Book Review: Silent Parade

Book Review: Silent Parade

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If there is one author that can be credited with popularizing Japanese crime fiction not just in the West but the rest of Asia, it is Keigo Higashino. I hadn’t read much of Japanese crime fiction before Higashino but after reading MaliceThe Devotion of Suspect X and Salvation of a Saint in one gulp, I went on to read a slew of crime novels by authors such as Riku Onda (The Aosawa Murders) and Yukito Ayatsuji (Decagon House Murders) among others.

Higashino is a master of crime fiction. His novels follow the Japanese honkaku tradition of storytelling where the actual crime is a mind-boggling puzzle full of twists and turns, the narrative is liberally sprinkled with red herrings and unreliable witnesses. Clues and a list of suspects are provided at the start of the novel and one notices the sense of fair play throughout the narrative. In fact, Higashino’s novels move from the traditional whodunit into the whydunit and howdunit territory. The narrative reveals why and how the criminal commits the crime. 

In Silent Parade, the remains of a beautiful young girl who had gone missing are discovered in the basement of a burned down house. The police narrow in on a suspect accused of a hideous crime in the past. Unfortunately, the detectives are unable to find conclusive evidence that tie him to the two deaths. The suspected killer goes scot-free till he is found dead during a popular street festival. Chief Inspector Kusanagi who has worked the earlier cases is called in to investigate and he turns to Manabu Yukawa or Detective Galileo to help him figure out how the man died and reconstruct what happened in the past.

The concept, combining elements of a locked-room mystery with a police procedural, is brilliant as usual and Higashino never fails to surprise me. You think he’s given away the plot right at the beginning & you are confused. How can it be that simple?  But the man draws you in & keeps you turning the pages in anticipation with twists & turns along the way. The final reveal will knock your socks off. He is clearly inspired by Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express and even mentions the book in a passage: ‘Kusanagi suspected that a cabin on the Orient Express, the train from Agatha Christie’s famous novel, would be more comfortable than his hotel room.’

The thing that I found disconcerting about the book is the clunky and rather unwieldy language that disrupted the flow of the narrative. Crime fiction deserves crisp storytelling. And then I noticed that this book has a different translator – perhaps I was not used to his style. The earlier books I’d read had a different translator. There were several tiresome repetitions in the text as well. For instance, when diners come to a restaurant – a key place in the story, Natsumi (the owner’s daughter) greets them with a towel and then puts a bottle of beer, a glass and an appetizer on their tables. Perhaps it wasn’t necessary to mention this fact every single time someone comes to the restaurant. The frequent switches from using the first name (for a character) to surname were slightly confusing – I had to keep going back to the list of characters at the beginning to determine who was being described. Towards the end of the novel, there was an abrupt switch to first person narrative. At this point, the plot had become extremely convoluted and it could have been simplified.

Having said that, it was a page-turner and a gripping read overall. While Malice and Salvation of a Saint are my top choices, this would come a close second.

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