Tony's Reviews > The Devotion of Suspect X

The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino
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Nov 07, 11

bookshelves: novels, translated-fiction, adapted-for-film
Read in January, 2011

I've read perhaps ten or so Japanese crime novels seen maybe fifteen Japanese crime films, have read some non-fiction about the Japanese underworld, and have been to the country. All of which is to say that while I'm not fluent in the culture, I didn't come to this story completely unversed in it either. Unfortunately, this particular book seems to be a case of a publisher trying to find the next big international crime thriller hit, and releasing a book with some major flaws.

The story revolves around a divorced single mother who works the counter at a small takeout place. When her nasty ex-husband tracks her down and tries to milk her for money, things get violent and she and her daughter end up killing him in the fight. Facing the prospect of jail and foster care, they accept the offer of their quiet neighbor Mr. Ishigami to make their problem disappear. The unremarkable middle-aged neighbor is a high-school math teacher with no friends or family, but a genius-level brain. He's been nursing a crush on his neighbor and is ready and willing to cover up for her. (All of this is on the book jacket, so I'm not spoiling anything.) The bulk of the book involves the police investigation that follows, and whether or not Ishigami is going to be able to maintain the deception. Now, to the flaws:

First, the entire book is predicated on the police honing in on the ex-wife as the only suspect. This despite their being divorced for a number of years, and him being an unemployed, nasty character of no fixed address or means, who had embezzled money from a previous employer. The obvious notion that he could have had any number of enemies, especially underworld ones, is never examined the police. Why? Because it would have completely torpedoed the premise of the book, so instead it's just...ignored.

OK, I'm willing to overlook one large hole if a book makes it worth my while Unfortunately, a massive coincidence is unleashed which is also central to the story. The police detective assigned to the case happens to regularly consult with a brilliant physicist (named Yukawa, presumably in tribute to the Nobel laureate), in the manner of Inspector Lestrade consulted with Sherlock Holmes. And it just so happens that not only did Yukawa go to university with Ishigami, they were friends! This makes him literally the only person in the entire world both smart enough and familiar enough with Ishigami's manner of thinking to potentially unravel his plan. I mean, I'm all for suspension of disbelief in my entertainment, but that's just silly.

And yet I kept reading, just to see how the story would conclude. It's not a bad puzzle, although the big twist toward the end didn't exactly shock me. There had been plenty of deliberate mentions of a particular group of people in the book, so I knew one of them would be playing an important role at some point. There's one final twist at the end that is a purely tonal one, shifting it from what could be considered a happy ending to a tragic one. It's not a choice I would have made, but it's in keeping with a lot of Japanese crime stories, so I guess it works in that context. All in all, I'm kind of baffled that a book with such serious flaws could have been such a hit, spawning a TV crime series featuring Yukawa and a film adaptation of the book (Suspect X).
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