After recently savouring Higashino’s “Salvation of a Saint”, I checked “Malice” out of the library on my last trip. I got what I bargained for, “Malice” is similar to his other book. Japanese author Hidaka is mysteriously killed and all the main suspects have an alibied up, innocent verisimilitude. It is no masterpiece, but if you are a sucker for a detective story, then you will enjoy this. I still have not gotten around to his most famous work (Pembroke Library did not have it in!). That is on my ever expanding list…
My longstanding, deep affection for Japan was calcified after an incredible trip there in 2013. I find Japanese culture compelling. From Cornelius’s flipped out zany madness at Glastonbury 1999 to Susuma Yokota’s entire catalogue. I find it easier to connect directly to Japanese music and movies as they are more visceral. “Ghost in the Shell” and “Spirited Away” are two favourites. Although not a Japanese movie, “Lost in Translation” gives me Goosebumps every time I watch it, conveying the majesty of a trip there, from Murray’s jet lag to falling in love but not being able to articulate why (what does he whisper in her ear?). Memories of Japan come flooding back after each viewing. The red lights flickering on the skyscrapers, the sound of fake birds chirping in the subway stations, the cleanliness of Shinjuku, the politeness and respect people show each other. Eating freshly prepared Sushi in a local restaurant. The temples in Kyoto, the bullet train to Hiroshima.
The only slight problem with reading Japanese books is the translation issue. It is impossible to evaluate Higashino’s prose. “Malice” is clunky in parts, yet that could easily be the medium. No matter, as the story is purely plot driven. In both of his books, the police take the main suspect out for a meal at a restaurant. A measure of how much trust there is in the Police and vice versa! Of course, when you consider that Japan has a 99% conviction rate, it makes you realise how much effort the Police have to go to in order to prosecute. They will not bring a case unless they are not absolutely certain to win. The detectives in “Malice” solve the case virtually three times, determined to find the correct motive, even after a confession. There is a scene where the Japanese detectives bow to Nonoguchi on the street! “What would people make of it?” he wonders. Contrast this with a Western cop sweating a suspect for information. Different worlds. In Japanese detective stories, as in their lives, the real story takes place in the minds of the characters. The dialogue is minimal throughout.
Reading is a constant theme in “Malice”. The two main characters are both authors. There is an interesting conversation about why children do not read as much as previous generations. Instead of the usual glib reason about technology being the culprit, the stark fact is that it is the parents not reading which is the real issue. They want their children to read as they like the idea of them reading, despite not doing it themselves. We know from how religion died out in Western civilisation, that the “Do as I say, not as I do” strategy will not work. Which books would you recommend to your children if you do not read yourself? Certainly not the right ones.
Think about when the police are forced to read all of the books that Hidaka has published for research purposes. They joke that they have never read as much in their whole lives. Likewise, Hidaka’s barber friend from his school days who says that he would love to read more, but just does not have the time. Hidaka is killed due to Nonoguchi’s jealousy over his fame as a writer. He was so envious of his talent that he attempted to kill his reputation, seeing this as a fate worse than death for an author.
In “Salvation of a Saint”, Higashino uses only the omniscient narrative. Here, he oscillates between styles in virtually every chapter. Some are written in the first person, some are omniscient. Lots of chapters are just letters from characters writing their own version of events. It is a refreshing approach to take and unsettles the reader.
Nagging at the back of my mind whilst reading “Malice” was that it was almost identical to “Salvation of a Saint”. Yet, arguably the whole detective genre has been variations on a theme since Poe’s “The Purloined Letter” in 1844. Higashino does not reach the beautifully symbolic heights hit in that oeuvre. “Malice” is an entertaining read, which stirred shimmering echoes of Japan in my mind. As my dad says, this is a “Good ‘aul yarn”.