Book review: The Devotion of Suspect X – Keigo Higashino

The Devotion of Suspect X is a brilliant crime thriller. But unlike most thrillers, in this one, the reader already knows who the murderer is. So then, what is its allure?

Devotion of Suspect X

Ishigami is a brilliant mathematician, but due to certain family troubles he wasn’t able to follow his dream of becoming an academic. Instead, he earns his living as a high school maths teacher. Known in college as the Buddha, this highly logical and practical man finds himself head over heels in love with his neighbor Yasuko. When her ex-husband tracks her down yet again, her entire life is turned upside down. Things between them reach a head and she and her daughter end up murdering him. Hearing the scuffle and deducing what has happened, Ishigami comes to their rescue. His love for Yasuko pushes him to help the mother and daughter cover up the crime. But in all of his careful planning, he couldn’t have known one thing – that Yukawa, his classmate at the Imperial University, who is a brilliant physicist himself, often helps the lead detective Kusanagi in his investigations. When he hears about the case, he learns that the Buddha is the neighbor of the suspect. Since he hasn’t seen him since their university days, he goes over to meet an old friend and adversary. From that chance interaction, and with Kusanagi discussing aspects of the case with him, Yukawa gets pulled into the hunt for the killer.

Will Ishigami win this clash of wits or will Yukawa be able to pierce through his elaborately created smoke screen?

The characters are well drawn out and believable. Ishigami, as a maths professor, has a coldly calculating mind that helps him cover up the murder. Yukawa, as a brilliant physicist, is able to piece together various, seemingly disparate clues to come ever closer to the truth.  Kusanagi, the detective, is caught between these two brilliant minds. Yasuko and her daughter are regular people caught up in events not of their choosing. How their stories play out, the untangling of the plot points, the development of the plot, all of it is brilliantly done.

Keigo Higashino has created a masterful, taunt plot. He’s thrown a lot of maths problems into the novel, but even if you, like me, hate maths, you won’t find that a turn off, nor will you find any of it hard to follow. Some of the problems, in fact, are rather philosophical in nature. And no matter how much you think you know, you won’t be able to guess the twist at the end of the story.

It’s a thrilling read, both for the sheer brilliance of Ishigami’s cover up and Yukawa’s search for the truth, and for the acute observational skills of both these adversaries. You find yourself caring deeply for the characters, hoping and praying that Yukawa will be unsuccessful in his search. Will he, though? That is something you will have to find out for yourself!

Already among the biggest selling Japanese thrillers ever and the inspiration for a cult film, The Devotion of Suspect X is a must read for any crime fiction buff.


Disclosure: I received a copy of this book to review but I was not financially compensated in any way. The opinions expressed are my own and are based on my observations while reading this novel.

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Book review: All and Nothing by Raksha Bharadia

If you go through my reading list, you’ll notice that it’s not too often that I read Indian authors.  I don’t like their portrayal of India and Indians – it’s generally geared towards selling a picture of India that Westerners would like to believe. Of a dirty, grimy city and uncouth “brownies.” (One Indian author’s description of Indians. Really.) But there have been some interesting novels by Indian authors lately, like the Immortals of Meluha by Amish, so when I saw the blurb on the back of All and Nothing, I knew I was going to have to give it a read.

All and Nothing by Raksha Bharadia

Image courtesy Rupa & Co

From the back cover:

All and Nothing tells the tale of five individuals. Tina is a talented artist, desperately in love with Aditya. But he cannot let go of his past. Their marriage sours and Tina teeters on the edge. Kriya is a fashion designer, chic and successful – but tormented; Poorvi, is a socialite and feminist – but discontented; Manas is a struggling copy writer, besotted with Gayatri – but plagued; Upasna is a willing victim of domestic violence.

Then one day, Tina summons her friends to share their stories from the beginning.

The bulk of this slim, 223 page novel is about Tina and Aditya’s whirlwind courtship and marriage. Aditya is everything that Tina wants in a man, and Tina is everything that Aditya wants in his wife, but while Tina loves Aditya, he’s still not over his first marriage with Antara. Things between the two start souring barely a year into their marriage.  For Aditya, this was a marriage of convince, a way to get ahead in his career. Tina, desperate for his love, clings to him, tries hard to ease his hurt from his first marriage, and when all fails, turns to the bottle. She becomes an alcoholic. It takes her a long time to realize just how hollow their marriage is, and when she does, she decides to leave him. It is then that she invites her friends, all of whom are carrying a secret alone, to share their stories from the beginning and to help one another begin their healing process.

