Yasuko, who is divorced and has a teenage daughter, works in a lunch shop and thinks that she has put her past behind. The past soon catches up as her ex-husband, Togashi, arrives in the lunch shop one morning. Not wanting to confront him in her workplace, she agrees to meet him at a restaurant, where she asks him to trouble her no more and comes back to her apartment, only for Togashi to follow her there. Afraid of him creating a scene in the apartment she reluctantly lets him in. Very soon her daughter, Misato, to whom Togashi is a step father arrives home from school. Yasuko tries to get rid of Togashi by giving him some money. After taking the money, Togashi passes rude comments about Misato, which prompts Misato to assault Togashi with a flower vase. Togashi, recovers from the blow and starts assaulting Misato. Scared that he would kill her daughter, Yasuko picks up an electric cord and strangles Togashi to death. The neighbor, a mathematician named Ishigami, who realizes that a murder has taken place, offers to help Yasuko to hide the murder. He does this because, unknown to Yasuko, he is deeply in love with her. Yasuko, afraid that not only she but her daughter also may have to go to jail, agrees to take his help and leaves everything to him.
Thus starts Keigo Higashino’s much acclaimed thriller, ‘The Devotion of Suspect X’. What I quoted above will not spoil the enjoyment because: this is what happens in the first two chapters and because, as someone remarked on the internet, this is not a ‘whodunit’, it is more a ‘how done it’? The whole novel is about how Ishigami goes about hiding the murder and how the police discover the truth. In a strict sense it is not the police, Detective Kusanagi, who solve the case. It is a physicist, Yukawa, nicknamed Detective Galileo, who helps the police solve the case.
What makes the novel work so well is what the title says, ‘The Devotion of Suspect X’. This is as much a novel of passion and love as it is about scientific deduction. The one sided love of the lonely Ishigami is the key to the whole novel. His loneliness, his disillusionment with the education system (he is a Math teacher) and his hidden love for Yasuko drives him to perform unimaginable acts. He is paranoid that the murder by Yasuko would be discovered (he always calls Yasukophone booth outside their apartment complex and never from his own apartment) and instructs her and Misato daughter on a daily basis, instructing them about the actions to be taken: how Yasuko should behave in her workplace, how Misato must behave in school, whom she should talk to and what she should say. Being a mathematician he plans everything precisely and executes the ideas perfectly, all designed to confuse the police. His paranoia and his passion are so effectively brought out by the author Higashino, that the reader can fully comprehend why Ishigami goes to such extreme levels to save Yasuko. What Ishigami does to protect Yasuko leaves the reader shocked but at the same time it seems to be the most logical thing a person like Ishigame would do. Such is the development of his character by the author.
In Yasuko we see a dignified and a struggling mother trying to do her best for he daughter. We also see a woman trying to push the past away( she was working in a night club once) but the past keeps catching up with her, both positively and negatively. Her dilemma is wonderful expounded: on one side her former boss, a genial man whom she likes, expresses interest in her and she reciprocates to his proposal. On the other hand she starts realizing that Ishigami is deeply in love with her and that was one reason why he always came to her shop to buy his lunch, though it was some way away from his usual route. By detailing Yasuko’s fears, sorrow, happiness and her dilemma, Higashino succeeds in making her a flesh and blood character and that helps the novel immensely.
The more interesting aspect that the author touches is one of indebtedness and the suffocation due to this indebtedness. How much are indebted to a person who helps you in a grave situation? How long should you be indebted? How do you repay this debt? Gratitude is a strange beast which can bind you in such a way that it is not possible to break the chain. Added to the problem of indebtedness is the problem of guilt. How ready are we if others take our guilt upon them? Like gratitude, guilt is a strange beast as well. No one can predict the shape of the beast and what it will prompt a person to do. These are the central dilemmas of the novel and these leads to a very unexpected but logical climax, which both shocking and inevitable.
While the characters provide the necessary warmth and depth to the novel, the eureka moment is provided by a very scientific deduction process. The main investigating character, physicist Yukawa, is in the mould of Sherlock Holmes. Like Holmes, he believes in scientific methods of deduction and is a capable adversary for Ishigami, and it is Yukawa’s understanding of the mathematician’s methods that helps him solve the crime. The detective Kusanagi takes up the roles of Watson and is generally perplexed by the actions of Yukawa and as with Watson, his role is to accentuate the brilliance of the main detective. While the author does use certain tricks to hide some data from us, the solution that he provides to the problem is an jaw dropping one, which simultaneously astonishes us with the brilliance of Ishigami’s methods and at the same time communicates his passion for Yasuko. In mystery novels, you rarely come across such a solution which leaves you completed satiated.
This is a novel which combines a breezy writing style, human drama and some great detective work to provide an outstanding climax. No wonder this novel is a best seller across the world.