In The Spotlight: Keigo Higashino’s Salvation of a Saint

SpotlightHello, All,

Welcome to another edition of In The Spotlight. I try in this feature to include a wide diversity of crime fiction from around the world. So it’s about time I featured some Japanese crime fiction here. Japanese crime fiction is, as you might expect, quite varied, so one spotlight couldn’t possibly do it justice. But let’s at least take one look today and turn the spotlight on Keigo Higashino’s Salvation of a Saint, the second in his series featuring Tokyo physics professor Manabu ‘Galileo’ Yukawa.

The action in the story begins with a tense conversation between business executive Yoshitaka Mashabi and his wife Ayane Mita, who is a well-respected patchwork quilt artist. The two have been married for a year and don’t have children. Now Yoshitaka wants to divorce his wife, since having children is an important part of his life’s plan. The two can’t settle the matter at the moment because they’ve got dinner guests coming. Yoshitaka’s business partner and attorney Tatsuhiko Ikai and his wife Yukiko will arrive soon and Ayane’s apprentice Hiromi Wakayama is already there. The dinner party goes off as planned, and the next morning, Ayane leaves to spend a few days in Sapporo visiting her parents.

Two days later, Hiromi stops by the Mashabi home and discovers that Yoshitaka is dead – killed by what turns out to be arsenous acid. Detective Kusanagi is assigned to the case, along with Junior Detective Kishitani and Junior Detective Kaoru Utsumi .  At first the death looks like a possible suicide. Little by little though, the evidence becomes clearer that Yoshitaka was murdered.

The first suspect is, as you might expect, the victim’s wife. As becomes clear in the novel, she had a motive. But it’s soon proven conclusively that she was not in Tokyo at the time of the death. And since the poison that killed the victim was found in a cup of coffee he drank, it’s highly unlikely that she could have been the murderer. And, as the police soon discover, there are other possible suspects.

Utsumi and later Kusanagi seek Yukawa’s help to answer the very important questions of how and when the poison got into the coffee. That’s not as straightforward a pair of questions as it seems on the surface, and until the police know the answers, it’s very hard to get evidence against anyone in particular. Once Yukawa deduces how and when the poison made its way into the coffee, the police are able to put the pieces together and find out who the killer is.

In some ways, this is an ‘impossible-but-not-impossible’ kind of a crime. As the police consider different suspects, it seems that not one of them was actually in the house at the time of the murder. So how did the coffee get poisoned? And if someone planted the poison earlier, how to explain the timing? Why didn’t the victim die sooner? Readers who enjoy tackling intellectual puzzles will be pleased that this novel contains one.

Another element in this novel is its police procedural feel. Yukawa deduces what happened, but even he admits that he can’t be completely sure he’s right. Besides, a theory isn’t enough to arrest someone. So we follow along as Kusanagi, Kishitani and Utsumi gather evidence, talk to witnesses and suspects, make sense of laboratory results and ultimately confront the killer. We also see how the police interact. Readers who are tired of ‘maverick’ police who can’t respect authority will appreciate that in this novel, the police work together as a team. They’re supervised by a reasonable boss, too. They do disagree at times, and none of them is perfect. But they respect each other and depend on one another to get the job done.

This is a small, even intimate, story. There aren’t that many suspects, and the network of relationships among them is slowly revealed layer by layer. Readers who prefer fast-paced procedurals will notice this, and will notice that there are no stakeouts, no bursting through doors, and no chasing thugs down dark alleys. Rather, this is a quiet story with subtle revelations of character, motive and history. There’s not a lot of high drama in the novel; instead, the underlying tensions that lead to the murder are as much suggested as stated.

Because the real story behind the murder is revealed layer by layer, it would spoil the novel to say too much about the interactions among the characters. I can say this though. Those interactions are critical to understanding the motive for the murder, and untangling them is key to solving it. Readers will want to pay attention to what the police learn from their evidence-gathering and their interviews, and to what is not said, if I may put it that way.

The novel has been translated from the original Japanese into American English. Readers who prefer another dialect of English will notice this, but regardless of which dialect is one’s preference, the subtlety of the story has been preserved.

This isn’t a dark, noir sort of story. But it is sad. The motive for the murder is very sad, and so is the history behind it. And it’s clear that knowing who the killer is isn’t going to make everything all right again for the people involved. That said though, it isn’t a relentlessly bleak novel. And on a side note, readers who do not like violence in their crime novels will be pleased that there isn’t any in this story. The murder is committed ‘offstage,’ and although readers witness the discovery of the body, it’s not a brutal scene.

Salvation of a Saint is an intellectual puzzle wrapped in a network of complex relationships and interactions. It’s set distinctly in modern Tokyo and features a more or less cohesive police team and an eccentric but brilliant and observant physicist. But what’s your view? Have you read Salvation of a Saint? If you have, what elements do you see in it?

