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Book review: 「虚ろな十字架」by 東野圭吾

「虚ろな十字架」is both a typical Keigo HIGASHINO and a surprising one. Typical in its setting, its characters and the way the story unfolds. From the very beginning, I felt that I was on familiar grounds, reading an author that I appreciate and whose writing style seems to be unchanging throughout the years. The novelty of this novel was in the topic it chooses to handle: the capital punishment. The whole story, though absorbing in itself, can also be read as a debate over the death penalty. In this respect, the novel has a social dimension and an interest that reaches much farther than the pleasure of reading a mystery novel.

As for the story in itself, it reminded me of some other novels by Higashino that I have read. It is not a traditional detective story with an investigation made by the police. Murder is to be solved, but instead of tracking down a murderer, the reader will start a journey into the characters’ past. Also, Higashino forces his characters to face difficult moral choices, a feature that I also liked in the novel 「パラドックス13」.

「虚ろな十字架」is not a classic crime-investigation novel, and even though I found the novel absorbing from beginning to end, someone looking for a traditional detective novel might find the pace of 「虚ろな十字架」a bit slow. But if you are interested in debating over the death penalty, this novel has the advantage of displaying diverse reflexions in favour of and against it without being boring or artificial. It also places the reader in a position where we have to take a side and make our own judgement.

Sometimes, I find that authors build a rapid story just to incorporate a message in the novel. As a consequence, the characters and the plot are not convincing and the novel hardly disguises the essay it should have been. Let me just say that thss not the case in 「虚ろな十字架」where the characters, their story and the choice they made or have to make are the chores of the novel.

I enjoyed reading this novel very much. I have read so far eleven books by Higashino, and I can say that none disappointed me. This one was as easy to read as the others, which is also certainly one of the reasons of Higashino’s success in Japan. For us Japanese learners, it means that Higashino’s novels do not have additional difficulties like long descriptions, refined vocabulary or implicit things.

In three words, this novel offered me a captivating story, an interesting social topic and the pleasure to read in Japanese without many struggles… it was a very satisfying reading experience!

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