Detective Kaga, reputedly onetime all-Japan kendo champion, who was introduced to the world in Keigo Higashino’s earlier novel Malice, returns in Newcomer, wearing a perpetual laidback expression and dressed in short-sleeved shirts worn over T-shirts.
A standout element of Newcomer, translated masterfully by Giles Murray, is its inventive structure that’s unlike any other book by Higashino, at least the ones that are available in English translations. The suspects largely belong to a trading district – there’s a rice cracker shop, a traditional Japanese restaurant, a china shop, a clock shop, a pastry shop, and a handicrafts shop – and the initial segments of the novel, pivotal to the plot, are each devoted to one particular shop.
From the moment Kaga begins the investigation, the suspect list keeps getting longer and by the end, nearly everyone working in the business district of Nihonbashi seem like they could have committed the murder.
There’s a relentless search for a criminal but the powerful emotional core at the centre of each story in this novel is what keeps us glued to it from beginning to end. In fact, that’s where Higashino’s ingenious mysteries tend to shine above several of its contemporaries; it’s not just the identity of the culprit that beguiles the reader but also the whys and the hows that lay buried underneath an act of crime.
As it often happens with writers who are celebrated globally, some of their less popular works tend to exist under the shadow of their one big bestseller. Higashino’s 2005 novel The Devotion of Suspect X has become some sort of a modern classic now, especially after its English translation was released in 2011. That book won Higashino the highly regarded Naoki Prize and the Honkaku Mystery Award in Japan and has been adapted into films in at least four languages already, while more versions are in the works (including a Hindi one directed by Sujoy Ghosh).
Newcomer is that veiled chef-d'œuvre, patiently waiting in a place of concealment within Higashino’s bibliography, to be found.
In case you’ve already read Devotion, you might want to pick up a few more titles from Higashino’s vast body of work – whether it’s the mind-bending Salvation of a Saint, the deceptive game of cat and mouse that’s Malice, or the sprawling epic Journey Under the Midnight Sun.
Read Newcomer, but also read everything he has written that you can find under the sun. This little column would have served its purpose then.
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