Japanese crime fiction is very different to its British and American counterparts, and this devious murder-mystery is definitely unconventional – and delightfully indulgent. The newcomer of the title is Sergeant Kaga, a compassionate and perceptive detective who’s recently arrived in Tokyo. While the lead policemen rush and bluster to solve the violent death of a female divorcee, Kaga quietly observes the dynamic interactions in the background. He explores the sidestreets of Tokyo’s historic quarter, uncovering the quiet secrets of the everyday folk who run its tourist boutiques, sandwich bars and artisan workshops. As Kaga discovers family disputes, minor crimes and intimate misdemeanours, so he zigzags towards identifying his true target: a killer who otherwise might walk away scot free.
This is an elegant and accomplished whodunit, intricately plotted and almost perfectly presented. The story ambles – apparently aimlessly – through the lives of the witnesses, bystanders and family, but there’s method in this meandering. The accumulating clues clearly indicate the guilty culprit, and justice is seen to be served… but that’s not really the point of this story.
Each chapter functions almost as a stand-alone short story, and each has its own satisfying resolution while contributing to the overall investigation. In keeping with old-fashioned fiction, the story progresses at a gentle pace; each layer adding to the intensity of the overall effect. It probably won’t please readers who prefer rapid-fire page-turners – this is an intellectual and emotional puzzle; a parable from the modern world but one which harks back to the conventions of golden age crime fiction.
It’s also a fascinating glimpse into another society; a world which hasn’t been entirely overwhelmed by western conventions, populated with distinct personalities and a convincing sense of place. Newcomer delivers splendid characterisation, an understated and intelligent protagonist, and a compelling plot. You can’t do much better than this.
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
Newcomer by Keigo Higashino is available at Amazon