Book Review: Malice by Keigo Higashino

According to the back of this book, Keigo Higashino “is the bestselling and most widely read novelist in Japan.” Add to that that I have never heard of him before. From what I could gather, Higashino is the James Patterson of Japan. I stumbled upon this book in the library and read it on a lark, mostly because I was hoping for a light murder mystery. Unfortunately, this is anything but a light mystery. It is the first book in the Detective Kaga series and the only one which has been translated into English yet.

Release: 1996 (translated 2014)

Synopsis: Famous novelist Kunihiko Hidaka is brutally murdered days before he is relocating from Japan to Vancouver. He is found in a locked room of his home by his wife and best friend, Osamu Nonoguchi. Police Detective Kyoichiro Kaga sets out to solve the baffling case, playing cat and mouse with an always present and cunning killer.

Review

I went into this book expecting a hard-boiled mystery, and yet what I got was a psychological mystery. While the case is surprisingly simplistic, it is also masterfully done, confounding the reader and delving deep into the psychology of the murderer. The book is more about understanding why a person might commit such a crime and less of a clue-based detective story. The characters are exceptional, and my only complaint was that I wish I could read it in Japanese.

I won’t get into too much detail in this review, because I don’t want to spoil everything. However, I may spoil the first part of the book slightly, mostly because the murderer is revealed 90 pages in, and then the question is why the murder was committed. This is quite different from most murder mysteries that I read. Usually, the murder is committed in the first 50 pages, and then the murderer is revealed in the last 50. This book did not follow the basic formula of a murder mystery, and I loved it for that.

The story is told from two viewpoints: Osamu Nonoguchi (the close friend of the victim) and Detective Kaga.

Nonoguchi is an unreliable narrator, and a great one at that. By far, he was my favorite character in the book, because I was constantly disbelieving every word he wrote, wondering whether it was true or not. He is also the character the book–and Detective Kaga–fixate on the most.

Detective Kaga is a great protagonist as well. He is intelligent, similar to a Sherlock Holmes, but his investigation seems to be about understanding the murder as opposed to simply solving it. He sees through lies clearly, and doesn’t cease until he has uncovered the full truth.

The book is more of a psychological game of cat and mouse between the detective and murderer.

Saying that, my one and only complaint with reading this book could be blamed on the translation. The book constantly jumps from past tense to present tense within both narrations, which threw me out of the story slightly. Again, since I’m not sure if it’s the translation or the original, I won’t complain about it too much.

But perhaps my favorite part of this book was the stories woven into this mystery. Both the victim and the murderer are authors, and so Kaga delves into both of their works to understand the case, looking for the inspiration behind the fiction. It’s brilliant how the book weaves fiction within the fiction with the main mystery, and being a massive book-lover, I enjoyed this theme immensely.

Overall, this book was a pleasant surprise to read. It is slightly slow-moving, and don’t expect to find a fast-paced thriller in this book. Saying that, it’s well-written, surprisingly complex for how simple the story actually is, and it was fascinating to read. If you are a fan of psychological mysteries, I highly recommend this book!

Have you heard of this author? He’s supposed to be so famous in Asia, and yet I’ve never heard of him before this. Also, have you read any mysteries from Japan which you enjoyed? Let me know your thoughts down in the comments, follow my blog for more madness and, as always,

Best wishes in your life full of adventure,

Madame Writer

12 thoughts on “Book Review: Malice by Keigo Higashino

  1. I have not heard of this author, but I think I saw this title when I searched for best Japanese or Asian crime mysteries or thrillers. Since I love psychological mysteries, I bet I will love this book, and I like how you say the book explores reasons why people commit crime.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, it’s on many ‘best Japanese mysteries/thrillers’ lists, and after reading it I know why. It’s a fascinating book, and my favorite part is the psychological examination of why crimes are committed. If you do read it, I’d love to read your review of it!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I read this book about one year ago and I enjoyed it. This kind of detective novel is my cup of tea. Keigo Higashino’s books have been very popular in China. I’m suprised that there is only one English translation of his novels.
    He’s so talented at telling stories.

    I’ve read three books written by him, including this one, and I enjoyed them. I have to say, his styles are diverse! His most famous novel in China, is Journey Under the Midnight Sun(びゃくやこう), which is more complicated, dark and sad than Malice. He created impressive protagnists in it. Different from the former, Miracles of the Namiya General Store (ナミヤ雑貨店の奇蹟), is more of a warm mystery. I don’t know if it is correct to call it mystery, but it does confuse reader at first. It’s a delightful, touching read. There are Japanese movies based on the two novels, but I haven’t checked them out. If you check them out some day, I hope you enjoy them.😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s so cool that you’ve read it! I didn’t know his books were so popular in China as well. I want to look up more of his novels, though I don’t think many have been translated in English yet. I’ll check out both of the books you recommended. And I agree, he’s so talented as telling stories!

      Liked by 1 person

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