|Yasuko Hanaoka is a single mother of a middle school girl trying to make ends meet working in a Tokyo bento shop. Every day she fills orders for the traditional lunch box meals so loved by Japanese office workers. Several times a week her neighbor Ishigami patronizes the store. All Yasuko knows about her neighbor is that he is a pleasant ordinary single man who teaches math at a high school. Ishigami always orders the lunch special and makes a little small talk, but says little else.
Yasuko has worked hard to distance herself from her ex-husband (not her daughter Misato’s father), Shinji Togashi. When Yasuko had first married Togashi he was very supportive and kind to both her and her daughter. Gradually he became more and more abusive until Yasuko feared for her life. She obtained a divorce and moved away, but still he followed her asking for money and physically abusing the poor woman. Finally she quit her job as a hostess at a club, leaving no forwarding address and got her present job through a coworker at the club.
Yasuko thinks she has at last gotten away from Togashi until he enigmatically appears on her doorstep, asking for money and threatening abuse for both Misato and her. In an uncharacteristic show of retaliation, Yasuko grabs the cord of a electric blanket and wraps it around Togashi’s neck. Fueled by an adrenaline rush brought on by her desire to protect both her daughter and herself, she strangles the man.
Both the woman and her daughter are stuck dumb by what has just happened. Suddenly her neighbor Ishigami shows up at her door offering to help her. Because the walls are thin in their apartment building Ishigami has heard enough of the exchange between Yasuko and Togashi to figure out what has occurred. He reassures Yasuko and tells her that he will take care of everything but she must do exactly what he tells her to do.
Steeped in Japanese tradition, this novel is a detail oriented reader’s delight. Not dependent on technological quirks or medical aberrations to create a logical plot, planning on the part of the main protagonist makes for an airtight solution. Of course since Ishigami is a mathematician with a brilliant mind, his actions are carefully calculated to produce an exquisite ending. Author Higashino has constructed a tale that is intimately tied to behavior characteristic of Japanese society. People who have grown up in the Western Hemisphere would, or could not be expected to behave as Higashino’s characters do, but they are certainly believable in a Japanese context.
Like Scandinavian mystery novels, Japanese mysteries tend to be dark. The Devotion of Suspect X is no exception. Higashino gives his characters hard choices to make. There is no right answer, more the selection of the lesser of two evils. The characters take their tasks seriously and are bent on carrying them out to conclusion. Their emotional needs are subservient to their duties.
Though the translator of the novel, Alexander O. Smith has rendered a readable, grammatically correct rendition of this story, some of the phrasing does not sound as natural in English as I suspect it does in Japanese. Common greetings in Japanese sound a bit odd when spoken in the English equivalent. Some repetitive phrases are annoying in English which would not seem so in Japanese.
This being said, anyone reading the English translation of this novel will appreciate the precision and intricacy of the plot as well as its cleverness. Even those not fond of foreign mysteries should give this book a try.