Thought Box

Crime And Punishment

Crime And Punishment

by Deepa Gahlot December 10 2015, 5:03 pm Estimated Reading Time: 4 mins, 57 secs

The film Drishyam (in its many versions), raised curiosity about the Japanese book that inspired it. The bestselling Japanese novel is also reportedly being made into another Hindi film.

The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino, became a huge bestseller in Japan, and, in translation, all over the world. The success of this convoluted and absolutely gripping crime novel made Higashino a star writer and his cult has only been growing since.

Yasuko, is a former bar hostess who gave up that life to work in a food store and care for her daughter, Misato. She is forced to kill her vicious ex-husband Togashi, when he traces her to her new workplace and home, to extort money from her. When Misato sees him attack her mother, she hits him on the head. Then, to save her daughter from being killed by her stepfather, Yasuko strangles him.

Ordinarily, a woman in this situation would call the cops and plead self-defence. But Yasuko’s neighbor, the quiet and intense mathematics teacher, Ishigami, turns up at the door and offers to take care of the problem. (“Trust me,” he says. “Logical thinking will get us through this.”) Perhaps, what is lost in translation is the Japanese cops’ unsympathetic attitude towards women, or there’s no reason for Yasuko to get embroiled in the risky cover up of the murder.

What she doesn’t know is that Ishigami is a mathematical genius, and in love with her. Every day he goes to her workplace to buy his lunch, but actually, only to see her. He has not been able to express his feelings to her, because he is painfully shy and not attractive looking.

The case is handled by Inspector Kusanagi, who grills everybody even remotely connected to the case. But he can’t pin anything on Yasuko and Misato because their alibi holds. Every evening, Ishigami calls Yasuko from a public phone and gives her instructions. Later, he leaves detailed commands in her mail box. Kusanagi reluctantly consults his buddy ‘Inspector Galileo’, who is not a cop at all, but a scientist named Manabu Yukawa, who, with his irrefutable logic, helps his schoolmate and friend with his cases. The Togashi murder obviously has more than meets the eye, and only Yukawa has the ability to look beyond the ordinary. Much like his schoomate and old rival Ishigami.

Kusanagi is certain that Ishigami is somehow responsible for saving Yasuko’s skin. Without much being said, the two geniuses seem to read each other’s minds, and Ishigami knows that Yukawa knows. However, till the very end, neither Yukawa nor the reader know just how big a sacrifice Ishigami has made to protect the woman he loves, even though he is aware of her attraction towards another suitor.

The plot is complicated but far less contrived than Drishyam. Higashino weaves a delicate web of romance and suspense with simple prose—not a sentence extra, not a word out of place. Not in the league of American or Scandinavian police procedurals and murder mysteries, but a satisfying read, nonetheless, where the murder investigation has intricate and delicate moves like a chess game between grandmasters.

Higashino’s latest book, Journey Under The Midnight Sun (translated from the original Japanese by Alexander O. Smith and Joseph Reeder) is an even more densely plotted book with unpredictable turns and a really shocking twist at the end.

The thick novel begins in 1973 in Osaka, with the discovery of a body in an abandoned building. Detective Sasagaki gets to handle the case and he does all he can to find the killer, but every lead is a dead end. Still, for twenty years he stays obsessed with the case, long after the statute of limitation sets in.

The murdered man was a pawnbroker, Yosuke Kirihara, whose son Ryo is a sullen and strange child, who knows more than he lets on. The main suspect is a struggling single mother, who may have been the man’s lover. But then her daughter Yukiho, discovers her mother’s corpse and the cops conclude suicide due to strained circumstances. Yukiho, a very self-possessed child, is then brought up by a kind relative. She grows up to be a smart and successful entrepreneur, but with secrets tucked away behind her beautiful (“There are thorns in her eyes,” a friend says about her) and friendly exterior.

The complex story with minute detailing (the sound of a bell tinkling in bag connects to a horrific crime, as does a broken key chain) has a cocktail of inflammable ingredients—sex, obsession, brutality, perversion, betrayal—that Higashino expertly blends.

The story follows Ryo and Yukiho through their unsettling childhood (young girls are kidnapped and raped around their school) to adulthood. The people who love them cannot quite understand their furtive behavior or their devious minds.

As the years pass, Higashino introduces computers, gaming, piracy and computer hacking, and organized crime. But at the centre are echoes of that that long ago murder and the link between Ryo and Yukiho. Sasagaki asks “Ever heard of the goby and the shrimp?” and explains, “Yukiho Karasawa and Ryo Kirihara have what biologists call a symbiotic relationship. One can’t live without the other. They’re a pair for life.”

But they are never together, yet never apart. The story swirls around them, many characters enter and exit and push it towards its intriguing climax. The book is like peeling an onion with layers and layers revealing new characters and fresh subplots, all of which are connected to the main plot. At the heart of it is a dark and twisted love story that emotionally destroys the two people involved, so that they are capable of enormous cruelty. Already, Higashino’s next is keenly awaited.

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