Review: Salvation of a Saint

SoaSaintUKFinland-based American writer James Thompson recently lamented how Stieg Larsson’s name gets bandied about as a cynical ploy by journalists, critics and reviewers to sell more papers, ensure more web hits. I suspect this is what’s behind the quote from The Times on the cover of the UK edition of Keigo Higashino’s Salvation of a Saint, calling him ‘The Japanese Stieg Larsson’.

I can’t think why else anyone would mention Larsson in the same breath as Higashino, except that Salvation of a Saint and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo loosely share themes of the revenge wreaked by women scorned, though even that’s drawing a long bow. Interestingly, the US edition (below) doesn’t mention Larsson, going instead with ‘Edgar Award Finalist’ — though for my money, the cover design is not as interesting nor as relevant to the story (see here for differences of opinion on these covers).

salvation-of-a-saintHigashino is better compared with Agatha Christie or Arthur Conan Doyle, Salvation of a Saint presenting the reader with a puzzle worthy of a Golden Age mystery. That said, Salvation of a Saint is unlike anything I’ve read before, not so much a whodunnit — there are only ever two possible suspects, one if the narrator of the opening chapter proves reliable — as a howdunnit and whydunnit.

Handsome, charismatic businessman Yoshikata Mashiba is found dead on the kitchen floor in his Tokyo apartment. Beside him is a spilt cup of coffee that proves to contain poison. Yoshitaka’s wife and talented quilting artist Ayane is visiting family at the time. As far as police can determine, the last person to see Yoshitaka alive, or at least to drink coffee with him, is Ayane’s apprentice, Hiromi Wakayama. Both women are in love with the victim. Only Ayane has a motive for killing him. But at the time of his death, she was more than 1,000 km from the crime scene.

Enter the team of seasoned Tokyo police Detective (Mr) Kusanagi, Junior Detective (Ms) Utsumi, and physics professor (Mr) Yukawa. Each bring complimentary skills and perspectives to the investigation. Utsumi the rookie combines observation skills with a down to earth attitude. Holmes-like Yukawa the physicist brings what he calls ‘consistent application of the process of elimination’, while Kusanagi brings experience, his ‘sixth sense’ as a detective. The case is complicated by Kusanagi’s feelings for Ayane, widow and prime suspect.

Salvation of a Saint has the allure of Sudoku at ‘diabolical’ level: you can’t figure out how to solve it, but you can’t give up trying because you know there’s a solution. It is a measure of Higashino’s talent that he sustains such a high level of suspense in what is a largely bloodless, puzzle solving exercise involving a great deal of dialogue.

I read Salvation of a Saint in order to review it for Radio National Books & Arts Daily on 19 Dec 2012. Even if I wasn’t already put off by ‘the Japanese Stieg Larsson’ palaver, I wouldn’t have picked up the book on the strength of the title. I hope this doesn’t dissuade other readers.

Salvation of a Saint is a fiendishly clever, engaging read with a satisfying twist. I’ll be looking for more Higashino in translation.

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About Angela Savage

Angela Savage is a Melbourne-based crime writer, who has lived and travelled extensively in Asia. Her first novel, Behind the Night Bazaar won the 2004 Victorian Premier's Literary Award for an unpublished manuscript. She is a winner of the Scarlet Stiletto Award and has thrice been shortlisted for Ned Kelly awards. Her third novel, The Dying Beach, was also shortlisted for the 2014 Davitt Award. Angela teaches writing and is currently studying for her PhD in Creative Writing at Monash University.
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7 Responses to Review: Salvation of a Saint

  1. Angela – I’m so glad this proved better than the cover blurb hinted. It really does sound like a good ‘un, and I need to read more Japanese crime fiction. You’ve given me a great idea for the next one to go on my list.

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    • angelasavage says:

      This was my first foray into Japanese crime fiction, Margot, and it made me want to read more. Part of its appeal is how different it is from what I usually read, like sushi is to fish and chips 😉

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  2. Bernadette says:

    mmmmm…you make a good case but I’m .still not quite tempted…I read this author’s previous translated book (Devotion of Suspect X) and was not enthralled.

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    • angelasavage says:

      Like I said to Margot, Bernadette, the appeal for me as crime fiction was in its difference – like visiting a foreign country. I wouldn’t want to live in Japan (as opposed to other parts of Asia), but I enjoyed visiting there metaphorically speaking.

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  3. kathy d. says:

    I, on the other hand, like The Devotion of Suspect X, thought it highly unusual and interesting. Much of it is a character study and psychological suspense revolving around one person. Given that so much crime fiction has the same pattern and rhythm over here, I enjoy changes in style and plot. This book fascinated me.
    I will read the second one when it gets over here.
    By the way, a friend is reading Behind the Night Bazaar. I was worried she’d be quite upset at the subject matter, however, she wrote me an email that she likes the book a lot. When I hear more, I’ll let you know, and I’ll ask her to write a review at Amazon.

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    • angelasavage says:

      Thanks for your comment Kathy. I agree about the appeal of Higashino’s unique style.
      And good to hear your friend likes Behind the Night Bazaar – music to this author’s ears.

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  4. Pingback: Review: Death of the Demon | Angela Savage

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