Books / Reviews

Malice

by Tim Hornyak

Special To The Japan Times

“The incident took place on April 16, 1996, a Tuesday.” This meditative, clever novel from the author of 2011’s “The Devotion of Suspect X” begins with a journal entry by Osamu Nonoguchi, a children’s author who happens upon the body of his friend and fellow writer, Kunihiko Hidaka, facedown in his office.

Malice, by Keigo Higashino Translated by Alexander O. Smith.
Minotaur Books, Fiction.

A paperweight has been used to bludgeon him before his strangulation, but his office was locked. Both Nonoguchi and Hidaka’s wife Rie, also present when the corpse was found, seem to have perfect alibis.

Here we are in a classic locked-room mystery, and we soon learn that there is far more to the friends’ relationship than collegiality. Nonoguchi becomes a suspect in an investigation by the tireless, obsessive police detective Kyoichiro Kaga; their conversations make up a delicious game of cat and mouse, which intensifies as Kaga finds a collection of manuscripts that are not what they first seem.

The story, written in an unusual fashion as a series of journal notes by these two characters, centers on the themes of author rivalry and the long-term effects of childhood trauma. Higashino’s specialty is building carefully wound backstories to his plots and imbuing his main characters with psychological depth, a consolation for readers who may bemoan the paltry descriptions of minor characters and locations such as Tokyo.

But the tale is breezily translated by Alexander O. Smith and makes for a grabby read as Kaga, convinced of the murderer’s identity about halfway through the story, delves deeper and deeper into the killing, its outlandish motive and the source of an ineffable malice that hangs over the crime.