Title: A Midsummer’s Equation
Author : Keigo Higashino
Price: Rs. 399/-
My initial response to A Midsummer’s Equation was lukewarm, to say the least. As I plodded on, I wondered why all and sundry had been hailing the author, Keigo Higashino, with such great gusto. By the time I reached the end of the book, I understood why — to some extent. He is certainly no Steig Larrson (of Japan, as the jacket of the book proclaims); but there is something in the story — je ne sais quoi. So, I will reserve further judgement till I have read more of his books.
But, having said that, it is necessary to dwell on my initial reaction for a moment. For, as they say, first impressions are important. To my mind, the beginning of the book – a good 25 – 30 percent of it– is perhaps the weakest segment. And we will come to that shortly. First, a brief background.
The book revolves around the family of the Kawahatas – a middle-aged couple Shigehiro and Setsuko and their 30-year old daughter Narumi — who have come from Tokyo to settle down in Hari Cove. Together, they run The Green Rock Inn — a rundown hostelry at a rundown seaside town, where Shigehiro originally hailed from. Narumi is passionately involved in the protection of the ocean and all that it contains; which is currently being threatened by a big corporation, called DESMEC for short, which wants to exploit the mineral resources on the ocean floor.
The book opens with Setsuko’s young nephew Kyohei – a boy of about 12 years old – journeying to visit them. On the train he bumps to Manabu Yukawa, a physicist and teacher, who is travelling to Hari Cove for a public meeting organised by DESMEC, at which they are to present plans and discuss objections with concerned citizens. A connection is established between the two on the train, which is further strengthened as Yukawa also comes to stay at the same inn.
(Yukawa also appears in other books by the author as a kind of “outside the force” expert helping-hand whom the Tokyo Police have associated with before.)
A stranger attending the meeting, who has booked himself at the Kawahatas’ inn is found dead on the rocks the next day of the meeting. And, from there, begins a journey to discover how and why he died; and how his body came to be found on the rocks. It turns out that the stranger is a retired police officer, Masatsugu Tsukahara, which of course puts a new complexion on the case. Involved in the action are not only the local police, they are joined by the prefectural police – and on the sidelines, the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department also conduct an informal inquiry, as a Director Tatara of the department knew the victim from days gone by.
The first part of the book, perhaps to establish character, perhaps to sketch in some background, ostensibly deals with the face-off between DESMEC and a group of people who have banded together in an organisation to save the cove. However, the dialogue or face-off — call it what you will – lacks substance and credibility. So, it ends off being just a tedious recounting of not even particularly relevant details. The debate lacks lustre — let alone having any fire – and doesn’t seem to have any real meaning.
Again, there are numerous details which are so questionable they really put me off. For example, when Tsukahara is found on the rocks, there are several references to his skull being split open and blood being all over the rocks. However, the local police on the basis of the local doctor’s examination declare his death to be the result of “cerebral contusion”. Now, contusion, by definition, means an injury in which the sub-surface tissue is injured but the skin itself is not broken. It may be accompanied by haemorrhaging resulting in internal bleeding, which would then typically cause bruising in the parts of the body it occurs. In case of “cerebral contusion” it would mean blood suffusing parts of the brain depending on the type and extent of injury. But there would be no external bleeding, no blood on the rocks.
There are other minor inconsistencies as well, which I will not labour over here. Then, there are plot details which are open to question, including the manner in which Tsukahara has met his death — the sequence of events and the “cause of death” so to speak. A little far-fetched.
You might say that this is all quibbling about minor issues. But a writer must research the various aspects and areas he is writing about, at least sufficiently to be convincing. And enough to make th reading a fluid process.
So what, if anything, did I find redeeming in the book? For one, after the initial part, and particularly when the Tokyo Police get on the job, the book picked up pace, and the unfolding of the story was interesting. Also, the touch of Zen, at the end, in the attitude of the physicist Yukawa. He guides the investigation with eccentric hints and pronouncements through the book, and brings about a conclusion which could only come from the East. In many ways perhaps — more than the names, the foods, the locales — that is where the “Japaneseness” of the book lies. In its philosophical approach to human drama. In its approach to Crime and Punishment.