Yasuko Hanaoka is a divorced, single mother who thought she had finally escaped her abusive ex-husband Togashi. When he shows up one day to extort money from her, threatening both her and her teenaged daughter Misato, the situation quickly escalates into violence and Togashi ends up dead on her apartment floor. Overhearing the commotion, Yasuko’s next door neighbor, middle-aged high school mathematics teacher Ishigami, offers his help, disposing not only of the body but plotting the cover-up step-by-step. When the body turns up and is identified, Detective Kusanagi draws the case and Yasuko comes under suspicion. Kusanagi is unable to find any obvious holes in Yasuko’s manufactured alibi and yet is still sure that there’s something wrong. Kusanagi brings in Dr. Manabu Yukawa, a physicist and college friend who frequently consults with the police. Yukawa, known to the police by the nickname Professor Galileo, went to college with Ishigami. After meeting up with him again, Yukawa is convinced that Ishigami had something to do with the murder. What ensues is a high level battle of wits, as Ishigami tries to protect Yasuko by outmaneuvering and outthinking Yukawa, who faces his most clever and determined opponent yet.
On one level, The Devotion of Suspect X channels the vogue for offbeat psychological thrillers: a cerebral criminal, a physicist who moonlights as detective, lengthy mathematical discursions, all framed by a prose style that is as cool as a blade’s surface. But behind this is an essentially conventional tale of obsessive love and loneliness, and it’s this which drives the narrative onwards the quasi-intellectual trappings don’t quite mesh with the narrative to make an organic whole. Even a significant twist towards the end doesn’t fundamentally alter how we perceive the preceding events. Columbo-like, we know the identity of the guilty party from the start: the pleasure of the story is in seeing if and how they deal with their consciences and the police investigation.
The excellent David Pittu works hard at extracting every nuance, shade, and layer from the serviceable text. He seems to be able to anticipate the listener's own imaginative perception just where you'd imagine a tremor in the voice, or something spoken through gritted teeth, or with a sigh, he delivers just that, and right on time. It's uncanny. Where he comes up short is his performance of Yasuko, the single mother victimized by her ex-husband. Pittu portrays her with a tongue-tied gentleness, all downcast eyes and suppressed sighs; this sorrowful passivity in such a central character grates, becoming a reductive reminder of her victim status. But its author Higashino who must take the blame for this; Yasuko is a former nightclub hostess, which opens up all kinds of character possibilities and tensions that just aren't present here. Her relationship with her teen daughter is vitally important to the plot, but the daughter herself gets short shrift until a dramatic development only serves to underscore her absence from the book's main narrative.
Another cipher is Dr. Yukawa, the physicist who is called in to offer gnomish words of wisdom in some kind of consultancy capacity. He’s the star of a series of books published in Japan, and it’s a testament to the underlying efficiency and dramatic pull of the core story here that, despite the limited ambitions of this particular outing, listeners will certainly want to hear more from this potentially gripping franchise. Dafydd Phillips
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