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10 november 2017

Keigo Higashino's Malice contains more unreliable narration per unit page than just about any other novel I've ever read.

We begin with the narrative of Osamu Nonoguchi, who' s just found the body of his murdered friend Kunihiko Hidaka. You feel for the guy – it must be a shock to come upon such a sight. Except, of course, you only have Nonoguchi's word for it that the sight came as a surprise.

One often wonders, reading modern fiction, why you are hearing from a first-person narrator. Who is this speaker who treats the shelves of a bookstore as his confessional? In Malice, you learn fairly quickly that Nonoguchi is not just spinning his tale into thin air. He is writing it down, because he's a writer, and likes to transform experience into prose. But not just that: Nonoguchi also gives his manuscript in short order to Detective Kyoichiro Kaga, as a way of presenting his material testimony in the form of literary narrative.

Kaga and Nonoguchi had once been teaching colleagues, but both have left that profession – Kaga, washing out of the classroom and becoming a cop; Nonoguchi leaving more voluntarily, to become a children's-book author. There are unresolved issues in their mutual past. But nothing compared to the unresolved issues in the past shared by Nonoguchi and the murdered Hidaka.

Nonoguchi confesses to Hidaka's murder so early in the story that it's not even a spoiler to mention the confession. Most of Malice is taken up with Kaga's attempt to establish a motive for the killing. Nonoguchi's original story of coming upon his friend's corpse (brained with a paperweight and strangled with a phone cord, this being 1996) is transparent bullshit. But so is his confession ("I don't know what came over me, we had a fight, I just killed him"). Kaga will have to spend another 150+ pages breaking through confession after confession, sorting through Rashomon-like testimony from dozens of other witnesses, before presenting his "solution" in the final chapter.

And then you have to wonder: given everything you've learned about narration in the course of Malice, can we believe a word that Detective Kaga writes?

Higashino Keigo. Malice. [Akui, 1996.] Translated by Alexander O. Smith with Elye Alexander. 2014. New York: Minotaur [Macmillan], 2015. PL 852 .I3625A5713