Kerim Yasar (Translator)
I have now finished all of Higashino's English editions, and so will write up my reviews with a good overall understanding of him as a writer. His next translation, Newcomer, has been put off again and again, but appears to be scheduled for release this November, and my pre-order is still waiting to be fulfilled.
Higashino is possibly Japan's mosts popular mystery writer (along with Miyabe) and his stories run the range of good to great. His writing gives weight to his stories, making the characters and situations within feel real and important, while at the same time, keeping the fun alive throughout. So, it is possibly surprising that his first translation is not exactly a mystery at all... or not completely anyhow.
Naoko (or, Himitsu/Secret in Japanese) might not be considered a mystery at all, though Higashino uses many of the same devices to pull the reader along. Much of the plot is forwarded by a sense that something about the current explanation just isn't right, and that if we can just find that one person then things would start to make more sense.
So, I think I would describe this as a split narrative, with a big part being a mystery, while the main story is actual much more paranormal. Odd combination? Yes, but it works well.
Without giving anything much away, the paranormal part of the book involves the victims of a bus accident, the mother and daughter of our narrator, clinging to life in their shared hospital room. Just before she dies, our titular character holds her comatose daughter's hand and says her farewell before passing on... or not quite passing on.
When the daughter awakes, all her memories seem to be of the dead mother, and the young girl's character and mind are completely lost.
Much of the story examines what would happen if the father excepted this startling fact and the two family members began a really odd life together. Much of this involves early comedic situations of mistakes and oops moments, but at other times it centers on decisions that a husband and wife need to make on how far to go as a married couple borrowing a 13-17 year olds body... these parts were possibly "realistic" if this premise was accepted, but also really gross to think about too much.
However, I think Higashino stayed away from those things enough that the work isn't ruined by them, and is instead often really insightful, sad, and poignant.
The mystery part of the story is the question of why this bus accident happened at all. It's interesting and shows the skills of a man who knows how to write these kinds of books, although, if you go back after finishing the whole work, in some ways they really aren't important, and they also create a Deux ex machina of an ending.
Looking back I really wonder why some of the paranormal elements couldn't have leaked more onto the mystery, with more than one ghost being given a voice.
However, there is no need to focus on small points as looking at the whole this is a very enjoyable and worthwhile read and I would recommend it to any Higashino fan and mystery fans as well. I have seen many people stuck on the first 50 pages of this work, and I also wish that the comedy had been trimmed down a bit here, but the same people appear to agree with me that by pushing through a great reading experience can be found.
I will be doing reviews for all the other Higashino books this month, and once they are finished the links will be added below: