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Book review: 「私が彼を殺した」by 東野圭吾

This is the 5th novel of the detective Kaga series by Higashino Keigo. If you are not familiar with Higashino Keigo, he is certainly the most famous contemporary Japanese writer of mystery and detective novels. His books are systematically translated into Korean, but sadly, there are only a few translations available in English or French…

Detective Kaga series is maybe the main series of Higashino Keigo. The first novel of the series was published in 1986 and the last one only some years ago. Reading the books of the series in order allows us to see how Highashino Keigo himself evolved and how the society changed, too. For example, the use of cellphones or other “new technologies” is slowly introduced and used in his novels.

I would say that the first three novels of the series,「卒業」, 「眠りの森」 and 「悪意」, where more or less focused on Kaga himself and you could say that he was the protagonist or one of the protagonists of the novels. In this three novels, we get to learn a little about Kaga’s past and life and I recommend to read them in the order of publication.

In 「どちらかが彼女を殺した」 and 「私が彼を殺した」, however, it seems that Higashino Keigo decided to focus entirely on the case and didn’t let us draw near to Kaga’s past or feelings or thoughts. In 「どちらかが彼女を殺した」, there is only one focalization. The novel is told using the third person and we only see Kaga through the eyes of another character. In this novel, there were only two suspects and both the protagonist and Kaga tried to know which of the two was the culprit.

The novel 「私が彼を殺した」 presents a lot of similarities with 「どちらかが彼女を殺した」. First, the title very resembles the previous one, and we are warned that there will be three suspects. But what is different is the focalization. We have three different narrators, each speaking using the first person. It will be obvious from the beginning that these three narrators are the three suspects in the case…

Now, imagine the position of the reader: you are supposed to read about a criminal case but the story is told by the three suspects! As a reader, you have no other choice but to rely on what you read. What is more, each narration begins where the previous one stopped. This means that you don’t know what the suspects have done during the time when they were not the narrator.

Are we to trust what the narrators say? Can the reader find out who is saying too little or who says too much and gives clues? Anyway, This is a novel where the reader must definitively be attentive to everything that is said, and work his or her way through the case. The reader is supposed to take the role of a detective and find the culprit…

My feelings

This is one of the best detective stories that I have ever read, and I am not saying that because I am a fan of Higashino Keigo but because I couldn’t stop thinking of the case even when I was not reading the book. I am tempted to say that this is my favourite Higashino’s book so far… but there was 「悪意」, too, and I can’t choose between the two.

All I can say is that I read this book in less than a week (I mean, the book was in Japanese, so consider it to be very fast), it is the kind of novel that you can’t stop once you started it. For once, I was not focused on understanding the novel in Japanese, but on finding who done it. Detective story readers surely want to read novels where they can find the culprit themselves, and this is the case in most of Higashino’s novels and this one is no exception. I would even say that the reader has to be active.

I highly recommend this novel to everyone who can read in Japanese. As Kaga does not appear that much (in fact, I always felt like I was the detective of the story, not him), there is no need to have read the previous novels to read this one.

Conclusion

I just don’t understand why Higashino’s novels are not massively translated into English or French or any other western languages. His books are always covering the tables of Korean bookshops, each new publication is a best-seller and former novels belong to the steady-sellers shelf… I may be mistaken but as far as I know, only few novels of the Kaga series are available in Western languages and 「私が彼を殺した」has not been translated into English. I know that a French publisher translates some of Higashino’s work but they do not focus on the Kaga series. 

We are still so fascinated by Agatha Christie’s Murder of Roger Ackroyd as if nothing could be done that would be half so good. But what Higashino Keigo does is also incredibly daring. He plays with narration codes and offers us an exciting reading experience.

If you like detective stories, if you like to hunt down a suspect, collect clues and work your way through a case, if you like to feel that you are maybe manipulated and enjoy it, if you like to see protagonists gather in a room to discuss the case and reveal the culprit à la Agatha Christie… then learn Japanese. 

 

1 Comment

  1. Pingback: Currently reading: 私が彼を殺した by 東野圭吾 | Inside That Japanese Book

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