This Japanese mystery is a must-read.
Osamu Nonoguchi, a children’s author, discovers the body of Kunihiko Hidaka, a childhood friend and fellow author. Detective Kyochiro Kaga investigates and soon comes to suspect Nonoguchi though he seems to have a perfect alibi. The difficulty is identifying a motive. Kaga begins digging into the past and uncovers startling information about the two men’s school days and their literary careers. But theory after theory about the motive proves to be incorrect. Will the case ever be satisfactorily solved?
As a whodunit, the story is a locked room mystery which is solved rather quickly. It is when the book becomes a whydunit that it excels. The book could really be identified as a study of the psychology of murder. And what it reveals is chilling.
This struck me as very much a Sherlock Holmes mystery. There is little reliance on forensics. It is the determination and intelligence of the detective that solve the case. The novel is narrated through a series of journal entries kept by Kaga and Nonoguchi so the reader is given all the information Kaga has at his disposal. The reader is expected to be observant and try to make sense of the clues. (Hint: if something doesn’t seem quite right, it probably isn’t.) So many mysteries cheat by keeping information from readers; this was a problem with the other Higashino novels I’ve read (The Devotion of Suspect X and Salvation of a Saint). In Malice, however, there is no such ploy so the book really challenges the reader.
Because we learn so much background about Nonoguchi, Kaga and even Hidaka, they emerge as characters with depth, not the flat characters often encountered in second-rate mysteries. Kaga certainly earns the reader’s admiration and respect, and both the victim and his murderer will garner some sympathy.