Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Devotion of Suspect X

Book Review

Higashino, Keigo. (2011). The Devotion of Suspect X. Translated from Japnese by Alexander O. Smith & Elye J. Alexander. London. Little Brown.  Pages: 374. Price Rs. 350

The story has all the elements of a normal whodunit. There is the murder; there is a beautiful woman, there is her secret lover and the rich, single third man, for whom her feelings are a bit ambivalent. There is jealousy; the secret lover hates the other man.  But the similarity with an ordinary whodunit ends there. As the criminal investigation moves apace, it grips the reader in suspense. Will the murderer be caught or not? It is a situation in which, the reader for a change, is not on the side of justice but sympathises with the criminal.

The female protagonist, Yasuko Hanaoka and her teenage daughter, Misato (from her first marriage) live together in a flat. As Yasuko’s ex-husband Shinji Togashi (obviously not Misato's father) who has been stalking her for awhile, barges into their flat little did the mother and daughter know of the storm that was about to blow into their lives. After another futile argument with Yasuko during which Togashi proposes they reunite, he was about to leave but attacks Misato for supporting her mother. Yasuko first tries to extricate her daughter from Togashi but when she fails, in a fit of rage, she strangulates him with an electrical cord. As Misato frees herself, she helps her mother in the murder of her ex-husband. After mother and daughter get over the initial shock, they come to grips with the enormity of their crime. As they were arguing as to who should confess to the crime before the police, their neighbour Tetsuya Ishigami – who secretly loves Yasuko – steps in. He helps them hide the crime and constructs an iron-clad alibi for them. Ishigami is a genius mathematician who teaches in a nearby high school. He foresees each move that a crime investigator is likely to make and plans countermoves with the meticulousness of solving a mathematical problem step by step.  

The case comes up for investigation by Shunpei Kusanagi. His old college-mate and a university lecturer in physics, Manabu Yukawa helps him unravel the crime. Kusanagi who usually takes his more difficult and intricate cases to Yukawa for resolution nicknamed the latter, Detective Galileo. By a strange coincidence Ishigami and Yukawa were also classmates. The story progresses as a chess game with Ishigami and Yukawa indirectly matching wits. Ishigami’s moves were to throw the investigators off the scent of evidence that would put Yasuko and Misato in the dock. Yukawa helps the police to be back on track.  

In the meanwhile Kudo, a rich single man whose wife died of cancer enters the scene. He was an admirer of Yasuko when she was a bar dancer. Yasuko gets attracted to him. Misato disapproves of her mother’s relationship. While not exactly suggesting that her mother should have a relationship with Ishigami, Misato wonders whether her relationship with Kudo might not anger Ishigami. However Ishigami who observes every move that Yasuko makes, is stung by pangs of jealousy. He was about to warn her.  

Kusanagi brings together the old classmates and friends, Yukawa and Ishigami. At first when Yukawa informs Ishigami that he was helping the police solve the crime and his own suspicion of Yasuko’s alibi he did not suspect his old friend’s hand in it. As he unravels the mystery and inches closer to the truth, he seeks his old friend to subtly warn him. The hint from Yukawa warns Ishigami that the game was up. 

The story takes a quite unexpected turn and ends in a stunning denouement, for which the reader is absolutely unprepared. The only distractions from a tense plot in the story are the two discussions on mathematics and physics. 

This review is part of the Book Reviews programme at