The Devotion of Suspect X was a charity shop purchase before Christmas, bought anticipating the library’s closure. I liked the blurb, which spoke of millions sold, how the book was big in Japan (made me smile) and described it as “the Japanese Stieg Larsson”. So I already had some mental expectations, and mostly I was hoping it wouldn’t be too hyped. Then, having convinced my book club to read it (when no-one has any suggestions you find yourself desperately proferring any idea) my only hope was that it wouldn’t be filled with unexpected scenes of graphic rape, because we’ve had a bad run of that. (Seriously – there were about four books in a row in the book club which would seem innocuous, a crime novel in the nazi era, say, and then BOOM – completely unnecessary to the plot, traumatising, overly detailed graphic scenes. Am not kidding.)
So firstly, I’ll gladly report that it wasn’t rape-filled! But that’s not all. This book was really good – I’ve read a lot of crime but I really didn’t see the plot working in that way. It’s almost a cat and mouse game, with the typical trope of an outside expert coming in to help the police, but who is a physics professor, unusually enough.
I honestly don’t want to spoil it or give a plot outline, because it was well-plotted, ticked along nicely, and also gave me a flavour of Japanese culture. Off-hand comments about a character having worked in a hostess club were fascinating, for example. A hostess club is effectively a place where men pay for the attention of women. Some clubs have extra elements where sex is encouraged, others just want flirting. (Wikipedia is my source, so feel free to tell me I was wrong.) But what was interesting was that, while this is a key element of a backstory (to help explain how one female character would have interacted with certain male characters) there’s no judgement, or even a whiff of a suggestion that this might be a career that’s not ideal. That character does leave her job there, but it is for reasons like wanting to be at home for her daughter and feeling that this wasn’t a job she could keep doing forever. No-one looks down on her for having worked there, instead it’s as if she said she wanted to stop working as bar staff. I loved how the book showed attitudes of other characters to this job, which told me certain lessons about Japanese attitudes without being blatant – it was an insight.
The same came up in an offhand comment about domestic violence, and how the police had told the reporting woman to just be nicer to her ex-husband, and let him back into her home for a chat (his stated desire). While having awful connotations of how uneducated police officials can ignore a woman’s fear and demands for safety and to be left alone, it also led to me finding out more about how relatively recent the changes in Japan’s legal system are and why there might be no option for a woman to stop this happening bar moving to a new town without leaving forwarding details (their first domestic violence act only came in in 2002! Doesn’t that seem very recent for an industrialised, rich country? Not to say Ireland is good in this context, because we all know legislation does not equal enforcement, but ours came in in 1976, meaning at least the issue was acknowledged that long ago.) That this was the only option the woman had, and no suggestion of barring orders or reporting this crime were even considered, really made me think about how a system can differ so much from my own.
I’d recommend this book both because the central mystery is excellent, but also for the insights it gives you.