Sunday, October 6, 2013

Love (And Murder) In Tokyo

This week's Sunday Guardian column.

I’d heard much about Keigo Higashino’s murder mystery, The Devotion of Suspect X, but I read it only last week, my interest being piqued by the news that Sujoy Ghosh was to direct a Bollywood version. The Japanese film based on the book had earlier done well in its home country but is little known outside it; there’s a Korean remake too, as well as reports that Hollywood has evinced interest.  Inevitable, I suppose that Bollywood would raise its hand, too. To be fair, it’s exactly the sort of plot that would appeal to the person who’s made Kahaani.

The 2005 novel was published in an English translation by Alexander O. Smith in 2011 after it went on to sell a staggering 2 million copies in Japan. It’s the third of Higashino’s “Detective Galileo” books, the detective in question being one Manabu Yukawa, a brilliant, eccentric physics professor who aids the Tokyo police force and whose character traits clearly owe a little something to Sherlock Holmes. He isn’t centrestage during the entire book, however. The plot concerns itself with the predicament of Yasuko, a divorced single mother, and her neighbour and not-so-secret admirer, Tetsuya Ishigami. In a heated moment during an altercation with her bullying former husband, Yasuko finds that she’s strangled him with an electrical cord; the ever-watchful Ishigami then steps in and asks mother and daughter to let him handle the fall-out. No, that isn’t a spoiler: this occurs near the start of the book, with the rest being given over to the intricate web that Ishigami spins to keep the truth from coming out.

The police identify the mutilated body found on a riverbank as that of Yasuko’s husband, and the two detectives on the case piece together evidence that seems to point the needle of suspicion to Yasuko. One of the detectives contacts Yukawa, known as Detective Galileo, who takes a keen interest in the case because he finds that the neighbour, Ishigami, was a former classmate of his with the reputation of being an ingenious mathematician. (“It was odd to hear Yukawa talk about someone even more brilliant than himself.”) Now begins a cat and mouse game between the physicist and the mathematician -- and this, with its twists, turns and mathematical analogies, is one of the chief pleasures of reading the book. There are scarlet herrings, contested alibis and a surprising and innovative twist as Galileo uncovers the lengths to which Ishigami will go to protect those he cares about.

A poster for a 1966
 Bollywood film
Higashino’s prose – or the English version of it – is crisp and clear, gliding along effortlessly from event to event. There’s a great deal of attention paid to pacing and revelation of information in the form of well-structured scenes, and he also shows us the differing points of view of the main characters. (An exception to this is Yasuko’s daughter, who remains something of an enigma.) As such, it’s easy to see why a film-maker would be interested in the material. The transposition of locale is another matter, however. Higashino doesn’t exactly fill his novel with atmospheric Tokyo detail, but there are still several references to low kotatsu tables, bento-box lunches, bars and squatters along the Sumida River, to take just a few examples, and part of the fun of reading the novel is the evocation of Japanese life. (You can't take the Swedish out of Swedish noir, for example, which is why David Fincher set the Hollywood version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo in Stockholm.) Still, the plot of Higashino's novel isn't culture-specific, which means a change of mise-en-scene isn't unsurmountable. Other details that will probably be changed for Bollywood include Yasuko working as a waitress in a takeaway lunchbox restaurant to which she bicycles daily.

Ingenious and absorbing as The Devotion of Suspect X is, it does dip into sentiment at the very end, to do with unrequited love and sacrifice. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the Hindi version was titled Balidaan.

1 comment:

Ashna Banga said...

I wouldn't want to see a Bollywood remake :|

I'm kind of fascinated by this new trend of having mysteries where the crime and criminal are clear beforehand. Even some books by James Patterson are like that. Not sure if I like them as much, but they're nevertheless fun and different to read. :)