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Coffee and arsenic

January 29, 2015 23 comments

Salvation of a Saint by Keigo Higashino (2008) French title: Un café maison.

I don’t remember where I’ve discovered Keigo Higashino although I’m sure it’s through a book blog. Anyway. This is my contribution to Tony’s January in Japan and guess what, there’s an article about Higashino just here.

Higashino_caféSalvation of a Saint is a crime fiction novel set in Tokyo. It opens on a repudiation scene between Ayane and her husband Yoshitaka. They’ve been married for a year and since Avaye isn’t pregnant yet, Yoshitaka is leaving her. He had told her beforehand that he would leave her if a baby wasn’t on its way during the first year of their marriage. I guess it’s a new way to envision the proverbial biological clock. Now he’s found someone else, and that someone else is already pregnant. The chapter ends with Ayane thinking “I love you very deeply. What you just told me broke my heart. Now I want you to die too.”

This happens just before they expect guests for diner. Classy guy, this Yoshitaka. They invited the Mashibas and Hiromi Wakayama, Ayane’s employee. This diner is a subtle form of torture for Ayane since the Mashibas recently had a baby.

The morning after diner, Ayane leaves Tokyo for a few days to visit her family in Sapporo. This trip wasn’t scheduled but it’s understandable given the circumstances. Yoshitaka stays behind, sees his mistress and she’ll be the one to find him dead in his apartment. He was poisoned by arsenic-laced coffee.

The police arrive on the scene and the inspector Kusanagi is in charge of the investigation. He’s drawn to Ayane and in the eye of his young colleague Kaoru Utsumi, he’s too quick to write her off from the list of suspects. She thinks he’s blinded by his attraction to Ayane. To keep the investigation on track, she seeks the help of a scientist, Yukawa. He has already helped the police before and he’s friend with Kusagani. Kaoru wants to figure out how the arsenic arrived in Yoshitaka’s coffee and if Ayane could have poisoned her husband at distance.

That’s all I’ll say about the plot. Salvation of a Saint is well-crafted. I wanted to know if and how Ayane had killed her husband. The police dig into Yoshitaka’s life and past relationships attempting to get to know the victim. The picture is not pretty. He looks down on women. They’re either a means to sexual fun or a living oven for baking his future babies. It’s hard to feel sorry for the guy’s death, especially when you’re a woman. In this book, Higashino doesn’t give a good image of the Japanese society when it comes to women. Here they are wombs or obedient wives. Kaoru has a hard time working with Kusanagi who tends to dismiss her suggestions and analysis. It’s hard to be female in this police department.

The plot has several twists and turns and the relationships between the characters are muddy sometimes. Yoshitaka is certainly not a saint but Ayane seemed quite creepy to me as well. Her reactions to events are off. She never reacts the way the reader expects and she appears to be cold. She’s not really likeable either. I also rejoiced in Yukawa’s participation to the investigation. It brought fresh air and a bit of craziness in the novel. The dynamics in the investigation team was interesting to follow just as it was fun to read about his scientific experiments to find out if and how Ayane could have scheduled the poisoning.

Salvation of a Saint is a classic crime fiction novel with strong plot and intriguing characters. I liked it a lot and had a great time reading it. The English title must reflect the original since I’ve seen the same one in other languages. I can understand why the French title is different: Le salut d’un saint isn’t a good title from a marketing point of view. It’s confusing since salut means hello and salvation. And I suspect that such a title with religious connotation would be a put off for French readers except if it’s on a book by a pulp fiction writer or by San Antonio.

Great reading time.

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