Coffee and arsenic

January 29, 2015 Leave a comment Go to 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.

  1. January 30, 2015 at 4:34 am

    I reviewed this book 2 years ago, loved it, I love smart thrillers of this type. The French title is neat. Glad you discovered it


    • February 1, 2015 at 11:33 am

      Thanks. I must have seen it on your site.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. January 30, 2015 at 8:15 am

    You know I was looking forward to your review, and therefore I added it to my list. I love the bickering couple right before a dinner reception. I always wonder about that whenever I’m invited to one. It seems to me that we will not be encountering the super detective in this story, right? It feels like a collaborative work to find the truth, or am I wrong?


    • February 1, 2015 at 11:47 am

      I hope you’ll like it.
      They don’t bicker, that’s the problem. The husband is too autocratic for bickering. “bickering” means having a two way conversation and that’s not in his mindset.
      No there’s no super detective and that’s a relief, in a sense.


  3. January 30, 2015 at 10:18 am

    I think I’m going to have to investigate this author as I like the sound of this very much. Was this novel your first by Higashino?

    It’s interesting to read your comments about the depiction of women in Japanese society and Ayane’s character too. I’ve just posted on Kawabata’s Beauty and Sadness, and there’s some very dark and disturbing behaviour going on in that novel too.


    • February 1, 2015 at 11:51 am

      It was my first Higashino.

      I haven’t read Beauty and Sadness, the only Kawabata I’ve read is Kyoto. (And I remember nothing of it) Your post is waiting in my inbox, I’ll get to it soon.


      • February 1, 2015 at 12:46 pm

        Oh, no worries. I only mentioned it as I it seems to be a theme that runs through some of the Japenese fiction I’ve read. There are parallels with some of Yoko Owaga’s stories too.


  4. January 30, 2015 at 11:55 am

    Interesting book, Emma. Loved your review. I don’t think I have read a Japanese crime novel. This looks quite interesting and gripping. It looks like both the husband (the victim) and the wife (the suspect) are not really likeable, from what you have said. The investigating team looks quite interesting. I have heard about how Japanese women are treated and it is sad to find that being corroborated by this novel. Thanks for introducing me to a new-to-me author.


    • February 1, 2015 at 11:54 am

      I think it’s my first Japanese crime novel.
      I enjoy reading about the trial-and-error scientific experiments done to decipher if Ayane could have done it or not.


  5. February 1, 2015 at 7:14 pm

    Thanks for this Emma: I haven’t had the best of it trying to get into Japanese fiction, and I came to the conclusion that perhaps Japanese crime would be a better entry way. This sounds interesting–esp since the two detectives on the case are the opposite sex, and the male detective dismisses the wife as a suspect whereas the female detective sees the possibilities..
    It would seem fairly easy to poison at a distance if you live alone, so I’m guessing that the focus isn’t how so much as how to drop the trap and nail the guilty.


    • February 1, 2015 at 9:42 pm

      I think you’d like it. I found again this uneasiness I have with Japanese characters in books. I can’t quite put words on it. It was easier to accept in crime fiction.


  6. February 1, 2015 at 7:30 pm

    It looks like this is one of a series..


    • February 1, 2015 at 9:43 pm

      Yes. A famous one. I think one of them was made into a film.


  7. February 1, 2015 at 10:55 pm

    I read a review of The Devotion of Suspect X the other day. I prefer the sound of this one.


  8. February 3, 2015 at 10:12 pm

    Is it the first in the series? Presumably it’s the detectives who’re the ongoing characters? If so that’s interesting, given it sounds like a fair chunk’s not from their perspective.


    • February 5, 2015 at 1:44 pm

      Hi Max,

      That’s not the first in the series. The detectives and the scientist are the ongoing characters.
      The author switches to Ayane’s or Hiromi’s POV from time to time and it’s interesting to see what they think or feel.


  9. February 6, 2015 at 9:22 am

    This sounds excellent. I’m so glad you reviewed it. I have never read a Japanese crime novel before. I like that it sounds so old-fashioned in a way, what with the arsenic poisoning. That will make a nice contrast with the description of the Japanese society.


    • February 7, 2015 at 7:44 pm

      You’ll probably like it. I don’t know much about Japanese culture, so almost everything sounds exotic to me. So far, I have difficulties to make links between the books I’ve read. Usually, after several books from the same country, you start seeing common points, habits that seem everyday life. I’m not there yet as far as Japan is concerned. I’ve only noticed that food and meals are often described.


  10. February 8, 2015 at 9:04 pm

    The first of the opus is ‘Le Dévouement du suspect X/The Devotion of Suspect X ‘ with the scientist. But Kaoru Utsumi is not yet present.
    This one is terrific .. suspects are very attaching


    • February 8, 2015 at 9:48 pm

      I’ve read a review of The Devotion of Suspect X but it wasn’t as appealing as this one.


      • February 9, 2015 at 7:01 pm

        I enjoyed the ‘fight’ that takes place between the professor of math and Yukawa. But I was hoping Yukawa would not find the solution…


        • February 9, 2015 at 10:42 pm

          I was really interested in discovering how Higashino would get out of this. It’s a bit like Le mystère de la chambre jaune.


  1. December 29, 2015 at 11:28 pm

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