About Japan Kaleidoskop

Freelance writer and translator (Japanese-English-German) with a doctor's degree in Japanese Studies. Author of Japan Kaleidoskop: A blog about Japanese culture, art and literature.

Book Review: The Devotion of Suspect X

book cover Suspect X “Which is harder: devising an unsolvable problem, or solving that problem?”

Ex-husband Shinji Togashi suddenly appears at Yasuko Hanaoka’s apartment. She lives together with Misato, her daughter from a previous relationship. After years of peace, he comes back to his ex-wife and harasses her again. During his visit at Yasuko’s apartment, he threatens his ex-wife and her daughter, which leads to quarreling and violence, and in the end to Shinji’s death.

The neighbor Tetsuya Ishigami overhears everything through the wall to his adjacent apartment. He wants to protect them and dissuades both Yasuko and her daughter from the idea of turning themselves in to the police. He helps them to clean the appartment and makes the body disappear. Ishigami plans a meticulous alibi for all, gives instructions on how they should behave during interrogations, and along the following events  interferes more and more in their private matters. When Yasuko falls in love with another man named Kudo, the tide turns.

The police investigation is supported by Manabu Yukawa, a physics professor who is often consulted by the police, aka Detective Galileo. He is also a former college friend of Ishigami, whom he knows as a mathematical genius.

Through this criminal case the two friends from the past meet again. Ishigami turns the criminal case into a seemingly unsolvable puzzle with his ingenuity. Yukawa tries to solve the case: Ishigami “presented me with a mathematical conundrum,”… “It’s a famous one, the P = NP problem. Basically, it asks whether it’s more difficult to think of the solution to a problem yourself or to ascertain if someone else’s answer to the same problem is correct.”

“The Devotion of Suspect X” (容疑者Xの献身) was first published in Japan in 2005. It is part of a book series with “Detective Galileo“. Higashino Keigo won the Naoki Award and the Honkaku Mystery Award for this novel in 2006. It was also made into a Japanese movie in 2008 and was adapted by international film makers.

Higashino Keigo is a famous writer of mainly mystery novels and was also president of the association “Mystery Writers of Japan” from 2009 to 2013. Many of his works were translated into several languages:

  • Naoko” is his famous first novel.
  • The Galileo book series includes short story collections and novels. Four of them are available in English.
  • Higashino Keigo wrote another famous series featuring police detective Kaga,
  • and many stand alone novels.

“The Devotion of Suspect X” is interesting because the reader follows the thoughts and assumptions of the main protagonists. It is a fast paced brilliant story of an intelligent play of two geniuses.

Reviewed Title
東野 圭吾: 容疑者Xの献身, 2005.
Higashino Keigo: The Devotion of Suspect X, translated by Alexander O. Smith, 2011.

Book Review: Tokyo Express

bookcover tokyo express matsumoto seicho
“Toki, of all people, jumping on a train with a lover! It was all so unexpected.”

Everything is clear from the beginning: it was a double love suicide. Two dead bodies side by side found on Kashii beach. The government official Ken’ichi Sayama and the waitress Toki had both taken cyanid and died together. But something seems wrong: Sayama was a key witness aka a suspect in an ongoing investigation of a bribery scandal, and Toki had never before mentioned Sayama as her lover.

Torigai, a police officer, has his doubts about a double suicide: “Usually, in cases like this, the lovers would opt for a suitable indulgent location – a hot-spring resort, say, or a well-known beauty spot – in which to end their lives. True, the view here wasn’t bad, but they could at least have chosen a patch of soft grass over these unforgiving rocks.”

Also inspector Ki’ichi Mihara from Tokyo, who is investigating the bribery scandal, has second thoughts and starts to look into things behind the scenes. There is much confusion about train departure times and arrivals, when businessman Mr. Yasuda comes into focus as a suspect, but he has a watertight alibi. “Walls were blocking his progress in every direction, and each seemed more unbreakable than the last.”

Matsumoto Seichô (1909 bis 1992) was a Japanese writer known for detective stories and crime fiction most popular in the 1960s. He wrote many novels, short stories and books about Japanese history as well. His main interest in writing detective fiction is looking for motives and analyzing crimes from the psychological viewpoint.

“Tokyo Express” was first published in Japan in 1958. The original title is “Ten to sen” (点と線), literally “Points and Lines”. This novel was also made into a movie directed by Tsuneo Kobayashi. It is Matsumoto’s first novel translated into English.

Three other titles of this author are available in English:
“Inspector Imanishi Investigates” (Suna no utsuwa, 1961)
“Pro Bono” (Kiri no hata, 1961)
“A Quiet Life” (Kikanakatta Basho, 1975).

Matsumot Seichô, Japanese writerMatsumoto Seichô won several literary awards, for example the Akutagawa Prize in 1952 for his work “The Legend of the Kokura-Diary” (Aru ‘Kokura-nikki’ den”, 或る「小倉日記」伝). He is so famous in Japan, that a museum is dedicated to him: The Matsumoto Seichô Memorial Museum.

“Tokyo Express” is a classic detective novel a la Agatha Christie. An intelligent puzzle, that seems impossible to solve. As an avid reader of detective fiction you probably will have fun solving the puzzle but the solution is still surprising because there are some red herrings. All in all it is a short interesting read and I am curious about Matsumoto’s other crime novels.

Reviewed Title
Title in Japanese: 松本清張: 点と線,1958.
Matsumoto Seichô: Tokyo Express, newly translated by Jesse Kirkwood. Penguin Classics 2022 (cover).
There is another English translation of this novel by Makiko Yamamoto and Paul C. Blum, published by Kodansha as “Point and Lines” in 1995.

Dead-End Memories: Stories

Finally there is a new short story collection of five remarkable stories by Banana Yoshimoto.

In “Dead-End Memories” Banana Yoshimoto writes about traumatic experiences and tells her stories in a sensitive way. All five stories are about experiences that come to shape the life of the female protagonists forever. The atmosphere is often melancholic, partly gloomy, but it would not be Banana Yoshimoto if she would not change into a more hopeful view that is comforting and positively points to the future.

The main themes are longing, loss, search for meaning and desire to heal and search for happiness. The author interweaves the past, present and future in her narratives with her distinctive writing style. She uses a poetic language, sometimes drifting in dreamlike clouds. Some of Yoshimoto’s stories are more like sketches of characters. “Dead- End Memories” is also the title of the 5th story in this collection, and it is the most elaborated in this volume. All stories have an underlying sentiment of melancholy.

The book cover shows a red silhouette of a woman in the centre of the picture surrounded by yellow ginko leaves. This creates an autumnal atmosphere and exquisitely underscores the tonality of the stories.

Banana Yoshimoto has published many books that have appeared in several languages. In English, the following titles are noteworthy:

  • Kitchen. Japanese: キッチン, 1988.
  • Lizard. Japanese: とかげ, 1993.
  • The Lake. Japanese: みずうみ. 2005.
  • Moshi Moshi. Japanese: もしもし下北沢. 2010.

The original story collection by Banana Yoshimoto was published in 2003 with the Japanese title デッドエンドの思い出 which also means “dead-end memories”. Asa Yoneda translated the five stories into English. It was published in August 9th 2022.

I liked the stories very much, especially “House of Ghosts” and “Dead-End Memories”. Banana Yoshimoto has a unique poetic writing style, her narratives are warm hearted and authentic. She is a skilled writer who writes longer novels as well as short stories which are equally good.

Reviewed Title
吉本ばなな. デッドエンドの思い出 , 2003.
Banana Yoshimoto: Dead-End Memories. Translated by Asa Yoneda. Counterpoint, 2022 (cover).