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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Devotion of Suspect X

Higashino Keigo

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To purchase The Devotion of Suspect X

Title: The Devotion of Suspect X
Author: Higashino Keigo
Genre: Novel
Written: 2005 (Eng. 2011)
Length: 298 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: The Devotion of Suspect X - US
The Devotion of Suspect X - UK
The Devotion of Suspect X - Canada
The Devotion of Suspect X - India
Le Dévouement du suspect X - France
Verdächtige Geliebte - Deutschland
Il Sospettato X - Italia
La devoción del sospechoso X - España
  • Japanese title: 容疑者Xの献身
  • Translated by Alexander O. Smith, with Elye J. Alexander
  • 容疑者Xの献身 was made into a film, Suspect X, in 2008, directed by Nishitani Hiroshi

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Our Assessment:

B- : fairly clever twist to it, but hamfisted presentation and too melodramatic in its conclusion

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Financial Times . 15/7/2011 David Pilling
The Guardian . 16/7/2011 John O'Connell
The Independent A 29/8/2011 Barry Forshaw
Independent on Sunday . 31/7/2011 James Kidd
The LA Times . 3/2/2011 Sarah Weinman
The NY Times Book Rev. . 27/2/2011 Marilyn Stasio
USA Today . 24/2/2011 Carol Memmott
The Washington Post . 7/2/2011 Patrick Anderson

  From the Reviews:
  • "Certainly, the plot is taut and intriguing. So is the mental tussle between Ishigami, a socially awkward maths genius, and Yukawa, a former classmate turned crime-unravelling physicist. But it is Ishigami’s devotion to his next-door neighbour, Yasuko, that is the book’s emotional motor. This psychological driver sets it apart from more run-of-the-mill crime thrillers. Yet the emotional outlines are not as surely drawn as the plot-led story. (...) In the end, the ingenuity of the plot is not quite matched by the credibility of the inner drama. Agatha Christie would be mightily impressed. George Eliot less so." - David Pilling, Financial Times

  • "The Devotion of Suspect X is cold and mechanical and has no truck with such niceties as psychological verisimilitude. But if you like riddles inside enigmas, it will please you no end." - John O'Connell, The Guardian

  • "As well as its minutely detailed picture of life in modern Japan, a host of other pleasures crowd into The Devotion of Suspect X, including a postmodern take on the conventions of the detective novel." - Barry Forshaw, The Independent

  • "Higashino's fictional universe is so carefully constructed and his plot so perfectly paced that these bumps in the road are quickly flattened. (...) The finale is both chilling and moving, and confronts emotions that crime fiction rarely covers." - James Kidd, Independent on Sunday

  • "The Devotion of Suspect X is cooler, more considered and more authoritative in both voice and story, challenging the reader to pay attention to every detail before the inevitable rug is pulled in one of the most clever endings I've read in some time. (...) The nexus of reason and emotion is why The Devotion of Suspect X's denouement packs such a potent punch." - Sarah Weinman, The Los Angeles Times

  • "The brilliance of this scheme can’t be fully appreciated until the conclusion of the story" - Marilyn Stasio, The New York Times Book Review

  • "This cat-and-mouse story has plenty of twists and turns. Some readers may feel a bit cheated by the ending, but don't pass up the opportunity to read this novel by a Japanese master." - Carol Memmott, USA Today

  • "(A) modern example of the games a clever writer can play with his readers. (...) In the end, we learn which genius prevails. That cannot be revealed here, but I can say that I found the ending unsatisfactory. Back in 1928, when the puzzle novel was falling out of favor, S.S. Van Dine, author of the Philo Vance mysteries, wrote an article called "Twenty Rules for Writing Detective Stories." He argued that since the detective story is "a kind of intellectual game," self-respecting writers must follow certain unwritten rules. One was that the reader should have the same opportunity as the detective to solve the crime. Higashino has ignored that basic rule with an ending that introduces facts the reader had no way of knowing. The ending might strike some readers as ingenious, but I found it simply unfair, a cheat. This puzzle mostly just made my head ache." - Patrick Anderson, The washington Post

