Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Devotion of Suspect X - Book Review

           I began reading ‘The Devotion of Suspect X’ with a justified assumption. This was yet another translation that was going to probably leave me yawning despite claiming to be a murder mystery. I couldn’t have been more wrong! Keigo Higashino’s award winning bestseller is out in the international market and is sweeping audiences world over. With valid reason at that.

           The story begins on a lazy routine morning introducing the insular lives of Yasuko Hanoaka and her daughter Misato Hanoaka. Yasuko works at a food outlet nearby and leads a simple uninterrupted life where she bothers no one and no one bothers her. The apartment next door is occupied by one Mr. Tetsuya Ishigami, who is a high school math teacher fond of the same lifestyle that Yasuko adopts, passionate about math, math and math. The only exception to his interests is Yasuko for whom he harbours a liking and frequents her shop to buy his lunch and have a look at her.

           All seems well until Shinji Togashi pays Yasuko a surprise visit. The man is a vile con, who was Yasuko’s ex-husband. It is revealed that Yasuko suffered a terrible time being married to him and left him after having summoned courage and money with great difficulty. She subsequently moved and changed jobs quite a bit until she was sure that Togashi was off their trail. Yet, there he was, back in her life and threatening to interfere with force. What follows is an innocent argument after which Yasuko pays Togashi to get him to leave. The situation is almost under control but one moment of misjudgment from the young Misato breaks hell out. She attacks Togashi with a flower vase intending to rid themselves of him for good. In the skirmish that follows, mother and daughter end up murdering Togashi in cold blood!

          As they lie wondering about their life turned upside down within a few minutes, their neighbor, the math teacher Mr. Ishigami, offers to help cover up the murder. And from there, the story picks up as a proper murder mystery. Ishigami is a stickler for simple logic, something that is evident from his teaching methods and the kind of research he does. The underlying genius that he uses to cover up Yasuko’s guilt is kept behind the screen and only revealed in bits and pieces as the story proceeds. Two detectives, Kusanagi and his assistant Kishitani investigate the case and with a combination of hunches and logic, include Yasuko as a suspect. But Ishigami’s master plot is as elaborate as a game of chess with every move anticipated and accounted for.

          When Kusanagi draws a blank with his leads, he approaches Professor Yukawa, nicknamed Detective Galileo, a mad-genius physicist who helps the police with tough investigations. Yukawa, as it turns out, is a friend of Ishigami, a long lost contact he rediscovers. With Yukawa joining the hunt for the murderer, things get tougher for Ishigami because now he has to account for the sharp deductive skills of his friend as well. How he does precisely that and how Yukawa counters his genius is what the rest of the story brings forward.

What I liked:

 - The fantastic and crisp translation by Alexander O. Smith and Elye J. Alexander.  The narrative is very simple and very concise. There is not a single point of stagnation in the flow.

- Short chapters. I personally like it if a story is chopped into easy to read chapters that will allow you to take a breather in between and also maintain a smooth continuation.

- The absence of verbose descriptions that run to pages describing the place, people and setting. NIL. The story has the right amount of descriptions, the right number of characters, each of them distinguished in their own style and behavior.

- The pace of the story. Agreed, the story doesn’t fly like a Dan Brown plot but for a murder mystery, when authors normally tend to write so much to throw readers off track so that the end twist would be effective,  Higashino surprisingly maintains normal tone and narration, trusting the story to work on its own. I would say the trick worked because given the pace of the story, I was able to finish the book in four hours flat.

What didn’t appeal to me:

- The character of Mr. Kudo, who I assume was introduced only to provide a diversion and make the reader consider him a suspect. I thought he only added a few extra pages.

- The names of characters. From Kusanagi to Kishitani to Ishigami to Yukawa, I had a hard time keeping track of their names. Tongue twisters if you may!

- The big finish. They claim that the twist in the end would feel like a slap across your face but sadly, it wasn’t so for me. The way the twist is revealed, doesn’t make you gasp in surprise or cry out loud at how you missed it. After a good bout of narration for over 300 pages, the grand finishing touch, merely fizzles out!

- The climax. The story builds up and around Ishigami and Yasuko and given the ending, I felt their characters and the bond they develop, should’ve been much more stronger. With a breezy existence in her life, the decisions Ishigami makes for Yasuko and the ones she makes for him, just don’t come across as very convincing. They leave you a tad disappointed and forced to accept things at face value.


The Devotion of Suspect X is definitely a good read, supported by crisp translation, a fast-paced narrative, an intriguing plot and a bunch of interesting characters. I would recommend this book, for a boring afternoon or a lazy Sunday when classics are not appealing and that big fat book you are reading now is temporarily lost on you. This book is a palette cleanser.

My rating:

3.5 out of 5

Have you read the book already? Did you like this review? What do you think I got right about the book and what do you think I am wrong about? Let me know. Drop in a comment below. Let's discuss  :) 

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  1. Hey that's a nice review and I liked your verdict bit. Nice blog too...we can sure dicuss our resp views.

    This is also one of my 1st ever book review. Do visit my blog n lemme know ur feedback...Hope to see u there-

    1. Hello Ekta :) Thank you for your comment. Welcome to my blog!

  2. Very detailed review... I like it :)

    As for the names, I think Kiego would find our names to be tongue twisters too ;)

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    1. Ha ha ha! :) I agree. Thanks for your comment and welcome to my blog.