book: Newcomer (2001; trans 2018 Giles Murray) by Keigo Higashino

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Earlier this year I was blown away by Higashino’s novels Malice and especially Under the Midnight Sun, so I came to Newcomer with high expectations — perhaps unreasonably high expectations. I found the novel to be rather like Yuengling’s lager: very pleasant on the palate but somehow undistinguished.

A divorcee, Mineko Mitsui, has been strangled in the Nihonbashi precinct of Tokyo. No one can think of an explanation: she was a rather reserved woman, much liked by those who knew her. Inspector Kyoichiro Kaga, a newcomer to the precinct, is put on the case alongside a team of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police. Being Kaga, he pursues his investigation independently, following up on odd little inconsistencies and pieces of trivia that most cops might ignore.

In this aspect the novel reminded me of Roy Vickers’s old Department of Dead Ends stories, in which typically something trivial and easily overlooked, like a child’s discarded toy — in one memorable instance a rubber trumpet — brings about the downfall, years later, of a murderer who’s been thinking he’s gotten away with it.

This connection between Newcomer and the Vickers stories was emphasized for me by the fact that Newcomer is presented almost as a series of interrelated short stories, as Kaga wanders through the Nihonbashi area questioning the owners and employees of specialist shops and cafes about what seem to be irrelevances. Of course, they’re not irrelevances, as we discover in the final chapter/story, in which Kaga ties everything together. Additionally, in each of the earlier chapters Kaga’s inquiries generally reveal that something that might have seemed suspicious has in truth a completely different interpretation, one that helps families to heal their rifts and people to learn that they’re loved or how to love others.

All of this is very effective, and in Giles Murray’s translation, extremely readable. However, I came away from each story/chapter (except of course the last one) feeling a bit of the Yuengling effect: the stories were good, and absorbing in their way, but at the end of the day they weren’t really satisfying me, seemed to be much ado about not a very great deal. Moreover, the immediate consequence of each of the revelations was, for the families involved, a normalizing process — an estranged son rediscovers the value of his parents, for example, or a shopkeeper finds out that, despite all their bitter arguments, his mother and his wife actually care for each other. I found the cumulative effect of all these heartwarming endings began to feel overly cozy.

The text has lots of odd little proofreading errors — there’s even a couple in the front-flap blurb. Naughty St. Martin’s Press/Minotaur.

I dunno. Maybe I’m being a little bit harsh on the book. I did enjoy reading it and my interest seldom if ever flagged. It was a quick read, and its cellular structure suited it well for reading over Christmas Eve, Christmas and Boxing Day, when there were other, family-oriented demands on my time (such as the watching of seasonal classics like Le Père Noël est une Ordure [1982] — not one for the rugrats). It’s just that I was expecting a bit more from the author of Under the Midnight Sun, I guess.

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2 thoughts on “book: Newcomer (2001; trans 2018 Giles Murray) by Keigo Higashino

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