mystery

Malice by Keigo Higashino

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I don’t often get the opportunity to walk into a bookstore and pick a book randomly off the shelf to buy. There are two reasons: 1) My own doing as I am either directly targeting a library book, used book sale, or online shop for a specific title and 2) retail books are quite pricey. But I went in with the mission of selecting a book on a whim. The first book I tried was a Swedish thriller with solid writing but uninspired plot and then the second attempt was Malice by Keigo Higashino.

I haven’t read a ton of Japanese literature, especially anything contemporary, but this whet my appetite to continue down a Japanese rabbit hole.

The novel touches on a character element that I really enjoy and that is the unreliable narrator. Also, Keigo Higashino clearly has been influenced by a personal favorite unreliable narrator story of mine, “In a Grove,” by Japanese author Ryūnosuke Akutagawa.

Malice is a locked room sort of mystery with a famous and accomplished author being found murdered in his home office. The front door to the house is locked and the two people, his wife and friend, both have solid alibis even though they are most likely suitable suspects. The novel alternates between the narratives of the aforementioned friend and the detective working the case. The murderer is fingered early on, but the mystery is focused more on the why and how.

The book is layered and with each new section, something is pulled away and revealed, but the new information also frustrates the case as sometimes what the detective finds out muddles what is already known. I also say Malice is like “In a Grove” as there is a testimonial aspect to the plot with people beyond the friend and detective testifying, so to speak.

My experience with Japanese literature is limited, but by the few examples I’ve read, the writing is not heavy. A reader feels as if every word is chosen for a reason and with Malice, the narrative didn’t feel clunky like many procedurals can appear. Of course, there is a constraint when an unclear mystery is presented, but I didn’t feel as if the gears were grinding and often crime novels can read very fabricated (I sometimes cringe at the bad writing).

Even if you are not one for crime or detective novels, I would still recommend this to you. I get a bit bored with this tired characterization of detectives as being grumpy, chain smoking loners who always jog in hooded sweatshirts at night. The detective in Malice is a former middle school geography teacher. Also, even though this book published in the US in 2014, it originally came out in the mid-1990s in Japan and the reference and reliability of a fax machine is delightfully antiquated. It is ann interesting thought to consider how storytelling must change as technology changes as well.

Has anyone else read books by Keigo Higashino? It appears that he is quite prolific and popular in Japan. I must admit, I reached out for this book while gazing through the shelf looking for Patricia Highsmith books when I saw this cover. The description and the fact that he’s been nominated for Edgar Awards piqued my interest.

The Shadow of the Wind | Carlos Ruiz Zafón

Do not ask me how I came across this book; all I remember is reading the description and thinking how intriguing it sounded. Which, once you read the book (or this little write-up), the mysterious origins of its way into my life seems entirely fitting.

The 2001 novel by Spanish author, Carlos Ruiz Zafón, is exquisitely translated by Lucia Graves. The prose is fluid and elegant without being flashy, and I was sucked into the story right away.

The novel moves around in time and space but is mostly rooted in Barcelona over the first half of the Twentieth Century. A young boy, Daniel, is taken by his father to the secret Cemetery of Forgotten Books.

[T]his place, books no longer remembered by anyone, books that are lost in time, live forever, waiting for the day when they will reach a new reader’s hands.

Daniel is allowed to choose one book of his own. He finds The Shadow of the Wind written by Julián Carax. When he inquires about the author himself, Daniel soon becomes dragged into a mystery that finds its origins thirty years earlier in the 1910s. Also, while he is poking around in Barcelona’s community to find more answers, the dastardly Laín Coubert, “the man without a face,” is desperately after Daniel’s copy which he has full intention of destroying which he has done to all of Carax’s previous copies.

Like a good cover blurb, this book is filled with death, murder, mystery, corruption, yada yada. Because Zafón was masterfull at wrapping a good story together, I couldn’t help but think back to my own book that I have been working on FOREVER. The Shadow of the Wind winds itself around different characters, different decades, and at times, different perspectives. In an expertly manner, the author divulges information or holds it close to his chest to not reveal too much right away. I recommend this to everyone but especially people who are working on their own project that might becoming a massive, out-of-hand endeavor.

The characteristic that stuck out to me the most was the plotting. The prose was beautiful and Zafón’s plotting really made this book a delight. What really stood prominent was when to hold back information and when to release it. This led to a natural feeling of “detective” on the part of the reader. We have Daniel who is also looking for clues and is acting as our surrogate.

Finally! This is the first book for The [International] Reading List.

Murder on the Beach

One of my most popular posts was The Mysterious Bookshop. To catch you up to speed–The Mysterious Bookshop is a store in lower Manhattan that specializes in crime/mystery fiction. Today, one of my loyal readers (read: my mother), forwarded me an email with information about a similar store in Delray Beach, Florida. It is called Murder on the Beach. I’ve never been there so I can’t vouch for it but it looks like they have some great events coming up. If anyone in South Florida visits this store, drop me a line and let me know what you think. Enjoy!

273 Pineapple Grove Way | Delray Beach, FL | 33444 | 561.279.7790