Reviews by title
Reviews by author
Onyx reviews: Salvation of a Saint by Keigo Higashino
Salvation of a Saint combines several crime and mystery tropes:
it is a police procedural in the Ed McBain style, it features
state-of-the-art C.S.I. forensics, it has a Sherlock Holmes-like puzzle solver,
and it is a locked-room mystery in the tradition of John Dickinson Carr and
Agatha Christie. The fact that it is set in Japan makes it slightly exotic, but
does not impact the story greatly once readers become familiar with the names.
The biggest problem for English readers is in determining a
character's gender. Beyond that, with very few changes the book could be
relocated anywhere on the planet.
The murder victim, Yoshitaka Mashiba, was driven to procreate. For years, he
has been auditioning potential candidates to produce children. He finally found
one who insisted on getting married before they tried to get pregnant, but
Yoshitaka made one stipulation. If his wife, Ayane Mita, a famous quilter,
within a year, he would reconsider his decision to marry her.
As the novel opens, the year is up, Ayane isn't pregnant and Yoshitaka has
announced his intention to divorce her. He has already found her
replacement. Ayane packs her bags to visit her parents in far-off Sapporo. That
weekend, Hiromi, Yoshitaka's lover—who happens to be Ayane's assistant—finds
him dead in his house. His coffee has been poisoned.
The soon-to-be-ex wife is the logical suspect, and Higashino indicates early
in the book that she had thoughts of killing her husband. The problem is, she
has an ironclad alibi. Yoshitaka and Hiromi had previously made and drunk coffee
that weekend, so the poison had to be added after that. But how? Hiromi is the
only person known to have visited the house after Ayane left. It's not even
clear where the poison, an arsenic derivative, came from or how it was
delivered. Was it in the coffee grounds? The bottled water used to make the
coffee? The kettle? The cup? Sophisticated forensic tests, including the use of
the SPring 8 synchrotron to detect trace levels of the poison, are inconclusive.
The two detectives handling the case, Kusanagi (male) and Utsumi (female),
have different approaches. Utsumi is more intuitive whereas Kusanagi is
fact-oriented. Their boss is open-minded enough to listen to both of them.
However, when they run into a wall, Utsumi turns to Manabu Yukawa, a university
physicist who they call Professor Galileo, for assistance. Yukawa is a
scientific Sherlock Holmes. He creates and tests
hypotheses and isn't dismayed when one of his theories is disproved. He doesn't
get personally involved in the case. To him it's a puzzle to be solved and the
failure of a hypothesis represents progress.
Kusanagi, on the other hand, does get personally involved. He doesn't exactly
fall in love with the beautiful Ayane, their prime suspect, but he desperately
wants to believe she's innocent, so he becomes somewhat biased. Together, the
trio work as a team, although there's tension between Kusanagi and Yukawa, who
were university classmates who had a falling out recently.
This isn't Thirteen at Dinner or And Then There Were None, with
a host of potential candidates for the killer. Beyond Ayane and Hiromi,
there is only the nebulous possibility of a random third party to be yanked out
of the hat late in the game, which wouldn't be playing fair. The victim's past
does come into play eventually, but Higashino is scrupulously true to the genre.
He is judicious with the use of red herrings and nobody will accuse him of
hiding important details. In retrospect, readers should appreciate how openly he
displayed certain clues from the very beginning.
As Yukawa says, once he comes up with the solution to the enigma, it's nearly
impossible. An essentially perfect murder. Of course, it has to be, or else it
wouldn't be much of a puzzle. The resolution does stretch credibility to the
breaking point—it requires a level of commitment that almost defies belief—but
it is possible. Highly unlikely, but possible.
Keigo Higashino is one of Japan's best-selling novelists, with sixteen books to
his credit over the past thirty years, along with many awards. The
Devotion of Suspect X, his second book to be published in English, which
also features Kusanagi and Yukawa, was
nominated for an Edgar Award. More are to follow, hopefully with the same
translator, Alexander O. Smith, who has done a stellar job.
Web site and all contents © Copyright Bev Vincent
2012. All rights reserved.