Friday, June 7, 2013

The Devotion of Suspect X - Keigo Higashino

In ' Keigo Higasho's diabolically inventive 'The Devotion of Suspect X',  a single mother trying to put her past behind, her neighbor a highly talented mathematician who (not so) secretly carries a torch for her, an equally talented physicist who had been the mathematician's friend in college but hasn't seen him years, all are travelling in their own orbit of life, when an unexpected incident occurs that brings them together, resulting in a battle of wits, wills and emotions, a battle in which there is no winner at the end.

Yasuko's peaceful life is shattered when her abusive ex-husband shows up one day and in a sad turn of events she kills him. This is not a spoiler as the murder happens very early in the novel and identity of the murderer is also established. At this point, the reader thinks of this as a 'open mystery' novel where the reader knows the murderer and follows the detective as he goes after the murderer, checking alibis, stumbling sometimes, progressing sometimes till he catches his quarry. But no, Higasho puts a different spin on the whole thing, cleverly leaving out a crucial part that happens after a murder, and as a result as the reader only knows that a murder has occurred but not all the relevant details, but as the alibis unfold one is not sure what 'Ishigami' the mathematical genius is doing. Like a master gambler, Ishigami doesn't show all his cards at the outset, but little by little he shows those cards that are suited for that situation, thus making us confused about his intentions and where he is taking Yasuko and indeed us the reader. The police too are understandably a bit confused and 'Kusanagi' the detective on the case discusses it with 'Yukawa' who finds out that the neighbor of the suspect is his friend from college days 'Ishigami'. And so starts a battle of wits between 2 equally matched intellects, and soon as in all cases where 2 equal combatants are matched against each other, it becomes a question of will, a question of who wants to win the most, but sadly here there is no happiness associated with winning, any win is going to lead to heartbreak for all involved.

As Ishigami and Yukawa feel each other out during the initial stages, Higasho leaves others different trails of breadcrumbs for us to ponder about, like introducing 'Kudo' an old admirer of Yasuko who comes into the picture again after learning of her husband's murder. The emotional quotient goes up a notch here, as Yasuko goes on a date with him, with us wondering how Ishigami will react to this. Will he feel betrayed by Yasuko and turn on her as Yasuko herself fears. Make no mistake, for all the blurbs about this being a thriller, this is at core a book about 'loneliness' and 'love', two mutually exclusive feelings and the attempts by us to overcome/replace the former by the latter and the extent to which the power of love will make one go. 

Higasho is economical in his prose which sometimes seems sparse and but gets its point across. For instance, early on in the novel Ishigami visits Yasuko but leaves after she assures him that nothing has happened. Sometime later when he comes again she sees that
"For some reason, he had put on a dark navy jacket. He wasn't wearing that a moment ago"
Those have read the novel would get the implication of this line, but suffice to say that this single sentence establishes Ishigami as a man who is prepared for all eventuality, a man who looks at all angles of an issue and makes a decision quickly and starts implementing it, much like his solving mathematical problems. On the other hand, the sparse writing makes it deliberately very and will lull you into glossing over the most important points of the novel and give you a shock when they are revealed. But as in good crime fiction, there would have been a mention/passing reference/isolated incident which we would have not thought of much, but when see in conjunction with the revelations take on a completely new avatar and indeed make us feel 'how the hell did we miss that'.  Yes, two of the most important tipping points of this novel may not be up to the standard of a "logically perfect decision", but as the novel deals about emotional responses and as we know that our emotions are in many cases irrational, they too make sense as the books races towards an unexpected ending. And this emotional core is what elevates this novel, whether it be the fear and anxiety of Yasuko, the inscrutable love of Ishigami or the deep mutual respect between  Ishigami/Yukawa, you don't know whom to empathize with. It's like when your two favorite teams or players complete and you are confused about where your loyalties should lie. At least in sports one can hope for a draw, but here you understand that it is not possible and you wait for the final denouement with a sense of impending doom. Even with that expectation and readiness for an unpleasant ending, Higasho gives a final sucker punch (in fact two) that is sure to leave you shocked and heartbroken. 

In these times when we are subjected to a reader's purgatory of "Inferno's",  this pulsating but at the same time contemplative, thrilling but also poignant novel is the one that should be touted as the hallmark and standard for 'genre fiction', a novel which bridges the gap between "genre fiction" and "general literature". The novel and Ishigami will haunt you for days. Very highly recommended. 


  1. Gosh - a high recommendation. I've heard of the book but not read it. I'm very tempted despite the piles of unread books sitting on my bookshelf. I'll see if my library has a copy.

  2. Another tempation for you Sarah, if you haven't read it already. 'Gone Girl' by Gillian Flynn.