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)

December 10, 2009

Book Review: Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon

Posted in Book Reviews tagged , , , , , , , at 2:26 pm by The Word Jar

Who are you? Is your identity static, defined only by your past experiences? Or is it dynamic, able to be created, altered, or eliminated as you move along in life? Await Your Reply, the new novel by National Book Award finalist Dan Chaon, raises questions about and suggests implications of modern identity while weaving together the story of three characters trying to figure out their own identities.

Await Your Reply follows three ordinary characters in less than ordinary circumstances. Ryan, a college sophomore, finds out he is adopted and disappears from his crumbling life to enter the world of identity theft. Lucy decides to leave her sleepy hometown, swept away by her charming high school teacher who promises her adventure and fortune, only to end up in a motel in Nebraska. Miles has given up living his own life, and possibly his hold on his sanity, in a desperate search to find his long-lost, possibly schizophrenic, twin brother.

Chaon uses the mundane details of the characters’ lives—Ryan sitting in a rental car office; Lucy watching movies in the motel; Miles at his job in a novelty shop—to cultivate the core essence of the novel. These meaningless details show that “most people  . . . [have] identities that [are] so shallow that you could easily manage a hundred of them at once.” A person’s identity is so often defined by one’s job, hobby, or favorite movie—superficial attributes that can easily be culled from an Internet search—that anyone with a little determination could actually maintain several separate and disparate identities at the same time. It’s the ramifications of these multiple identities that propel the story to its satisfying conclusion.

As is often the case in real life, the small details in Await Your Reply can easily be overlooked by the reader as insignificant. It is not until the end that the reader is able to put everything together and realize what’s been happening the whole time. Await Your Reply is a novel that begs to be reread as soon as the reader finishes the final page.

(Review copy source: Ballantine Books via LibraryThing)