「赤い指」is the seventh book of the detective Kaga series “加賀恭一郎シリーズ” (かが・きょういちろう) by Keigo HIGASHINO. Before starting the review of this novel, I would like to say a word about the series.
First, you don’t have to read them in order. Even though they follow a chronological order (starting when Kaga is still a student), it would not impact the comprehension of each story to read them separately or in a random order.
I also find that the books are very different from each other in terms of structure. The first two novels were very similar with two main focalisations that alternate (a chapter seen from the point of view of Kaga, then a chapter seen from the point of view of another character). The third book, 「悪意」was very unique and different from the other novels. The following two books were very similar: we read the story from the point of view of another or other characters of the story and we don’t know what detective Kaga is up to. The sixth book was a collection of short stories. Again, in each short story, we are not given the possibility to follow detective Kaga. We see how he works and how the investigation progresses through the eyes of the other characters of the story that are not close to him.
All this to say that the books of the Kaga series upset everything I was used to when it comes to crime novels. To me, the thrill came from the investigation I was participating in. Going through the clues with the detective, making deduction with him, be dumbfounded by the solution and so on.
But more than once, Keigo HIGASHINO places the reader on the side of the suspects, and it also happens that the reader should know who is the criminal right from the beginning.
I also feel that detective Kaga is a kind of supernatural human, like other great fictional detectives before him. But alas, the reader is not allowed to be a supernatural human, like Kaga. We are on the other side, the side of the too human emotions, the passions and the fears that lead to crime. Higashino places the reader among the human characters, the ones that make irrational choices and have to deal with it. Maybe this is one of the reasons that make me love the series so much.
Now let’s take a look at 「赤い指」!
We have here a new kind of structure: two focalisation that alternate: a character closely linked to the case and a detective… which is not Kaga but works with him. For the first time since ages, the reader is allowed to see Kaga working. Even if we don’t know how he thinks, we are very close to observe his methods, and this was an absolutely good point of the novel to me.
As always in Higashino’s novels, I found that the characters sounded real. Without altering the pace of the novel, we are given sufficient insights into the life, the past and the problems of the main characters to understand how they feel. It becomes easy to connect with them and the complexity of the characters inner self and emotions is a part of what makes the book so interesting.
This is particularly true with「赤い指」as it questions Japanese society through the depiction of its characters. An interesting theme is present through the whole novel: it shows how people have to take care of their ageing parents, with both the lack of specialised institution and the sense of duty that weigh on most families. These reflexions brought a real plus to the novel.
But of course, the main feature of interest does not lie in the social criticism but in the case. Even though the reader knows very soon what happened, the novel is still thrilling and I guess that this is where Higashino’s genie resides. There is a tension that keeps growing through the novel, the reader is in turns wondering: “will I caught the murderer?” and “will I be caught?”. But while it seems that we know every detail of what happened since the beginning, everything might not be as it looks like and a shocking detail might be waiting for us at the end. This is another reason why the Kaga series is so exciting. The reader is not supposed to only take a side and share a character’s point of view, he has to use his critical reasoning, read between the lines, pay attention to details. In other words, we are challenged to find the truth by ourselves and not rely on what the characters say or think.
To conclude, I would simply say that I loved this novel and read it very fast. I never read a Japanese novel so quickly. I am tempting to say that it was one of the most, if not the most, easy novel of the series (from a Japanese level point of view) but it could also be that I improved my reading skills since I read the first one. Particularly, reading several other authors, including challenging ones, certainly expanded my capacities a little and returning to a Higashino novel felt like returning to something easy and familiar.
If you are interested in the Kaga series, my favourites are 「悪意」(though I felt this one was a little more difficult to read than the others), 「私が彼を殺した」and 「赤い指」.
This is the beginning of the second chapter when we are introduced to one of the protagonists: 前原昭夫 (まえはら・あきお). Of course, there are parts more difficult than others, but if you can read this, I think that you can read the novel.