In The Devotion of Suspect X, Keigo Higashino, one of Japan’s bestselling novelists, beautifully creates a Holmesian atmosphere and still manages to portray the frustration inherent in trying to sift through the inner workings of a criminal mind.
Ishigami, a once promising math scientist, teaches high school math during the day and works on nearly unsolvable mathematical problems alone in his apartment through the night. His only pleasure is watching his neighbor, Yasuko, the woman he loves, from afar. Every day, on his way to school, he stops at the lunch box shop where she works, hoping to find the courage to speak to her intimately, hoping that she will notice his fondness for her.
When Yasuko kills her ex-husband in a passionate act of self-preservation, Ishigami is listening next door, and he finally finds a way to become part of her life. He helps Yasuko dispose of the body and creates an alibi for her, and in doing so, becomes a suspect in the murder himself. Yukawa, Ishigami’s former class-mate and friend and a genius himself, aids Kusanagi, the police detective, in the investigation. Yukawa eventually sees through Ishigami’s intricate plot, but even in deducing Ishigami’s love for Yasuko, he never learns the whole truth of the lonely math teacher’s devotion.
The most famous and most popular fictional sleuths, like Sherlock Holmes, are the ones able to pierce the mind and predict the behavior of criminals with nearly superhuman powers of observation and deductive reasoning. Higashino constructs a masterful Holmes-type character in Yukawa. And Kusunagi plays a perfect Dr. Watson, smart and instinctive, but never quite able to put all the pieces together. Ishigami’s brilliance in constructing an alibi and disposing of the body and Yukawa’s brilliance in deducing the truth might be slightly overdone, but the technique doesn’t detract from the overall story.
[amazonify]0312375069[/amazonify]In the real world of crime, the question of motive is elusive. The subtleties of the human mind and heart often place the answers to questions of reason firmly in the regions of the unknowable or the incomprehensible. Yet how someone commits a crime, especially in the most extreme cases like murder, is usually closely related to why the crime was committed. The best that a detective can hope for is to understand enough of the how and why to properly identify the right person and bring them to justice. Cases are solved and adjudicated every day with dozens of questions unanswered. The ending of Higashino’s novel pays tribute to this real world fact, and even if the reader is let in on the secret, the author makes it clear that no one else will ever know.
The principal defect in the book cannot be attributed to Higashino but to the translator. Several passages, especially in the initial pages of the story, read awkwardly and flat. Perhaps the translator made his best effort to communicate ideas that could not be translated from the original language, but the English version definitely suffers in tone and pace.
Bottom Line: The Devotion of Suspect X is a Holmesian detective novel with a firm foundation in the real world of crime, even if the criminal and the detective are slightly too brilliant. Read past the early translation difficulties as the ending is worth the effort.
Mac M., aka blackdogbooks on Librarything, lives in the American Southwest and works in law enforcement.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Minotaur Books. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.