Book Review: The Devotion of Suspect X

Yasuko Hanaoka is a single mother whose ex-husband, Togashi, still bothers her for money and engages in other nasty harassment. One evening he comes to her apartment, gets threatening and ends up strangled at the hands of his ex and her teenage daughter, Misato. Ishigami is a maths teacher/genius and Yasuko’s neighbour. He visits the lunch-box shop at which she works every day just so he can buy lunch from his pretty neighbour. When he hears noises in her apartment he deduces what has gone on there and offers to help dispose of the body and cover up the crime. The rest of the book is then billed as a battle of wits between Ishigami and the police who are aided by their very own genius, physicist Dr. Manabu Yukawa nicknamed Professor Galileo, who happens to be an old college mate of both the lead detective on the case, Kusanagi, and our genius maths teacher Ishigami (though the latter two have never met prior to this case).
Set in Tokyo, this novel is about the investigation of a crime and the psychological effects of guilt and suspicion on those involved in it.
The plot of the novel is clever, in that the reader begins one step ahead of the police but gradually realises that the story is more complex than a simple crime and a cover-up. While the detectives accrue evidence and witnesses, fear and paranoia escalate among the subjects of the investigation, until all is revealed in a double-twist ending. The characters are two-dimensional, with important avenues left unexplored. This is most marked in the case of Yasuko’s young daughter, the character whose role in the story interested me the most, and whose dramatic actions bookend the plot – she is basically ignored. One of the reasons for reading translated crime fiction is to attempt to understand other cultures. I suspect Japanese readers may be more tolerant of the huge amount of detail in the novel than Westerners, who would like to see the pith of the story closer to the surface.
In some senses THE DEVOTION OF SUSPECT X is not about crime fiction at all, but about the relationship of mathematics to philosophy, and the idea that all human problems can be solved by mathematical logic. Not every body’s cup of tea!
The real success of the novel, however, lies in the impossible-to-guess climax. I found myself completely in awe of the way in which Higashino drew everything together so neatly and still managed to provide an utterly unexpected ending, completely out of left-field. Is it any wonder more than two million copies of this book have been sold in Japan alone: it is a masterpiece of authorial restraint, concept and plotting.
There were times that I wished Keigo Higashino would get on with the story, ditch some of the detail, and other times when I really enjoyed it.

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