I love Japanese writers. Be it Murakami or the atmosphere created by Kobo Abe, or the prose of Junichiro Tanizaki, Japanese writers know their craft. Japanese novels of mystery and horror provide space to ponder the darker recesses of humanity.
Japanese mystery novels are not restricted to mystery alone. They explore the nature of humanity very subtly and make readers think about them as well. Mystery writer Keigo Higashino is currently one of the best-selling authors in Japan. Reading “The Devotion of Suspect X” provides understanding of his popularity and the reader knows exactly why the acclaim is only rightfully due. Higashino’s prose is both quietly poetic and noir-like adding to the fact that there is so much happening in the book. It almost reminded me of Dashiell Hammett and James M.Cain’s works.
The plot: Tetsuya Ishigami is a mathematics teacher with a boring routine. His unsuccessful attempts to motivate visibly bored and apathetic students discourage Ishigami, and his one true passion of solving a complex mathematical formula, lies outside of the classroom within the confines of his small apartment.
His life dramatically changes when Yasuko and her daughter Misato introduce themselves as his new neighbors. He imagines a fantasy life with them, listening to mother and daughter through the thin apartment walls and that is where the sinister perspective sets into the book. Within this context, Ishigami surprisingly exhibits a fierce desire to protect both mother and daughter, and so begins a bizarre tale that originates with the unexpected arrival of Yasuko’s nefarious ex-husband Togashi, which leads to murder and its revelation. The Devotion of Suspect X refers to Tetsuya’s life and how his devotion towards the mother and daughter is so great, almost bordering obsession.
In this book, several protagonists go through significant psychological deterioration as well, and I would have to say that Higashino is a match for Dostoevsky in how he works these transformations. There is this strange sembelance to The Brothers Karamazov in the sense of the way it is structured and how some linear narratives also get added in-between.
Higashino has a superb sense of place for Tokyo. Of course that is also because he is a resident. However, having said that, there are a number of repetitive paths taken by numerous characters, and by the end of the book, you will feel as if you have walked them as well. He also knows how to describe the sciences and what he does with the plot. I loved the structure of the novel – it was crisp and to the point. Higashino never once beats around the bush, which can happen when writing a mystery novel. More so the translation worked just fine for me as well.
I liked the way the Japanese line of thought was kept intact and the reader can almost sense the points of pure Japanese mystery, all thanks to the translator Alexander O. Smith. This is surprisingly the third mystery in the series written by the author, and this is probably the first translation amongst them. I am sure that more will be translated considering this one’s success. I enjoyed this read a lot, having completed it in one night. The Devotion of Suspect X is a kick-ass thriller/mystery and more books like these should be published, read and enjoyed by all.