I loved Keigo Higashino’s breakthrough novel, The Devotion of Suspect X. It is a taut tale of cat and mouse, that inverts the genre by forcing the reader to root for the murderer. It is one of my favourite crime novels ever. So it was with great excitement that I opened Higashino’s latest offering. Sadly I was disappointed.
It is always hard when reading follow-ups to much-loved books. So often enjoyment founders on the rocks of expectation. Had I not loved Suspect X perhaps I would have been more forgiving. Suspect X is a novel that’s perfectly paced and seamlessly plotted with great characterisation. It’s impossible not to love. Here, whilst the crime is elegant, the pacing is flat and the characters flatter.
The mystery here revolves around a businessman, found dead from drinking poisoned coffee. The most likely suspect, his wife was hundreds of miles away when he died. If it was her, how did she do it? There are a few other possibilities, but everything points to the cool collected wife. I liked Suspect X, because it was clean and simple. The crime was neat, there was no sensationalist gory violence. And so it is here, but it’s almost too clean. There are few clues, and the main source of investigation is where the water came from; filtered, bottled or tap? It’s hardly the stuff of legend.
Added to this are flat characters. Ciphers. Jilted wife, young mistress, arrogant and meticulous victim. Even the police officers are dull. The lead investigator’s supposed infatuation with the prime suspect, was utterly unconvincing, again in complete contrast to Suspect X. There is one recurring character in the two novels, Yukawa, expert physicist and part-time aider of investigations. In this book he is set off to one side. He occasionally chips in with helpful comments to keep the investigation on track, but he was detached from the events of the novel, reducing his interest to the reader. When he does make an appearance, he comes across as a poor copy of Sheldon from the Big Bang Theory.
The reveal of the central mystery is interesting, but some of the discovery of clues was fortuitous to say the least, robbing the novel of credibility. So all in all, this was a disappointment. I’m not sure it could ever have lived up to Suspect X, but I feel that the author focused so hard on constructing the perfect crime, he took his eye off those vital components, pacing and characterisation. If you haven’t read Suspect X yet, then I urge you to do so. If you have, move on, wait for the next one, and hope for the best…