The novel is quite well-written. Raksha is evidently an astute observer. Her insight into relationships and understanding of the human psyche is well-reflected in the narrative. The characters are well drawn out and believable, and she hooks you in to their world and makes you care about them. There is a lot in the novel that anyone in a relationship will be able to identify with, because at the end of the day, no marriage is all roses, there are the occasional thorns. There may have been a few grammatical mistakes here and there, but it was easy to overlook them because the story was so gripping. You really wanted to know what happened next and how each of the people would cope.

Overall, All and Nothing is a beautifully observed novel that takes a close look at different relationships and what makes them tick. I would heartily recommend it to everyone.

The Book of Tomorrow – Cecelia Ahern

The Book of Tomorrow tells the story of 16-year old Tamara. Born with a silver spoon in her mouth, she’s like almost any other girl her age and of her class – interested in boys and flashy stuff, lashing out at her parents, rebelling against things around here. Until tragedy strikes and her family is bankrupt, at which time they move out to the country to stay with her mother’s brother at a ruined castle.

While there, Tamara finds a book at a traveling library – an empty book that miraculously has an entry for the next day’s events. Using those entries and clues, Tamara is about to uncover a secret that has been hidden 17 years.

I think the novel is aimed at tweens, and with this category, it should be a hit.

Cecelia Ahern has done a great job of writing from a 16-year old’s point of view, and she builds up her characters and the plot well. You pretty much find things out along with Tamara, and can feel her excitement and frustrations. The novel is pretty well-crafted, but then you’d expect that from Cecelia Ahern, and should keep tweens (and maybe some adults too) engrossed as they wait to find out what comes next.

If you were hoping for something along the lines of P.S. I Love You, though, you just might be disappointed.

Overall, I’d say you could pick it up for a quick, light read on a rainy day.

Book review: Angel Words – Doreen Virtue

I’ve read a few of Doreen Virtue’s books and worked with her Angel cards, which I love, so when I saw Angel Words, I was curious to see what the book was about. Co-authored by Doreen and her son Grant, the book takes a look at the vibration, as represented by sound graphs, of different words.

The mother-son duo noticed that whenever Doreen said the word angel during her podcast, the recording graphics were shaped like angel wings. This led them to study other words, and they realized that those with a spiritual or loving basis had large graphs, while those with negative words had tight and small graphs.

Doreen calls positive words Angel words, and through stories and illustrations of sound graphs, she shows how just changing the way we talk (even self talk) can dramatically change our circumstances. One of the stories she shares is of Carolyn Purchase, who owns a metaphysical store in Nova Scotia. She noticed that whenever asked about her business, she said “I’ll never be rich but it pays the bills,” and that was exactly what she experienced. When she noticed what she was saying, she had an epiphany and said instead, with total conviction, “Fantastic! This place is a gold mine!” In a year, her sales have increased by 40%.

The chapters on “Words that can heal your life,” “Positive, high-energy words” and “Negative, low-energy words” are very interesting. The only chapter that I didn’t quite agree with was “Life-affirming clichés and expressions,” where she offers a more positive spin on some common, negative clichés. Some of her positive takes on clichés are a bit absurd. For e.g., “I’m between a rock and a hard place” versus “I move through life with grace and ease” or “It’s like stealing candy from a baby” versus “The sweetness in life is plentiful for all of our inner child’s needs” The positive replacements do seem a bit lame!

Overall, though, I think it is an interesting book that illustrates the vibrational frequency of different words and makes a compelling case to try to talk positive.

Book review: The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

The Time Traveler's Wife

Image via Wikipedia

The Time Traveler’s Wife is an idyllic romance. On one level, it tells of a love so strong that nothing can come in its way, on another, it brings in a touch of science fiction.

Clare Abshire has known Henry DeTamble since she was 6, and she knows that she’s going to marry him when she grows older. But when she meets Henry when she is 20, he doesn’t know who she is.

I met Clare for the first time in October, 1991. She met me for the first time in September, 1977; she was six, I will be thirty-eight. She’s known me all her life. In 1991 I’m just getting to know her.

That’s because Henry is a time traveler who gets yanked around in time – past and present – without any warning. And the reason he doesn’t know Clare is because he tries not to tell anyone (including himself, unless it’s a life and death situation) about their future.

