It is very difficult to objectively review a book whose cover has a blurb “The Japanese Stieg Larsson” from a publication as venerable as The Times (presumably, London). Keigo Higashino is also the author of The Devotion Of Suspect X, the multi-million copy bestseller that was also made into a movie (needless to say, hugely successful).
Salvation Of A Saint is the story of a millionaire killed by arsenic poisoning, which has only two suspects – the victim’s wife and his lover (for whom he was leaving the wife). It doesn’t take a Sherlock Holmes to hazard a guess who the killer might be. Even if you are wrong, your second guess has to be correct. The beauty of this mystery novel is that the solution comes through stray observations, throw-away comments and simple assertions about human nature. Why would an obsessively neat housewife not put her champagne flutes away? Why would a man insist on bottled water to make coffee? How does a woman feel when she is unable to bear a child? As Higashino goes about building seeming inconsequential conversations and describes quotidian events, he builds a tapestry of clues to unravel later. And when he does that, the logic of deduction is masterful.
Having said that, there is a problem. This is a mystery novel, not a thriller. The build-up of events and characters is a little too slow to get sucked into the story right from the beginning. For me, the reputation of the author was the only hook that kept me on till the very end.
Except for the last quarter of the novel, the pace is leisurely and there are just not enough clues for the readers to get their brain cells into play. Blame it on the breathless pace of the TV crime dramas (which kill off several people in one episode), my expectation of a crime story has come to include a lot more ‘happenings’ – murders, reveals, twists, turns. Salvation doesn’t offer any of that.
In itself, this should not have been a problem. There are many detective stories that gloss over the ‘inactive’ period with the eccentricities of the hero and his interactions with his cronies. Hercule Poirot’s obsessive neatness, his sartorial style, his exasperation with Hastings all added to the allure and often, one looked forward to these descriptions to add a bit of spice to the detection. Likewise, Sherlock Holmes’ cocaine addiction, Feluda’s banter with Jatayu, Byomkesh’s social milieu were all grist for finely etched episodes that framed the detective stories beautifully. I felt the premise of Detective Galileo – a University professor swearing allegiance to science and scientific methods to solve crimes – was too commonplace. His interactions with the police officers were again not sharp enough to look forward to. And indeed, he just isn’t there for long enough to make an impression.
Salvation has a brilliant twist in the end but the scale of the crime, the pace of the detection and the charm of the protagonists just did not have enough thrills. A likeable enough book but not one that will keep you up past your bedtime to know the killer.