Saturday, May 11, 2013

Notes on a Murder

The task of reviewing a novel of the mystery-detective genre usually presents itself as a challenge to me. Not because it is hard to put into words what the story holds without giving away spoilers. But because a detective novel usually doesn't give a reviewer much to go on, aside from a convoluted mystery and the solution.
But despite being a book of the same genre, Salvation of a Saint, provides ample food for thought on the complexities of the human mind and offers the reader some philosophical meanderings to go with a regular offering of a mind-boggling mystery.

Without delay let me get to the summary now:-

Yoshitaka and Ayane Mashiba have been married for one year and yet their marriage is already falling apart. Why? Because turns out, both of them had agreed to treat marriage like a contractual agreement in which if Ayane fails to conceive a child within a year they will part ways. And, of course, Ayane has failed to conceive at the end of the stipulated time period.
So what happens next?  Yoshitaka declares he is leaving her because he has already found prospective new wife to replace Ayane. And it turns out the prospective new wife is none other than Ayane's protege, Hiromi Wakayama, whose talent Ayane has helped hone herself.
And to put the cap on this madness, Yoshitaka gets killed in his apartment while Ayane is away in Sapporo on a visit to her parents and the detective in charge of the investigation falls for Ayane at first sight even though she becomes the chief suspect.
But then of course, she has a rock solid alibi. She was away from Tokyo when Yoshitaka was murdered. How do you kill when you are physically hundreds of miles away from the victim?

Here in lies the novelty of Salvation of a Saint. It's not a whodunit as much as it is a howdunit.

To me the real villain of the story remains the victim and not the murderer. Because men who treat women like baby-producing machines and switch to one from another as easily as changing clothes, deserve to be at least squarely kicked in their family jewels, if not murdered outright. And I'm pleased to find out there are no misogynistic undertones in this narrative since Higashino doesn't gloss over this fact.
Now for my verdict on Higashino as a writer:-
If you are acquainted with anime such as Death Note, Monster or Detective School Q (Tantei Gakuen Kyu), you are bound to know the Japanese have a penchant for logical reasoning and the science of deduction. And Keigo Higashino upholds that cherished tradition with this well-plotted novel. 
He excels at creating a mystery which appears complex and unsolvable at the outset, but when it unravels slowly and all the pieces of the puzzle start falling into their place, the solution doesn't baffle one as much as the killer's dedication towards the act of the murder does.

But I have a bone to pick with the translation - it doesn't always do a good job of capturing the true cadences of Japanese speech and the awkward sentence construction often feels jarring.

A significant thing about this book is instead of one detective giving it his all to solve a murder - it gives you 3. Chief detective Kusanagi finds his judgement dangerously clouded by his growing fascination for Ayane. While his assistant Kaoru Utsumi, stubbornly convinced of the fact that Ayane is the killer, seeks out physics professor cum detective extraordinaire, Manabu Yukawa to help her out.
But even while pursuing separate leads, all 3 of them arrive at the same answer.

The characters are not badly sketched caricatures but appear as people who could actually exist. The calmness of Ayane's demeanour even under suspicion, Utsumi's doggedness, Yukawa's brilliance and Kusanagi's quiet dignity shine through.

Kusanagi and Yukawa's friendship, rivalry and the grudging respect they have for each other add another dimension to the story. And it reminds one of the Lestrade and Holmes equation because like Lestrade, Kusanagi is the one getting the credit even though most of the work is done by Yukawa. Although a comparison between Lestrade and Kusanagi won't be fair since the former was essentially a pompous idiot while Kusanagi is balanced and reasonable.
It is also interesting to take note of Kusanagi's growing concern for his own evaluation of the murder and the subsequent investigation - is he being objective or is he being too judgemental? and how does one stop his personal feelings from getting in the way of his professional assessment of a scenario?
Kusanagi's inner turmoil leads him to ponder over what makes a person commit a murder and the effect it has on their personality -

"Kusanagi had met plenty of good, admirable people who'd been turned into murderers quite by circumstance. There was something about them he always seemed to sense, an aura that they shared. Somehow, their trangression freed them from the confines of mortal existence, allowing them to perceive the great truths of the universe. At the same time, it meant they had one foot in forbidden territory. They straddled the line between sanity and madness."

Lastly, this novel also dares to analyze the not-so-flattering shades of a woman's personality and how one woman is sometimes another woman's worst enemy - how an act of betrayal may cause a woman to seek out vengeance with a resolute, perverse passion.

Hence an impressed, 3.5 stars rounded off to 4 stars. I will definitely watch out for Higashino's other works.

P.S:- I apologize for not throwing any light on how the title of the book relates to the murder or the core of the story. But to do that would be to reveal the crux of the story itself, which would be doing the reader a grave injustice.

This review is a part of the biggest Book Review Program for Indian Bloggers. Participate now to get free books!

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4 comments:

Triptinz said...

I remember his name from the mystery jdrama (Higashino Keigo Mysteries) I watched a long time ago. Did a bit of wiki searching and found that Galileo the jdrama was based on a character he created.

Giribala said...

Good to see you blogging, Sammy! Sounds like an interesting story.

My uncensored Dreams said...

Thanks for writing after a long time. Missed them. :)

Samadrita said...

@Triptinz:- Yea I remember the name very well. Although I did not watch that drama. So Galileo in here is based on a character in the jdrama named Galileo? Interesting!

@GB:- Thank you. I hope to blog occasionally.

@My uncensored Dreams:- At least someone missed them. Thank you!

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