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 Devotion of Suspect X begins with a manslaughter: Yasuko Hanaoka though she'd escaped her good-for-nothing ex, Togashi, but he tracked her down again and even comes to her apartment. It comes to a confrontation, and Togashi winds up dead. It's messy but sure looks like a justifiable homicide, but there's daughter Misako to think of, and when the friendly maths teacher living next door, Ishigami, knocks on the door (having heard the commotion), Yasuko isn't sure what to do. Soon enough helpful Ishigami suggests that if they let him help out, he can set things right. Do as he says -- to the letter -- and there won't be a problem.
       Yeah, right.
       Ishigami constructs the perfect cover-up. It's a bit of a shame that this doesn't seem to be a crime that really needs covering up -- it sure sounds like a perfectly reasonable case of justifiable homicide -- but apparently making more out of it than need be is worth the risk of all the inconvenience of dealing with the police and saving face and whatnot.
       The body is disposed of, his fingerprints and face (for the dental records !) destroyed, his clothes torched. Sure, the police find a body -- but they can't immediately identify it.
       Detective Kusanagi is on the case, and he does what needs to be done. Identifying the body doesn't prove to be that hard, and when it's clear that Togashi is dead his investigation naturally leads him to Yasuko's doorstep. Yasuko would seem to have an alibi -- they went to the movies, and then karaoke that night -- and besides, she and her daughter could have hardly moved that body so far on their own. Still, he thinks there's something fishy here, and continues to investigate Yasuko and her daughter, and their alibi. (Oddly, however, he doesn't seem to investigate any other possibilities.)
       Kusanagi has a friend who is a physicist, Manabu Yukawa, whom he occasionally asks for advice and help -- so much so, in fact, that the academic has gotten the nickname 'Doctor Galileo'. It turns out that Yukawa and Ishigami were college classmates and friends, though the talented Ishigami's was unable to pursue an academic career (but still obsesses over little other than maths).
       Ishigami never had much contact with his neighbors -- though he does always buy his lunch at the place Yasuko works -- and he's careful to maintain a similar distance after Togashi's death. Nevertheless, Yukawa grows suspicious of his friend, who seems clearly to have a crush on his neighbor. And Yukawa seems to like the idea of the intellectual cat and mouse game he can play with Ishigami, going so far as to tell his detective pal:

I'm afraid I can't give you my full cooperation with this case. I'm looking into it for personal reasons.
       Ishigami's cover-up would seem to do the job, even when it takes an unexpected turn, and Yasuko and her daughter look to be off the hook, but Kasunagi isn't satisfied -- despite the fact that:
There are no holes in his story. It all makes perfect sense.
       Like a neat mathematical proof, Ishigami has presented the police with an open-and-shut case -- certainly as far as Yasuko's involvement goes. Just as he'd promised her, he keeps her out of it -- well, except for the constant annoyance of the police questioning her and everyone she is in touch with. Even when another man enters the picture, someone with his eye on Yasuko (and someone she could fall for in a way she never could for Ishigami), Ishigami stays true to the course and protects Yasuko.
       The twist -- Ishigami's neat work-around that ensures that Yasuko gets away with having killed her ex -- is quite a clever one, and actually a decent plan. Unfortunately, it's not clear it was needed in the first place. For one, Yasuko's crime isn't much of one, and it's hard to believe the Japanese prosecutors wouldn't have seen this as a justifiable act. For another, it appears Togashi's body could have been made to disappear much more effectively; the danger of it eventually being found would have remained, but the risks inherent in Ishigami's harebrained scheme surely were far greater (while fairly clever, it brought with it considerable dangers).
       "The story was, frankly, unbelievable", Kusanagi finds at the end; no kidding. Higashino has some decent ideas -- including the basics of the twist upon which the whole story turns -- but too much is far too far-fetched. The intellectual sparring between cerebral Ishigami and the equally cerebral Yukawa is enjoyable enough, but Higashino's character development remains fairly rudimentary, and even Ishigami's pining for Yasuko is far too simplistically handled (though it's a deep and nuanced portrait compared to that of the other guy who comes into the picture). Matters are not helped by Higashino's melodramatic overkill at the end: mention of two suicide attempts and a marriage proposal are not even the worst of that .....
       The outlines of this story are pretty good, and in the hands of a nicely cynical American noir master (and beginning with a juicy real murder for which Yasuko would get the chair (well, the noose, since it's Japan) if she were ever caught) this could be a hell of a thriller. As is, it offers pretty limited rewards.

- M.A.Orthofer, 4 March 2011

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The Devotion of Suspect X: Reviews: Suspect X - the film: 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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© 2011-2021 the complete review

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