I remember when watching that hugely effective and enjoyable Malayalam movie from a couple of years ago, Drishyam, the insinuations floating around that it was copied from a certain Japanese thriller. While I didn’t know it at the time I picked up this book, it turns out this book was the one they were all harping on about. After finishing this in one frustrating day (made frustrating by external factors, but redeemed by this clever and page turning whodunit) I can safely say that while the basic premise is the same, the movie stands well on its own as a very fine take on the subject.
And that subject is that of a crime committed and hidden by intriguing plotting and devising a perfect alibi. The crime here is murder, and the reason this is entirely different to most murder mysteries is the simple fact that we know, from the first couple of chapters, who committed it.
Yasuko Hanaoka, a divorced, single mother lives with her daughter, Misato, in modest lodgings and works in a restaurant/take-out place. She used to be a nightclub hostess before turning to her current job. It was there that she came across her initially charming ex-husband, Togashi, and married him. However, once they fell on bad times and his increasingly violent nature started surfacing, she left. But he hasn’t. From time to time he finds out about her whereabouts and approaches her, mostly to harass her till she gives him money. When the same happens again, mother and daughter eventually snap and kill him in a fit of rage and self-preservation. However, once the deed is done, they realize their brilliant mathematician neighbor, Ishigami, is aware of it. He, though, is obsessed with Yasuko and decides to help her hide the crime rather than turn herself in. The case goes to Detective Kusanagi, who immediately suspects Yasuko and starts to make inroads into her activities on the fateful day. Ishigami devises ways to create a perfect alibi for them so that suspicion is drawn away from Yasuko. He didn’t figure on running into a fellow scholar from his school days though. Dr. Manabu Yukawa, a physicist nicknamed Doctor Galileo is approached quite often by the police and especially Kusanagi for help with intractable cases, and he makes it an almost personal mission to unravel this one. The ending is an absolute sucker punch and may not be what anyone expects.
This is a fascinating game of cat and mouse, punctuated with some great characterizations of a bunch of intriguing protagonists. Ishigami is presented as a mysterious genius whose expressions give away very little and remains unflappable for the most part, thus making it tough for the reader (along with Kusanagi) to ascertain his true motivations or mental makeup. Kusanagi is a character written probably as the standard issue police detective, but is endowed with enough humanity to make it a redeemable ploy. Doctor Galileo, who initially seemed a peripheral character, comes into his own towards the latter part of the book and is the pathway to the details of the crime for the reader. In fact, it appears this is part of a series of books in the Doctor Galileo canon, so maybe that isn’t a surprise.
It has been a while since I finished a book in one day, but this one was so unputdownable that I zipped through it. The ending, as I said, may leave the reader with mixed feelings or downright despondency, but there is no doubt it’s an ingenious way to wrap things up.
A must read, especially if you’re a thriller lover.