ANATOMY OF A MURDER: In The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino, reviewer Susan Soon He Stanton discovers that a fascinating study of the human psyche can also be an easy read.
ISSUE: Spring 2011
DEPT: Plugged In
STORY: Susan Soon He Stanton
Winner of Japan’s prestigious Naoki Prize with more than 2 million copies sold, The Devotion of Suspect X is not so much a “who-done-it” mystery as a riveting exploration into the human psyche and the nature of devotion. Togashi, the ne’er-do-well ex-husband of Yasuko, tracks her down to extort money from her. The scene quickly devolves into violence, and Yasuko and her teenaged daughter kill Togashi in self-defense. Moments after the body has hit the floor, Yasuko’s neighbor, the middle-aged mathematics teacher Ishigami, offers his help. Yasuko is dumbfounded by the devotion of her quiet neighbor who volunteers to not only dispose of the body but also construct a brilliant cover-up. Ishigami’s chillingly methodical plan is put to the test when Detective Kusanagi is assigned to the case and Yasuko is a prime suspect. Kusanagi, suspicious of Yasuko’s perfect alibi, consults his friend Dr. Yukama. Yukawa reveals that he and Ishigami were classmates at Imperial University — Yukawa in physics and Ishigami in mathematics. Kusanagi and Yukama team up to unravel the murder that Ishigami has laid out like a mathematical proof. The freedom of Yasuko and her daughter hang in the balance of a battle of wits that escalates to a stunning and shocking conclusion.
The attention given to creating likeable but complex characters keeps The Devotion of Suspect X from devolving into a slick murder mystery. Author Keigo Higashino painstakingly describes the minute intricacies of Ishigami’s daily routine: his unsuccessful attempts to inspire apathetic students, nights alone at home slaving away on a single mathematical proof, and his one
joy — buying a lunch box from Yasuko on his way to work. Yasuko comes across as the sympathetic young hostess-turned-mother who makes all the wrong choices. Higashino paints the murderer and her unlikely accomplice as two ordinary people caught in a treacherous situation. Woven throughout the novel are vignettes in mundane locations throughout the city. Whether describing a karaoke bar, city square or riverbank, Higashino creates a nuanced portrait of life in contemporary Japan.
The success of The Devotion of Sus- pect X are in the details. Though adversaries Ishigami and Yukama are both highly observant, Yukama possesses an intuitive gift in his understanding of human frailties as he questions “what is a life worth?” But the novel’s strengths are also some of its weaknesses. This is an easy-to-digest, well-written and highly engaging story. The prose is so straightforward and fast-paced that it is almost unnoticeable. Rarely does a passage or a phrase distinguish itself as being particularly extraordinary. The pleasure of Higashino’s carefully constructed tale comes from watching the mystery unfold from beginning to end. Although this is the kind of book you can digest in one or two sittings, The Devotion of Suspect X is a great read and it is no surprise that Higashino is such a popular author in Japan.
– Susan Soon He Stanton
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