Sunday, August 05, 2012

Big in Japan

My favorite book of 2011 was Haruki Murakami's 1Q84 and after spending three weeks immersed in it, I wanted to read more Japanese fiction.  So I read some more Murakami.  (My wife just bought me the three volume, slip-cased, paperback edition of 1Q84 and I think I am going to re-read it.)  And I rounded up all the Japanese fiction scattered around our place and turned up, among many titles, 2011's other big Japanese novel, Keigo Higashino's The Devotion of Suspect X

Suspect X got a lot of great reviews and was nominated for an Edgar Award for best mystery novel (it lost out to Mo Hayder's Gone - which I find fairly amazing as Gone only makes sense if one has read the two books before it - Skin and Ritual - and as much as I love Mo Hayder, Gone is bonkers - one of the subplots concerns two cops who should be in love with each other, but aren't speaking, independently working to destroy evidence and hide a body from a hit and run one of them is concealing from the book before).  Apparently, Keigo Higashino is the biggest writer in Japan but almost completely unheard of in the west.  I thought I knew a fair amount about contemporary Japanese fiction so this was a big surprise to me.   Suspect X is about a math teacher who helps his neighbor (with whom he is in love - unbeknownst to her) cover up the accidental murder of her ex-husband.  A squad of detectives and a physics professor match wits against this math teacher who has engineered the perfect cover up.  And not to give anything away but there is an incredible twist at the end - I knew something was coming but never would have thought of this in a million years.  The clues were there but most readers would never figure it out.

Just after I finished reading Suspect X, I received a review copy of the upcoming Keigo Higashino novel Salvation of a Saint (thank you MacMillan!).  It turns out that Higashino has written several books and stories with the cops and the physics professor (known as Professor Galileo) from Suspect X.  In Salvation of a Saint, they tackle the case of a mysterious poisoning that appears to be the perfect crime.  The book follows the detectives attempts to unravel a most amazing puzzle.  A wonderful read.  I hope this book is a big hit when it is published this fall.

After reading two of Higashino's books, I needed more.  I found an earlier novel called Naoko.  This appears to be the first book of his to be translated into English.  In it, a mother and daughter are in a deadly bus accident en route to a ski resort and somehow the mother's body dies but her mind/spirit jumps into the body of her 11 year old daughter.   Normally, I would hate this idea but here, well, it works.  When the husband realizes the wife is alive in the daughter, he doesn't tell anyone - and who would believe him anyway?  They return home from the hospital and attempt to rebuild and manage their lives and keep their secret.  Much of the story is how he reconciles that his wife now lives in the body of his daughter.  And this turned out to be a pretty good story.  Moving, even.  The lives of the other people from the bus crash come into play and the book ends with a pretty moving and satisfactory explanation/resolution.

Desperate for more Keigo Higashino, I scoured the web for more about him.  And it is really strange that there is so little written about him.  His American publishers compare him to James Patterson and Dean Koontz (in terms of sales and popularity, I think - Higashino is a much better writer).  He has dozens of untranslated novels [MacMillan - you have a lot of work to do - get cracking!] and many of them look really good.  And there is one oddity.  There may or may not be a book of his that has been translated into English but never published.  Random House seems to have commissioned a translation of something called Malice in 2009.  I have only found one mention of it - the website Fantastic Fiction has a description of the book and a picture of the cover.  The name of the translator is Radhica Capoor. She appears to exist but I can't find much information about her.  And there aren't any copies for sale anywhere - somehow this title gets mixed up with a manga called Chi's Sweet Home.  If this book exists, please publish it.  Or send me an electronic copy (epub or mobi).

I've moved on to Seicho Matsumoto now.  Vertical (which published Keigo Higashino's Naoko) has just released an old Matsumoto novel called Pro Bono.  A long time ago I read Inspector Imanishi Investigates and enjoyed it (even though I have forgotten what it was about - murder and trains?)  Pro Bono is the story of a famous attorney who takes on a case he initially refused when the suspect dies in prison and the attorney feels remorse for not having taken the case.  I'm halfway done with the book and am enjoying it.  I have two other old Matsumoto novels in the stack of Japanese fiction I rounded up and am eager to move on them.  Even though Matsumoto wrote many more novels, it seems only four of his books have been translated into English.

I have another novel and a collection of stories by Matsumoto to read if I am still in the mood after I finish Pro Bono.  Or I may have to ration them.

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