Sometimes it feels as though your attention has wandered for just an instant. Then, with a start, you realize that the book you were holding, the red plain cotton shirt with white buttons, the favorite black jeans and the maroon socks with an almost-hole in the heel, the living room, the about-to-whistle tea kettle in the kitchen: all of these have vanished. You are standing, naked as a jaybird, up to your ankles in ice water in a ditch along an unidentified rural route…You’ve mislocated yourself again.

Confused? Don’t be. Niffenegger maintains taunt control over her narrative, which alternates between Clare and Henry’s point of view, never letting things get confusing or bewildering. The transitions between past and present and future are maintained smoothly, and Niffenegger does an excellent job of weaving together some complex ideas – time travel, marriage, love, children, death, drugs, loss, and the human condition – poetically and with amazing clarity.

It’s also a beautiful character sketch of Henry, who never knows when and where in time he will appear, naked, hungry, and having to quickly defend himself; and of Clare, who lives a “chronologically” normal life, marked with her strong love for Henry and her worry about his safety when he time travels.

I read the book over two days when I was home sick, and the soothing pace of the novel and the gentle, matter-of-fact love story was like a soothing balm to my tortured self. Highly recommended.

Book review: Late for Tea at the Deer Palace by Tamara Chalabi

Late for Tea at the Deer Palace is a hauntingly beautiful ode to Iraq. Told from the perspective of the Chalabi family, one of the most influential families in Iraq for most part of the 20th century, the novel recreates the country’s majestic past. It is also one of the few books that really brings this country alive for the rest of the world, much in the way that Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner brought pre-war-ravaged Afghanistan to life.

Starting in 1913, the book traces the history of the nation and the rise and fall of the Chalabi family, from the decline of the Ottomon empire to its destruction at the hands of Saddam Hussein and to Tamara Chalabi’s first look at her homeland.

As she traces her own roots, Chalabi take the reader along on a journey into the culture and psyche of Iraqi nationals and gives us a look at what the nation could have been if it wasn’t for Islamic clerics and Saddam Hussein, who brought its progress to a grinding halt. Chalabi’s vivid descriptions and the many pictures she uses in her narrative breathe life into the characters and bring Iraq alive.

He wore the typical attire of a sophisticated urbanite: a traditonal robe tailored in Baghdad from sayah, a delicate striped cotton material bought in Damascus, over white drawstring trousers. On his head he wore a fez, decreed by the Sultan in Istanbul to be the appropriate headgear of the modern Ottoman Empire.
– Late for Tea at the Deer Palace, p 33

Reading this book was even more poignant for me because my mother often spoke longingly about Basra, where she spent her first few years  of married life with my father. She would often tell me about the cobbled streets, the outdoor cafes and her life there. When Basra was bombed during the Iran-Iraq war she was grief stricken, because she had always wanted to return for another visit. Reading this book, I was better able to imagine what Basra, and Iraq, were like in their hey day.

As I read about Ahmad Chalabi’s struggle to get a hearing with world leaders on the story of Iraq,  his fight to free Iraq from the clutches of Saddam Hussein and how he and the rest of the Iraqis who wanted to fight alongside US troops were ill-treated, I begin to understand their frustration with world politics. And as I read about Chalabi’s return to her homeland for the first time in 2003, I’m struck by recent news on how Iraq’s struggles are driving many refugees out of the country (read the article on NY Times). It makes me wonder when and how this nation’s suffering will end.

I’d willingly recommended this book to anybody — not only is beautifully written, it also gives readers a rare glimpse into the history, culture and psyche of Iraq — giving us a clue about why Iraqis are not satisfied with the help received from the US, why they might have not got closure to Saddam Hussein’s reign, and why the nation continues to be in strife.

The book will be available in stores from 18 January 2011. You can pre-order the book through HarperCollins’ website.

Book review: The Raising by Laura Kasischke

The Raising by Laura Kasischke

Click on the image to pre-order the book

In The Raising, Laura Kasischke exposes the ugly face behind sororities and the duplicity and cunningness of the human heart, and of people caught up in events that lead to often unforeseen tragedies. With her very first sentence:

The scene of the accident was bloodless, and beautiful.

She manages to draw the reader into the world of young Nicole Werner and her boyfriend Craig Clement-Rabbits; of Craig’s roommate Perry’s attraction to Mira Polson, the professor of sociology, who takes a class on Death, Dying, and the Undead; and of Shelly, who finds her life ruined because she happened to be the first and only witness at the scene of the accident.

