The Devotion of Suspect X
One line review: A thriller with an unexpected twist. Read if you’re a Nipponophile.
It starts off with Ishigami Tetsuya, a maths teacher in a high school, who has a crush on his neighbour, Hanaoka Yasuko. Yasuko is a twice divorced single mother living with her middle school daughter. The story starts with Yasuko’s ex-husband showing up at her workplace one day to demand money from her – money she doesn’t have – and the day ends with his murder.
The rest of the book deals with the killer (and accomplice’s) attempts to throw the police off their track, while the authorities, in the form of Detective Kusanagi of the Tokyo police, try to unravel the mystery. Kusanagi often asks his college friend, Associate Professor of Physics; Yukawa Manabu, for help on his more difficult cases. This time, Yukawa finds that an old friend is involved, as well.
Unfortunately, the ‘2 million’ line has nothing to do with the plot of the novel, (woe) it’s just an attempt by Hachette’s marketing to convince us that since 2 million people bought this book, they…can’t be wrong? That makes no sense. If this were a book about atheism or aliens or anything that could be met with sceptism, that tagline could work, but this is a work of fiction, so how exactly are the ones who don’t buy this book ‘wrong’?
Sadly, the book doesn’t live up to its wonderful title, as well. While it does become clear (very quickly) who the Suspect X is and why/who they are devoted to, the rest of the book didn’t really match the poetry (if I can call it that) in the title. I suspect this is one of those books where execution trumps substance – Higashino-san’s words and turn of phrase must be quite clever and perhaps even poetic in the original Japanese, but the translation couldn’t really hold my interest.
The plot wasn’t much to get excited about, which I think is the Kiss of Death for any thriller. The book is essentially the reverse of a murder mystery – you know who is killed and by whom almost immediately, and the rest of the book is about the killer trying to escape justice and the police trying to catch them. It took me two days to get through the book, which is a rarity when it comes to me and thrillers, but I found my attention wandering enough that I started watching re-runs of Supernatural in the middle of finishing this.
The only part of the book that I found interesting enough to continue reading through the night was the last third – which was too little, too late, in my opinion. I expect thrillers and/or crime procedurals to be riveting.
The twist, when it came, was unexpected – but, at the risk of sounding like a douche, I will say I called half of it – (highlight to read spoilers) Ishigami killing the homeless man – you don’t mention homeless people THAT many times in a story unless they’re going to be a Chekov’s gun of some sort.
The only other little nitpick of mine was the short, grammar school type sentences that appeared sometimes – which, again, I sense is a translation issue – like these lines from the very first page:
He worked at the private high school just before the park. He was a teacher. He taught maths.
I dislike seeing short, clipped off sentences like that, but perhaps that is only my love for run-on sentences speaking.
Wikipedia tells me this book is part of the ‘Detective Galileo’ series (Yukawa’s nickname), so that was obviously why Yukawa took such a strong role in the investigation. Going by the description of the plot, though, I much like the sound of the TV series, rather than his appearance in print here.
Coming to the some of the things I liked about the book – the last few paragraphs of the book were absolutely killer – I could perfectly see the events occurring in my mind’s eye, and it drew a sad, uneasy sort of feeling from me. I couldn’t really sympathise with the killer for their actions, but I did feel bad for them. So despite the plot, Higashino-san’s characters shine through.
On a somewhat related note, strangely enough, Higashino-san’s Himitsu seems to have a more interesting plot than this, which is supposedly the bigger success for him. If I get the chance, I’ll be sure to check it out.
For the Japanese setting, if you’re a Nipponophile and/or a anime/manga fan like me, and like reading about a slice of life in Japan.