These are wondrous times. We in the United States no longer need wait for ships from overseas to come bearing books, as they did in Dickens’ day; we merely need to wait patiently while translators perform their often under-appreciated work before we discover what mystery fans of other nations --- in this case, Japan --- have known for years. Keigo Higashino is arguably the most popular contemporary author in Japan, on a level equal to that of Stephen King and James Patterson here.
"SALVATION OF A SAINT contains tough, smart plotting at its core. It is supported by characters who are the equal of the book’s setup --- clever and intelligent, and possessed of different skill sets that complement each other yet occasionally rub each either the wrong (and right) way..."
SALVATION OF A SAINT is Higashino’s second novel to be published in the US, thanks in great part to the translation of Alexander O. Smith and Elye J. Alexander. His first, THE DEVOTION OF SUSPECT X, introduced Tokyo police detective Shunpei Kusanagi and his occasional consultant, Manabu Yukawa, known as “Detective Galileo.” Yukawa Galileo is a university physics professor whose unique academic viewpoint brings a fresh look into Kusanagi’s most puzzling and challenging cases.
While the identity of the murderer in THE DEVOTION OF SUSPECT X was known practically from the beginning of the book, matters are somewhat different in SALVATION OF A SAINT. The death in question constitutes a bit of a variation of the “locked room” mystery. The dead man, Yoshitaka, is found in his kitchen, the victim of poisoning. His wife, who he was about to divorce, was hundreds of miles away; his mistress, who happens to be his wife’s friend and student, is the one who discovers his body. The mystery here has several layers. Was Yoshitaka murdered, or did he die accidentally? If he died accidentally, how so? If not, who killed him? And how? The wife had potential motive, but was far away. The mistress had no motive, yet was all-but-present. Then there is Yoshitaka’s business associate, who may have just engaged in the ultimate of hostile takeovers.
Kusanagi and his assistant, Kaoru Utsumi, are at odds and corners on almost every angle of this case, so Detective Galileo is brought in, not so much as for breaking the tie, so to speak, as to unravel the knots in which the two detectives have tied themselves. And now, as the commercial says, it gets interesting, though it was certainly just that even before Galileo entered the investigation. The death of Yoshitaka might be the perfect crime if in fact it is a crime at all. If it is, who did it and how can guilt be proven?
SALVATION OF A SAINT contains tough, smart plotting at its core. It is supported by characters who are the equal of the book’s setup --- clever and intelligent, and possessed of different skill sets that complement each other yet occasionally rub each either the wrong (and right) way, though not so much that it gets in the way of doing the job. Nothing in the book is inconsequential, and one might be tempted to read it twice: the first time for the enjoyment of a work wonderfully timed, and the second to pick up on all the clues and cues that were missed originally. And thanks to the wonderful translation here, it is easy to see why Higashino has achieved the popularity in Japan --- and elsewhere --- that he has.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on October 22, 2012