September 23, 2013

Book Review: The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino

Posted in Book Reviews tagged , , , , , at 2:43 pm by The Word Jar

ImageIt takes a certain level of neighborliness to check on the neighbor you secretly admire when disturbing noises are heard in her apartment. It takes a whole other level of devotion to craft for her an infallible alibi when you find out she just murdered her ex-husband.

So begins The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino. Togashi hunts down his ex-wife, Yasuko, when he needs money. But after a tussle between her daughter and Togashi, Yasuko ends up killing him. Ishigami, Yasuko’s neighbor, checks on the mother and daughter after he hears the struggle through their shared wall. A mathematical genius and secretly in love with Yasuko, he offers to construct their alibis and dispose of the body, as long as they promise to follow his precise instructions. “Logical thinking will get us through this,” he assures them.

A mind-twisting crime thriller, The Devotion of Suspect X follows the investigation of Togashi’s murder. As the case unfolds, Detective Kusanagi starts consulting with a former classmate, Yukawa, a physicist and former colleague of Ishigami’s. Together, and for their own reasons, they work to unravel the true precision of Ishigami’s plan. And the level of, and reason for, Ishigami’s devotion becomes clear.

The old colleagues Yukawa and Ishigami meet up a few times throughout the investigation, making for a fascinating intellectual cat-and-mouse game. Each man approaches the issue of the murder through classical problems from their respective fields. Yukawa wants to know “which is harder: devising an unsolvable problem, or solving that problem?” They also discuss “whether or not it is as easy to determine the accuracy of another person’s results as it is to solve the problem yourself.” In other words, which is easier—Ishigami creating the solution to Yasuko’s problem by covering up the murder, or Yukawa trying to figure out Ishigami’s solution?

Although some linguistical nuance is lost in the translation, which can make some passages stilted in the reading, Higashino’s methodical reveal of Ishigami’s plan and motivation is like deconstructing a beautiful piece of origami, pulling back each fold and layer until the reader is exposed to the hidden intricacies of the deceptively simple design. It is this methodical (not to be confused with boring) unfolding of the story that keeps the reader invested in this quick read.

(Review copy source: Library)

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May 7, 2012

Book Review: The Keeper of Lost Causes by Jussi Adler-Olsen

Posted in Book Reviews tagged , , , , , , , , , at 2:48 pm by The Word Jar

Nothing is hotter than Scandinavian thrillers right now, and Denmark is throwing its hat in the ring with The Keeper of Lost Causes by award-winning author Jussi Adler-Olsen. Adler-Olsen does what most recent Scandinavian imports do best—serves up a compelling, dark story with enough cruel twists to leave the reader thinking, “What is in that coffee over there?”

The Keeper of Lost Causes follows Copenhagen detective Carl Morck a few months after he has been shot on the job. When Carl returns to the force and refuses to play nicely with his fellow detectives, he is unexpectedly promoted to head up the new cold cases division, Department Q. Given only a stack of case files and Assad, a jack-of-all-trades assistant, Carl begins to investigate the disappearance of Merete Lyngaard, a rising politician.

The narrative alternates between Carl’s investigation and the real circumstances of Merete’s disappearance. The investigation bumbles along at times, with a few lucky breaks and a lot of help from unassuming Assad. But the chapters that follow Merete are tight, twisted, and intensely pressure-packed, leaving the reader wanting more but afraid to admit it (and more than a little worried that Adler-Olsen might gladly give it to them).

Adler-Olsen excels at weaving in the secondary characters and plots. While Carl comes across as a first-rate jerk and second-rate detective at times, Assad, with his secretive past and sundry talents, puts the clues together and makes a mean curry. The Keeper of Lost Causes spins an interesting investigation tale, but Adler-Olsen’s true talent is creating horrific crime scenarios. The Keeper of Lost Causes is the first* in the new Department Q series from Adler-Olsen, and he would do readers a favor by revealing more about Assad in future books, as well as keeping the terrifically twisted narratives coming.

* According to Amazon, The Absent One, the second Department Q case, is scheduled to be released August 21, 2012.

(Review copy source: Dutton via NetGalley)

July 27, 2010

Teaser Tuesday: July 27

Posted in Book Talk tagged , , , , at 10:01 am by The Word Jar

Teaser Tuesdays asks you to:

* Grab your current read.
* Let the book fall open to a random page.
* Share with us two “teaser” sentences from that page.

You also need to share the title and author of the book that you’re getting your teaser from…that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!

As always, please avoid spoilers!

*   *   *   *   *

This week, my teaser is from There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor’s Baby by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya.

You can recognize them, but only if you yourself are one of them. There are signs, and each sign happens twice.

There Once Lived a Woman is a book of short stories, billed as “scary fairy tales” on the cover. The quote above comes from the story “A New Soul.” While the stories so far have been subtle in their “scariness,” there is an otherworldliness about them, and the writing of Petrushevskaya has a way of seeping into your brain and sticking with you. I can’t wait to get through the rest of the stories.

April 14, 2009

Teaser Tuesday: April 14

Posted in Book Talk tagged , , , , at 7:32 am by The Word Jar

Teaser TuesdaysTeaser Tuesdays asks you to:

* Grab your current read.
* Let the book fall open to a random page.
* Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12.

You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from…that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!

Please avoid spoilers!

My teaser this week comes from The Various Haunts of Men by Susan Hill.

This room, with these bodies, these instruments, this smell of formaldehyde and antiseptic overlaying the smell of decomposition, was where I had wanted to be for so long, this was the focus of my dreams and the end of so many years of work. I have never got over the thrill of it, the feeling of a dreadful excitement; the sense of power. A body in a dissecting room seems so far removed from life it might never have had anything to do with life at all.

Three sentences, I know, but I feel the third sentence really brings out the creepiness of the section.

(Teaser Tuesday is hosted by MizB at Should Be Reading. Check it out for more teasers!)

March 14, 2009

Book Review: Night Work by Thomas Glavinic

Posted in Book Reviews tagged , , , , , , at 10:33 pm by The Word Jar

Night WorkVirginia Woolf may have advocated for a room of one’s own, but what if you had a world of your own instead? Jonas, a thirty-something living in Vienna, inherits just that when he wakes up on July 4 and finds that he may be the last person on Earth. In Night Work by Thomas Glavinic, Jonas is not only the last person left, but also the last living creature. There is no one to be found in Vienna—not a person, not a dog, not a cockroach.

The crux of Night Work doesn’t rest on finding out what happened to everyone else. Night Work is an intense study of how one survives, though certainly not thrives, on one’s own. What happens when you are left to your own devices, your own thoughts—both of your conscious and subconscious mind?

Glavinic deftly and subtly conveys Jonas’s growing paranoia. When Jonas is confronted by such things as his conjured wolf-bear and an intensely creepy character called The Sleeper, his brain realizes he is only paranoid, but it is a constant struggle to keep that paranoia in check. “He must cling at all costs to what existed. To what was definitely verifiable and beyond dispute.” If Jonas can’t do that, there is no way to survive in this new world.

One of the ways Jonas copes with this new world is to examine his life through deeply existential questioning. As he goes through old photographs and visits places from his past, he constantly compares his past self to his current self. There is at once a longing to return to the past, as played out when Jonas recreates his childhood home, and an almost remorseful sense of fulfillment at what he has experienced and accomplished since that past time.

Night Work may leave many readers unsatisfied. Those looking for a resolution to what happened to the world will not find one. It is an existential book following one man into the depths of despair. If readers can keep that in mind, they will find Night Work to be a gratifying, if not deeply disturbing, read.

(Review copy source: Public Library)