A Japanese Sherlock Holmes and Harry Bosch rolled into one

Newcomer is about a Japanese Sherlock Holmes.

Imagine this: a detective who digs out clues from the most obscure and tangential details—and doggedly pursues them on his own, regardless of what his superiors tell him. Is that Sherlock Holmes reincarnated in Los Angeles in the person of Harry Bosch? Nope. He’s a modest detective sergeant in the Tokyo Police Department named Kyochiro Kaga—a Japanese Sherlock Holmes and Harry Bosch rolled into one.

A Japanese Harry Bosch and Sherlock Holmes

In Newcomer, the eccentric detective investigates the murder of a middle-aged divorcee. Mineko Mitsui has been strangled in the 200-square-foot apartment she calls home, and nothing about the case is obvious. Mitsui left behind her husband of two decades to pursue her dream of working as a translator. Neither her husband nor her twenty-year-old son has had any contact with her for many months. Neither even knows which neighborhood she’d recently moved into. “She’s a bit of a ‘mysterious newcomer,'” Kaga says. “Just like you, then,” a neighbor tells the detective. (Kaga had recently been demoted from the elite Tokyo Metropolitan Police and assigned to this district.)

Newcomer (Police Detective Kaga #7) by Keigo Higashino (2017) 334 pages @@@@@ (5 out of 5)

A feel for contemporary Japanese society

Working largely on his own, Kaga sets out to interview the proprietors and staff of the many specialized stores in Mitsui’s neighborhood: a traditional Japanese restaurant and shops selling china, clocks, pastry, and handicrafts. Methodically, he explores the alibis of everyone who might have had contact with the victim in the hours surrounding her death. In repeated visits at every shop, often bearing small gifts such as pastries or toys, he learns a great deal about the complicated lives of the men and women he interviews.

“They should promote you to lieutenant.”

Yet we see none of this through Kaga’s eyes. Throughout this skillfully written book, we meet the detective solely from the perspective of the people he encounters. We learn indirectly that Kaga is “very sharp, very eccentric, and, to top it all off, very stubborn.” We see that the lines of inquiry he pursues are worthy of Sherlock Holmes.

For example, at a toy store, he buys the shop’s entire stock of children’s tops (the kind that spin). “Your tops have no link to the case,” he reassures the shop’s owner. “And the fact that they have no link is what makes them important.”

In another interview, a man asks him, “What’s your rank?” “Sergeant,” Kaga says. “Well,” the man replies, “they should promote you to lieutenant.” And along the way we get a feel for contemporary Japanese society. It’s easy to understand how Higashino has become so popular throughout Asia.

About the author

The name Keigo Higashino is unfamiliar to most mystery fans in the English-speaking world. But that’s not the case in Asia, where Higashino has sold hundreds of millions of copies of his books. Newcomer, his most recently translated novel, is the seventh of the nine books in his series featuring Detective Kyochiro Kaga of the Tokyo Police Department. He has written dozens of other novels and at least fifteen collections of short stories, most of them in the mystery and suspense genre. Twenty of his books have been adapted for film or television in Japan or South Korea.

For additional reading

This is one of The 20 best books of 2018 reviewed here. However, I’ve also reviewed a detective novel by Keigo Higashino that I enjoyed much less: The Devotion of Suspect X (Detective Galileo #1) by Keigo Higashino (Something’s missing in this Japanese detective novel).

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