Keigo Higashino is one of the best living exponents of the detective novel. He writes in Japanese, and is one of the most successful writers in the language. His novels have also been successful worldwide, in translation. Alexander O Smith is the regular English translator of Higashino’s works, and while I do not read Japanese, the verdict of online detective forums and review sites is that he does an excellent job in keeping the flavour of the original text intact. I used to have a grouse that translation of genre fiction, especially detective fiction, is either rare to find, or of substandard quality. I am delighted that the trend is reversing.
Higashino’s novels, featuring his famous Professor Manabu Yukawa aka Detective Galileo, veer far away from mainstream detective fiction, and yet retains the feel of a normal crime novel. Higashino does this by maintaining many common tropes of the genre. There’s the lead man, an eccentric pompous, curmudgeonly genius of a private detective. The police are full of bluster and quick to draw conclusions, but are not absolutely hopeless.
Clues to the crime (a murder in most cases), are given out in large dollops, and the reader feels like in the know, and in with a chance to solve the mystery. These are peripheral tropes that make the novel accessible to the regular reader; how they differ from the norm though, is that these are not whodunits. The crime, the criminal, and the motivation behind the murder, are known to the reader in the first chapter. The mystery is in how the murder has been committed. The murderer is not some shadowy creature lurking in the background.
Higashino’s murderer is in plain sight, and what’s more, (s)he is a genius in his/her own rights. A great joy of a Higashino novel is in seeing two geniuses pitting their skills. It is labyrinthine, invariably confounding, and always quite brilliant.
The Salvation of a Saint, my recommendation for the week, follows this Higashino template. Yoshitaka Mashiba, A successful businessman and a thoroughly disgusting individual, is contemplating divorcing his wife, Ayane. The reason? She has been unable to produce a child for him. In the meanwhile, he is cheating on Ayane, who herself is a renowned artiste. One day, Mashiba is found dead in his home, poisoned by arsenic, which was mixed in his coffee.
Ayane, the one with the most reason to commit the murder — she knows of the misdeeds of her husband, and indeed, perhaps mentions of her murderous intents in the first chapter of the novel — was in a different city when the murder was committed. Could she have poisoned one of the ingredients of the coffee? No, they have been checked thoroughly and no traces of arsenic were found in them. There is no other obvious suspect.
An impossible case? Typical Detective Galileo territory then! This is a very intelligently crafted story, and was an absolute joy to read. I recommend it strongly.
(The writer is a business development executive in Hyderabad)
Shom Biswas @spinstripe