Sunday, August 9, 2015

The Devotion of Suspect X (容疑者Xの献身) ~ Keigo Higashino

The Devotion of Suspect X, is a novel by Keigo Higashino, and is the third instalment in his Detective Galileo series. It is also his most acclaimed novel so far, garnering him numerous awards, such as the 134th Naoki Prize, one of the most highly regarded awards in Japan. 
This work also won the 6th Honkaku Mystery Award, considered one of the most prestigious awards in the mystery novels category in Japan, plus several others, gathering acclaim from critics and readers alike. The English translation was nominated for the 2012 Edgar Award for Best Novel and the 2012 Barry Award for Best First Novel.

The story follows Tetsuya Ishigami and Yasuko Hanaoka, as they go about their daily routines. Yasuko is a divorced single mother who works in a restaurant packing bentos for its local clientele. Ishigami is a highly talented mathematics teacher, who lives next door to Yasuko and her daughter, and is a regular at the bento shop and is secretly enamoured with Yasuko. This quiet safe and monotonous routine explodes when Yasuko's violent ex-husband Togashi, tracks her down with the aim of extorting money from her by intimidating both Yasuko and her daughter, Yasuko, has been here before and just wants to get rid of him, so he attempts to use her daughter as a means of extortion. When this fails he loses his cool & in a rage begins to hit out, this situation escalates rapidly and ends with being him being killed by the mother and daughter. Whilst horror-struck and paralysed by what they've done, there’s a knock on the door.

Attempting to establish some order in the flat, Yasuko then answers the door, to find Ishigami standing there; who having heard the commotion, has somehow deduced its cause and is offering to help. In fact he is offering to remove all responsibility for disposing of the body, and is plotting a means of covering up the murder & to organise an alibi for the mother and daughter.

Eventually the body is found and despite a reasonably airtight alibi Kusanagi, the detective in charge of the case looks in Yasuko’s direction, partially because there are no other suspects & partially because despite no obvious holes in her alibi, he feels that there's something wrong with her story, that it just doesn't sit right with him.

So far a fairly standard detective novel, but this is more than that, what I haven’t mentioned is that although Ishigami is working as a maths teacher it appears that he is hiding his light under a bushel, it turns out that he was something of a maths prodigy and still could be described as a genius when it comes to issues of maths and logic. Add to this the detective Kusanagi, has a friend Dr Manabu Yukawa, a physicist who frequently consults with the police and who could also wear the badge of genius lightly - and he is an old friend of Ishigami. What follows is a tightly constructed game of cat and mouse between the Detective who has his sights on Yasuko and Ishigami who is directing things from the shadows, it falls to Yukawa, to see what is really going on and in doing so realises the love & devotion that Ishigami has for the divorced Yasuko and also the lengths Ishigami is willing to go to sacrifice himself for that love.

Because despite this book having a plethora of awards & critics stating what a fantastic detective, crime, mystery novel this is – it isn't.
What this really is, is a romance, a tale of unrequited love and obsession masquerading as all of the above, as a mystery novel it is great, as crime fiction it is fantastic, as a work of detective writing it is wonderful, but what raises it above all of those is that deep dark tale of a love that is willing - despite no chance of being requited - of doing whatever it takes to safeguard the person it is directed at. What raises this beyond the standard ideal of crime fiction is the character of Ishigami and the sacrifices he is willing to make to protect Yasuko, and it is only towards the end of this journey does his old friend work out how dark and bloody and how fatal this tale becomes & with it he sees the depths of the math teachers love and devotion.

In a peculiar way this tale reminded me of some of the writings of Shusaku Endo*, not the tale itself, but that element of sacrifice, although with Endo’s writing it was to do with the Christian faith and the sacrifices made by it’s followers around the start of the Meiji period, this tale had that ambience, Ishigami had that ideal that his love, although it could not be expressed, was worth sacrificing all for.

Keigo Higashino was born in Osaka, he started writing novels while still working as an engineer at Nippon Denso Co. (presently DENSO). He won the Edogawa Rampo Award, which is awarded annually to the unpublished finest mystery work, in 1985 for the novel Hōkago (after school) at age 27. Subsequently, he quit his job and started a career as a writer in Tokyo. In 1999 he won the Mystery Writers of Japan Award for the novel Naoko, which has subsequently been translated into English by Kerim Yasar. He also writes Children’s story books.

Alexander O. Smith (born February 8, 1973) is a professional English/Japanese translator and author. While his output covers many areas such as adaptation of Japanese novels, manga, song lyrics, anime scripts and various academic works, he is best known for his software localizations of Japanese video games. He currently resides in Kamakura, Japan, where he operates his own contract localization business, Kajiya Productions, and is co-founder of a translation and publishing company, Bento Books.


me. said...

