MaliceAuthor: Keigo Higashino
Translator: Alexander O. Smith and Elye Alexander
U.S. publisher: St. Martin’s Press
ISBN: 9781250035608
Released: October 2014
Original release: 1996

Ever since reading The Devotion of Suspect X I have steadily been devouring Keigo Higashino’s other novels available in English. I really enjoy his style of clever and unusual mysteries. I was thrilled to learn that Malice would be the next of his works to be translated. Technically, Malice is the fourth novel in Higashino’s series of books featuring Detective Kyoichiro Kaga. However, in English, it is the first volume of that particular series to be released. (Before Malice only select Detective Galileo novels and Himitsu, published in English as Naoko, had been translated.) But, as with many mystery series, it is not necessary to have read every volume in order to make sense of each installment; Malice holds up very well as its own work. Malice was originally published in Japan in 1996 while the English translation by Alexander O. Smith and Elye Alexander was released by the Minotaur Books imprint of St. Martin’s Press In 2014. When offered an early copy of the novel for review, I leapt at the chance to read it.

Kunihiko Hidaka is a best-selling, award-winning novelist who, soon before he moves from Japan to Canada, is murdered in his home. His body is found in his office behind a door locked from the inside. The house, too, is locked. Only three people are known to have seen Hidaka before his death: Rie Hidaka, his second wife; Osamu Nonoguchi, his friend and fellow author; and Miyako Fujio, the sister of a man who was vilified in one of Hidaka’s novels. All three have alibis and their motives, if they even exist, are unclear at best. Kyoichiro Kaga is one of the police detectives assigned to the investigation of Hidaka’s murder. It just so happens that he knows Nonoguchi. The two men used to be teachers at the same middle school before Kaga left to join the police force and Nonoguchi left to write full-time. Kaga’s intuition and his previous acquaintance with Nonoguchi correctly leads him to believe that something isn’t quite right with the other man’s story. Digging deeper he discovers that Nonoguchi and Hidaka’s relationship was much more complicated than it first appeared.

Higashino takes a different approach in each work, but much like the two Detective Galileo novels in English—The Devotion of Suspect X and Salvation of a Saintwho the murderer is in Malice becomes quite clear early on in the work. It doesn’t take very long at all for Nonoguchi to confess. The real mystery is the reason behind Hidaka’s murder and Nonoguchi’s motives. The confession is really all that the police department needs to close the case, but human curiosity demands to know the reasons why. To some extent, Nonoguchi is counting on this; he needs Kaga to investigate. Nonoguchi leads and misleads the detectives in order to create the narrative that he wants the world to believe about Hidaka and his murder. Malice is extraordinarily clever. Nonoguchi’s novelist mindset enables him to manipulate others in ways that are unexpected and yet completely reasonable. As an author he is quite skilled in creating fictions that people are willing to believe and knows how to play into their expectations.

As a whole, Malice is an extremely engaging mystery, but one of the most interesting and intriguing things about the novel is its structure. I’ve never come across something quite like it before. Some of the chapters are told by Nonoguchi, essentially forming a novel within a novel, while other chapters are devoted to Kaga’s notes on his investigation as well as the interviews he conducts as a part of it. Nonoguchi is an inherently unreliable narrator, freely mixing select facts into the fiction of his written account. Kaga’s task is to tease the truth out of Nonoguchi’s writing. Kaga is working with the same material that is presented to the readers of Malice; it is fascinating to see his thought processes and theories develop in response to the information that Nonoguchi is deliberately providing him. I’ve come to expect smart and clever writing from Higashino and I was not at all disappointed with Malice. I hope to see even more of his work translated, and perhaps even more stories featuring Kyoichiro Kaga, in the future.

Thank you to St. Martin’s Press for providing a copy of Malice for review.

Salvation of a Saint

Author: Keigo Higashino
Translator: Alexander O. Smith and Elye J. Alexander
U.S. publisher: St. Martin’s Press
ISBN: 9780312600686
Released: October 2012
Original release: 2008

Salvation of a Saint is the third novel by Keigo Higashino to be translated into English (and the third that I have read), following Naoko and The Devotion of Suspect X. Salvation of a Saint is the fifth book in Higashino’s Detective Galileo series (The Devotion of Suspect X is the third). But, like many mystery series, the individual Detective Galileo volumes are largely able to stand on their own. Salvation of a Saint was first published in Japan in 2008. Alexander O. Smith and Elye J. Alexander’s English translation was released in 2012 by Minotaur, the mystery and suspense imprint of St. Martin’s Press. I enjoyed both Naoko and The Devotion of Suspect X immensely; I was very excited to learn that Salvation of a Saint was being released in English. Even though technically published out of order, I am very glad to have the opportunity to read more Detective Galileo.

When Yoshitaka Mashiba is found poisoned in his home, the Tokyo police have their work cut out for them. It doesn’t appear to be a suicide and yet he doesn’t seem to have made any enemies, either. The only person with a clear motive is Yoshitaka’s wife, Ayane, except that she was in Hokkaido visiting her parents at the time of his death. The more the detectives investigate, the more is revealed about the Mashibas’ personal lives. Detectives Kusanagi and Utsumi have developed plenty of theories explaining Yoshitaka’s death, but they still need to find the evidence to support them. Eventually Utsumi calls upon Manabu Yukawa, a physicist who has helped to solve past cases, earning him the nickname of “Detective Galileo.” Even though he isn’t interested in working with the police after having a falling out with Kusanagi, Yukawa is intrigued by what at first appears to be the perfect crime.

