Keigo Higsahino’s Newcomer is a police procedural featuring Detective Kyochiro Kaga of the Tokyo Police Department. Kaga has just been transferred to Nihonbashi area of Tokyo and he’s assigned to the murder case of a woman.
Newcomer is a slow burn novel. Residents of the Nihonbashi area are slowly introduced as individuals within their settings, and since this is a business district, we see people in the context of their employment. In the first chapter, for example, we meet the three generations of one family who run a rice cracker shop. It’s been run by one generation or another for the past 50 years, and while the members of this family become dragged into the investigation (their part is to whether or not they can verify the alibi of a suspect), their tiny role in the murder investigation expands into family dynamics and the shifting role of the rice cracker business.
As the investigation begins, we know very little about the victim or the murder. These details are very gradually added as Detective Kaga makes his way through various businesses in the district. His investigation is hampered by the fact that everyone seems to have something to hide. The big question is whether or not these individuals are hiding personal problems or information relating to the murder.
The structure of Newcomer reminds me of TV series police procedurals in which the detectives glom onto one person at a time, one suspect per episode. Broadchurch (series 1) had this sort of structure, for example, and with each episode, you thought DI Alex Hardy and DS Ellie Miller had their killer–after all the actions of the suspects made them seem as guilty as hell. Newcomer is subtler and more focused on the sociological aspects of the Nihonbashi district, but it’s the same structure–minus the pressure. Kaga almost savours the case:
“That’s not how police investigations work. We have to sift through every little detail, asking ourselves why such and such a thing occurred. That will eventually lead us to the truth, even if all those individual things have no direct connection to one another.”
This is not an action-packed novel by any means and requires patience (and interest in Japanese life) to read. I was somewhat frustrated by knowing next to nothing about the murder which begins almost as a rumour which subsequently echoes around the district and then begins to touch the lives of its residents. The book, however, seems to be appreciated by fans of the author. I preferred Malice, but then police procedurals are not my favourite sub genre when it comes to crime