Having enjoyed Higashino’s “Salvation Of A Saint” recently, I checked “Malice” out of the library on my last trip. I got exactly what I was looking for. “Malice” was extremely similar to “Salvation Of A Saint”, which begged the question, is it a wise or unwise move for an artist to play it safe and formulaic if their formula is exceptionally good? This was no masterpiece but if you are a sucker for a detective story, dig in. I still have not gotten around to his most famous work which has now been added to my ever expanding list…
I find Japanese culture compelling. From Cornelius to Yokota, it intrigues me. “Ghost In The Shell” and “Spirited Away” are two favourites. Although not a Japanese movie, “Lost In Translation” gives me goose bumps every time I watch it as it conveys the majesty of a trip there. Speaking of which, what did Murray whisper in Johannson’s ear at the end? Visually, it nailed that feeling of walking around Tokyo. 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. I love the way the Japanese have a meliorist focus on the individual. Take someone like Jiro Ono who has spent his entire life trying to improve and perfect the art of cooking sushi. Similarly, Murakami has dedicated his life to improving his writing. It is a good philosophy to go through life with. Japanese society has an excellent balance between the individual and the collective.
There will always be a slight problem with reading Japanese books due to the translation issues. It is impossible to truly evaluate Higashino’s prose as an English reader. Murakami’s “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle” (reviewed elsewhere here) has entire chapters missing in the English translation! “Malice” was clunky in parts, yet that could easily be the medium. Thankfully, the story was purely plot driven. In both of his books, the police took the main suspect out for a meal at a restaurant. Think of how much trust there is in the Japanese police to do their job! Or is it that they realise that everyone is flawed? Moreover, the Japanese detectives actually bowed to the suspect Nonoguchi on the street! “What would people make of it?” wondered one of the police offers. Perhaps the lesson is that if both civilian and police showed more respect on an individual level, then we would all be better off. 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 that they are not absolutely certain to win. The detectives in “Malice” solved the case three times over, so determined were they to find the correct motive.
Reading is a constant theme in “Malice”. The two main characters were both authors. In Japanese detective stories, as in their lives, the real story took place in the minds of the characters. Consequently the dialogue was minimal throughout. There was an interesting conversation about why children did not read as much as previous generations. Instead of the usual glib nonsense about technology being the culprit, the stark fact is that it was the parents who did not read, which is the biggest issue. They wanted their children to read as they liked the idea of them reading, despite not doing it themselves.
The police were forced to read all of the books that Hidaka had published for research purposes. Whilst doing so, they joked that they had never read as much in their whole lives. Likewise, Hidaka’s barber friend from his school days, who had said that he would love to read more but just did not have the time. Hidaka was 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, believing this as a fate worse than death for an author.
In “Salvation Of A Saint”, Higashino only used the omniscient narrator. Here, he oscillated between different narrative styles in virtually every chapter. Some were written in the first person, some were omniscient and lots of chapters were just letters from characters writing their own version of events. It was a refreshing approach to take and unsettled the reader.
Arguably the whole detective genre has been variations on a theme since Poe’s “The Purloined Letter” in 1844. Undoubtedly, Higashino did not reach the beautifully symbolic heights hit in that oeuvre. “Malice” was an entertaining read, one which stirred my memories of Japan. As Pop used to say, “Malice” is a “good ‘aul yarn”.