It's really astonishing at how prolific Higashino is, I hope more translations are forthcoming, really enjoyed reading this and need to catch up with the other translations that are available.

@parridhlantern said...

Hi Me
Yes I want to read more by this writer as I thoroughly enjoyed this. I've seen a couple more translations that look interesting that I'll track down at some point

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed the smart characters and plot in this one

@parridhlantern said...

Hi Emma, yes I enjoyed the way the plot unfolded

Violet said...

I read this a while ago and I think it was one of the books that made me realise that I was tired of reading about the extreme violence, quirky characters, and the existential despair that seems to have featured heavily in all the Japanese literature I've read so far. I'm sure there must be other books out there, but I've not come across them. Any suggestions?

@parridhlantern said...

The violence in this was very brief, but I get where you're coming from.Off the top of my blog, how about Stranger Taichi Yamada although you may have already read it, Master of go by Yasunari Kawabata, Black Rain by Masuji Ibuse, which I know is about Hiroshima, but does not come across as heavy on the existential angst & is full of humanity & hope.The Housekeeper & the Professor by Yoko Ogawa & the last one is nonfiction but highly uplifting Sky Above, Great Wind: The Life and Poetry of Zen Master Ryokan by Kazuaki Tanahashi, all can be found via my index by if you'd like some more info

Brian Joseph said...

I have not read much Japanese literature. I need to read more.

I think that we need more authors that combine different genres and thus get a bit out of the box.

@parridhlantern said...

Hi Brian, totally agree with you just finished Jasper Fforde's The Eyre Affair, which mixes Alternate history, fantasy, science fiction, mystery, comedy & a splidge of romance. It also manages to mix Dickens & Bronze, in a way that made smile.

Violet said...

Thanks for the recommendations. I'll check them out. I've read a couple of Yoko Ogawa's books and liked them. I think I get along with female Japanese writers better than males, for some reason. I don't mind Ryu Murakami, though. His violence is kind of weird and stylised.

@parridhlantern said...

Then you must definitely Ryu's From the Fatherland with Love, as I think it's one of his best.

Bellezza said...

Hi, it's me, your friend Bellezza. Finally!

I can't tell you how long I've been waiting to read this book. My friend Les, of Prairie Horizons, sent me her ARC when it was out years ago. But, alas, it's still unread. This, despite the fact that I absolutely loved Naoko, and thoroughly enjoyed Salvation of a Saint. (Naoko is better, a real mind-bender I still think about.)

It's interesting that you point out how this book is more than a mystery, which it's always touted as. It's even more interesting that you suggest it resembles the work of Endo in certain aspects. I found Naoko to be not only a mind-bender, as I mentioned above, but also about romance and obsession as you allude to in your post. Protecting someone at all costs.

Now I'm anxious to read it all the more, and will move it up to my Japanese literature list as soon as I finish the long list for the Man Booker. Thanks so much for your review, and insights, as always.

@parridhlantern said...

Hi Bellezza, similar this book sat on my kindle for ages, was intent on reading it on many on occasion, but read something else.
The Endo link is more of an idea, an ambience than a direct comparison, but for me it's still there.

Anonymous said...

Argh! I saw this book at a Jakarta bookstore months ago and was tempted but stopped myself.. Reading your review makes me want to hunt for it again. The cat and mouse chase between two geniuses reminds me of the detective genre manga I gorged on in junior high (Death Note and Detective School Q comes to mind). The Devotion of Suspect X sounds like a good comfort read and I'm feeling like reading more comfort books.

The additional layers of love and obsession you noted really intrigued me. The element of romance is rarely present (or if it does exist, it is safely in the background) in Japanese detective stories. Here's to hoping I can still find it!

@parridhlantern said...

Hi A Reader of Literature,
That's a shame as it was a good read. The romance element isn't explicit more a background element, as I stated it is totally unrequited in fact part way through the story another romantic interest surfaces from Yasuko's past that looks like a better bet.

Anonymous said...

I loved this novel! I didn't know what to expect but I found it really different to most crime novels. I'm surprised that it doesn't have more of a western cult following like some of the Scandinavian authors have (who I also love).
I have also read Higashino's Malice which was good but not great. However, I am keen to keep reading his novels. Hopefully I'll be able to do it for this year's Japanese Literature Challenge.

@parridhlantern said...

Hello Orange Pekoe Reviews, This was my first Higashino, but plan to read more. I think outside of the blog world the writer is not well known and also Japanese crime novels are so diverse that I'm not sure how they would be marketed by publishers so as to make a easily identifiable genre