Sunday, April 05, 2015

[Books] Book Look: The Devotion of Suspect X, by Keigo Higashino

For me, the toughest part of writing a novel is the plotting. I really struggle with a generating a complex, interwoven, causal series of actions to get my point across.So when I come across a book like The Devotion of Suspect X, which is exquisitely plotted, I am doubly impressed.

Yatsuko is a divorced mother working hard to raise her daughter solo. She is paid a visit by her scumbag ex-husband and things turn violent. In the process she kills her ex as he is assaulting her daughter. She frets that she is now a murderer and her fate is sealed, but her next door neighbor, Ishigami, overhears what happened and, as he has a secret love for Yatsuko, he takes it upon himself to hide the crime. Ishigami, it turns out, is a mathematical genius who uses all his clever intellect to arrange things so that even though suspicion might fall on Yatsuko, there will be so much misdirection and uncertainty that nothing will come of it. Unfortunately, the police are in the habit of employing Manabu Yukawa, a physics professor and former classmate of Ishigami, to assist in these sorts of investigations. His nickname is Detective Galileo, so you can expect a high order game of cat and mouse.

The novel doesn't necessarily dodge all of the shortcomings typical in police procedurals. There are potential inaccuracies: I am not familiar with criminal legalities in Japan but I find it hard to believe that a woman who kills a man while he is assaulting her daughter would be charged with murder like any other criminal. Perhaps there is no such thing as justifiable homicide in Japan? But this is required to trigger the action. Much of the investigation is based on “evidence" no person would actually think of as connected to the case. But again, this helps keep the narrative moving. There is manipulation: Detective Galileo keeps secrets from his colleagues (and therefore us) until it is dramatically appropriate to reveal them. And the characters, at least at the outset, are fairly cliched. This is all de rigeur for a police procedural and in no way out of line or jarring in this book.

And there is so much more on the positive side. First and foremost the story really moves. There are no dead spots. At no point was I thinking, as I often do, that the length could easily be cut in half. It is an exceptionally well paced book; tautly written and, presumably, tautly translated; that is half the battle in genre writing. And as I mentioned before the plotting is extraordinary. The step-by-step actions and reaction is interwoven seamlessly with the steady, teasing stream of reveals.

But the icing on the cake is the ending. The characters, adequately drawn for most of the book, suddenly take on a deeper humanity that brings a real emotional effect. Our protagonists go from hopeful of total escape, to acceptance of lesser suffering, to total devastation. Law is enforced, but Justice is only partially served. Unlike most books where the ending is almost a letdown, here the ending elevates the story above the crowd.

Should you read The Devotion of Suspect X? Yes. I can't think of anyone who wouldn't enjoy it, either as a connoisseur of well-written police procedurals or just for an engrossing beach read. Enjoy.