« Happy Thanksgiving! | Main | Heads You Win by Jeffrey Archer »

Newcomer by Keigo Higashino

First published in Japan in 2001; published in translation by Minotaur Books on November 20, 2018

A woman named Mineko is murdered, leaving behind an ex-husband and an estranged son. The victim was eating rice cakes before she died. Perhaps the person who brought her the box of rice cakes was her killer. The police, however, aren’t sure who brought them, so Detective Kaga begins to ask questions. Kaga is a newcomer, having only recently transferred to the precinct, but his intense curiosity will soon help him discover everything there is to know about the neighborhood.

Naho lives with her father and grandmother, who all work together in the family rice cake shop. The day after an insurance man named Takura picks up a hospitalization certificate from Naho’s grandmother, Kaga comes to the shop to inquire about the time of Takura’s visit. Could Takura have been the killer?

A young restaurant employee named Shuhei bought rice cakes from the shop at the direction of his boss, a man named Taiji. Could Taiji have been the killer? And what about the restaurant manager, Yoriko, who seems to have meddled with one of the cakes? Or Mineko’s friend, who promised to help Mineko get established after her divorce, but suddenly decided to get married and move to England? Are the friend and her fiancé suspects? And why did Mineko move to the neighborhood where she was killed without making contact with her nearby son?

Kaga is Tokyo’s Columbo, trying to add up all the loose ends, make sense of inconsistencies, and annoy witnesses by repeatedly turning up to pose new questions. As he prowls around the neighborhood where the crime was committed, his investigation takes him to a home goods store where Mineko ordered chopsticks, a cutlery shop where she bought expensive scissors, a clock shop where an owner claims to have seen Mineko while walking the family dog, a pastry shop where Mineko was a regular customer, and a handicrafts store where someone bought a top.

Kaga uncovers secrets and lies everywhere he goes, generally involving domestic drama, although the secrets aren’t necessarily relevant to the murder. In his own way, he helps people overcome the burdens of the secrets they conceal. Kaga thinks that finding ways to comfort people in their daily struggles is part of a detective’s job (an attitude that may be unique to Japanese police detectives, or perhaps to fictional Japanese police detectives).

I loved Newcomer’s episodic structure and its atmospheric depiction of a “premodern” Tokyo neighborhood. The story portrays women who are torn between traditional roles and a desire to lead interesting lives in a male-dominated workplace. In a number of the linked episodes, Keigo Higashino also illustrates the family tensions that arise as younger generations depart from Japanese traditions to pursue their own lifestyles.

But this isn’t a social justice novel or a detailed exploration of changing norms in Japanese society. Newcomer is an entertaining version of a Detective Columbo story that weaves Japanese culture in a Tokyo neighborhood into a murder mystery. Kaga is an entertaining character and his self-effacing interaction with a jealous colleague makes him all the more likeable. The plot is equally entertaining. Newcomer is the kind of police procedural that lets the reader follow a chain of evidence while wondering where it will all lead.

I became a fan of Higashino when I read The Devotion of Suspect X. Newcomer cements my fandom. The novel should appeal to fans of crime fiction generally, as well as being a treat for fans of Japanese crime novels.


PrintView Printer Friendly Version

EmailEmail Article to Friend

Reader Comments

There are no comments for this journal entry. To create a new comment, use the form below.

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
All HTML will be escaped. Hyperlinks will be created for URLs automatically.