In each Higashino Sgt. Kaga mystery I’ve read, he’s done something quite unique, and in Newcomer, he surprised me again with his unusual approach to the mystery of a strangled woman. One of the conceits of the story is that Sgt. Kaga is new to the Nihonbashi district, which apparently resembles “old” Tokyo; as he goes into different shops and houses, the reader gets the feel for a distinct place and time. Much like Miss Marple going to visit Dottie Bantry for tea and stopping to talk with Bert the gardener on the way, this is as much a slice-of-life as it is mystery.
The book is broken up into a series of nine chapters, eight of them focused on a cluster of interviewees related by household or shop, such as ‘The Girl at the Rice Cracker Shop,’ ‘The Apprentice at the Japanese Restaurant,’ and ‘The Daughter-in-Law of the China Shop.” The stores are quiet businesses, family-run, often with the family living in back or upstairs of the shops.
There’s a cast of dramatic personae at the beginning, which was much appreciated by the end. There’s a wide group of people involved, and it is interesting to see their reactions to the police investigation, wondering what is going on, and how their information will be used. It’s also interesting as a reader to be playing detective and wondering where people are being inaccurate or fudging the truth. However, after the third chapter or so, it’s clear that the author has something other than just slight-of-hand in mind. I won’t spoil the approach he took, except to say that I especially appreciated it in context of a particularly brutal and anti-heroic time in literature.
If you are looking for something outside the normal noir or humorous mystery, perhaps something along the lines of a Japanese Miss Marple in modern-retro Japan, Lt. Kaga is the way to go.