 

 
 

Coming Up On In The Spotlight

 

Monday 18 August/Tuesday 19 August – The Bomber – Liza Marklund

Monday 25 August/Tuesday 26 August – Gone Baby Gone – Dennis Lehane

Monday 1 September/Tuesday 2 September – A Hank of Hair– Charlotte Jay

30 Comments

Filed under Keigo Higashino, Salvation of a Saint

30 responses to “In The Spotlight: Keigo Higashino’s Salvation of a Saint

  1. Another great sounding book – don;t know how you do it Margot, but thanks! I think I have only read about 3 Japanese mysteries so this sounds fascinating – can’t wait.

    • Sergio – Thanks for the kind words. I hope you’ll enjoy this one. It’s a nice intellectual mystery, but doesn’t sacrifice character, if I can put it that way.

  2. OH THANK YOU. I would love to read Japanese Crime Fiction. I WILL start with this one! 🙂

    • I hope you’ll like this one. It’s definitely got a strong sense of the culture without being difficult for someone not accustomed to that culture to understand.

  3. I’ll save this review to read it more carefully once I can read this book Margot.

  4. Another excellent spotlight post especially as I’ve never read any Japanese crime fiction. This sounds like just the sort of contemplative fiction I’d enjoy.

    • Cleo – Thanks for the kind words. I hope you will enjoy it if you get the chance to read it. It’s a really interesting psychological study among other things. Well, that’s how it struck me, anyway.

  5. Although I have read some Japanese novels, only one was a mystery. This one looks so good. Thanks!

  6. I don’t think I have ever read a Japanese mystery, and this one sounds particularly inviting. Thanks for drawing my attention to it….

    • Moira – I hope that if you get the chance to read it, you’ll like it. Exploring Japanese crime fiction is a whole new world for someone who hasn’t grown up there.

  7. I hope to read this book before the end of the year. I did not read all of your post because I like to go in knowing as little as possible… although of course I did read the preceding book so… I know at least about the detective.

  8. Swimming against the tide on this one! I haven’t read it, but read the last one, and it just didn’t work for me. So at least my TBR is safe this week! 🙂

    • That’s the beauty of the genre, FictionFan 🙂 – Nothing is for everyone, but everyone can find something. This one certainly is a different sort of book. Although I personally think this one’s better than …Suspect X, the style and so on are similar. So at least you can’t accuse me of making your TBR-reduction campaign more difficult. 😉

  9. kathy d.

    This is an excellent book with as much scientific investigation as the great Sherlock Holmes would have conducted. Although the book is about a relationship, the murder mystery is solved with hard-core, hard-to-find evidence.
    This is almost a locked-room mystery, which gives John Dickson Carr a run for his money. There is a murder and seemingly, the murderer is not on the premises. So, everything revolves on scientific evidence conducted brilliantly.
    But at bottom are social and cultural issues, as well as the position of women.
    It’s a brilliant book. Also, don’t forget to read “The Devotion of Suspect X,” the first book in this notable series.

    • Kathy – I’m really glad you enjoyed this one. It is an interesting intellectual ‘impossible-but-not-really’ sort of crime isn’t it? And you’re right that it’s solved in a ‘scientific’sort of way (i.e. not through pure intuition. In fact there’s an interesting discussion about that in the novel. And the other issues it brings up are addressed too, and folded into the plot itself.

  10. Clarissa Draper

    I laughed when I read this: “this is a quiet story with subtle revelations of character, motive and history”, I come from a Japanese background and that does sound like how the Japanese like to live their lives and tell their stories. I want to read more Japanese books. Thanks for this review.

    • Clarissa – I’m glad you had that reaction to the description. It really is an authentic novel and I hope very much that you’ll like it if you get the chance to read it.

  11. kathy d.

    Yet, there are some clues subtly dropped into the story, which make one ponder.

  12. Col

    I haven’t read many Japanese authors and haven’t really enjoyed those I have so far. Too early to give up though, as the tide may yet turn!

  13. Sounds like a great read. I haven’t read very much Japanese fiction, and this would be great. If I can get my hands on the book.

    • Natasha – I thought it was very well-written. And the characters are, in my opinion, nicely and subtly developed. I hope that if you get the chance to read it, you’ll enjoy it.

  14. I did enjoy this, Margot, as a change of pace. For me, Salvation of a Saint has the allure of Sudoku at ‘diabolical’ level: you can’t figure out how to solve it, but you can’t give up trying because you know there’s a solution. It is a measure of Higashino’s talent that he sustains such a high level of suspense in what is a largely bloodless, puzzle solving exercise involving a great deal of dialogue.

    • Angela – I’m glad you enjoyed the novel, and I think you’ve captured quite effectively the appeal. It is a deliciously fiendish puzzle, and it keeps the reader engaged in that way. There is the delicate and subtle development of the characters, too, and it’s interesting as the various layers are peeled away. But at the heart of it is that puzzle…

  15. kathy d.

    It may be an extremely intricate and complicated puzzle to unravel, but at the heart of it is still human relations.

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