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Big on Japan

I often associate Delhi winters with crime. There is something gloomy about sunless days that makes for a perfect crime read.

What can one say about the silent lover who is so devoted that he could kill for you? That killer of a storyline had me hooked from the word go to the Japanese crime writer Keigo Higashino’s The Devotion of Suspect X, when winter descended on Delhi a couple of years ago. It helped that I found the writer good-looking.

Much before the crime genre, I had made tentative forays into Japanese literature, courtesy Yasunari Kawabata, Junichiro Tanizaki, Yukio Mishima, Banana Yoshimoto and, of course, Haruki Murakami. I was hooked to these authors. Here was a maze, with some of the books borne out of the destruction of World War II, and I navigated them out of curiosity and ignorance (actually more of the latter). Love, lust, depression, abandonment were all explored in bewitching ways.

Higashino happened to be the latest entrant. He has perfected the art of beginning his story with a murder and the murderer. Big deal, you might say. But he spends the rest of the pages establishing the perfect motive for the killing. The killer is ultimately caught, but not before he has you totally under his spell. You are even sympathetic to the killer. This perfect hook, which is the backdrop of Higashino’s bestsellers, for The Devotion... as well, is the devotion of the killer. Devotion begins when a gentle mathematics teacher offers to help a young woman dispose of the body of her abusive ex-husband. This gentle, unhurried examination of relationships worked for me. The manner in which the teacher constructs a watertight alibi for his lady-love and the subsequent unravelling is brilliant. It is no wonder that the story has inspired films, including in India. There are no literary flourishes and the mechanical examination of the crime helps the reader. A deep-rooted visceral hatred between friends provides grist to malice, which in turn consumes a friendship. Higashino doesn’t offer you glimpses of Japanese society. Instead, he plumbs the depths of despair which drive his characters to commit murders. There were other books of his, like Salvation of a Saint and Naoko, that offered a glimpse into the risks the writer was willing to take in constructing a crime. But none as gripping as Devotion...

I look forward to another such book as yet another winter sets in Delhi.

anuradha.r@thehindu.co.in

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Printable version | Feb 28, 2020 9:19:45 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/Big-on-Japan/article16375393.ece

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