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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

     

Malice

by
Higashino Keigo


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Malice



Title: Malice
Author: Higashino Keigo
Genre: Novel
Written: 1996 (Eng. 2014)
Length: 276 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: Malice - US
Malice - UK
Malice - Canada
Malice - India
Böse Absichten - Deutschland
  • Japanese title: 悪意
  • Translated by Alexander O. Smith

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Our Assessment:

B- : sort of clever set-up; gets bogged down in its resolution

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Financial Times . 20/2/2015 David Pilling
The Independent A 12/11/2014 Jane Jakeman
Irish Times . 6/12/2014 Declan Burke
The Japan Times . 1/11/2014 Tim Hornyak
The NY Times Book Rev. . 5/10/2014 Marilyn Stasio
Sydney Morning Herald . 22/11/2014 Kerryn Goldsworthy
Wall St. Journal . 3/10/2014 Tom Nolan


  Review Consensus:

  Admired and enjoyed it

  From the Reviews:
  • "Less Agatha Christie and more Sigmund Freud, this pacy book is driven by the business of piecing together the reasons for the crime rather than its mechanics. (...) There’s not much of Japan here. No one eats sushi or takes their shoes off before stepping on the tatami. Instead, we get stripped-down prose and an attempt -- mostly successful -- to lay bare people’s psychological impulses." - David Pilling, Financial Times

  • "Malice is essentially a study of intellectuals doing their very nasty damnedest, and especially of the ambitions and jealousies of bookish persons. (...) (A)n exceptional study of the psychology of murder as well as a skilfully plotted narrative." - Jane Jakeman, The Independent

  • "As much a psychological thriller as it is a police procedural, Malice is rooted in a search for identity, albeit one in which Higashino invests the conceit of the ambiguous narrator with a notable complexity. The result is that the novel represents another bold statement of intent, and while Higashino isn’t exactly reinventing the crime novel, Malice is a superb example of how flexible the genre’s parameters can be." - Declan Burke, Irish Times

  • "Higashino’s specialty is building carefully wound backstories to his plots and imbuing his main characters with psychological depth, a consolation for readers who may bemoan the paltry descriptions of minor characters and locations such as Tokyo. But the tale is breezily translated by Alexander O. Smith and makes for a grabby read" - Tim Hornyak, The Japan Times

  • "Admirers of the well-made whodunit know the drill about questioning facts and suspecting everyone. Higashino plays this game as well as any of those legendary golden age authors poring over their railroad timetables. But what makes him a genius at this sport is the care with which he devises a motive -- in this case, professional jealousy -- to fit the crime." - Marilyn Stasio, The New York Times Book Review

  • "While the style seems a little wooden, which may be the effect of translation, the plot is satisfyingly twisty and gathers pace as the revelations come thicker, faster, and more and more unexpected." - Kerryn Goldsworthy, Sydney Morning Herald

  • "Keigo Higashino combines Dostoyevskian psychological realism with classic detective-story puzzles reminiscent of Agatha Christie and E.C. Bentley. Malice is a prime example." - Tom Nolan, Wall Street Journal

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The premise and basic design of Malice are pretty clever. Early in the novel bestselling novelist Kunihiko Hidaka is murdered. Very recently remarried, he was about to set out for Vancouver with his wife, to start a new chapter in his life. In his almost empty house he just had some last-minute writing to do and send off to his editor; a friend from his schooldays, Osamu Nonoguchi, had visited him earlier in the day, and Hidaka had summoned him back in the evening -- but when no one answers the door when Nonoguchi gets there he calls Rie, Hidaka's wife, and they make the grizzly discovery.
       The first chapter of Malice is an account written by Nonoguchi, describing these events -- including the beginning of the investigation into the crime, when the police get there -- from his point of view. The second chapter is then written by the detective investigating the crime, Kyoichiro Kaga. He happens to know Nonoguchi -- they were both teachers, with Nonoguchi having stayed in the profession a bit longer but now also working full-time as an author, though just of children's books.
       Kaga is surprised that Nonoguchi immediately made a record of the case -- and despite the potential usefulness of such an eyewitness-account he's suspicious of Nonoguchi. He even has comes up with his own theory about Nonoguchi's documentary motives:

Therein lies Nonoguchi's aim: to create a fictional account of the events in order to divert suspicion from himself.
       It's a neat idea -- even if the reminder that narrators can be unreliable is made a bit heavy-handedly. In any case, Nonoguchi gets to have his say in several additional chapters, though more are from Kaga's perspective.
       As to the murder itself: the guilty party is found and arrested very quickly -- an unusual turn of events in a mystery. Less than a third of the way through the novel it would seem to be the end of the story. It's not, however: an essential piece is missing:
The chief has made it clear that, without a clear motive, we can't bring this case to trial.
       This seems a bit of a stretch -- there certainly seems enough for a conviction -- but it gives Kaga an excuse to dig deeper. Of course, there's danger in over-complicating what looks like such a straightforward case; as someone suggests:
You've just made an erroneous assumption and it's leading you to strange conclusions. You're just thinking about it way too much.
       There is, however, a lot to think about. Things that don't add up. And what to make of the odd odds and ends, from someone who was mad at Hidaka about a too-thinly veiled portrayal in one of his books, a neighbor's dead cat, the mysterious death of Hidaka's first wife five years earlier -- an accident ? murder ? suicide ? --, and notebooks Nonoguchi has, filled with writing very similar to Hidaka's successful books ... ?
       Kaga's own guilt about his brief tenure as a teacher, where he fled the: "greatest failure of my life", also color his investigation. The nature of Nonoguchi and Hidaka's friendship -- the two were schoolmates but then lost touch, before again reconnecting as Hidaka began to enjoy success as a writer -- also continues to be puzzling. But Kaga digs deep -- and far back -- and examines the stray bits of evidence until everything falls into place.
       The resolution, too, is clever enough -- in fact, in outline and summary everything about Malice strikes one as very nicely conceived. But in its telling -- including , but not limited to, the wooden language -- the story bogs down terribly. Higashino heaps on quite a lot here, and a lot of that detail isn't presented particularly well. Even as it is meant to function as the foundations of the motive, it ultimately feels more like a muddying of the waters (and everything else): crisp crime fiction this is not.
       The basics in Malice are very good, and Higashino has a neat idea of how to present much of it -- the back and forth between Nonoguchi's and Kaga's accounts, and how one adapts to the information he gets from the other is fundamentally very sound and promising -- but the writing doesn't rise (anywhere near) to the necessary levels. Despite its A-class premise, Malice winds up being too convoluted B-grade fiction.

- M.A.Orthofer, 27 January 2015

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Links:

Malice: Reviews: Other books by Higashino Keigo under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Japanese author Higashino Keigo (東野圭吾) was born in 1958.

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