Under the Midnight Sun is a very dark, long story of murder (many murders!), rapes, child abuse, interspersed with lighter, almost amusing viewed from today, crimes of software piracy and ATM scamming. As is always the case with Higashino, we also have the dedicated detective who never gives up, and a female psychopath or two.
I need to take a break from Higashino and his favorite plot of long-ago hatreds culminating into murder. This is not to say that A Midsummer’s Equation is not clever, just that the particular motive seems downright improbable. But the scenery, a struggling beach resort in Japan, is stunning and I particularly enjoyed the relationship between the egg-headed scientist and the vacationing child, who does not want to do his summer homework until he is shown what science really looks like.
The main drawback of Salvation of a Saint may be the plot similarities with The Devotion of Suspect X: a dastardly husband (it was an ex-husband in The Devotion of Suspect X) killed by his wife in an almost unsuspectable way, with the plot unearthed by a scientist and friend of the police investigator. But, on its own, it’s a wonderful mystery with a satisfying twist, the investigator has a female sidekick who seems more adept than the veteran. Enjoy
In a slow moving, inexorable narrative, The Devotion of Suspect X traces the investigation of an almost perfect crime, where the suspects are well known but hard evidence missing, or often misleading. It’s basically a battle of wits between two ex-college friends, one a mathematician and the other a physicist, with the police detective playing one against the other. There is a satisfying side story of how difficult it is to be a single mother in Japan–or report spouse abuse. Twists abound.
Newcomer is a delightful murder mystery in which the action takes place in a small Tokyo neighborhood where many neighbors have secrets, some deep and some frivolous, all of which stand in the way of the detective tasked with finding the murderer. Each chapter is focused on one of the households, as the detective patiently untangles the alibis and delicately presents his conclusions, whether or not the secrets lead to the murderer. There are secret children, family feuds, and late-in-life lovers, so much so that it’s easy to forget at time that a woman was indeed murdered. Highly recommended.
I wish the cover My Year of Dirt and Water: Journal of a Zen Monk’s Wife in Japan would be less drab and more appealing to the prospective reader — because it’s such an interesting book. That said, much of the year seems to be mired in bitter cold (appropriate indoor heating is not, apparently, a Japanese forte) as the author spends a year, mostly in Japan, waiting for her husband to complete training as a Buddhist monk. The best part of the book are the many commentaries on Japanese customs, far from the obvious ones a visitor may observe. The burdensome ritual of omiyage (bringing back souvenirs to everyone one knows), the very personal questions, the onsens, and the misunderstandings despite her (apparently excellent) Japanese.
I tried hard not to think too much about the subtext: the wife waiting as her husband accomplishes his dream; the expectations that she will make his clothes (by hand!); her being allowed to visit the monastery only on certain days, and under strangely restricted rules, and so on…
Convenience Store Woman stars, unsurprisingly, a woman who works in a Japanese convenience store and who loves her job. She has found her niche. She enjoys the ritualized way she is taught to act with customers. She punctiliously obeys the fussy directions on how to arrange displays. She slavishly copies her boss’s outfits. But sadly, as a not-so young single woman she is pressured to find a man, any man — and the experience won’t go well.
Written in a charming, matter-of-fact style, the story could be one of a lost woman, but I thought it was a much deeper look at what it means to make meaning out of a menial job. Well worth a quick read!