Book Review: Salvation of a Saint by Keigo Higashino
When a man is discovered dead by poisoning in his empty home his beautiful wife, Ayane, immediately falls under suspicion. All clues point to Ayane being the logical suspect, but how could she have committed the crime when she was hundreds of miles away? As Tokyo police detective Kusanagi tries to unpick a seemingly unrelated sequence of events he finds himself falling for Ayane. When his judgement becomes dangerously clouded his assistant must call on an old friend for help; it will take a genius to unravel the most spectacular web of deceit they have ever faced…
This is Higashino’s second novel, translated by Alexander O. Smith and Elye J. Alexander. I have reviewed his first book, The Devotion of Suspect X here and mentioned that it was one of the best crime novels that I have read in a while. Like all other Devotion fans, when I first heard of a second novel from the same author, I wasted no time in signing up when Blogadda offered it for review.
Just like Devotion, Salvaton of a Saint is less of a whodunit and more of a howdunit and whydunit. Ladies’ man and billionaire Yoshitaka Mashiba asked his beautiful and patchwork quilt artiste Ayane Mita for a divorce because ‘they did not have children after one year of marriage’, knowing that he would then move on to his mistress and also Ayane’s apprentice, Hiromi Wakayama. Two days later, he is found face down, sprawled on the wooden floor, with a spilled cup of coffee next to him.
His wife who had a motive, was miles away at her parent’s place while his mistress, with no apparent motive to kill him was present throughout. Arsenous acid is found in the coffee, which was drank by Hiromi a day before, but with no fatality. So who poisoned Yoshitaka with such precision and how?
This question torments Detective Kusanagi and the latest entrant to Kusanagi’s department, feisty female detective Utsumi. The approach that this book takes is to take along the readers through a very detailed police procedural and investigation. Even though the readers already have a hint about the culprit, they go through the working of a detective’s mind as they figure out the relationships between the three, unravel Yoshitaka’s past and take a peek into their lives to find out how the seemingly perfect crime was pulled of.
Kusanagi’s feelings for the beautiful Ayane prompts Utsumi to knock the doors of Professor Yukawa, who teaches Physics at the university but loves to solve unsolvable riddles like how poison reached the coffee cup. After a number of failed attempts and conjectures, he eventually comes up with the most brilliant but utterly impractical method of poisoning. But there’s still no evidence to nail the murderer. By the time the evidence is conjured out of a drawer and the suspect is confronted with it, I was hoping for a quick finish; something which I never felt while reading Devotion.
At times I must admit the book feels tedious — probably because the police investigation is so painstaking — and the solution is quite contrived and highly implausible. But I did enjoy the police banter, particularly the tension, competitiveness and humour between Kusanagi, the old, jaded detective and Utsumi, the young, bright and tenacious detective with sharp intution. Nothing in the book is inconsequential and one might be tempted to read it twice; the first time for the enjoyment of the story and the second to pick up on all the clues and cues that were missed originally.
And while I don’t think Salvation of a Saint is a patch on The Devotion of Suspect X, it is nevertheless a good read about a complex, puzzling case with an emphasis on deciphering clues and figuring out how a simple crime could be committed so perfectly. If you are looking for a crime novel that is refreshingly different, definitely give it a try.
P.S. – It is time they stop comparing Higashino with Larsson. The Japanese author has his own unique style in the world of crime novels.
My rating – 7/10