WSJ: Japan’s Bestselling Mystery Writer: Keigo Higashino

In The Wall Street Journal (WSJ), Keigo Higashino is featured with that asinine title, asking if he’s the next Stieg Larsson. Pardon me, but I loathe that label that’s slapped on any mystery writer outside of the US such is the case of Mr. Higashino who hails from Tokyo. Reading up on this author, his first translated work in the US is The Devotion to Suspect X. This title sounds quite intriguing. Check out the plot summary and also there’s an excerpt (same link above):

Yasuko Hanaoka is a divorced, single mother who thought she had finally escaped her abusive ex-husband Togashi. When he shows up one day to extort money from her, threatening both her and her teenaged daughter Misato, the situation quickly escalates into violence and Togashi ends up dead on her apartment floor. Overhearing the commotion, Yasuko’s next door neighbor, middle-aged high school mathematics teacher Ishigami, offers his help, disposing not only of the body but plotting the cover-up step-by-step.

When the body turns up and is identified, Detective Kusanagi draws the case and Yasuko comes under suspicion. Kusanagi is unable to find any obvious holes in Yasuko’s manufactured alibi and yet is still sure that there’s something wrong. Kusanagi brings in Dr. Manabu Yukawa, a physicist and college friend who frequently consults with the police. Yukawa, known to the police by the nickname Professor Galileo, went to college with Ishigami. After meeting up with him again, Yukawa is convinced that Ishigami had something to do with the murder. What ensues is a high level battle of wits, as Ishigami tries to protect Yasuko by outmaneuvering and outthinking Yukawa, who faces his most clever and determined opponent yet.

I’d never heard of him until now and he’s Japan’s bestselling mystery writer at the moment. His books have led to film adaptations and his writing has been recognized for awards. When the media or the publisher asks if this is the next Stieg Larsson? To me they are largely basing it on the sales of the author and not the writing. To me, stating that another author is “just like Stieg Larsson” is not a selling point to me. I’m disgusted by the media types and publishers who bandy around the Stieg Larsson name when doing write ups of new authors. Yes, the Larsson name grabs attention but it doesn’t always close the sale.

Rant-time. I strongly dislike the Stieg Larsson label or comparison because it raises expectations that maybe some of these authors cannot meet. I think this practice does a disservice to the author and to the readers who go in with unreasonably high expectations (or low expectations depending on your POV). Writers should be judged on their own merit(s) and talents and not unjustly compared to the writings of a publishing phenomenon of the likes we won’t see again for quite sometime so, please, with sugar on top: STOP labeling mystery writers outside of the US as the next Stieg Larsson! Based on the excerpt, I did buy this book and look forward to reading it.

7 thoughts on “WSJ: Japan’s Bestselling Mystery Writer: Keigo Higashino”

  1. Apparently this particular novel is exceptionally good and in a different class from the rest of his output – so we were told by one of the publishers who did not get the English translation rights but who had read this and other books by him.

  2. Stieg Larsson caught more than a few people by surprise (uh, me for one) because as a general rule in Library Land….Translations Don’t Move. They don’t. They’re shelf-sitters. And yes, I realize what that says about American readers ;) But yeah, I’m not sure the comparison is going to work here. I’ve definitely seen an upswing in interest for other Swedish crime writers….but the rest of the world? Not saying it won’t happen, but it hasn’t happened yet.

    That said, this book could do well with enough of a push. It got pretty good reviews across the board…..

  3. I agree with you – I ignore those kind of labels because they’re rarely accurate but I do think it could break an author’s career if it sets unreasonable expectations in people’s minds

    I saw that this book is available in audio format so will be downloading it soon – but it was on my wishlist long before I saw the ‘next Stieg Larsson’ label

  4. Yeah, I agree that it’s such a bad idea to compare Higashino with Larsson. Higashino is a very good mystery author, I’ll give him that, but Larsson? Please. I think you’re right, they are basing the comparison on sales. Higashino’s books are very popular at the moment, due to loads of film adaptations last five years. He has been writing for twenty-odd years, but didn’t get much attention until about ten years ago. His novel ‘Secret’ was his breakthrough novel.

    His novels are different from Larsson’s novels so yeah, this comparison isn’t a good idea. If I had to compare Higashino with… well, his body of novels is divided into two: a) science- and/or maths-based mystery thrillers (this type is very popular in Japan, along with financial thrillers) and b) character-driven thrillers.

    For the latter, I’d opt for Patricia Highsmith as a comparison. A cat-and-mouse game and moral ambiguousness are very much Higashino’s thing. For the former, I’d opt for… I don’t know. Who writes mysteries with a lead character who can solve mysteries through logic, science experimental tests and maths?

    I haven’t read ‘The Devotion to Suspect X’, but I did watch the film adaptation of one of his Galileo books. It was released while I was there a couple of years ago. I liked it. It’s apparently quite faithful to the novel. I prefer the TV drama series ‘Tantei Garireo’ (Detective Galileo), though. I was absolutely addicted. Some episodes were a bit iffy but overall, so fun.

    I tried to find a trailer with English subtitles, but could only find this clip where Yukawa (nickname: Galileo) (Masaharu Fukuyama) explains how a trick works to rookie detective Utsumi (Kou Shibasaki): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s64ZonkU1Kc

    I also read some of his other works including ‘The Sleeping Forest’, ‘After School’, and my favourite, ‘The Kidnapping Game’ (a tale of the fake kidnapping with a lot of twists; some predictable and some aren’t). G@me, a film based on this novel, is pretty decent.

    His first translated work in the US isn’t ‘The Devotion to Suspect X’, though. It’s ‘Naoko’ or in Japan, ‘Himitsu’ (‘Secret’). Not a typical mystery. It’s about a bloke who loses his beloved wife – Naoko – to a traffic accident which their high school daughter Monami survives. After the daughter returned home from hospital, he eventually suspects Monami may be Naoko. No incestuous crap in case you’re wondering, e.g. he never laid his hands on her. The mystery lies with whether Monami was Naoko or not. Basically, it’s an odd psychological thriller with an interesting twist in the end.

    *cough* Sorry about that. I’m quite excited The Devotion of Suspect X will be available in English. I’d buy a copy. Yay. :D

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