Moving back and forth between the past (the year of the Nicole-Craig love affair) and the present (post Nicole’s death), Kasischke brings to life Nicole as a young, virginal, all-American girl. But as you continue reading, you realize that not everything is pretty and pink — there’s a dark side to that innocence, that, in fact, that innocence is just a façade for something more sinister.

Kasischke’s plot development is superb. Initially, you find yourself thinking that this might be another vampire/ghost love story, and you do manage to guess the end once you’re about mid-way through. Nevertheless, Kasischke’s writing style keeps you moving relentlessly forward, and she has thrown in some interesting plot twists along the way.

Overall, an interesting and engaging read.

Click here to pre-order the book from HarperCollins.

(Want to read more reviews? Take a look at the other featured Book of the month and more book reviews.)

Book review: The Courtesan by Susan Carroll

I recently participated in SITS’ Find Your Tribe event, where we teamed up with fellow bloggers in our niche to support one another and help our blogs grow. So today, allow me to introduce you to Jacki from The Raven’s Spell.  Her blog “chronicles the ever changing adventures of a stubborn, book-obsessed woman as she redefines her life, family, and self. While raising a spirited young man, blending two families, returning to school after a 10 year hiatus, and pushing her own boundaries, this life will just never be the same.”

I hope you enjoy this review of The Courtesan — I know that I want to read this book ever since I read her review! Also, be sure to head over the The Raven’s Spell tomorrow to check out what I wrote!


Title:  The Courtesan (The Dark Queen Saga #2)
Author:  Susan Carroll
Format: Paperback, 534 pages
Published:   July 26th 2005 by Ballantine Books
ISBN:  0345437977 (ISBN13: 9780345437976)

 Wow, Susan Carroll does it again. I started the Dark Queen Saga with the last book of the series (didn’t realize that it was a series at the time). My next book, The Courtesan, is book 2 in the series. I am hoping at some point I will get this all figured out, but it is not likely.

 Set in Paris in 1575, much sought after courtesan, Gabrielle Cheney, seeks to win the heart of the future king of France, her ambition driving her to become the power behind the French throne. Thought forsaken by her sister, the Lady of Fair Isle, Gabrielle seeks her own path and revolts against the ways of the Daughters of the Earth.  However, she must outwit Catherine de’ Medici, a witch hunter from her past, dark magic, and her own heart in order to succeed.  Is power and ambition what she seeks, or love and a life with Captain Nicolas Rémy, the loyal Scourge set on destroying her plans?

 While there are some back stories that I wish I knew more about, I was able to get through The Courtesan without any trouble (although, knowing how it all ends kind of sucks). Gabrielle is a wonderful character who you love, but at the same time wish you could smack every once in a while. Actually, all the characters are that way, which makes them very much human, and all that more likeable.

 Like any good historical fiction, The Courtesan left me wishing I had paid more attention in history class, although I doubt I ever would have gotten these kinds of stories.  But it did leave me intrigued and searching for more information about this period of France and the history surrounding Catherina de’ Medici.  Always a success in my book when a work of fiction can help the reader fall into a time period and come out wishing to know more.

 The story is intriguing and enjoyable and I found it very difficult to put the book down. If you enjoy historical fiction, I highly recommend.

Book review: Empires of the Indus – Alice Albinia

In Empires of the Indus, Alice Albinia traces the route of the River Indus from Pakistan and Afghanistan, upstream through west India and to its source in Tibet. Part travelogue, part history lesson, Albinia goes where angels fear to tread in her quest to trace the route of the River Indus. During the journey, she shares details about the myths and legends associated with the river, which through millennia, has been worshipped as a God and used as a means of imperial expansion.

A major portion of the book is set in Pakistan, and as an Indian reader, it gave me a rare glimpse into that country’s culture and history. While it is a known fact that Pakistan is a Muslim dominated country, what is not so widely known is just how badly it treats its minorities.

Sheedis of Pakistan

For instance, Sheedis — an African-Muslim tribe — have worked very hard to erase their rich musical past, having all but given up playing the mugarman, an African drum, and singing and dancing in order to better assimilate themselves into Pakistani culture. Still, the community largely remains mired in poverty and illiteracy. Another tribe that is tenuously holding on to its culture is the Kalash, who live in the remote Bumboret village, 150 km north of Pirsar.

