Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Devotion of Suspect X: A Book Review

The Devotion of Suspect X begins with the literary subtlety, maturity of scenes and simplicity that are peculiar to Agatha Christie and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. A writer of many novels and short stories, Keigo Higashino has an inclination towards mystery fiction. He is also the current president of the Mystery Writers of Japan. The engineer turned writer won the Edogawa Rampo Award for the unpublished finest mystery work. There is no denying that he weaves effective plots and riveting chapters from available, easy to connect situations and ordinary humans.  
Keigo Higashino Image Courtesy: Google

The translation in English has been done by Alexander O. Smith with Elye J. Alexander. Whether it is the kotastu table or the Shinozaki station, the elements of Japanese cultural and social life emerges tangible and with inevitable certainty. The fiction in the book absorbs the cultural reality and holds firm to it, making the culture a part of its fictional landscape. In that sense The Devotion of Suspect X takes an often prioritized ground of cultural transaction in times of globalization. The translation, unlike the translated works published in India from regional languages, hold a quality unmatched.

 The Devotion of Suspect X is the third book in Detective Galileo series of crime fiction novels by Higashino. The story happens in the suburbs of Tokyo, Japan. Two people, Yasuko Hanaoka and Tetsuya Ishigami, a high school math’s teacher, get involved with an irrevocable situation with Yasuko’s ex-husband. That is where the story takes its first turn; into the crime fiction the labels of the book proclaim to provide. Yasuko is a single mother and works in a lunch shop. She lives with her daughter Misato in the same apartment where Ishigami lives. Ishigami is infatuated towards Yasuko and lives in expectation of a time when he could make his first move towards expressing his real feelings for Yasuko.

Even though the series is titled Detective Galileo who is a physicist named Manabu Yukawa, the plot revolves around Yasuko and Ishigami. The mysterious Affair at Styles or The Hound of Baskervilles might not have a connecting character ridden as a second character, contrary to the approach by Keigo Higashino. In fact Yukawa’s character appears to be delineated in contrast to Ishigami’s, who is a former classmate of Yukawa and an exceptionally skilled mathematician.

The Devotion of Suspect X also provides a conspicuous space for its woman protagonist, Yasuko. For Yasuko, after the murder of her ex-husband it’s Ishigami who becomes an invisible controlling force. Yasuko is clearly inclined towards the desire for freedom and happiness. After the intervention of Ishigami into her life, she realizes it’s not freedom from her ex-husband but subjugation under another man.
“She was just dealing with a different man now, and this time, there truly was no escape,” she feels. (289)

Yasuko is sketched genuine, unlike many woman protagonists who appear to be so but are just flourishes of their author’s indiscriminate affinity towards the market models—like in James Patterson’s Women’s Murder Club series. In what could be termed as ‘Barbie doll literature’, James Patterson can be often seen maneuvering within areas of a feminine space, which is built as superfluous models of a mainstream cultural kitsch, inevitably failing to wedge the doors open into national prohibitions that need a little probing.

The high school system of Japan and the general academic hollowness too find authentic spaces in The Devotion of Suspect X. As a matter of fact any one reading the novel can find it strikingly similar to the situation in academics in any other part of the world. Ishigami, the math’s teacher finds it hard to go forward with his work at the school. One of the instances appears to be a sudden torch light to sleeping eyes.

“He [Ishigami] found it impossible to carry on with his own work at the new school. Most of the professors there were consumed with vying for power and protecting their positions, and not one cared the least bit about nurturing young scholars or doing groundbreaking research.”

The Devotion of Suspect X is published in Japanese in the year 2005 and the translation in English came in 2011, through Abacus publishers for Hachette India. The novel costs Rs: 350 only and has an intriguing cover design. It seems all the international news papers filled their pages with raving comments about the novel, which sold 2 million copies in Japan alone.

The thread of the mystery is kept straight from the beginning as the readers are aware of what horrible thing happened in Yasuko’s life. Ishigami helps her to hide her crime; however at the end Detective Galileo, Manabu Yukawa crosses his path and brings about an unexpected “killer twist” to the story. Even though the writer successfully executes the final twist by keeping the middle part of the novel relatively slow and sagging, the final conclusion Yukawa reaches are his mere conjectures. He is unable to outwit the mathematician; he just poses the mirror of morality in front of his former classmate and friend, Ishigami, the X factor.

After the surprising twist in the story, you will find Ishigami taking all the applause, not Yasuko or Manabu Yukawa. Yasuko’s feminine self is pitted against the moral codes of the social system and of course, the ethical suggestions imposed by the same culture that run through the nerves of the society.

Image Courtesy: Blogadda.com
The Devotion of Suspect X is narrated in third person singular. The language is simple and straight, just like a mathematical equation. Character sketch and the plot inevitably supply the feeling of an engineers’ precision. Literature can be engineered, and engineering can be written with words and metaphors, however, in the first case, even though the publicists call a book “million copies sold”, it remains stale. Still, The Devotion of Suspect X saves itself from such demise, though narrowly.
*****
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