pack and ultimately the Edgar went to Mo Hayder’s Gone (also my pick).  He’s penned a couple since then which have been translated into English, most recently the just-released  Under the Midnight Sun.

The book is lengthier than the usual crime novel, but needs the pages for the sheer sweep of story.  The murder of an adulterous pawnbroker followed by the apparent suicide of the pawnbroker’s lover brings together two children.  Ryo Kirihara is the pawnbroker’s son.  And Yukiho Nishimoto is the woman’s daughter.  Determining what really happened and why is Detective Sasagaki’s lifelong quest.

The book unfolds at a leisurely pace, although it soon becomes clear that there is more, much more, simmering beneath the surface.  Why do bad things happen to those who stand between Yukiho and something she wants?  How does the clever Ryo accomplish so much, just to disappear abruptly and resurface with a different name?

Sasagaki spends decades plumbing the depths of the mystery of the pair’s relationship.  He suspects that Ryo and Yukiho offer the human equivalent of the symbiotic relationship between the goby and the shrimp, with Ryo as the goby.  “One cannot live without the other,” says Sasagaki.  

Under the Midnight Sun offers plenty of suspense as the plot twists along, incorporating characters and perspectives.  Some are unsuspecting victims, others are suspicious.  All are of interest.

My previous review of Higashino’s Salvation of a Saint said it was a cerebral puzzler with minimal drama.   I have to echo that for Under the Midnight Sun.  Some will read a chapter or two, then set it aside and instead pick up the latest Lee Child or John Sanford.  But the patient reader with a penchant for the slow reveal will enjoy how well Higashino weaves the story that leads to a big – understated, but satisfying – finish.

 

 

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Three quick mini-reviews

I’m about to start the Edgar countdown, but first, I have three quick reviews to do!

winterpeopleFirst up is Jennifer McMahon’s The Winter People.  This supernatural thriller alternates between present day – when there are some mighty strange goings-on in West Hall, Vermont – and 1908, when Sara Harrison Shea’s beloved daughter Gertie dies, setting in place a chain of events that will literally never end.  It’s a zombie story with a twist.  Despite a plot hole or two, Winter People benefits from McMahon’s writing skill and you’ll be totally sucked in.  Like a little dark magic and horror in your mysteries?  This one’s for you.

revivalThe second is Stephen King’s Revival.  The book is in the tradition of Carrie, Cujo, and Pet Sematary, with a little Ray Bradbury thrown in.  Jamie Morton, young son of the local minister, meets the Rev. Charles Jacobs and his family.  There’s something special about Rev. Jacobs:  he believes he can harness the special electrical power of the soul to heal the afflicted.  The twist is: he can. After the death of his wife and child, the grief-wracked Rev. Jacobs moves on, the years pass, and Jamie grows up to be in a rock-and-roll band.  When they reconnect, sparks fly (literally) and its all eerie fun and games until Charlie Jacobs actually brings somebody back from the dead to learn the secrets of life after death… that’s on page 378.  King had me till then, but the rest of the book was all too graphic and over the top for me.

salvationThe final book is Salvation of a Saint, by Keigo Higashino.  Higashino’s debut novel, The Devotion of Suspect X, was an Edgar finalist in 2012 and I enjoyed it, ultimately ranking it in the middle of the nominees.  If Winter People has breathless pacing and Revival is old-style horror, Salvation is pure Sherlock Holmes-ian deduction.  Minimal drama, and what there is, is understated.  For people who like their mysteries cerebral, this puzzler’s a good one.

Pondering the international flavor of this year’s Edgar nominees

Of the authors who have books nominated for the Mystery Writers of America Edgar Allan Poe award for Best Novel, only one’s American:  Ace Atkins.  Mo Hayder is British, Keigo Higashino is Japanese, Anne Holt is Norwegian, and Philip Kerr is British.  Hmm.  It got me thinking – is this an unusual year, or is there usually such an international flavor?

Let’s check it out.  I visited the MWA Edgar website, which has an awesome, searchable database.  Seriously, check it out here.  Want to know if your favorite author ever won an Edgar?  Want to know who won every year for the last ten years so you can make a library run?  Whatever you want to know, it’s there.

From 2003 to 2011, there were 48 books and 44 authors nominated for a Best Novel Edgar.  Michael Connelly, Ken Bruen, Laura Lippman and John Hart were all nominated twice – and John Hart won in both years!  Connelly, Bruen, and Lippman did not receive the award either time they were nominated in the last ten years.

