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the devotion of suspect x

26 august 2018

The Devotion of Suspect X echoes a theme from Keigo Higashino's wonderful earlier crime novel Malice. Once again, we have a pair of old friends, a crime, and a story that one friend tells the other about that crime: a story that both of them know can't be true, and that keeps changing under the pressures of investigation and of narration itself. Narration is unreliable in Higashino's fiction even when (as here) you see the crime itself in direct "shown" form. The result is a puzzle, a suspenser, and a poignant, if somewhat extreme, psychological study.

So as not to spoil too much, I'll describe the inciting event of The Devotion of Suspect X, the crime itself, in abstract terms. (In any case, the crime occurs only a few pages into the novel, so it's more hook than spoiler.)

Suppose you kill somebody – not with malice aforethought, even partly in defense of your family. Still, you think twice about whether to report to the police. While you are puzzling over what to do, comes a knock at your door. "Dead body?" asks a neighbor you've barely met. "I think we can do something about that."

Given this premise, I immediately thought of Patricia Highsmith, who wrote so compellingly about masks, misdirections, and the existential terror of becoming complicit in other people's crimes. Highsmith might have been jealous of not having thought of a plot like that of The Devotion of Suspect X; it's possible that Higashino took oblique inspiration from Highsmith's Strangers on a Train and Talented Mr. Ripley.

The Devotion of Suspect X introduces a character who evidently becomes something of a series hero for Higashino, the impeccably logical (but also deeply empathetic) "Detective Galileo." This physicist, prosaically named Yukawa, matches wits with the mathematician Ishigami (the fellow who knocks on the door near the novel's beginning). Is it harder to plot the perfect crime, or to solve it? Which puzzle is harder to solve, a complicated one or a straightforward one? Such principles, which Yukawa and Ishigami meta-discuss as they spar over the crime, are the stuff of Edgar Allan Poe, Gaston Leroux, and many a locked-room mystery. In The Devotion of Suspect X, there is no mystery as to the killer, but a great deal of mystery about everything else: including the killer's flimsy but apparently unshakeable alibi.

Higashino Keigo. The Devotion of Suspect X. [Yogisha X no kenshin, 2005.] Translated by Alexander O. Smith. New York: St. Martin's, 2011. PL 871 .I33Y6413