“Neither Muslim, Hindu or Buddhist, the Kalash religion is syncretic, involving a pantheon of gods, sacred goats, and a reverence for river sources and mountain tops. [But] Such is the pressure from Islam in Bumboret, few young Kalash seem proud of their pantheon, or even to know of its existence.” — p. 225

Albinia travels through remote areas of Pakistan, through the now Taliban-infested Swat region (which at the time of her travel itself was seeing a resurgence of that fundamentalist faction) and into Afghanistan on foot, as she traces Alexander the Great’s route along the River Indus as he set out on his campaign to conquer India. What is most surprising is the danger she knowingly put herself into in this quest, but it is heartening that she met a number of helpful people along the way.

River Indus, Skardu, Pakistan

Vast swathes of regions that Albania travelled across are now disconnected from the rest of Pakistan due to the heavy floods there, which have set back the country’s infrastructure by at least 30 years. So in a way, her book serves as the most recent glimpse into the culture, geography and people of that area.

From Pakistan — the bulk of her 305-page book is about her travels through Pakistan and her two cross-overs into Afghanistan — Albinia travels into India and then Tibet as she traces the Indus to its origin — the Senge Khabab. Her trip to India is covered in one 22-page chapter, while the last chapter, 24 pages, details her travel through Tibet, up to the source of the river.

Though her travels through these two countries are glossed over, this is an interesting novel given the breadth and depth of history and geography that she covers. If you want to know more about Pakistan, or are an avid historian, you’ll definitely like the book.

If you’ve read this book, do let me know what you thought about it!

Book review: The White Tiger – Arvind Adiga

Cover of "The White Tiger: A Novel"
Cover of The White Tiger: A Novel

Munna, aka Balram Halwai, the narrator and main character of Arvind Adiga’s The White Tiger, narrates the story of his journey from a village in the Darkness to becoming an entrepreneur in the Light.

Starting out as a cleaning boy in a small tea shop in his village Laxmangarh, Munna moved to the city of Dhanbad with his elder brother to become a cleaner at a bigger tea shop. But his yearning for a uniform and a better life attracted him to the drivers that he saw at the tea shop, and he convinced his family to let him learn how to drive. By a strange quirk of fate, he soon gained employment with Mongoose, the son of a landlord (Stork) from his village. Learning the ways and means of the house, his cunning and intelligence enabled him to move with Stork’s younger, US returned son to Delhi, the city that eventually corrupted him. Detailing the sequence of events that led him to murder his master and flee to Bangalore, Balram narrates his life story in the form of seven letters to the Chinese Prime Minister who is visiting India shortly, in order to acquaint him with the “real India.”

I have to admit that I approached this book with a great deal of skepticism, which is why I read it this late! (It won the Booker in 2008.) I typically do not like Indian authors (chicklit authors aren’t included in this discussion), as they seem to write solely for a Western audience, depicting India as a completely backward country filled with murderers and marauders, and Indians as either backward, narrow minded people or people who fawn over white skin and want nothing more than to ape Westerners (think Kiran Desai’s Inheritance of Loss). But there are some, like Suketu Mehta, whose hard-hitting Millenium City took a brutal and honest look at the underbelly of Mumbai; Jhumpa Lahiri, who beautifully evoked the pathos and stories of Bengalis living abroad in Unaccustomed Earth; and Chetan Bhagat, whose books have mass appeal because he can connect to readers, young and old alike. (His 2 States took an honest look at the difficulties that youngsters face if they want to marry outside their caste.) I add to this list of believable authors Arvind Adiga.

Dharavi slums, Mumbai
(image via Wikipedia)

Representing India as two Indias, the Darkness and Light, Adiga takes a dig at the “India Shining” campaign launched by the BJP. The Darkness represents rural India, where poverty and illiteracy and feudalism still exist, the Light refers to the metros and fast-growing Tier I and II cities, which were the focus of the India Shining campaign. The Great Socialist, the political party that features in the novel, takes a dig at Mayawati, who rose to power in order to empower Dalits, but since then has only lined her pocket with cold hard cash. Adiga’s character sketch of Munna could fit almost any migrant worker, the so-called floating population that comes into big cities in search of work and a way out of their grinding poverty. His eventual corruption and betrayal of his master is a reflection of the corruption we see all around us.

Though he does focus on poverty and illetracy, on the great divide between rich and poor, this is a novel that is believable because India still remains a land of contradictions. The gaps have narrowed, but the economic and social divide remain.

All-in-all, it’s an interesting read, and I’d gladly recommend it to anyone.

Have you read the book? What do you think about it?