Skip to main content

Newcomer

Review

Newcomer

A single 40something divorcee moves into a Tokyo apartment building. Soon after, her friend discovers her dead. Who could have killed this woman who “was the last person on earth to have enemies”? It’s up to detective Kyochiro Kaga to discover whodunit.

Keigo Higashino fans will recognize Kaga as the star sleuth of the Japanese author’s 2014 novel, MALICE, though there’s no need to have read that book to appreciate this classic yet inventive detective story. The book opens not with Mineko Mitsui’s murder or the discovery of her body, but with a quiet domestic scene in a family-owned rice cracker shop in the city’s old-fashioned Amazake Alley, a street that “retained something of the atmosphere of the Edo period.” This setting --- a Toyko apart from the city’s shiny office towers or the flash of the tony Ginza shopping district --- proves integral as Kaga looks to the neighborhood’s unique rhythms to help solve the crime.

"Higashino’s intricate plotting and a vivid setting come together in an absorbing mystery that will leave readers guessing until the very end."

Kaga shows up at the cracker shop with some questions about Mr. Takura, the Kamikawa family’s insurance agent. (The straight-laced businessman’s card was found in the victim’s apartment.) The family is baffled, and readers likely will be too, at least initially. But eventually it becomes clear that there’s a method to Kaga’s precise, Holmes-like investigation. (He’s said to have a “razor-sharp mind and bloodhound nature.”) The detective looks “into things that the rest…had dismissed as insignificant.” He takes in everything, from what local office commuters wear to work to the item the victim inquired about at the neighborhood china shop, recognizing each seemingly mundane detail as a piece of a larger puzzle. To interviewees and colleagues, his methods seem unorthodox, but his deliberate strategy and probing questions continually get him closer to unraveling the riddle about Mineko Mitsui’s life and murder.

Each of the book’s nine chapters focuses on one business or person linked to the victim in the days before her death, including a pastry shop, clock shop, cleaning company and handicrafts store. In a less intriguing mystery, the characters populating these sections would appear for a scene or two to provide a key fact to the detective, then vanish, their narrative function complete. But Higashino takes the time to breathe life into them, giving them lives and dramas of their own and crafting a portrait of life in a sliver of modern Tokyo in the process. Others reveal secrets about Mineko’s life that hold the clues to why she was killed.

The novel’s pacing is deliberate, even slow, especially in the beginning. Kaga is quiet, thoughtful and focused, which makes him a good detective, though perhaps not the most memorable character. He has been downgraded to precinct detective before the book begins, but appears to hold no grudges about his demotion. He’s not your typical troubled cop, nor is he driven by a need for revenge or a special connection to the victim (though, like her, he’s a newcomer in the Kodenmacho neighborhood). His job is simply to find out who killed Mineko, and he intends to do so in the best way he knows how. But his zest for detection doesn’t preclude human feeling. He sees his job as more than just ferreting out the killer. “People who’ve been traumatized by a crime are victims, too,” he tells one of Mineko’s friends. “Finding ways to comfort them is also part of my job.” Kaga’s investigation helps bring closure to Tamiko, who is distraught over an unresolved falling out with her now-dead friend, as well as her estranged son and her ex-husband.

NEWCOMER will appeal most to fans of classic detective stories by the likes of Agatha Christie and Georges Simenon. Higashino’s intricate plotting and a vivid setting come together in an absorbing mystery that will leave readers guessing until the very end.

Reviewed by Megan Elliott on November 30, 2018

Newcomer
by Keigo Higashino

  • Publication Date: November 20, 2018
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Minotaur Books
  • ISBN-10: 1250067863
  • ISBN-13: 9781250067869