I suspect that Keigo Higashino’s novel, The Devotion of Suspect X, has been nominated for an Edgar Award  because he is a hugely popular author in Japan.  I don’t know anything about the politics involved at Mystery Writers of America or why certain books are in the running for awards, but I can tell you that the three I’ve read thus far have all been quite different and two have me scratching my head.  Suspect X is one of those two.  

The story doesn’t waste time showing the murder of Togashi, who is the abusive ex-husband of Yasuko and former step-father to her daughter Misato.  When Togashi visits their apartment and successfully extorts money from Yasuko, he makes lurid comments about Misato’s looks and how she’ll make money (it’s not clear but I assume he means as a prostitute).  Misato freaks out and hits Togashi over the head with a vase when his back is turned.  He then attacks her and says he’s going to kill her.  Yasuko reacts with a mother’s fury and strangles Togashi with an electric cord.

Ishigami, Yasuko’s next door neighbor who has an unrequited crush on her, appears immediately after Togashi is murdered and offers to take care of the body disposal.  He is a math teacher at the local high school and is a study in a brilliant mind housed in a homely body.  He was suicidal until Yasuko moved in next door, and she has become his raison d’etre.  Ishigami constructs an elaborate alibi for Yasuko and Misato and convinces them to follow his plan, which he is certain will keep the police from figuring out who murdered Togashi.

What follows for the next 300 pages is a battle of wits between the police (mainly the detective Kusanagi), Yukawa (a brilliant physicist and former classmate of Ishigami’s) and Ishigami.  There is a clever twist at the end, which reveals exactly how Ishigami was able to make Yasuko’s alibi rock solid and unbreakable.  It also reveals the full extent of his love for her.

I thought the book was interesting to read because it was quite different from most mysteries or thrillers that I have read.  I found the translation from Japanese to English to be a hurdle to reading the story to the end.  The English is stilted and has a sterile quality to it, which I found off-putting.  I also was puzzled by the fact that there needed to be a cover-up of the murder at all, since Togashi clearly attacked Misato and was trying to kill her.  It seemed to me that Yasuko acted in self-defense.  However, I have no idea what the Japanese laws are in regard to murder, so that may not be a valid criticism.  

My score on a 1 to 10 scale:

The Devotion of Suspect X:  5

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