In comparison to Keigo Higashino’s “The Devotion of Suspect X”, the planning and execution of the murder in his “Salvation of a Saint” is no less ingenious (described as “the perfect crime”, whereas in Higashino’s more well-known novel there is heavier emphasis on the clean-up process after the unplanned crime), and like a traditional “howcatchem” the reader – distracted by red herrings along the way – is left guessing how Ayane Mashiba killed her husband. Even the murder weapon, arsenic, is revealed right at the beginning, turning the focus of the investigation to the method of, and to a lesser extent, the motive for the murder.
Thrilling as “Salvation of a Saint” was, two aspects were underwhelming:
First, the plot was far too draggy in the middle. As with most “howcatchem” the crime was committed early on, with a small list of suspects and possible modus operadi easily ascertained, and towards the end once the pieces came together the resolution was quick. Higashino cleverly advanced two investigation tracks – one led by detective Shunpei Kusanagi, and the other by his assistant Kaoru Utsumi together with his best friend Professor Manabu Yukuwa – which ran in parallel, but eventually converged. Yet it took a long time for some scenes to transition, and some also felt redundant.
Second, related to the draggy plot development in the middle, there was a lack of dramatic tension – beyond the dropping of clues or red herrings – between the detectives and the perpetrator. Unlike “The Devotion of Suspect X”, the conversations in this novel felt functional, without a battle of wits. The angle of Kusangai falling in love with Mashiba, while plausible, and leading to the two separate tracks as aforementioned, was not fleshed out or resolved satisfactorily. Save for the occasional revelation, the investigation moved clinically from examinations of the crime scene to interviews with suspects and to discussions among the detectives.
I thought the addition of Utsumi was great, and the gender stereotypes directed to her by the other characters aside, she featured prominently in the beginning. And she was also the reason why Kusanagi and Yukuwa were brought together. Unfortunately as the novel progressed – besides a quip here and there – she faded into the background, which was a shame because her attention to details and different style made Utsumi an interesting foil to the other two men. Ingenuity of the murder notwithstanding, this novel comes up short.