Sunday, September 2, 2018

A Midsummer's Equation (2016) by Keigo Higashino

Finally, a Higsahino book review!
Like I mentioned in my review of Galileo, I like Higashino, and it isn’t just because I’m a Japanophile. I do think he makes an honest effort at blending the traditional fair-play mystery novel with the more character focused and driving style so popular today, and I enjoy it, even if some people can’t appreciate it. (Just kidding JJ, we all love you, or will when you apologize for what happened in Vegas. :P ) So when A Midsummer's Equation came out I was looking forward to another round of Higashino, but sadly this one rattles a tad too much.
The story takes place at Hari Cove, a seaside resort town on the verge of plunging into an economic black hole due to lack of tourism. Hope has come in the form of DESMEC, a company that wants to drill for the abundant natural resources in the area, which could give Japan a much needed boost in that area. While many are happy for the possible economic boost, there are others who oppose the environmental destruction it will bring. One of these is Natsuki, a young woman helping out at her parent’s inn. While attending an informational meeting hosted by DESMEC, she witnesses an old man nod at her...and unknown to her, that man is our novel’s victim of the week.
During the night, the body is discovered, smashed against the rocks on the other side of a seawall. The local police assume he got drunk and fell, but they discover that the victim was an ex-cop, meaning that his colleagues will have to be contacted. But when they take a look at the scene, they come to a different conclusion and demand an autopsy. The result leaves no doubt: Carbon monoxide poisoning.
From here, the narrative begins dividing itself between multiple parties. There’s the local investigation into the victim’s death, which is frustrated by the lack of any place where the poisoning could have been done. There’s also an investigation into the background of the victim, carried out by detectives Kusanagi and Utsumi (who both appeared in the previous novel, Salvation of a Saint), sparked by the fact that, among other information the victim payed a visit to the former home of a convicted murderer at Hari Cove in the past. There’s also Yukawa’s investigation at the town itself, and the narrative of Kouhei, a young boy sent to live with his aunt and uncle, owners of a local inn, and who Yukawa befriends.* Not to mention all the other characters.
This does cause problems for the narrative, as the whole thing gets a bit bogged down in all these plotlines. The characters are often keeping information from one another, and this results in a slightly bogged down story, especially when dealing with both investigations and more Japanese names I can’t seem to keep apart. This sounds like a petty complaint, and if the plot were more engaging it would be, but compared to what else I’ve read it’s a bit of a let down.
The problem is that the plot is too telegraphed. Most of the twists were, to me, quite obvious and easy to see coming. Even the final set of twists fell flat, at least compared to the wham-bang of books like Malice. In fairness, the cluing is there, and you can figure out what happened on the night of the murder, but the path to it is simply blah. The background also isn’t made use of, with the DESMEC idea fading by around the halfway mark. While I’m happy that Higashino didn’t take this chance to soapbox (too much, but he’s quite even-handed), I still wished that this played more of a role in the mystery.
All and all, this was one of the more disappointing reads. I admit, part of it was because of the expectations I had since this was a Higashino novel, but it does fall a little flat. It’s technically competent and well-written, but a tad too obvious and sadly, that results in a bit of a slog. Not Recommended.
*Oddly, this isn't the case in the show, where Yukawa hates kids. This has nothing to with anything, as the idea that a TV show will emulate the books is madness, but even so, this surprised me.


  1. Thanks for the review. I very much enjoyed 'Devotion of Suspect X' and 'Salvation of the Saint', but I've held back on reading 'Midsummer's Equation' as I watched the movie version. Looks like I'm not missing out on too much though!

    1. I hope I wasn't too harsh! I think it might work better as a movie, easier to keep everyone apart and the emotional beats might hit harder.

  2. Just like Jonathan, I read and greatly enjoyed The Devotion of Suspect X and Salvation of a Saint, but A Midsummer's Equation never left the big pile because I kept reading it was not as good as the other two. So I'm not surprised you didn't like it either. General consensus seems to agree its the weakest of the three. But I'll keep on the emergency pile for when I completely run out of Japanese mysteries to read.

    On an aside, a new Keigo Higashino novel, entitled Newcomer: A Mystery, is coming out in late November of this year and features Detective Kaga from Malice.

    1. Don't get me wrong, it was a good read, I just felt that I couldn't recommend it. I saw Newcomer on Amazon, might mark for the future.

  3. I have not read the book, but I have seen the movie that is based on it. I liked it, I don't think it reaches the heights of Suspect X but it's certainly not bad...

    I agree with the story being somewhat predictable, but Higashino -at his best- makes me care about characters and he does so in here as well. Perhaps as a book it feels off but as a movie it was well made.

    And I'm too waiting for Newcomer. I literally devoured Higashino' s Journey Under The Midnight Sun in the airport back in June.

    1. Your comment makes me fear I was too harsh! I think that after being bowled over by Suspect, Salvation, and Malice, I expected a bit more than what I got, which didn't help the book. Jonathan mentioned watching the movie version, and from what I've gather from Ho-Ling Higashino's stories have a tendency to be made into TV dramas. So perhaps it was written with that in mind, not that it makes a bad story. It just didn't come off well for me here.

      How was Midnight Sun? I heard about it but the length combined with some reviews downplaying the mystery elements made me skip it. Maybe I shouldn't have!

      And have you read that "Kidnapping" one?

    2. Sorry for the late reply,

      Midnight Suns is really nice, somewhat of a unique experience, but most certainly not a detective novel.

      No, I've not read "...kidnapping", but there's a Japanese movie G@me based on it. I saw it on youtube. It's fun, my wife Nakama Yukie also plays the female lead, but I have some complaints about the plot.

      Not as good as his other works that I'm familiar with for certain!

    3. Noted! Guess I'll just wait for the Kaga novel then. (And no worries on time, I'm far worse about replying, as this comment shows.)