Much more than meets the eye

There he goes again. Not long back from the mean streets of L.A., and before that,  the Perigord region of France, Bob Moyer is now on a fictional journey to Japan.

By Robert Moyer

THE DEVOTION OF SUSPECT X. By Keigo Higashino. Minotaur Books. 298 pages. $24.99

A Japanese police procedural centered around a lunch café counter lady, a high school math teacher, a physics professor and a police lieutenant doesn’t seem to hold much promise.  Neither does the premise:  By page 20,  Yasuko, the lady, has murdered her husband; by page 28, the math teacher Ishigami has offered to help her cover up the crime; and the rest of the book consists of the police trying to break the alibi he produces.  Just how interesting could the unraveling be?

Very, as it turns out.  There’s a reason this book, the author’s first in English translation, won multiple awards for best mystery novel in Japan.  Ishigami is a math genius relegated to teaching reluctant high school students for a living.  His plan has all the intricacies of the most sophisticated mathematical formula.  Lieutenant Kusanagi, unlike his junior partner, smells something wrong with the alibi, but can’t pick up any scent; you can almost see the Columbo-like wrinkles in his coat and forehead as he tries to cipher the answer to the problem.

Fortunately for him(but not Ishigami), his mentor Professor Yukawa is known as “Detective Gallileo” for his brilliant solutions.  Yukawa knew Ishigami in college; while the lieutenant conducts his investigation, Yukawa rekindles his friendship with Ishigami.  The writing blasts along here, the reader privy to the clues at the same time the police get them.  Ishigami proceeds at his own pace in protecting Yasuko, dropping a hint now and then that is “merely a breadcrumb set in their path to lure” the police and the reader astray.

As Yukawa points out to Ishigami in one of their cat-and-mouse discussions, however, “It’s more difficult to create the problem than to solve it.”  Yukawa turns out to be as perspicacious an investigator as Ishigami is a perpetrator.  When he finally deciphers the “blind spot” that prevents the police from seeing what’s right before them, he forces Ishigami’s hand.  When the devoted suspect plays out the plan, both the reader and Kusanagi are astonished. Yukawa is just saddened.

The author has matched his “villain” here, concealing the solution while leaving it in plain sight.  It’s a masterful job, and one that leaves us looking forward to another visit to Tokyo.

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