Category Archives: Japanese mystery

The Book Whisperer Gives an Unqualified Thumbs UP!

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This review of The Devotion of Suspect X contains no spoilers! Readers know quickly into the story who is murdered and by whom. The real story lies in the twists and turns the detective and his professor friend must navigate in order to solve the murder.

Jacqueline Winspear writes “in The Devotion of Suspect X, Keigo Higashino weaves a web of intellectual gamesmanship in which he truth is a weapon that leads police and readers astray.” That assessment sums up The Devotion of Suspect X well.

Keigo Higashino is a prolific writer with a devoted international following. Higashino graduated with a degree in electrical engineering from Osaka Prefecture University. He began writing novels while working as an engineer. At age 27, Higashino left engineering to write full time. He has won a number of award such as the Mystery Writers of Japan Award, the Naoki Award, and Edogawa Rampo Award. He has been included in the annual mystery fiction guide books published in Japan. Several of the novels have been made into movies, both in Japan and in other countries. Higashino also has TV credits to his name.

Several of Higashino’s impressive list of novels have been translated into English: The Devotion of Suspect X, Salvation of a Saint, A Midsummer’s Equation, Malice, Newcomer, Naoko, Journey Under the Midnight Sun, and The Name of the Game is Kidnapping.

The Devotion of Suspect X marks the first in a series introducing Detective Kusanagi and his old college friend physics professor Dr. Manabu Yukawa whom Kusanagi discusses difficult cases. Yukawa, affectionately called Professor Galileo, also went to college with Ishigami, a brilliant mathematician, who will become a major player in The Devotion of Suspect X.

Yasuko Hanaoka, a beautiful woman, lives next door to Ishigami. They rarely encounter one another in the apartment building, but Ishigami goes almost every weekday to Benten-tei to pick up his lunch on his way to his teaching job at a private school. Yasuko works there and is unaware of Ishigami’s infatuation with her even though her bosses are not. See the picture below for a typical lunch box Ishigami would pick up each day.

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Yasuko and her daughter Misato, a teenager, live quietly, glad to have escaped from Yasuko’s abusive husband Togashi. Togashi, however, has a bad habit of turning up when Yasuko least expects him, always asking for money. Yasuko works hard at a low-level job and lives frugally, but she gives Togashi money to get rid of him. After she changes jobs and moves to her current location, she hopes Togashi will not find her again. Sadly, he shows up at Benten-tei one afternoon and insists that Yasuko meet with him after she gets off work. Reluctantly, she agrees to meet him at a café near her workplace.

Togashi wants Yasuko back, but she refuses to listen to him. His abuse in the past has been enough. She wants nothing to do with him and bids him goodbye at the café. Unfortunately, later that evening, he shows up at her apartment, refusing to go away until she allows him inside. Because Togashi is a large man and physically abusive, Yasuko is fearful of him. She gives him some money and wants him out the door. With the money in his pocket, Togashi turns to leer at Yasuko menacingly: “You’ll never get rid of me. You know why? Because you’ll give in before I will, every time.” At that moment, Misato comes up behind Togashi and hits him in the back of the head with a copper flower vase.

Togashi falls to the floor, now enraged and attacks Misato by throwing her to the floor and straddling her. While choking her, he shouts, “I’m gonna kill you, you little bitch!” Yasuko must do something to keep Togashi from killing Misato, so she grabs the electrical cord to the kotatsu and puts it around Togashi’s neck, pulling as hard as she can.

See the picture below for an example of a heated kotatsu. The one pictured here is most likely larger than the one in Yasuko’s apartment. The kotatsu is a table with a heated quilt or comforter, often reversible, with a table. Chairs are optional.

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Yasuko feels the adrenalin rush giving her the strength to strangle Togashi and save Misato. Togashi is dead. Now, what? Yasuko wants to call the police, but Misato insists that they cannot call the police. Misato say Togashi is at fault because he kept tormenting Yasuko. Still, Yasuko replies, “Murder is murder. Everything else is just details.”

A knock on the door causes further panic. Yasuko and Misato cover the body as well as they can with the kotatsu quilt and open the door slightly. Ishigami, the math teacher next door, asks if everything is okay. Yasuko tells him she and Misato have been killing a cockroach which caused all the commotion he hears in his apartment. Accepting the explanation, Ishigami leaves, but he calls on the phone and says he knows what has happened and will help Yasuko and Misato.

The walls are thin between the apartments. Ishigami declares, “If you were going to call the police, well that’s fine, I’ll say nothing about it. But if you weren’t, then I was thinking there might be something I could do to help.” Not only does Ishigami help get rid of Togashi’s body, but he also gives Yasuko and Misato a script to follow if and when questioned by the police. As a brilliant mathematician, Ishigami thinks logically and plans the alibis perfectly.

Critics call Higashino a master at building suspense in his novels. According to The Wall Street Journal, “Higashino combines Dostoyevskian psychological realism with classic detective-story-puzzles.” Sherlock has Dr. Watson as his sounding board and confidante. Detective Kusanagi turns to his old college friend Dr. Manabu Yukawa to help him sort out cases. Both Sherlock Homes and Dr. Manabu Yukawa rely on logic and figuring out the obvious in order to solve crimes.

The Devotion of Suspect X deserves readers’ attention.

Keigo Higashino’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/AuthorKeigoHigashino

Listen to a brief audio clip from The Devotion of Suspect X: https://youtu.be/F4k1YgfC_wg

Watch a preview of the Korean movie made from The Devotion of Suspect X (with subtitles): https://youtu.be/ivcaN_zSRPI