Higashino is a popular Japanese author who writes mysteries emphasizing character and culture. Though by the time I reach halfway through the book, I’m fighting my usual urge to peek at the denouement, there is still something kind of restful about the story. (Besides, I’ve learned with Higashino that that’s ultimately unsatisfying, due to the build of the relationships that make the resolution so hard-hitting). It is the clear prose? The exquisitely polite mannerisms of the characters? The emphasis on the scientific process? The utter lack of gun fights, car chases or people buried alive?
This book continues to use the crime-solving duo of Yukawa, the physicist, and Kusanagi, the Tokoyo police detective. Unlike Suspect X, Yukawa is the primary investigator in this case, being on the scene. An underwater mining company is holding an informational event in the small town of Hari Cove, a former tourist town that has been declining for years. Yukawa had been consulting on the project and was asked to be present to help address technical concerns. On the train to Hari Cove, he meets a gangly, awkward fifth-grader, Kyohei, on the way to his aunt and uncle’s hotel for a vacation while his parents are busy setting up a new store. Yukawa decides to stay at the hotel and an interesting friendship is formed. Things become complicated when the only other guest is found dead at the bottom of a small cliff.
By far one of the most touching aspects of the story was the completely unsentimental way Yukawa befriends Kyohei. Yukawa continues with his cryptic math-teacher commentary, generally encouraging others to work out situations for themselves. However, in deference to his young friend’s more limited experience, he explains more than usual:
“A wry smile came to Yukawa’s lips. ‘Well, I could tell you why Kusanagi called me, but it’s a bit of a long story…. Of course, Kusanagi often has ulterior motives for the things he does. Actually, often isn’t quite right. Always is the word I was looking for. He always has an ulterior motive.'”
The mystery is convoluted, and there is a wide variety of people who play a role in the situation (unfortunately, many names seem to start with ‘S’ in this book). There’s a somewhat obvious (to the mystery reader) tack that the local detectives don’t take. The story didn’t take quite the course I expected with the environmental issue, leading me to wonder about it’s inclusion. I wonder if that had to do with differences in American environmental activism and Japanese? Regardless, Yukawa solves this in his own, somewhat morally ambiguous way.
I started and finished this in a day. It was both engrossing and sad, but rather less devastating than Suspect X. I’ll definitely be looking for more of his works, as soon as they are translated into English.