It’s fairly clear, to the readers at least, who the culprit in Salvation of a Saint actually is. In this way, Salvation of a Saint is similar to The Devotion of Suspect X. However, each novel is filled with their own unexpected story twists. It’s not just important who committed the crime in Salvation of a Saint; much of the mystery focuses on how the person was even able to pull it off. Even the motive behind Yoshitaka’s murder is revealed to be much more complicated and involved than initially thought. Once again, Higashino has written and engaging and compelling scenario. I didn’t find it to be as emotionally hard-hitting as The Devotion of Suspect X, but Salvation of a Saint was still surprising. The novel is a clever page-turner. Once I started reading it, I didn’t want to put the novel down. I picked up on all of the clues that Higashino dropped and felt compelled to finish the book quickly in order to discover how they all fit together.

Salvation of a Saint isn’t an action-packed thriller. In fact, there is a lot of dialogue and discussion as the investigators work things out. But, the novel is still intellectually invigorating and very satisfying. I’m quite fond of Professor Yukawa. The series may take its name from him, but he’s almost a supporting character. I particularly enjoyed the scenes that he shared with Detective Kusanagi. The two may have their problems, but they’re old friends. Their good-natured ribbing greatly amuses me. I’d actually like to know more about their relationship, which I can only assume has been addressed in more detail in earlier volumes of Detective Galileo. Granted, there is still enough in Salvation of a Saint to get a good sense of their friendship. I’m sincerely looking forward to their return in the next Detective Galileo novel scheduled to be released in English, A Midsummer’s Equation.


Author: Keigo Higashino
Translator: Kerim Yasar
U.S. publisher: Vertical
ISBN: 9781932234077
Released: August 2004
Original release: 1998
Awards: Mystery Writers of Japan Award

In 1998, Keigo Higashino wrote Himitsu, or The Secret. The novel won him the 1999 Mystery Writers of Japan Award. In 2004, the English translation by Kerim Yasar was published by Vertical under the title Naoko, making it the first major work by Higashino to be made available in English. Relatively recently, I read and thoroughly enjoyed one of his other award-winning novels, The Devotion of Suspect X. In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I knew I wanted to read more of Higashino’s work. There is a reason that he is so well loved as an author in Japan—his stories are not only entertaining, but have some depth to them as well. Since only two of Higashino’s works are currently available in English, obviously Naoko would be the next one for me to read. I truly hope more of his works are translated because I still haven’t gotten my fill of Higashino.

Since he regularly works night shifts at the factory, Heisuke Sugita doesn’t always get to spend as much time with his wife Naoko and their eleven-year-old daughter Monami as he would like but they make a happy family. And then tragedy strikes. While Heisuke stayed home to work, the bus in which Naoko and Monami were travelling to visit relatives was driven off a cliff. Naoko’s body dies, but somehow her personality lives on in the body of Monami and Monami’s mind no longer seems to exist. Heisuke and Naoko begin a strange new life together, keeping the personality switch a secret from everyone else. Naoko takes the opportunity to relive her life for and as Monami, making up for past regrets. Heisuke, on the other hand, is more conflicted; Naoko is now in some way both his wife and his daughter. People believe he is grieving over the death of Naoko, but really his loss is much more complicated than that.

I actually think I liked Naoko even better than I did The Devotion of Suspect X. Part of this is due to the fact that, unlike in The Devotion of Suspect X, the reader has the opportunity to really get to know the heart and mind of one of the characters. In this case, since the novel is told completely from his perspective, it is Heisuke Sugita, a very normal and potentially boring husband and father. However, he finds himself in some extraordinary and unusual circumstances with little guidance on how to deal with them. It is fascinating to watch this admittedly average guy work through things to the best of his ability and see how the odd situation changes him over time. Heisuke is not perfect, in fact he can be an utter asshole at times, but when it gets right down to it, he’s a good person. He doesn’t handle everything well by any means, but that’s what makes him feel real as a character. The situation he finds himself in is certainly strange and bizarre but his characterization is so strong I can’t imagine him behaving any differently.

The back cover describes Naoko as “black comedy.” While the setup does cause some humorous and amusing encounters, I had a hard time approaching the novel as a comedy. Instead, it felt to me more like a meditation on love, loss, longing, and letting go. Higashino is often considered to be primarily a mystery author, winning many awards in the genre in addition to the one he received for Naoko. However, Naoko is different from the sort of mystery novels most typically seen in the United States—at least in my experience. Heisuke isn’t some brilliant investigator (Higashino even calls him “altogether lame” in an interview); he’s just a normal person who wants to figure out what’s going on and why. Eventually, he must learn to accept his circumstances. There is both humor and mystery in Naoko, but first and foremost it is simply a well told and engaging story. At times tragic and heartbreaking, it is a very satisfying novel and I’m very glad to have read it.

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.