As soon as I saw Keigo Higashino’s new novel in Sapna Book House, I immediately bought it. I was sure it would be as good as his earlier two books. Unfortunately it took me more than a month to start reading this novel. A train trip provided the opportunity and I finished reading the novel in one breathless sitting.
‘Malice’ is about two writers who were classmates. One of them becomes a famous writer. The other writes books for children. The famous writer, Kuniho Hidaka, is killed a couple of days before he is to immigrate to Canada with his new wife Rie. The books starts with an account of Osamu Nonoguchi, the author’s friend, the writer of stories for children. Nonoguchi narrates his visit to Hidaka’s house to meet him before he leaves for Canada and later discovering his body in the night. The narration switches between narrations of Nonguchi and the policeman Kyochiro Kaga.
The first two novels of Higashino were more on the lines of ‘how done it?’ rather than ‘whodunnit’. You know early enough who the murderer was. It was a question of police discovering how the murder was committed that formed the theme of the novel. In this novel, Higashino goes a step ahead and tells us who committed the crime and how the crime was committed. The interest is kept alive by ‘why done it?’ It is the motive of the murder that is not clear and Higashino first muddies the water and then slowly clarifies it.
This is a novel in which layer by layer the deceit is unveiled. Unlike mysteries where policemen hit a brick wall and the investigation stops not knowing how to proceed, here is a mystery where at every step the policeman is offered a neatly tied solution box. Yet, Kaga remains unconvinced. At every turn he sees a new solution being offered. A solution which is perfect and acceptable to most of the police force but Kaga is able to see through the fake solution. The novel proceeds almost along the ‘Inception’ line, where one solution leads to another which leads to another one.
On one hand the book is about malice. It is about malice within school going children. It is about bullying and its consequence. These parts come out very effectively in the book.
On the other hand, this is a meta-book. A book that looks at itself. A book which deliberately deceives us and in the end that deception becomes the corner stone of the story. It is about the power of an image, which when burnt into a person’s consciousness becomes so permanently that even truth has a tough task in erasing it.
A French poet, I forgot who it was, once remarked that the world is run by images and not by philosophy. I personally feel this is very true. Initially there is some truth: an event which occurs say, then comes some sort of ideal image of the person or event. That idealization is slowly burnt into our consciousness and this turns in myth and later becomes faith. Once this journey is complete, we can no longer erase this image from people’s mind. Take for example the image of Rama. From being a king who was an ordinary man, in Valmiki’s Ramayana to the idealized perfect man of today, Rama has undergone a metamorphosis. Even if you were to quote Valmiki’s text, most people who brush that aside and continue believing their own Rama. Myths and images have a great hold on people’s imagination than logic. Truth may be a casualty in such cases but people are beyond truth towards an idea. For the idea is important, more important that truth. For it is this human capacity to morph truth into an idea and transform that idea into an image that gives solace to many. It is this belief that someone had achieved perfection in the past that makes people happy and hopeful.
Higashino the writer understands the power of words. He knows the impact the right word can have on the viewers. A good turn of phrase, an exquisite sentence, some great character building: everything is done with words. The words are the ones which weld the image into your brain. It is this subterfuge that Higashino deals with as a part of the mystery. The author in the book exposes himself in order to deceive whereas the real author has to expose himself in order to solve the mystery. Confusing? Don’t worry. Higashino’s prose is crystal clear. These were my thoughts after reading the novel. Higashino doesn’t get philosophical at all. He ensure that you keep turning the pages. You will keep turning them even after the end, for you will not want this novel to end.
This is a worthy novel which can be kept alongside the earlier two novels. Now to wait for Higashino’s next.