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The Devotion of Suspect X

To start with a confession, this review is overdue. It is for the fact that I had had to read this novel cover to cover twice. Then only I could pick up my keyboard to type a review.

Now that I am starting the post, I am a bit apprehensive.

What do you write about a book of which 2 million copies have already sold, based on which there is already a cult movie in Japanese and whose author is hailed as the Japanese Stieg Larsson. What more is there to write then?

Let me start gently with the bare facts of the novel.
Yasuko is a divorced mother with a teenage daughter Misako and working in a small food shop. Not yet free from the shadows of her past, her ex-husband keeps on harassing her for money while she keeps on changing her job and household to escape him. But on his latest harass trip, Yasuko bravely stands up to him refusing to pay him any more. So, to further harass the mother and daughter, he turns up at her home. And in the ensuing struggle, he is killed by them.
All this happens in the first twenty six pages.

In a classical case of thriller, we now expect a cat and mouse game between the investigators and the criminals.

There is a game of cat and mouse but on an altogether different path.

At the very beginning of the novel, we had met a gentle mathematics teacher, Ishigami - a neighbour of Yasuko - who is given to quiet ruminations on human state; an almost detached observer of sorry human situation. The only spark we notice in him is when we see that he has some kind of interest in Yasuko.

Now at the crucial moment, right after the murder when Yasuko and Misato is debating whether Yasuko should turn herself to the police or not, Ishigami literally steps in through her door with the suggestion of protecting them from the consequences of this murder. And how he does it!

Though the police detective trying to crack the case is Kusanagi, the mathematical net of Ishigami is too thick for him to cut through. He founds himself in a different maze altogether. And the only person who threatens Ishigami's brilliant plan is his university friend, the brilliant Yukawa, a genius physicist who helps Detective Kusanagi with insights into seemingly dead-end cases. As fate may have it, Yukawa was only trying to rebuild his friendship with his long lost friend, but in the process, he unravels the whole maze that Ishigami has built till then. But would he give up his friend to the law? How far would Ishigami go to protect his focus of love? What's his motive in all this? Does Yasuko even understand the depth of his doings?

There are far more questions than in any regular thriller.

What are the brilliant scars that you carry from this novel? First is the sheer brilliance of the maths maze. Till the very last page, we are not sure what happened after the crime. How did the body got where it was discovered? Why didn't it was more properly disposed? What was Ishigami trying to do to protect Yasuko and Misato? In the process, we also feel unease when we have an inkling that even Ishigami may also try to run Yasuko's life according to his commands, but was it true? The brilliance of this novel is the use of the third person narration. Unless for specific passages, you are always unsure about the actor's motive. We keep on doubting whether Ishigami has turned into a monster too.

The two things I won't be able to shake off ever from this book. First is certainly the love of Ishigami. How far can love make you travel? Few can actually kill themselves for love, but who is the brave one willing to damn his soul for love? The selflessness of his love; he never once hints what exactly he is doing to protect her; how far down he has fallen for her. And the germ of this love. I have seldom read a subtler sprouting of love. You keep on wondering whether it is love or tenderness or a paternal caring for a family he never had. The second thing is the overwhelming sense of sadness. Thrillers are supposed to be about adrenaline, the chases, the perfect plans and their undoing, the moves-counter moves. All these you will find in various forms in the novel. But ultimately, it is a very sad book. You'll never shrug it off as a case closed. You'll always be with Ishigami, rather than with Kusanagi.

For me, it will always be as much a love story or more than it is a thriller.

List of Main Characters:
  • Yasuko Hanaoka: The criminal
  • Misato Hanaoka: The daughter who helped in the crime 
  • Shinji Togashi: The victim (?) 
  • Tetsuya Ishigami: The neighbor, who steps in to protect Yasuko.
  • Shunpei Kusanagi: The Detective
  • Manabu Yukawa: Ishigami's friend and the sharpest eyes in the story.
Book Details
Author - Keigo Higashino
Translator - Alexander O. Smith & Elye J. Alexander
First Published English Translation - 2011
Publisher in Indian Subcontinent - Abacus for Hachette India
Pages - 374
Genre - Crime/Thriller
Binding - Paperback


For all those thriller fans, a throwaway question. How do a criminal protects herself from a crime she has committed without lying to the detective even once? Ponder on.
Till you pick the book.


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