I loved Higashino’s Salvation of a Saint and The Devotion of Suspect X. Malice and A Midsummer’s Equation were enjoyable, but not nearly as remarkable. This, though: this was something else, written by someone else. Much like the book’s cover–terribly apropos–it suffered from vague character outlines, wildly specific details of inanities, and a general lack of attention to the (normal) scenic clarity that elevates Higashino above the ordinary.
This story begins shortly after the third anniversary of Saori Namiki’s disappearance when she was nineteen. A decrepit house has burned down in Tokyo and her remains were identified in the rubble. Chief Inspector Kusanagi and his team are assigned the case because of a curious connection they have to the chief suspect. Most unusually, they had a disastrous encounter with him almost two decades earlier when a young child went missing. Higashino almost always (at least, that I recall) has truly terrible people as murder victims, which builds in reader sympathy for the killer. With that knowledge, I had a feeling I knew where the story was going, but it wasn’t until Part Two, at page 87, that we finally reached the main course.
Oh, how I was looking forward to this story, but the pace! The pacing was terrible. We spend pages with the grieving family as the police revisit the missing-persons case (we also get a plethora of details about said house). It’s terribly slow, and it turns out to be somewhat of a useless preface; the book isn’t about Saori’s death as much as it’s about her killer’s eventual death, and that’s a very odd thing indeed. Once we reach Part Two, Saori and the family almost disappear from the pages.
Part Two transforms into obsessive Sherlockian details, with timing, placement and clues being examined in minute detail. It’s extremely fussy, and while I tried to follow along at first, after the first double-back, I gave up. The locked room is an insanely complicated (but naturally, diabolically clever) murder route. This is the overly-fussy detailed section of the story, where physics and volume come into heavy discussion. I kid you not. Higashino must have been reading some Andy Weir. At one point, I was so disinterested in finishing that I peeked at other reviews who promised a twist ending. This does indeed happen, but the contrast to the beginning of the book is startling.
Higashino’s particular specialty seems to be turning the traditional questions of where-when-why-how and looking at them from unusual angles. This one feels a little like Salvation of a Saint in that much of it is a locked-room sort of mystery. I was also getting a strong feel of Murder on the Orient Express vibes as I read (for those worried about spoilers, I wrote this before finishing). Perhaps also giving me a Christie vibe was the cast list at the front of the book. Regardless, nothing here really stands up to the emotional or intellectual puzzle of Salvation and Suspect X.
The most enjoyable sections were scenes at the Namiki family restuarant/bar where it all began. I got the feel for the cultural of the local establishment, the way people would drop in for a meal on the way home or for a weekly night out with friends. Yet much like watching people come and go from the corner booth, we never get too close to their lives, only their expressions and thoughts of the moment. And seriously, who passes up the chance to go into loving detail about foods and drinks? And allows one of their detectives to order a virgin Moscow Mule? Oh, the literary horror.
Speaking of literary horror, I can’t help but notice that my two favorites of his were translated by Alexander O. Smith, while this one, and unfortunately an upcoming release, are translated by Giles Murray. (There’s a online interview of the two that’s an interesting read). Is it Higashino aging? Translator skill? Or both? I can’t help but think how much I enjoyed Robert Parker’s Spencer books at the beginning, but found them to be lightweight copies by the end of his career. Perhaps there is a similar phenomenon happening.
The other aspect I enjoyed were the snippets into Japanese life. In this case, the criminal system was highlighted. Apparently the police–and the public–place a great deal of value on confessions. Also interesting was the small bit of detail about the local parade. Hiashino doesn’t include much however; most of it I found on my own. Japan is known for matsuri, community celebrations, often religious or seasonally connected, but occasionally just reflecting the local people’s tastes. It doesn’t seem like The Silent Parade is based on a particular matsuri, although interestingly, there is one that became a ‘silent’ dance festival after there were too many noise complaints.
Well, rather than read the next, I really should give my two favorites a re-read. After all, I’ve only read them once.
A moment of silence seems appropriate, does it not?