Book review: Salvation of a Saint by Keigo Higashino

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 11 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 03 December, 2012, 6:54pm

Salvation of a Saint
by Keigo Higashino (translated by Alexander O. Smith)
Little, Brown

There are no high-speed car chases, shoot-outs or serial killers on the loose in acclaimed Japanese author Keigo Higashino's intriguing third murder mystery featuring "Detective Galileo".

Instead, Salvation of a Saint is a poised, beautifully drawn yet increasingly complex police procedural into the murder of a businessman.

Yoshitaka Mashiba has been found poisoned - a partly drunk cup of coffee lying spilt on the floor beside his body - inside his locked house. His beautiful, devoted wife, Ayane, who had helped him to host a happy dinner party only days before, was many hundreds of kilometres away at the time he died; one of her close friends, the equally beautiful Hiromi, found the body.

Police have a suspect or two in mind, but no clues to lead to the killer, or explain how he was poisoned. It is "the perfect crime", says Higashino's idiosyncratic hero, physics professor Manabu Yukawa, a modern-day Sherlock Holmes who is often called in by the police to help them solve their most baffling cases.

Like his previous novel, The Devotion of Suspect X - an award-winning psychological battle of wills also featuring Yukawa and made into a film in 2008 - this new offering is more of a how- and whydunnit, rather than whodunnit.

As in Suspect X, Higashino weaves in deft humour, quirky details about Japanese life - the police leave their shoes outside the front door when investigating a crime - and even a touching romance; this time it involves lead detective Shunpei Kusanagi, which troubles his colleague Kaoru Utsumi, as Higashino, in his simple, unfussy style, explains.

"Detective Kusanagi," she began, staring Yukawa in the eye, "is in love" - with their suspect.

Former engineer Higashino can certainly, er, engineer a tricky brain-teasing puzzle, which even Yukawa struggles to solve.

Readers who prefer more thrills and spills of blood from their detective novels may need patience to persevere with this. But this sedately paced book offers its own pleasures and leaves a powerful bitter-sweet taste - and not a little frustration as you go back to reread the bits where you missed the all-important clues to "howdunnit".