Titles count. As a title for a crime novel, Journey under the Midnight Sun manages to convey two things: locale (Japan, of course), and a certain poetic sensibility. But it is Keigo Higashino’s name which will suggest to those familiar with this novel’s predecessor, The Devotion of Suspect X, that they are in for something different from the usual run of detective fare: a journey not only to the heart of a dark criminal mystery – although it is certainly that – but also into the recesses of the human soul. The latter aspect is handled with discretion and decorousness — don’t pick this up if you’re looking for sleuths who ostentatiously lacerate themselves over the multiple mistakes in their private and professional lives. The author’s rigorously self-controlling Japanese detective in the new book, the cool Sagasaki, is a different kettle of sushimi, and there is a restrained approach at work here that is a million miles away from the heated drama of French and Italian crime fiction — not to mention some branches of the increasingly unbuttoned, excessive British variety.
The earlier book enjoyed massive success among Japanese readers and moved from bestseller status to become something of a national phenomenon, spreading far beyond the books pages of newspapers. This later book has not quite acquired that unusual status (though it has outsold Suspect X), possibly because it does not offer a vividly described picture of life in modern Japan – for the Western reader. However, there is enough local colour to transport us to a very different society from familiar Anglo-Saxon norms.
In an abandoned building in 1973 Osaka, the body of a murdered man is discovered. Working quietly and methodically, Higashino’s dogged detective sifts the available facts and discovers two people who appear to have clear links to the crime – the uncommunicative son of the dead man, and the charming daughter of the man principally in the frame for the murder. Then a long game begins: decades pass, the case remaining unsolved. But one man has not given up on the pursuit of the truth: Sagasaki, who carries tenaciousness to the point of obsession and is prepared to spend as much time as it takes to solve an insoluble case. (Memories here of Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s The Pledge, in which a similarly patient detective takes many years to bring a murderer to justice.)
Higashino himself is an enigmatic figure, avoiding interviews – which only adds to his mystique. However, his novels stand on their own merits — Midnight Sun and Suspect X have both been made into Japanese films, but the books are the thing: Higashino will hold you with his glittering eye, at just the tempo he chooses to adopt.
Journey under the Midnight Sun
by Keigo Higashino, translated by Alexander O. Smith & Joseph Reeder
Little, Brown, £13.99