Malice by Keigo Higashino
Translated by Alexander O. Smith
Genre: Crime Fiction, Murder Mystery
Three of my reader (and writer) friends have recommended Keigo Higanshino's works. I picked up Malice at random without reading the blurb or reviews on Goodreads. I’m glad, though. It’s rare for me to read a book without scanning through the 3 and 2-star reviews.
Malice is about the death of a famous novelist, Kunihiko Hidaka. Hidaka and his wife, Rie, are all set to shift to Vancouver from Japan. It was their last day in the country.
Hidaka’s best friend and a small-time writer, Osamu Nonoguchi, and Rie discover the body. Osamu says that he had come to meet Hidaka as he got a call from the man saying they had to discuss something. Rie, who was waiting for Hidaka in a hotel, has no idea about any of this. She gets back home to meet Osamu when he calls her to ask about Hidaka’s whereabouts.
Detective Kaga enters the scene. He and Osamu have a shared past from their teaching days. Kaga becomes a detective, while Osamu becomes a full-time writer (writing children’s stories) with moderate success.
What starts as a simple case takes numerous turns as we get to see new truths being uncovered. The story is narrated by Osamu and Kaga in their own ways. The style of narration is distinct and matches their professions and characters.
The killer is caught soon enough, and the confession is recorded. But the case is far from over. We need to know why the crime has been committed and how. Was it premeditated, or it a crime committed in the heat of the moment? Why does the crime scene say one thing, and the clues point to the opposite?
Does it matter why the crime was committed when the killer is the same person? Detective Kaga knows that he needs to know the truth. And the problem is that he is running out of time. He has to get things straight before it’s too late.
As we delve deeper into the book, we see a lot of themes- bullying, insecurity, jealousy, a writer’s constant struggle to get published, the pressure of having to churn out one successful novel after another, etc.
But the writer doesn’t dramatize any of the themes. In fact, he uses a detached approach to talk about the issues. Even the most hurtful bullying antics are dealt with in a casual tone. It shows how across the world, bullying is a common problem and how people do not give it much thought. While not all readers liked the approach, I certainly did. This allowed the story to stay focused on the crime and the intent. This also gave the reader a multitude of perspectives of the victim and the killer.
Detective Kaga is trying to understand their real personalities, and so are the readers. We already start to have an idea about what and why by then. But we still need confirmation from the killer.
Creator- WW Monthly Archetype
How can we bring together the monthly theme at Writer’s Workout and this book? We are discussing the ‘creator’ this month. It could be explored in many ways.
In Malice, Hidaka and Osamu are creators. They are writers, after all. They create stories and characters and make them vivid. While that’s one aspect, our killer is also a creator. The killer creates scenarios one after another to steer the investigation in the way they want it to proceed. Detective Kaga is pushed down the wrong path more than once. It’s his persistence to make sure that every tiny thing is accounted for that makes him realize that he is being manipulated.
Imagine a killer meticulously planning the crime and also making sure that the motive for the crime is what they insist it is and not something even sinister. The killer is the creator in the book. They create and establish alternate personalities for themselves, the victim, and other characters. Once we start to see beyond the setup, we connect the dots.
Using unreliable narrators can be tricky, but the author pulls it off with ease. I’ll leave it to readers to conclude who among the characters is a reliable source and who is not. It does seem that the victim, the killer, and the detective have a past they would rather not talk about.
What’s the truth? The answer to this question is revealed a little at a time without dumping the information on the reader. By the time we reach the end of the book, we’ll be armed with enough details to know what Detective Kaga reveals. There are no sudden twists. There are no final punches or rug-pulling to shock the readers. For me, that’s the best kind of mystery.
Overall, Malice is an entertaining, lucid, flowing, and easy murder mystery. We can’t compare Kaga to Poirot or Holmes. He doesn’t have their larger-than-life presence. But he is capable and efficient. Or is he?
About the Author: Srivalli Rekha is a blogger, writer, and amateur photographer. She got a degree in MBA and MA English Literature and chose to become a writer and a poet instead of a corporate professional.