Saturday, August 13, 2011

Mini-review: The Devotion of Suspect X

[From my weekly books column]

As a reviewer one has to constantly keep an eye out for the “major” homegrown releases – the Big Books, the potential trend-setters and so on – which means much of my reading is regimented. Serendipitous discoveries are few and far between; only rarely does one have the time, mental space or motivation to start reading a new novel that one has never heard of. And when this does happen, the book must be instantly gripping, otherwise it’s off to the sky-high “never to be read” pile.

Keigo Higashino’s Yogisha X No Kenshin, recently translated into English as The Devotion of Suspect X, didn’t made it to that dusty stack – it’s one of the most successful thrillers published in Japan in the past few years, and I can see why. The story begins on a serene note – with a reticent, middle-aged math teacher named Ishigami showing romantic interest in his neighbour Yasuko – but it escalates, almost before you realise it, into a clever psychological murder mystery.

This isn’t a whodunit, though. The murder – committed mainly in self-defence – occurs within the first 30 pages, and the buildup and the actual killing are dispassionately described. The suspense comes from the cover-up and the investigation that follows. The reader is simultaneously made aware of the detectives’ progress on the case and the relentless plotting of Ishigami, who is trying to protect Yasuko and her young daughter Misato. When a physicist named Yukawa becomes involved, a cat-and-mouse game between two very intelligent men ensues – and their battle of wits leads up to a twist that took me unawares. What appears at first to have been a fairly straightforward, even mundane, exercise in alibi-creation soon turns out to be something much more complicated.

The Devotion of Suspect X is a page-turner that can be read in a couple of quick sittings, but it’s also a character study – a selective one, it must be said, for Yasuko and Misato are genre stereotypes, almost ciphers. In the writing, I occasionally sensed a tension between the need to tell a fast-paced, conversation-driven story and the desire to give these women a little more depth. But there’s no such faltering when it comes to Ishigami. Impassive genius, master strategist, melancholy lover, protagonist and antagonist at once (depending on whose eyes you see him through), he isn’t someone you’ll forget in a hurry.

[Also see this post on a fine thriller series from Japan, Koji Suzuki’s Ring cycle]

9 comments:

  1. This one looks like a nice read. It's good to hear about books you normally wouldn't come across. Thanks for introducing.

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  2. You should get Flipkart to have a "I want to buy" button on your book/movie posts, so that readers like me have it easier.
    Thanks for the reco.

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  3. Thank you for the review. I have of late been very bored with my own reading choices, and feeling like they all trod the usual "current reads" path. I'll be glad to check this one out.

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  5. Many thanks for the pointer, Jai. Having read my way through the oeuvre of old masters like Christie, Sayers, John Dickson Carr, etc., I've been searching desparetly for a good mystery. "The Devotion of Suspect X" sounds like the perfect read.

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  6. Sounds great! I had heard about it before but hav never really been sure about buying it. Thanks for the review!

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  7. I came across a review in the FT and, after reading your fine review as well, am itching to read the book. Hoping for a Kindle version!

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  8. ordered the book straight away after reading your review.... and I must say after finishing it in 3 odd sittings I was pleased that I did so ... really a fast paced non-conventional thriller ... it reminded me of one of the japanese animes I used to watch .. Deathnote... a battle of wits between two geniuses .. one of them having a sort of grey tone to his character .. really loved it ... thanks for the review ..

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  9. Didn't know you'd reviewed this -- was just doing an idle Google search after finishing the book this morning. Found it an excellent, gripping read and I'm glad to say I didn't figure out (exactly) where the mystery was heading. After reading countless Christies, PD James, Rankins and Robinsons, that's quite a nice experience.

    By the way, you read John Burdett's Bangkok thrillers yet? Real classy writing and the atmospherics are awesome.

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