Malice, Keigo Higashino

Review Written By
Karen Chisholm

Meticulously crafted, carefully revealed MALICE is part who / part whydunnit steeped in Japanese sensibility and style. Measured and formal, there is something of the ritual dance about MALICE as Police Detective Kyochiro Kaga investigates the brutal murder of bestselling novelist Kunihiko Hidaka. Instantly recognising Hidaka's best friend, and discoverer of his body (alongside Hidaka's wife), Osamu Nonoguchi and Kaga were teachers at the some high school a few years ago. Now an author himself, Nonoguchi, and Hidaka's wife have rock solid alibis. But there's quickly a sneaking suspicion that Kaga takes issue with many of the seeming facts of the case, and he's prepared to execute the dance steps adroitly until he gets to the truth.

Fans of classic Japanese detective fiction (Suiri shōsetsu) as it came to be known post World War II, will be aware of how popular this form of literature is in Japan. In the late 1950's Seicho Matsumoto began a movement known as "the social school", with the 1980's seeing a switch to a more "orthodox school" with an emphasis back on classic crime fiction structures, and an interest in more self-reflective elements. It could be argued that MALICE sits astride both of these schools - with the exploration of backgrounds, youthful indiscretions and bullying that is revealed in this plot (part of the why), and the who being drawn out by classic questions, answers, consideration and investigation. Ultimately it's really the why elements that provide much self-reflection, particularly on Japanese culture, and the mistakes that are made when covering up childhood misbehaviour.

This will be quite a change for readers more in tune with fast paced, big risk, action aplenty types of investigations. The intricacies of many interactions here, the mannered and measured style may require a slowing down of expectations, as will the idea that whilst the who is pretty darn obvious very early on, and some of the details of the how will come to you as you go, this is more about the why - and in that area, Japanese crime fiction like MALICE provide a fascinating insight into the differences, and the stark similarities that occur in all societies.

Year of Publication
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Acclaimed bestselling novelist Kunihiko Hidaka is found brutally murdered in his home on the night before he's planning to leave Japan and relocate to Vancouver. His body is found in his office, in a locked room, within his locked house, by his wife and his best friend, both of whom have rock solid alibis. Or so it seems.

Police Detective Kyochiro Kaga recognizes Hidaka's best friend. Years ago when they were both teachers, they were colleagues at the same high school. Kaga went on to join the police force while Osamu Nonoguchi left to become a full-time writer, though with not nearly the success of his friend Hidaka. But Kaga thinks something is a little bit off with Nonoguchi's statement and investigates further, ultimately executing a search warrant on Nonoguchi's apartment. There he finds evidence that shows that the two writers' relationship was very different than the two claimed. Nonoguchi confesses to the murder, but that's only the beginning of the story.

In a brilliantly realized tale of cat and mouse, the detective and the writer battle over the truth of the past and how events that led to the murder really unfolded. Which one of the two writers was ultimately guilty of malice?

Review Malice, Keigo Higashino
Karen Chisholm
Thursday, June 13, 2019

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