A midsummer comeback

Kalyani Prasher | Updated on January 16, 2018

Murder most foul: In Keigo Higashino’s latest, a man is found murdered at Green Rock Inn, a quaint little place operated by a family of three   -  shutterstock

A Midsummer’sEquationKeigo HigashinoFictionLittle, BrownRs 399

The latest Keigo Higashino mystery is a delicious mess of complicated relationships

It wasn’t until page 322 (of 480) that I breathed a sigh of relief: a deep, satisfying sigh. Up until then I was nervous. Higashino, once the most exciting author of murder mysteries, had led me up the garden path before and then dropped me from page 150 or so quite mercilessly.

After the hugely successful The Devotion of Suspect X, which left people in awe of Higashino’s ability to sketch brilliant characters, of describing the grey in human beings so expertly that one ended up empathising with the murderer, came the soft and intriguing Salvation of the Saint, which did not receive the same adulation but was actually a fabulous tale of human failure — of having a mind of your own and being hopelessly dependent at the same time; of the shades of grey and degrees of crime.

Anyone who reads Japanese fiction knows that Japanese authors of note excel at telling people stories — the closer the family, the more complicated the relationships, the more curious the stories — and Salvation of the Saint, involving love, friendship and devotion, was an excellent example of that.

So after the nerve-wracking Suspect X and an exquisitely flawed Saint, when the next Higashino we got (thanks to the translations) was another tale of friendship and marriage, Malice, I was quite excited. It was with Malice, building up nicely till a point (an impossible murder; an obvious suspect with no possible motive; could it really be…?), that Higashino disappointed me.

A mystery is only good if even the end is good and plausible. You cannot just build up something exciting and then tell the reader, “oh well, I tried, hope you enjoyed reading till here, now I am going to throw in random stuff to just finish the damn thing”.

That’s what he did with Malice and then he totally lost the (very long and complicated) plot with Journey Under the Midnight Sun, which was such a forgettable story that I had to dig the book out from my library to even remember who the heck it was about. And I read it only six months ago.

This is not Higashino, I thought. This is not the guy who created Manabu Yukawa, Ishigami, Kusanagi, Ayane, the characters one remembers so well, the people whom I stop and think about sometimes — wondering if I would’ve behaved differently in their places. Which degree of crime am I capable of if pushed like they were? After trudging through Journey, I concluded that everyone cannot be Agatha Christie and that after the initial brilliance, Higashino was losing his touch.

A Midsummer’s Equation has changed my mind. Yukawa is back. Kusanagi is back. The complicated family saga is back. A smart young boy, a sly attractive girl, a family with a past, a small place with big secrets… the plot points of Higashino’s latest are simply delicious.

An unknown man comes to a small seaside resort that is losing tourists to bigger resorts and checks into a random inn run by a family of three. He ends up with a cracked skull next to the water the next day.

When the biggest scandal to hit the small town brings in police and investigators, it is revealed that the murdered soul was an ex-cop — and his decision to stay at that particular inn may not have been so random. The only other guest at this inn, after all, is none other than the brilliant physics professor with the mind of a criminal, Manabu Yukawa, aka Detective Galileo.

The case reaches a sensational point when we realise that the ex-cop was on the trail of a guy he had once arrested for murder. Or was he? Was he after an even bigger secret? Was he murdered or was it an accident? The Tokyo police gets involved — enter Kusanagi and the much-loved team of Kusanagi and Yukawa — and is aided by the boy who happens to be visiting his uncle, aunt and cousin, the owners of Green Rock Inn.

In the tale that goes back and forth in time, explores the concepts of guilt, family bond, love, regret, ethics and fairness, A Midsummer’s Equation keeps you hooked, keeps you guessing, and leaves you immensely satisfied.

Higashino is back, and in his element. Yukawa is clearly his strong point — the professor’s sardonic, cocksure genius keeps the narrative entertaining and a murder mystery, usually filed under frothy literature, rises above such labels as we study human nature through his scientific and logical brain.

If I were to go looking for flaws, I’d say I missed the bickering between Yukawa and Kusanagi that frequently waylaid their investigation in Suspect X — now, even though Yukawa is still caustic and sneer-y, they are more of a team; Kusanagi seems to have given up on trying to solve a case without Yukawa’s inputs. On the whole, though, I would rate this book higher than the last two translations. Please, whoever decides these things, give us more of Detective Galileo, and soon.

Kalyani Prasher is a Delhi-based freelance journalist

Published on December 02, 2016

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