I have commented before on the number of Scandinavian thrillers by unknown authors that are turning up in the shops with labels such as ‘the new Henning Mankell’ or ‘if you liked Stieg Larsson, read this’, etc. Usually they are nothing like either author and rarely as well written. The other day I came across The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino. This one bore the legend ‘The Japanese Stieg Larsson’! In fact it bears no similarity to any aspect of the ‘Girl trilogy’, with the possible exception that, in both stories, a crime had been committed.
In fact, it was a terrific read. It might perhaps have better been named ‘The Japanese Columbo’, since it focused on a detective and a former colleague, who were not alcoholics, nor (as far as I know) having family problems, nor stressed by work or office rivalries – a rarity these days among the good cop fraternity - and their breaking down of a suspect. It was very Japanese, by which I mean that the detectives spent much of their time drawing inferences from small gestures and words and indeed lack of gestures. Why did they do this, when there were choices of action? Why did they not say that? Why did he steal a new bicycle, when there were unlocked old ones? Etc, etc. I found this both compelling and fascinating.
The crime is committed early on in the novel and we follow both the detectives and the culprits as they pit their wits against each other. At one point, one of the detectives was walking with a suspect and, seeing a reflection of the two of them in an office door, asked ‘how have you managed to stay so young?’ The suspect instantly knew that he was a suspect. At another point, the detective asks a suspect, ‘Which is harder – devising an unsolvable problem or solving that problem?’ The suspect promptly decides to confess. You’ll have to read the book to understand the convoluted thinking behind those exchanges. And there is not one, but two very Japanese shock endings to look forward to.
Of course, one reason I enjoyed the novel so much was that I knew where all the action took place and understood the Japanese sensibilities that led to their actions. I'm not sure how exquisite the interactions would be, if that wasn't the case. But this was a real find. As gripping as a watching a game of chess. If this author has another story in him, he will maybe begin to become as well-known as Stieg Larsson . . .