I’m that difficult codger in the corner who, alone in all the world, wasn’t entirely bowled over by the first of Keigo Higashino’s “Detective Galileo” novels to be translated into English, The Devotion of Suspect X: I thought it was okay but nothing more than that. I’ve enjoyed several of Higashino’s non-Galileo novels since then, however, and so decided the other day that I should be brave and try another in the series. I’m glad I did, because I found Salvation of a Saint agreed with me far more than its predecessor.
Successful businessman Yoshitaka announces after one year of marriage to his wife, internationally renowned quilter and quilting teacher Ayane, that he’s going to divorce her because she hasn’t become pregnant; so far as he’s concerned, the only reason to have a wife is in order to start a family, and this she’s proven herself incapable of doing. Accordingly, he’s taken up with her young assistant Hiromi, who with luck will be more fertile and give him the kids he craves.
By this time I was already thinking he’d richly deserve everything he might get—including, say, dying of arsenic poisoning—and, sure enough, that’s exactly what happens to him, hurrah!
The obvious suspect is Ayane, the wronged wife, but at the time of his death she was hundreds of miles away, visiting her parents. Suicide or accident seems out of the question, and Hiromi makes an unlikely murder suspect. But how could Ayane possibly be guilty?
Tokyo Metropolitan Police homicide cop Kusanagi can’t imagine how it could be done, and accordingly veers more toward the belief that there must be some other murderer; besides, although he doesn’t like to admit it to himself, he’s falling rather rapidly in love with Ayane. His assistant, Utsumi, a relatively new recruit who has brains to spare, is more objective, and at once spots a few discrepancies that point toward Ayane’s guilt.
But, as Kusanagi is at pains to explain to Utsumi, her hunches are meaningless unless the cops can work out how on earth the poison could be administered by someone hundreds of miles away. So Utsumi takes the problem to local physics prof Manabu Yukawa, “Detective Galileo,” who’s helped out Kusanagi on puzzling cases before but is currently in a snit with him and indeed the cops in general. Utsumi’s able to tempt him into taking an interest in this case only because she tells him that Kusanagi has fallen for the suspect. This Yukawa must see.
Personally I found the working out of the mechanics of the “impossible” crime—Yukawa’s part of the investigation, in other words—less interesting than the rest of the tale: the exploration of the motive, the backstory and the interpersonal relationships among both cops and civilians, with among these the backstory, and what the cops learn from it, being especially fascinating. That said, once Yukawa works out how the deed could have been done, the particulars add richly to the rest of the plot, and to our understanding of Ayane’s complex character.
Ayane and Utsimi are the characters who, for me, kept the book dancing along. Like Kusanagi, I found myself attracted to the fascinating figure of Ayane and not really caring whether she was guilty of the crime or not—after all, the victim really was asking for it, no? Utsimi, with her sparkling cleverness, is tremendous fun to be with; you’d not find me complaining if Higashino gave her a case of her own to solve.
Salvation of a Saint isn’t a major contribution to crime literature, but, harking back as its plot does to the Golden Age of Detection, complete with an “impossible” crime, it offers a few hours of jolly good entertainment.