Review: Under the Midnight Sun

Keigo Higashino (A Midsummer's Equation) takes a break from his Detective Galileo series for a twisted and creepy standalone in the vein of Gone Girl.

In 1973, an Osaka neighborhood is rocked by the murder of local pawnshop owner Yosuke Kirihara. Sasagaki, a police detective, follows up with the most promising suspects. When the victim's trophy wife gives a solid alibi, suspicion shifts to an udon cafe waitress who won't admit to knowing Yosuke as more than a customer despite suggestions to the contrary. However, Sasagaki never finds enough evidence to make an arrest, and finally must admit, "We made a mistake." The case goes cold. In an ordinary mystery novel, the narrative would follow Sasagaki as he relentlessly hunts for the truth. Instead, Higashino follows the lives of two children connected to the murder: Ryo Kirihara, the son of the victim, and Yukiho Nishimoto, the daughter of the udon waitress. Through the eyes of friends and acquaintances, readers watch the pair of children grow through adolescence into young adulthood, the past shadowing their every step.

After Yukiho's mother dies under circumstances that may be accident or suicide, a polished female relative adopts the girl, giving her access to training in traditional arts such as tea ceremony and flower arrangement. With her breathtaking beauty and finishing-school manners, Yukiho captivates every man she meets as she grows from middle schooler to college student. Oddly, girls who might rival her in looks or charm along the way find themselves in tragic circumstances with detrimental effects to their social statuses.

While Yukiho continues her meteoric rise with a lucrative but tempestuous marriage, Ryo wallows in criminal enterprise, pimping out attractive male high school classmates to older married women before turning to video game piracy. While viewed through filters of admiration and even love by their hangers-on, the children of the original murder prove consistently aloof and furtive toward others. Meanwhile, though the statute of limitations has run out, Sasagaki never gives up on the case he couldn't solve. 

Higashino's unforgiving corkscrew of a mystery will leave readers gleefully chilled. The solution to Under the Midnight Sun plays second fiddle to the tense atmosphere and unspooling machinations as innocent, or at least hapless, bystanders get caught in the webs of Ryo or Yukiho. The whodunit revelation will take few readers by surprise, seemingly by design; secondary characters begin to guess at the truth well before the closing. Focused more on relationships between exploiters and their prey than simple questions of justice and guilt, this quick-reading Japanese export proves its author a master of the human psyche. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

Shelf Talker: This Japanese thriller follows two Osaka children, both affected by an unsolved murder, as they grow into corrupt and troubled adulthood.

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