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LENGTH: 384 pages
PRICE: £5.23 on Amazon (or £4.49 for the Kindle edition)
OFFICIAL SYNOPSIS: 'Yasuko lives a quiet life, working in a Tokyo bento shop, a good mother to her only child. But when her ex-husband appears at her door without warning one day, her comfortable world is shattered. When Detective Kusanagi of the Tokyo Police tries to piece together the events of that day, he finds himself confronted by the most puzzling, mysterious circumstances he has ever investigated. Nothing quite makes sense, and it will take a genius to understand the genius behind this particular crime...'
MY VIEW: This has been touted as one of the biggest-selling Japanese thrillers ever with an 'utterly surprising ending'. Higashino has, obviously, been compared to Larsson (because, nowadays, it seems impossible for someone to write a novel without being compared to someone else who is writing within the genre). So, with all this hype, I expected a lot from this book. I'm not a huge Larsson fan but found The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo very readable, intriguing and satisfying. And if this book is one of the biggest selling Japanese thrillers, it must have something.
The story centres around Yasuko Hanaoka, a former bar hostess, who now works in a takeaway noodle bar. It's not giving anything away to reveal that, one night (very early on in the novel) she is visited by her ex-husband Toshigo and, whilst protecting her daughter from him, ends up killing him. So, the reader always knows not only who-dunnit but also how-dunnit. The meat of the novel then centres around her neighbour, Ishigami, who, smitten with Yasuko, helps her cover up the crime. He is a mathematical genius and, wouldn't you know it, this logic helps him weave together the perfect cover up! What the reader doesn't know is exactly how he manages to divert attention away from Yasuko because, naturally, she is the police's prime suspect.
For me, where the novel became quite unbelievable and also yawn-worthy, was when (by huge coincidence) the investigating officer happens to be good friends with a physicist (Prof Yukawa) who also happened to go to university with Ishigami. And, of course, this detective always happens to discuss his cases with Yukawa - as he does in this instance. I'd like to say 'so begins a game where two geniuses pit their wits as one attempts to cover up a crime whilst the other attempts to reveal the truth'. However, the novel isn't quite as exciting as this. Instead it's a journey through boring facts as the reader is expected to wonder exactly what it was Ishigami did to help make Yasuko's alibi so water tight. I guessed this about halfway through the book. I wasn't actually aware I was guessing anything - I just thought it was quite obvious. Also, the 'incident' which causes Prof Yukawa to begin to suspect Ishigami in the first place is based on so much coincidence (and also circumspection) that I found it ludicrous. For an otherwise paint-by-numbers factual crime book, it seemed like a bit of a liberty.
I don't wish to give away anything of the plot. However if you feel that passages on mathematical formulas and fact-heavy (and repetitive) passages (including TONS on an abandoned bike) might grip you, then go for it. As for the 'utterly surprise ending'. Um, no it wasn't. If I could equate this book to anything, it would be seeing a magic trick, being told early on that you've seen a magic trick, then having to spend hours listening to someone explain how they pulled off that magic trick. After a while, you just don't care. You know it was a trick - and, for me, hearing in minute detail how that trick was executed was mind numbing.
CONCLUSION: Not for those who like fast-paced thrillers. Not for those who like plot elements to be held back. Not for those who like cliff-hangers. Not for those who liked Larsson (there is no comparison between the two novels or writing styles). However, if you're into quite detailed police investigations - and are happy to read a book where the only 'mystery' is how someone provided another person with an alibi, then you might like this novel.