Category Archives: Higashino Keigo

Newcomer: Keigo Higashino

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

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

Review copy.

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Malice: Keigo Higashino

“It comes down to character.”

Police procedurals are not my favourite type of crime book; I’ve said that many times, but then I read the Japanese crime novel, Malice from Keigo Higashino with contains a plot that managed to do something entirely different from the typical procedural. Malice, with its emphasis not on the perpetrator (we know who committed the crime around the first third of the novel,) but on the psychology of motive is a fascinating read as the detective in charge of the case refuses to take the case’s solution at face value.

So here’s the plot: best-selling novelist Kunihiko Hidaka is murdered in his home the night before he leaves for Vancouver with his wife of one month, Rie. Everything was packed and ready for the move, but Hidaka, alone at the house, was working on a serialized novel. Hidaka was found dead inside his locked office inside his locked house. Yet someone entered the home, bashed Hidaka over the head with a paperweight and then strangled him with a telephone cord. Both Hidaka’s wife and his best friend, a writer of children’s stories, Osamu Nonoguchi have alibis for the time of Hidaka’s death. On the day of Hidaka’s murder, he was visited by a young woman, Miyako Fujio, who was trying to persuade Hidaka to rewrite his novel, Forbidden Hunting Grounds as it portrayed the life of her brother (stabbed by a prostitute).  Police Detective Kyoichiro Kaga begins his investigations. ….

malice

Malice is told, mainly, through the two voices of Osamu and Detective Kaga. The two men were teachers at the same school together, briefly, but Kaga gave up teaching to become a police detective while Osamu eventually became a full time writer. Osamu, for his own purpose, has written down accounts of the crime including the last time he saw Hidaka. Osamu visited Hidaka on the day of his death as did Miyako Fujio, so Detective Kaga requests Osamu’s accounts in order to help him piece together the crime.

With a couple of slips made by the killer, it doesn’t take too long for Kaga to solve the crime, and while he’s pressured to close the case, there’s something that doesn’t quite add up. A mental duel begins to take place between the detective and the perp–a lazier detective would walk away, but Kaga isn’t satisfied with the solution to the crime. Determined to discover the truth, Kaga keeps digging. Eventually he uncovers a simmering resentment, so evil, it’s staggering in its ambition.

Malice was another foray into Japanese crime, and it was an intense, ingenious, deeply psychological read which showed this reader that the police procedural can be full of unpredictable twists and turns. The witness statements and the detective’s speech at the end of the book were a little rough, but apart from that, Malice is highly recommended. The plot interested me, in particular, because it argues that the victim has no one to speak for them.

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