A Midsummer’s Equation

Ever hear of Japanese writer Keigo Higashino?  Me neither, not until very recently.  I stumbled upon his books while browsing through my local bookstore, and to be honest, it was the beautiful covers that drew my eye.  The books in particular were Malice, The Devotion of Suspect X, and Salvation of a Saint.  From the blurbs at the back of the books, I learned that Keigo Higashino is a pretty popular crime/mystery writer in Japan and has won several prestigious Japanese literary prizes, such as the Mystery Writers of Japan Award, the Naoki Prize, and the Edogawa Rampo (Japanese for Edgar Allan Poe) Prize, which is awarded to the best mystery novel of the year.  As it turns out, the three novels I bought were parts of two different series, specifically, Malice (Akui) to the Police Detective Kaga Series, while The Devotion of Suspect X (Yōgisha X no Kenshin) and Salvation of a Saint (Seijo no Kyūsai) to the Detective Galileo Series.  The Detective Galileo series is named after Manabu Yukawa, aka Detective Galileo, a university physicist whose brilliant mind and astute intuition have helped the Tokyo Police solve several baffling mysteries.

Recently, I found another book in the Detective Galileo Series, namely, A Midsummer’s Equation (Manatsu no Hōteishiki), and though it’s the most recent of the three Galileo novels I have, I read this as my introduction to the series.  A Midsummer’s Equation didn’t mention any of the other mysteries that Professor Yukawa had solved, so I guess the series doesn’t need to be read chronologically.  The novel did assume that readers were familiar with some characters who might have been introduced earlier in previous novels as well as their relationships with Prof. Yukawa.

A Midsummer’s Equation is a police procedural and crime fiction that takes place in the small coastal town of Hari, whose beaches, though beautiful, get passed over by tourists for other popular sites, such as Okinawa.  Thus, business has not been good in the quiet town, whose main source of income is seasonal tourists.

The story starts with Kyohei, a fifth grader from Tokyo, on his way to Hari. Busy with their new business venture, Kyohei’s parents sent Kyohei to spend the week with relatives who ran an inn (the Green Rock Inn) at Hari, thinking that it would be a good opportunity for him to enjoy the last days of his summer vacation.  The Green Rock Inn was run and maintained by Kyohei’s uncle Shigehiro, aunt Setsuko, and cousin Narumi.

Being held during the week that Kyohei was at Hari were public hearings and debates on a potential deep sea project by the Deep Sea Metals National Corporation (DESMEC). DESMEC has its eyes set on Hari Cove as a prime site for their plan to mine hydrothermal polymetallic ore, which would have great scientific and financial impacts for the country. However, the local residents, namely, fishermen, journalists, and environmentalists, including Kyohei’s cousin, Narumi, are set on fighting DESMEC, convinced that the corporation’s plans will destroy their ocean and way of life.

Likewise at Hari Cove at the time was Professor Yukawa, as a researcher sent by DESMEC to study the project’s development as well as its effects on the environment.  Kyohei had sat next to Professor Yukawa on the train to Hari, and because of him, Yukawa decided to stay at the Green Rock Inn. Being almost the end of summer, the Green Rock Inn had very few guests at the time – just one other man besides Yukawa; a man from Tokyo named Masatsuga Tsukuhara. Narumi had seen Tsukuhara previously at the DESMEC hearing in town and was surprised to see him staying at her inn, but other than that, there was nothing extraordinary about their guest. Nothing, except that the next morning, Tsukuhara was found dead, his body lying at the bottom of the seawall, and the back of his head crushed by the rocks below.

Though gruesome, the local police were convinced that Tsukahara must have slipped and fallen off the seawall, hitting his head against the sharp rocks. Tsukahara’s untimely death seemed simple, albeit unfortunate. That is, until it was discovered that Tsukuhara was a retired member of the Tokyo Homicide Department, and his close friend the current Tokyo Police Commissioner decided to get involved.  The Tokyo Police weren’t ready to declare the incident an accident and requested the local and prefectural police to help in the investigation.

As the local Hari and prefecture police were investigating the incident, the Tokyo Homicide had a card up their sleeve – they had Prof. Yukawa, whose extraordinary power of deduction had aided their investigations before, and who, coincidentally, had been staying at the same hotel as Tsukuhara in Hari.  The Tokyo Police were convinced that if foul play was involved, Prof. Yukawa was sure to uncover the mystery.

Who was Tsukuhara really, and what was he doing at Hari Cove at the time?  Why did he stay at the Green Rock Inn? Was his death an accident, a suicide, or a murder? The local police’s and the Tokyo Homicide Detective’s investigations as well as Yukawa’s sleuthing around Hari reveal a deeply complicated story that yields as many questions as it does answers.

Because A Midsummer’s Equation was the first novel I read in the series, I didn’t know much about Prof. Yukawa and his involvement with the Tokyo Homicide Department except for what I learned in this novel.  The novel also didn’t reveal why Yukawa (and the series) is nicknamed Prof. Galileo.  My guess is that the somewhat silly nickname was given to him by the police because he is a physicist by profession, connecting his career with the famous Galileo Galilei.  Like I said, that’s just my guess.

Though primarily a crime/detective novel, A Midsummer’s Equation explores other aspects to make the story interesting, particularly environmental, scientific, and socio-cultural issues. It’s interesting to read about the different interpersonal relationships between the characters, especially the unexpected bond that develops between Prof. Yukawa and the young, obstinate Kyohei.  The pace of the novel is fast and engaging, and its plot is intricate, with an unexpected background story. Although I was a bit disappointed to have been able to guess some of the elements of the story, it still had a few surprises toward the end.

The mystery in A Midsummer’s Equation was compelling, and though the narrative and writing style is good, I found the dialogues  a bit awkward.  I found the all-too-casual tone that the characters used to converse with each other forced and unnatural. However, I felt that poor or awkward translation (from Japanese to English) could be the problem rather than poor writing.

A Midsummer’s Equation is a decent crime/mystery, with an intriguing protagonist who impressed me with his sharp scientific and deductive mind.  I wouldn’t mind getting to know “Prof. Galileo” more by reading the earlier novels in the series, starting with The Devotion of Suspect X, which cemented Keigo Higashino’s reputation as one of the best mystery/crime writers in Japan.

***

A Midsummer’s Equation (Manatsu no Hōteishiki) (2016) – Keigo Higashino

Abacus; 390 pages (paperback)

Personal rating:  3/5

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