The second mystery I’ve read by Higashino was even better than my first (The Devotion of Suspect X). There is something immensely satisfying about his approach to telling a story. Perhaps it is a difference of cultural expectations on what an author needs to accomplish. Though Higashino is a best-selling author in Japan, he seems relatively unknown in the U.S. What I do know is that when I finish, I feel a strong sense of pleasure. The mystery is resolved, yes, providing a sense of intellectual satisfaction; but there’s also an artistic sense of pleasure, as from seeing a play performed by skilled actors.
“Kusanagi walked in through the glass doors and up to the sales counter. He had heard that the store stocked over fifty varieties of tea, and sure enough, there they were, all individually labeled and sorted into neat rows. Behind the counter was a little tea room. Even at the relatively quiet hour of four in the afternoon, he saw a few customers scattered around the cafe, sipping tea and reading newspapers. One or two were dressed in company uniforms. Male customers were definitely in the minority.”
Like Agatha Christie, Higashino makes use of traditional or iconic set-pieces, but is wise enough to let the setting be the background to the story, albeit an important one. The main characters are all treated well, with hints at complexity but not in a way that overshadows the plot. There are no scenic digressions of them having a lonely beer at the local bar, or getting their hair cut at the stylist. Kusanagi isthe lead detective, and now has a female member of his team, Utsumi, along with his long-term aide, Kishitani:
“Kusanagi suppressed a smile as he looked at his two subordinates. Poor Kishitani had finally got a new recruit of his own to push around–and it was a woman. He has no idea how to handle her.“
They are working to solve the case of a man found dead in his locked home, a spilled coffee cup by his side. Is it natural? An accident? Suicide? Homicide? As they work to tease out the possibilities, they end up with an impossible situation. However, nothing is impossible when the physicist Yukawa is consulted:
“It’s not very scientific to say things like ‘absolutely’ and ‘zero possibility.’ It’s also rather unorthodox to say someone made a mistake when they’ve only presented a hypothesis that proved to be incorrect. But I’ll forgive you on the grounds that you’re not a scientist.”
I love the irreverent and infallibly logical Yukawa. He is not so much the associate with the little grey cells as the analytical counterpoint to the intuition-driven doggedness of Detective Kusanagi.
The first book I read was about how the police uncovered a murder (we knew the who, what, why and how). In this, though the reader has a strong suspicion who the murderer is and why, there’s enough doubt on the who to keep the reader wondering, and of course, the how is a puzzle indeed.
Satisfying is really one of the best words I can come up with for this tale. It perhaps stretches, just slightly, the boundaries of imagination, and yet Higashino makes this story plausible. I enjoyed the way the emotions of the story tugged at me without descending into the maudilin or horrific, as well as Higashino’s complete failure to include car chases, ominous but missed hints from the criminals as they pack their bombs, and dire threats to end the world as the detective almost fails to catch them in time. I know, I know; I’m overusing that word, satisfying. But I can’t think of a better way to describe a work that intrigued me and captured my attention without resorting to narrative or plotting tricks.
Four, five stars. Really could be either. If anything keeps it from five, it is that I do not feel the drive–not quite–to add this to my own library. Although I’d consider reading it again. Rounding up for that.