Higashino, Keigo - 'The Devotion of Suspect X' (translated by Alexander O Smith & Elye J Alexander)
At first glance, it seems that this novel follows a well-worn story line, in which a wife, Yasuko, murders her ex-husband, in this case with the help of her daughter, and then the neighbour, Ishigami, overhearing what happens, steps in to help dispose of the body. The ex-husband is an unlikeable violent character, and is simply harassing his wife for money. His murder is unplanned, and we're not expected to feel any sympathy for him. The wife is beautiful, and simply trying to live an honest life with her daughter. The neighbour, a maths teacher in a nearby school, has a secret crush on Yasuko, the main reason why he buys his lunch box each day from the place where she works, on his way to school. So, perhaps it is not surprising that he becomes involved and tries to help out. All three are then bound together to try to conceal their involvement in the murder from the authorities.
It turns out, however, that not only does Ishigami have an implacable Buddha-like character, allowing him to deal with the aftermath of the murder calmly and sensibly, but he is also a mathematical genius and uses his great intellect to covering up the murder with remarkable ease. Somehow, he disposes of the body, plant doubts in the minds of the police, creates alibis and as a result, retrospectively he turns an unplanned murder into the perfect crime. Whereas an unscrupulous neighbour might have turned this situation to his advantage, and used the opportunity to make demands on the wife, Ishigami (the devoted suspect X of the title) does not. Instead he carefully plans how he can protect Yasuko and her daughter from the consequences of their crime.
The persistence of the police, and their constant questioning of the events leads to the reciprocal gradual unveiling of misinformation and false trails, all of which are directed by Ishigami. In the end, it is only the persistence of Manubu Yukawa, an old friend of Ishigami whom he hasn't seen in 20 years, that forces Ishigami into playing his final hand. Yukawa is a physics professor, who advises the police on solving difficult murders. He is clearly caught in the dilemma of wanting to solve the crime, but not wanting to believe his old friend capable of being involved.
I'm not quite sure I'd class the author, Keigo Higashino, as 'the Japanese Stieg Larsson' (a quote from The Times on the front cover of the book), but, the book is well plotted, and for once I was completely caught out by the unfolding of the plot towards the end, and the disturbing and unforeseen lengths that Ishigami has gone to, to protect his great love. A fascinating read.
Read another review of THE DEVOTION OF SUSPECT X.
Michelle Peckham, England
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