Author: Otsuichi
Translator: Andrew Cunningham
U.S. publisher: Tokyopop
ISBN: 9781427811370
Released: October 2008
Original release: 2002
Awards: Honkaku Mystery Grand Prize

So far, Otsuichi, who is best known for his horror short stories, has had four of his major works translated into English. Although currently out of print, Goth was the second of his books to be made available. First published in Japan in 2002, Goth has been adapted into a manga and a live action film. Somewhat unexpectedly since it is a light novel and light novels generally aren’t taken very seriously, Goth won the 2003 Honkaku Mystery Grand Prize for Best Novel. I actually first read Kendi Oiwa’s manga adaptation of Goth but I liked it so well that I went to the effort to track down a copy of the source material to read. Andrew Cunningham’s translation of the novel was published by Tokyopop in 2008 as part of their largely, and unfortunately, unsuccessful fiction line. Tokyopop also published Otsuichi’s Calling You while Haikasoru has released Zoo and Summer, Fireworks, and My Corpse.

Although attractive, most of Morino’s high school classmates find her to be rather odd and avoid her. She mostly keeps to herself with one exception—another classmate that shares her fascination with death. The difference is that his interest isn’t limited to curiosity, he would actually like to act on his desires to kill someone. He hides it well though and no one really suspects him except for maybe Morino. To him, she is less of a friend and more of an obsession. Together they closely watch the news for information on murders, kidnappings, and other tragedies. Even more exciting is when these events happen close by or even in their own neighborhood. Occasionally, they even do some investigating on their own, not because they want justice but merely because they want to know what happened and feel an affinity with those involved.

Although Goth is generally referred to as a novel, the six individual chapters largely stand on their own and could be read separately. Granted, they do make small reference to one another and the final chapter would lose much of its effectiveness if it wasn’t read last. What ties the stories together is Morino, her classmate, and their dark obsessions. They are somewhat difficult to call the protagonists, though. Often the two barely make an appearance and are mostly side characters to the main action. But, they are still very important and crucial to the stories. Each chapter is mostly told from a changing first person perspective, adding to the tension since it is frequently difficult to determine just who it is that is telling the story until close to its finish. The reader can only sit back and watch with morbid fascination and anticipation for all to be revealed since nothing can be done to change the course of the unfolding events.

Because I had previously read the manga adaptation of Goth, I was already aware of some of the major twists in the story. But even though I was vaguely aware of what would happen, Goth was still a very dark and disconcerting novel. Since it is told directly from the perspective of the characters, the reader is privy to exactly what is going through their heads. And seeing as many of them are serial killers, that is a very creepy place to be. Particularly disturbing is Morino’s classmate, unnamed until close to the end of the book, who keeps getting mixed up in these incidents and who harbors his own aberrant behaviors and tendencies. While he hasn’t done anything seriously wrong yet at the beginning of Goth, he becomes less and less of an observer as the novel progresses. The tension continues to build as we wait for him to finally lose it. Goth may be disturbing, but it is also very good. I certainly want to read more of Otsuichi’s works now.

The Devotion of Suspect X

Author: Keigo Higashino
Translator: Alexander O. Smith and Elye J. Alexander
U.S. publisher: St. Martin’s Press
ISBN: 9780312375065
Released: February 2011
Original release: 2005
Awards: Honkaku Mystery Grand Prize, Naoki Sanjugo Prize

The Devotion of Suspect X is only the second of Keigo Higashino’s works to be translated into English. (Vertical published his novel Himitsu, “Secret,” under the title Naoko in 2004.) This is really too bad since he is both a popular and award-winning author in Japan. The Devotion of Suspect X is arguably his most notable book—originally published in Japan in 2005, it won him the Naoki Sanjugo Prize and was made into a film in 2008. The novel is scheduled for release in English in February 2011 by the Minotaur imprint of St. Martin’s Press. I was happy to receive an advance copy of The Devotion of Suspect X through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program. I was also very excited to learn that Alexander O. Smith—one of my favorite translators—worked on the novel’s translation with Elye J. Alexander. I had never read any of Higashino’s work before, but was really looking forward to The Devotion of Suspect X.

After Yasuko unintentionally kills her ex-husband during a violent struggle in her apartment, she is surprised when her next door neighbor, the brilliant mathematician Ishigami, offers to do all that he can to help cover up the crime. He asks for nothing in return but Yasuko and her daughter must follow his plan exactly for it to work. Incredibly, Ishigami seems to have taken into consideration all possible outcomes and the investigation proceeds just as he predicts. The detectives suspect that something isn’t quite right with the situation, but the evidence tells a convincing story even if they are uneasy about it. But then Ishigami is unexpectedly reunited with Yukawa, a former university classmate, rival, and friend. Yukawa, who often acts as a consultant to the police, may be the only person in a position to see through Ishigami’s schemes. However, Ishigami is prepared even for this unforeseen scenario.

Even though the characters are extremely important in The Devotion of Suspect X, the reader never really gets to connect with or know them that well, or see what’s going on inside their minds. It is this not knowing that drives the story. Ishigami is terrifying in his brilliance specifically because the depth of his devotion and the lengths he is willing to go to protect Yasuko are unknown. There is no question he has helped her and her daughter and his incredible intelligence has allowed him to do this extraordinarily well. Throughout the novel, the enormity of exactly what he has done and the ultimate truth behind the situation is slowly revealed. Although I predicted some of the plot developments, I’ll admit that I didn’t see some of the final twists coming. Ishigami’s genius is stunning and in many ways the ending is heartbreaking.

Technically, The Devotion of Suspect X is the third volume in Higashino’s Detective Galileo series, which features Manabu Yukawa. However, the book stands alone perfectly well. I wasn’t even aware that it was a part of a series when I started reading it and only discovered that fact later on. I do hope that the previous two books, Tantei Galileo and Yochimu are translated because I would really like to read them now. The thing that I was most impressed by in The Devotion of Suspect X was how Higashino effectively and very subtly built tension as the novel progressed. I didn’t even realize how worked up I had become until the end of the book when Higashino finally releases his grip. Occasionally, he would linger on a particular mathematical theory or concept for too long and I wouldn’t necessarily call The Devotion of Suspect X a page-turner. However, I found it to be thoroughly engrossing and I really hope to read more of Higashino’s work in English.

Thank you to St. Martin’s Press for providing a copy of The Devotion of Suspect X for review.