Sunday, March 18, 2012

On the Devotion of Suspect X

The following post is an analysis of The Devotion of Suspect X by Higashino Keigo- I'm writing the name the same way it's pronounced in Japan, regardless of how it's spelt out on the book cover. So if you haven't read this book already, SKIP this post and choose from any of our other posts because this post contains spoilers.

A long time ago, being the young naive boy that I was, I believed implicitly in the authority of author blurbs and in the power of numbers. If a book was a New York Times bestseller, I believed that the thick paperback with the weak spine, dog-eared pages and embossed gold colored fonts was indeed a book worthy of its price and its praise. Youth led way to clearer thinking and to disillusionment in blurbs and sale numbers and that finally allowed me to confront the "a million readers can't be wrong!" premise (Thank you, Chetan Bhagat for proving to me that print sales don't reflect the ability of the author). So when The Devotion of Suspect X was devoured by over 2 million Japanese and was causing ripples aboard, I found it difficult to believe and was afraid of high expectations being dashed. However my fears were assuaged and I was proved wrong; the read was a beautiful one and a sad, poignant tale of blind devotion and perhaps misguided love. Higashino's novel is not a classic who-dunnit. The murder of Hanaoka Yasuko's abusive ex-husband, Togashi occurs in a fit of rage at Yasuko's modest apartment, when Togashi comes hounding around for cash and perhaps a chance to get back together with his estranged wife. A few minutes later, Hanaoka Misato beats her step-father over the head with a heavy object with an objective to kill him. In an effort to stop Togashi from killing her daughter for her violent outburst, Yasuko fishes out the wire of the electric heater and garrotes him to death as Misato assists her. Then as the doorbell rings, the tragic story is unfolded with the intervention of neighbor and misanthropic mathematics prodigy Ishigami "The Buddha" Tetsuya. Then as the pages turn, it is a deadly game of cat and mouse as Ishigami tries to outwit the detectives assigned to the case and the brainchild assisting the detectives behind the official investigation, Yukawa Manabu. Ishigami risks incarceration and ostracism from society, solely to keep the mother and daughter duo from harm and to preserve their happiness. The ultimate sacrifice to display the ultimate devotion.

Due praise must be awarded to Higashino for maintaining the balance between character development and pace of the plot. The plot is completely unhurried; the conversations between Detective Kusanagi and Assistant Professor Yukawa (dubbed Galileo) as they mull over theories about the crime is an art of melding male bonding and creative genius, as one helps the other in modifying their theories about who the killer and their accomplice was. The leitmotif in the novel is a mathematical theory P=NP, which posits the question of what is easier: to deduce a solution for a problem you've set up yourself or to analyze a second party's solution. Higashino does a wonderful job of steering us away from the actual nature of the crime and leads us down a rabbit hole of deception until Yukawa realizes otherwise.

The novel is not without its flaws. Yukawa comes to suspect his friend simply by ascertaining a look of jealousy when Ishigami encounters Kudo at the Bento store and also when Ishigami talks about his thinning hair. To suspect love for a woman from simply those two observations is a little silly if you ask me. For a man like Yukawa nothing short of a testimony of spurned love or evidence of stalking should ring alarm bells. Another disappointment comes towards the end, where Ishigami's sacrifice is made for naught. Kusanagi insists that he will launch an investigation looking into Yasuko's involvement in the murder even at the cost of his friendship with Yukawa. So when Togashi's maimed body is ultimately found, DNA evidence will link the corpse to his identity and Yasuko will be under fire. And finally, the guilt ridden Yasuko begs Ishigami to let her share the blame when Misato attempts to take her life. The novel ends with Ishigami's plans of a perfect mathematical solution to protect his loved ones shattered, all because of the stochastic actions of a known variable- Hanaoka Yasuko herself. Higashino fully deserves the Naoki Prize for best novel with this work and one can hope that he can produce more books of crime fiction and continue the trend of taut storytelling and minimalism.

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