Fiction – Kindle edition; Hachette Digital; 384 pages; 2012. Translated from the Japanese by Alexander O. Smith.
When I read Keigo Higashino’s The Devotion of Suspect X in late 2011, I thought it was one of the most extraordinary crime novels I’d ever experienced. It was a masterpiece of plotting filled with so many twists and turns it was impossible to guess the ending, and I loved every (restrained) word of it.
When Jeff, who comments here every now and then, told me last summer that there was a new Keigo Higashino novel in the offing I eagerly awaited its UK release. For some strange reason Salvation of a Saint was made available in a Kindle edition a few months before the hardcover hit out shelves (on 7 February), so I bought it because I honestly couldn’t wait to read it.
But this book is quite a different kettle of fish to its predecessor.
Death by poisoning
Salvation of a Saint is a very detailed police procedural focusing on the death of a young married man inside his empty apartment. Yoshitaka is found face down, sprawled on the wooden floor, with a spilled cup of coffee next to him. Tests reveal there was poison in his coffee.
There are two suspects in his case: his devoted wife, Ayane, an artist who makes beautiful quilts for a living, and Ayane’s young apprentice, Hiromi, who has been having an affair with Yoshitaka.
From the outset we know that the husband is not a particularly nice person. Just a day or two before his death, he told Ayane he wanted a divorce on the basis that she hadn’t fallen pregnant yet. They had been married just a year and he didn’t see the point in “continuing on like this if we can’t have children”.
But there’s a hitch: Ayane was hundreds of miles away visiting her parents when he died. So she can’t be to blame… or can she?
The reader knows a secret
Once again Higashino dishes up a murder mystery like no other. From the outset the reader is let in on a little secret. Just after Ayane is told that her marriage is over “she glanced at her dresser, thinking about the white powder hidden in a sealed plastic bag. […] Guess I’ll be using that soon, she thought”. But we are left in two minds about this powder: is it the poison used to kill Yoshitaka, or something else entirely?
We don’t find out until the very end, but as we follow the police investigation step by step you want to reach into the book and tell Detective Kusanagi (who also featured in The Devotion of Suspect X) and his department’s newest recruit, Kaoru Utsumi, to look in the dresser, look in the dresser!
Of course, if they did that the mystery would be solved in about 10 pages rather than the 384 pages it takes to tell this story. Instead, Higashino teases us with plenty of red herrings and twists and turns in the plot so that you are never quite sure what is going to happen next — and you’re never quite sure if Ayane is truly guilty or not. Her performance throughout is mesmerising — she’s cool, calm and collected, the last person you’d expect to be capable of murder.
Painstaking police investigation
At times I must admit the book feels tedious — that’s probably because the police investigation is so painstaking — and the solution is quite contrived and highly implausible. But I did enjoy the police banter, particularly the tension, competitiveness and humour between Kusanagi, the old, jaded detective who’s seen it all before, and Utsumi, his female colleague, who is young, bright and tenacious.
The university physicist Yukawa, who secretly helps out the police on their most baffling cases, also makes an appearance (he was in the previous novel, too) — his “unofficial” work is vital in helping the police crack the case.
And while I don’t think Salvation of a Saint is a patch on The Devotion of Suspect X, it is nevertheless a good read about a complex, puzzling case with an emphasis on deciphering clues and figuring out how a simple crime could be committed so perfectly. If you’re looking for a crime novel that is refreshingly different, do give it a try.