by Keigo Higashino

Setting & details: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Authenticity of Japanese characters & dialogue: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Translation quality: ⭐⭐⭐
Entertainment value: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
My recommendation:
Extremely engaging and satisfying

In this Edgar-nominated mystery, Nihonbashi detective Koichiro Kaga pursues the killer of a recently-divorced middle-aged woman, solving all the little mysteries that crop up along the way as he eliminates suspects, one by one.

Unlike many Japanese mysteries, which more accurately depict the team-based crime-solving used by Japanese police, “Newcomer” features a lowly local detective who runs rings around his higher-ups in the Metropolitan Police, using his own quirky methods.

Why was the insurance agent wearing his jacket, even though it was beastly hot that day? Why did the victim buy a pair of fancy scissors for the antique store owner’s wife? Why does the clockmaker’s dog get confused on its daily walk?

Kaga figures out each small puzzle using a combination of charm and crafty tactics, and each solution leads him a little closer to discovering who murdered a woman who had no known enemies. The vignettes of daily life in the traditional neighborhood of Ningyo-chō and the portraits Higashino paints of local denizens are vividly and memorably accurate, and all these little stories-within-a-story give satisfying little moments of aha! on the way to the final denouement.

The way the plot cleverly unfolds continues to surprise and engage until the final reveal – without gore or producing nail-biting anxiety – which puts “Newcomer” on my list of ideal escapist reads for these troubled times.

My only slight criticism is because I watched a truly excellent 10-part Japanese TV drama they made of this story (called “Shinzanmono”). The dialogue is still delightfully modern and believable in Japanese, but translation is a wickedly hard thing to do between cultures, and in attempting to give the characters’ “voices” the same nuances that differentiate them in Japanese, the translator’s word choice sometimes feels a bit uncool and last millennium.

But if you can look past the occasional outdated slang, the plot of “Newcomer” is still one of the most surprising and satisfying pieces of international detective fiction I’ve ever read. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

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Jonelle Patrick writes mystery novels set in Tokyo, and blogs at Only In Japan and The Tokyo Guide I Wish I’d Had

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