"All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them."- Galileo Galilei (1564-1642)
From all the Japanese mystery writers who clambered over the language barrier, Keigo Higashino appears to be one of the few who actually met with success and popularity on the other side.
A translation of an award winning and somewhat controversial novel, Yogisha X no kenshin (The Devotion of Suspect X, 2005), was published in 2011, which collected favorable reactions across the board – from readers of contemporary thrillers to fans of the traditional mystery novel. A translation of Akui (Malice, 1996) came out last year and a fourth translation is scheduled for 2016, but the second release has been languishing on my to-be-read pile ever since its release in 2012.
Seijo no Kyusai (Salvation of a Saint, 2008) is the second, novel-length entry in the Detective Galileo series and has a plot that frames an impossible poisoning as an inverted mystery, which occasionally channeled the spirit of Agatha Christie. There's even an eternal triangle at the core of the plot.
Yoshitaka Mashiba has one, fiery wish: to find a wife and have children. That's why Yoshitaka’s marriage to Ayane is made under the condition that she had to be pregnant within a year or he would divorce her. After nearly a year, it becomes obvious to Yoshitaka that the deadline won't be met and began to court Hiromi Wakayama. One of Ayane's students from quilting school.
As the saying goes, "hell has no fury like a woman scorned." Ayane puts this piece of proverbial wisdom into practice by poisoning her husband, but the reader isn't show how she managed to spike the coffee with arsenous acid (i.e. arsenic) – while being miles away and surrounded by witnesses, that is.
The initial investigation is for Police-Detective Kusanagi and his assistant, Koaru Utsumi, who go over the crime-scene and statements with a fine toothcomb, which makes for a pleasant police procedural reminiscent of Ten to Sen (Points and Lines, 1958) by Seicho Matsomoto.
The police investigation focused mainly on how the coffee could've been poisoned, but every attempt at separating the essential facts from the side issues showed how frustrating a simple, straightforward looking poisoning can be. It's a complex and impossibly constructed house of cards, but its construction was as fun to watch as its destruction at the hands of Detective Galileo.
Detective Galileo is the nickname of Manabu Yukawa, assistant professor of physics, who made his scientific mind available to Kusanagi in previous investigations, but it's Utsumi contacting the physicist – convinced Ayane used a trick to cover her tracks. As Yukawa observes, "criminal tricks are different from magic tricks," because the audience of a magician never has an opportunity to examine the stage where the illusions took place. However, "with a criminal trick, investigators can pore over every detail of the crime scene until they’re satisfied." Some trace always remains.
Yukawa provides a delightful, false solution involving a time-delayed trick to release poison in a water kettle, but some readers will have a problem with swallowing down the final explanation.
The explanation for the poisoning is as clever as it's original. The clues that were embedded in the characterization made it feel inevitable and I would place it in the same league as Ronald Knox's "Solved by Inspection," collected in The Oxford Book of English Detective Stories (1990), but I would actually understand the people who would dismiss it on grounds of being unrealistic – because even I was there for a moment.
However, the final chapters translated to a convincing argument for the reader to suspend their disbelief and I went along with it... willingly.
What more can I say? Salvation of a Saint is a first-rate example of what the genre can produce when stories aren't dismissed for having something as vulgar as a plot. While Higashino's work is modern in appearance, it's the plotting that makes him closer to Western mystery writers of the past than from the present, but hey, lets not flog that horse again. Not now anyway.On a final note, the book slated for release next year is Manatsu no Hoteishiki (Midsummer’s Equation, 2011), but there's already a Dutch translation available. So I just might go for that edition instead of waiting for the English release in 2016 and reading it somewhere in 2019.