Rahul Vishnoi dissects the popularity of a timeless detective fiction Devotion of Suspect X, recently remade into a film titled Jaane Jaan for Netflix India.
(This article is spoiler-free, for both the book and the movie)
Keigo Higashino, at forty-seven years of age, wrote a Japanese detective fiction in 2005. Little did he know it would go on to become a behemoth; shattering records not only on Japanese soil but global reading scene. Fifteen years later, ‘Devotion of Suspect X’ (superbly translated by Alexander O. Smith) has earned the author cinematic and TV adaptations in Japan, Korea, China, India and an eponymous Hollywood movie in production.
On 21st September, ‘Jaane Jaan’, an official adaptation of ‘Devotion of Suspect X’, was released on Netflix. With master of mysteries, Sujoy Ghosh at the helm, it would be interesting to compare notes (The book was better….wasn’t it?)
The Story and its Devotion
What’s special that runs through the pages of this detective fiction? Let’s look at the story. Yasuko, separated from her husband, has not been able to pry herself from his repeated intrusions into her life. A single mother to a girl child, she works in a bento* shop to make ends meet. A veiled threat by the husband leads to a murder that triggers an unexpected helping hand from Yasuko’s neighbour: Ishigami, the master mathematician. But why does he want to help Yasuko?
Detective Kususnagi, investigating the murder, is unable to shake the suspicion that there is more here than what meets the eye. He requests his school friend, Dr Yukawa, nicknamed Detective Galileo, for help. With Yukawa on the scene, a game of hide and seek begins.
We encourage you to buy books from a local bookstore. If that is not possible, please use the links on the page and support us. Thank you.
Devotion and the mystery
‘Devotion of Suspect X’ is not a ‘whodunit’ as about fifteen or twenty pages into the novel, the writer lays all (?) his cards on the table. It’s not as much about ‘who’ as it is about ‘how’. Keigo Higashino calls upon the art of deduction, once mastered by his late compatriot Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Although Ishigami, Keigo’s protagonist, is no Sherlock, he comes across as a solidly built character with tangible flesh and bones upon which this rock of a novel leans.
Revealing the suspense in the first few pages requires guts of steel and a head full of ice. There is no “who is the killer” factor that pulls most of the commercial detective fiction until half the spine of the book is cracked. Here, the reader knows everything that has to be known in the first few pages. The real fun lies in the investigation that follows the murder. This fun element actually is grounded in the fact that despite the reader knowing the ‘what’, they are ready to know the ‘how’ as the story unfolds.
What sets it apart in the emotional part
Toni Morrison knew what she meant when she said- ‘Love is or it ain’t. Thin love ain’t love at all.’ The love here, rather than devotion, makes the strong emotional core of the novel. ‘Devotion of Suspect X’, at the end of the day, carries a doomed love at its heart.
The ‘it dropped my jaw’ climax
There are no original stories in the world: only different presentations of the same old seven or eight basic stories that keep on coming back in the garb of masterful writing and razor-sharp wit. The climax of this book though, and I’m quite confident claiming this, is something never written before.
Did You Know? – We represent authors and publishers for book adaptations. For more details, check out OTP.
It’s a punch to your cerebral gut. It is not just jaw-dropping, but you will feel the weight of the entire forty-seven-year writing career of Higashino tugging at your incisors, smashing them into the floor as you puff up your lungs to compensate for those major gasps you didn’t even know you heaved. Like being hit by a running (Bullet) train, you will be shocked out of your shoes.
Despite its dramatic nature, the twist doesn’t stand out as a crushing presence, never a stone between your reading teeth. Keigo lands this piece of information, this nugget encompassing a thunderbolt in its minute chest with the simplistic, down-to-earth brilliance he shares with his protagonist Ishigami. Take a dagger to my heart, Higanshino! Why not? Readers are meant to be ravaged by the fallen protagonists they fall in love with.
Milestones of the book
Detective Galileo has been featured in about ten stories and novels by Higashino. The book, in roughly the first year of its publication, sold about 800,000 copies. It outsold every other book in all categories of Japanese books, fiction or non-fiction.
When Drishyam, an eponymous adaptation of a 2013 Malayalam movie, was released in 2015, a rumour spread that the movie borrows heavily from ‘Devotion of Suspect X’. While the murder part may be true, there is nothing else that connects the two works, neither in the story nor the characters.
That piece of news though, prompted many readers to pick up this thriller, including the writer of this article.
How the movie is going to play the book
However loyal a movie stays to the book, a grouse some or the other reader will always have. I feel that the source material is safe in Sujoy Ghosh’s hands, who has the credit of ‘Kahani’, a Hindi thriller that rewrote the rules of movie making in the Indian Film Industry.
Words that stay with you
Apart from an iconic name that deserves a separate award category, there is a brilliant quote here that comes from the calm but sharp mind of Detective Galileo-
‘Murder is murder. Everything else is just details.’