Of the 44 nominees, 29 (or 2/3) are American.   The other 1/3 are not.  Of these: 4 are British.  4 are Irish.  3 are Scottish.  1 is Japanese. 1 is Norwegian.  1 is Swedish. 1 is South African.

So – yay!  I’m not nuts.  This year’s MWA nominees for Best Novel are definitely skewed towards the international.

But how does a book get nominated, anyway?  The work must be submitted for consideration, and to be considered, it must have been published in the United States for the first time during the year previous (so 2012 submissions must have been published in 2011).  Publishers must have met the MWA criteria.  For Best Novel, publication must have been in hard copy. Publishers are expected to submit the works, but authors or agents may do so.

And from here, it’s a big blur.  The MWA website is weak in this regard, it appears that either how the works are judged is considered common knowledge or it is considered proprietary.  I do know that many people read the submissions and there is an ongoing process to winnow it down to the top six and then the ultimate winner.  There’s no nomination committee and then voting – it’s all done by the same people.

Here’s a blog post from last year from Bruce Hollingdrake at The Bookshop Blog.  It’s pretty helpful.

Field Gray the Final Entry in MWA Edgar Race

Are you an 80-year-old guy, like my dad?  You’ll probably love Field Gray, the 7th Bernie Gunther novel in the series by Philip Kerr.  It’s the final nominee for the Mystery Writers of America Edgar for Best Novel.  I suppose you would classify it an “historical thriller.”

This novel opens in 1954, with the much-traveled Bernie in Havana.  He’s not on the right side of the law, but nobody seems to be, including the gorgeous girl he’s been blackmailed into taking with him on a boat to Haiti.  Gorgeous Melba may be, but she also murdered a man for Castro and when they’re stopped by the U.S. Navy, its off to Guantanamo Bay for the two of them.

The set-up is just an excuse to get Bernie into the hands of the Americans, who question him closely about his past as a policeman – a real cop, who solves crimes, not a fake cop who uses his badge to commit them on the behalf of Nazis – during WW2.  It emerges that over the years, Bernie had twice saved the life of the man who is now a much-reviled East German security chief.  The CIA would love to get their hands on Erich Mielke.

Here’s a sample of the book:  It was easy to forget that we were in Germany.  There was a U.S. flag in the main hall and the kitchens — which were seemingly always in action — served plain home-cooking on the understanding that home was six thousand kilometers to the west.  Most of the voices we heard were american, too: loud, manly voices that told you to do something or not to do something – in English.  And we did it quickly, too, or we received a prod from a nightstick or a kick up the backside.  Nobody complained.  Nobody would have listened, except perhaps Father Morgenweiss.

The novel is in first person, and everything we see is through Bernie’s eyes.  The plot is terrifically wide-ranging and has the knotty twists of a John LeCarre spy thriller.  It’s packed with action, has a love story, includes real historical figures, and addresses the key sociopolitical issues of its time, while at the same time playing in the gray area between black and white, good and evil.  It’s getting great reviews.

So why didn’t I like it?  Why was reading it like doing homework?  Disclaimer:  I’m not a good historian.  The time frame – the 30s to the 50s – is not a time I lived through and while I adored Schindler’s List, the thrill of a story that was set everywhere from Cuba to New York to France to Germany to Russia is not very thrilling, in and of itself.  Field Gray is dense, very talky, and I found myself wondering as I read it just what the mystery was.  I certainly wasn’t in suspense, because I knew darn well Bernie was not going to get killed and other than that, I didn’t care about anybody else in the book.

Needless to say, Field Gray is not my fave.  Boy, will my face be red if it wins the Edgar!  But I have to call them as I see them, since the name of this game is “If Literary Lunchbox gave out Edgars…”

For the quality of the writing and in recognition that Field Gray is just not my cup of tea and so perhaps I am judging too harshly, I put it above 1222, but below The Devotion of Suspect X.  Come April, we’ll see.

  1. Gone by Mo Hayder
  2. The Ranger by Ace Atkins
  3. The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino
  4. Field Gray by Philip Kerr
  5. 1222 by Anne Holt

Edgar Nominee #2: The Devotion of Suspect X

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:

  1. The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino
  2. 1222 by Anne Holt