Keigo Higashino’s Journey Under the Midnight Sun earned a stellar review from The Straits Times during the weekend. My review doesn’t deviate much from it. This is superlative work from Higashino whose English translated works are events for me. I was cursorily browsing in Kinokuniya after a wedding function and my eyes lighted up the moment I chanced upon the author’s name on a huge tome of a book. I bought it immediately and started to timetable the next two weeks’ schedule around the book.
When an Osaka pawnbroker is found dead inside a bolted warehouse, few people care to mourn him, and there’s no obvious suspect. Middle-aged detective Sasagaki is assigned to the case, not realizing the murder will become a constant irritant over the next two decades. In a way that is initially unclear, two children — the pawnbroker’s emotionally suppressed son, Ryouji, and his alleged mistress’ equally strange young daughter, Yuhiko — are the lynchpins in the mystery.
Unlike The Devotion of Suspect X, Salvation of a Saint and Malice which relies on a continuing staple detective figure, Journey Under the Midnight Sun is a standalone. However, like all of his other books this new one employs his signature mind-bending technique. It is not a whodunit, more of a whydunit and howdunit. Higashino’s audacious method of forgoing the revelation of the perpetrator/s as suspense and entrusting the reader to want to find out the why and the how is an exceptionally delicate act. He does this by making you care about his multi-layered characters, even the minor ones. No character is parachuted in just to move the plot along like numerous book and film narratives out there. It may not be apparent at first but the moment the book ends you would have realized every character has a purpose in the huge scheme of things and if you take just one of them out the story would have lost its wielding power.
Journey Under the Midnight Sun is a huge challenge for me at first. At 540 pages, it is the heaviest book by Higashino and also the densest. The myriad of characters feels never ending and Higashino doesn’t ease you in with the opening paragraphs as to how they fit in. You just have to trust that you are in good hands. On hindsight I would advise a new reader to make notes of characters’ names and one significant detail as one reads on, because I tend to forget who they are later on, especially with these Japanese names. There are characters that are introduced very early and some 200 pages later on they appeared again in a major capacity and I got confused. But the failure is mine, not the author’s.
Journey Under the Midnight Sun resembles a giant puzzle, lava always bubbling under its surface. You know the final picture but at the same time you push some elements away and might even entertain the notion that crime does pay. The dread and melancholy is thick with potency, and you can slice it with a knife. When the pieces and different threads finally converge in a flurry, the revelations come thick and fast with meaning and repressed emotions erupted in torrents.
It is hard to express my feelings when I finished the last page yesterday. I sat there dazed, time on a standstill, feeling completely lost. This is an extremely satisfying read on so many levels. It was only then that it suddenly struck me why the title of the book carries so much latent meaning. The line between right and wrong, love and hate is blurred. I found out that the book was published in 1999, inspired a Japanese TV series in 2005, a Korean movie in 2009 and a Japanese movie a year later. The Chinese translation in 2012 was one of the top 10 best-selling works of foreign fiction in China that year. Why the heck did it take such a long time to be translated and published in English? Oh well… It is better late than never.
PS – I did watch the Japanese series but Higashino’s literary devices can’t be replicated in a cinematic medium, which is wisely so. Nonetheless, it is an excellent TV series. A review I wrote can be read here.