Detective Kyoichiro Kaga of the Tokyo Police Department has just been transferred to a new precinct in the Nihonbashi area of Tokyo. Newly arrived, but with a great deal of experience, Kaga is promptly assigned to the team investigating the murder of a woman. But the more he investigates, the greater number of potential suspects emerges. It isn’t long before it seems nearly all the people living and working in the business district of Nihonbashi have a motive for murder. To prevent the murderer from eluding justice, Kaga must unravel all the secrets surrounding a complicated life. Buried somewhere in the woman’s past, in her family history, and the last few days of her life is the clue that will lead to the murderer.
This is the second appearance in English of Police detective Kyochiro Kaga, the protagonist of the critically acclaimed Malice.
I have read three books written by Keigo Higashino now and I’ve mixed feelings about them. It’s bizarre that I’m not sure if I like them much and why not. For the records, I had loved reading The Devotion of Suspect X. Hadn’t liked Salvation of a Saint, and now, I kind of liked Newcomer. Weird, is it? This is one problem that I face while reading translated literature is that it is not consistent. The first two books of Higashino that I’d read were by a different translator than the one who did this latest book. It is futile to form an opinion about the literary aspects of a translated book as it is often said that the flavour of the original language evaporates in translation. While that is a much debatable topic, I’d focus on the other aspects that are more important in Higashino books.
What I like the most about his books are – they always begin with a murder. There’s no dilly-dallying on the fact that the books are murder mysteries, so the entree is served right at the beginning. All you can do is ruminate through the book and unravel the mystery layer by layer. It’s all about whodunit and whydunit more often than howdunit. If you start finding a pattern in a certain author’s style of writing and expect a similar one in their latest book, life gets easier. Newcomer begins with a murder too, as I had expected. But there were more surprises in the book.
I’ve been fortunate enough to be nestled into the world of Bangla Literature in my formative years. I had begun reading magazines and novels for children even before I turned ten. The joy of holding a freshly printed periodical magazine at least once a month and glancing through the pages to skim the content before rushing off to school was incomparable. Calcutta has carried a rich tradition of interesting magazines for children, young adults as well as adults. The ones, especially for pre-teens were a huge treasure of informative articles, short stories, poems, comics and sports. Anandamela, Shuktara, Kishore Bharati, Kishore Gyan Bigyan, Sandesh – there were so many to choose from each fortnight! The most popular among these, Anandamela was from the ABP house of publications – it was bourgeoisie, glamorous, rich in content and had great print quality priced at Rs 10 for each issue.
The annual pujabarshiki Anandamela 1996 and the Kikira novel published in it (on right)
The fortnightly and annual Pujabarshiki issues of Anandamela introduced me to Kikira The Great by Bimal Kar. No, he isn’t Japanese and is almost not a detective. KiKiRa stands for Kinkar Kishore Ray, a brilliantly crafted pseudo-acronym to enhance his identity. He is a self-proclaimed magician who had a target of at least a hundred magic shows in his lifetime but was stopped short at only thirty six of them due to an illness. A sudden bout of disease disabled one of his hands and made it impossible for him to perform on stage again. He called himself ‘Kikira The Magician’, ‘Kikira The Wonder,’ ‘Kikira the Great,’ and still had a few tricks up his sleeve that effervesce in all of his cases. Kikira has two assistants, a young clerical fellow named Tarapada and a doctor of medicine, Chandan. The evolution of this apparently lopsided friendship between the three occurred during a case for the first time. The first story in the Kikira series – Kapalik-ra Ekhono Achhe (Tantrics Still Do Exist) – began with Tarapada and Chandan as the main protagonists, Kikira only making an entry later with a burly introduction! I think the author wanted to experiment, improvise and give a trial with the readers to see if they accept such an offbeat character.
The most common question asked to every child or teen is “Who is your favourite detective?” At least, that’s what used to be in my generation, about two decades ago. I’ve been gorging on detective stories since my pre-teens, haate-khori (baptism of writing) being done with Feluda. With Sonar Kella (1974) and Joy Baba Felunath (1979) being constant features on summer television, we didn’t have many options. Feluda ruled my childhood, along with Bangla translations of Sherlock Holmes in magazines. I loved Feluda, and was in awe of Sherlock, which strengthened as I began learning Chemistry. Those inferences from the criminal’s stained hat or a cigarette stub with his saliva on it made me wonder Holmes’s prowess. Could Feluda do similar stuff? Well, no, he was mostly a cerebral detective, with his Magajastra being the ultimate weapon.
Image Courtesy: Google
Unlike many other children who just read and loved detectives, I wanted to be one. Seriously. I’ve read Holmes at an age when others didn’t, I’ve religiously read Kakababu and Arjun’s escapades, I’ve read Colonel Niladri Sarkar’s young adult stories, I’ve read Jayanta-Manik and Gogol. Bangla literature has a vast ensemble of detectives/sleuths, and that’s what most of them liked to be termed. All of them were smart, not all were young men though, and only Samaresh Majumdar’s Arjun had the suaveness to second Feluda. I wanted to be someone who had the forensic analytical bent of mind and yet an uber emotional psyche to grasp the criminal’s mind. As I grew up, I found him and though I couldn’t be like him, I let him rule my mind as the best ‘detective’ ever – Byomkesh Bakshi. Well, the most striking thing about Byomkesh is that he never liked to be called a ‘detective’. He fancied the term ‘Satyanweshi’ (truth-seeker) and stuck to it until Dibakar Banerjee decided to rip it off in his next film.