Friday, 27 December 2019

Book review: Malice, Keigo Higashino (2014)

I bought this book when I was living in southeast Queensland, when I didn’t read it. I pulled it off the shelf the other day and quickly finished it. It’s a crime novel but there’s more to it than murder. Like a lot of genre fiction these days it is determinedly engaged. This is a word that derives from the French term “engagĂ©”, a word popular in my twenties at university to denote books that had a strong political angle. The issue at hand in this crime drama being bullying, especially as it concerns children.

The story centres on two men who are interested in literature. Nonoguchi is a schoolteacher and the second man, named Hidaka, is a writer. The policeman investigating Hidaka’s murder, Kaga, is a former colleague of Nonoguchi’s.

Initially, Kaga thinks that Nonoguchi is guilty despite an account that he wrote to apparently put the cops off the scent. This turns out, however, to cause Kaga to have reservations despite appearances that convince other members of the force. In the end, Kaga has to interview a number of people from Nonoguchi’s and Hidaka’s past in order to uncover the motivation for the killing.

There are metafictional aspects to this book, it is no surprise to note, and what these do is to draw the reader’s attention to the nature of popular culture generally. Because one of the men has been accused of forcing the other man to ghost-write for him, you start to think about how culture works, about originality, and about literary convention. I found this side to the book to be very interesting.

Another interesting facet of this gem is the different ways that the narrative is delivered to the reader. One chapter of the book is Nonoguchi’s account of the night of the murder. Another chapter is a series of interviews Kaga conducts with people from Nonoguchi’s and Hidaka’s childhood. Another chapter is a set of notes from Kaga’s notebook. Diversity of points of view adds colour to the tale, and provides a varied texture that is a lot of fun for the reader to engage with.

In short, this is a fun read and it can satisfy both people who are drawn to crime fiction, as well as those, like me, who prefer literary fiction. It has something to offer everybody.

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