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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

    

Newcomer

by
Higashino Keigo


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Newcomer



Title: Newcomer
Author: Higashino Keigo
Genre: Novel
Written: 2009 (Eng. 2018)
Length: 342 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: Newcomer - US
Newcomer - UK
Newcomer - Canada
  • Japanese title: 新参者
  • Translated by Giles Murray
  • This is the eighth in Higashino's Kyoichiro Kaga-series

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Our Assessment:

B+ : appealing, creatively conceived variation on the police procedural

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian . 16/11/2018 Laura Wilson
The Japan Times . 3/11/2018 Mark Schreiber
The NY Times Book Rev. . 18/11/2018 Marilyn Stasio


  From the Reviews:
  • "What initially appears to be a chain of short stories coalesces into an investigation, as Kaga, in a delightfully low-key style, painstakingly builds up a picture of the dead womanís past and the events of the last days of her life." - Laura Wilson, The Guardian

  • "With kudos to Giles Murrayís readable translation, we get a story thatís original, exotic yet fully abides by the rules of the mystery genre. This book comes highly recommended." - Mark Schreiber, The Japan Times

  • "The characters, it must be said, are thinner than the dough used to create those delicate pastries; but in a fair exchange, the author has succeeded in making problem-solving logistics sexy. Since Kaga plucks all his clues from minor background details, their trivial nature is itself important. (...) In addition to illustrating the subtlety of the authorís narrative style, these minutiae add up to a tidy and quite credible solution." - Marilyn Stasio, The New York Times Book Review

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Newcomer is, somewhat confusingly, the eighth in Higashino's Inspector Kyoichiro Kaga-series (though only the second to appear in English, after Malice) but, while readers might wonder about Kaga's backstory, it's not the worst place to start in: he's starting fresh here, a newcomer to the Nihonbashi Precinct -- he repeatedly mentions: "The thing is, I just got transferred to this precinct and I honestly don't know much about it" -- and is presented without any obvious baggage or past. (Only briefly, near the end, is there any mention of his previous stations and accomplishments -- both his impressive reputation for solving crimes (and that he was: "a onetime all-Japan kendo champion") and a career-stumble that explains why he is now a mere lowly precinct detective after having been in the elite Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department's Homicide Division.) Indeed, while Newcomer is part of a series, it could pass for a stand-alone: Kaga is very much the featured character, but only in terms of the investigation, and his backstory (or home life, or pretty much anything personal) are almost entirely kept out of the picture.
       Newcomer is a police procedural, but not of the usual step-by-investigative-step variety; Higashino's approach is very different from the rote traditional one. Indeed, Newcomer stands out for its neat and clever composition, an entirely different way of presenting how a murder case is solved. Kaga is central to it -- not as the lead detective (that would be Hiroshi Uesugi, of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department's Homicide Division) but in his supporting role as local neighborhood detective, getting to know his new patch. In fact, for most of the novel, almost nothing of the investigation-proper is recounted here: yes, there's a murder, and, yes, the Homicide Division goes through its usual paces, but that's not what's featured most prominently as the novel unfolds. The murder scene, for example, is first seen only halfway through the novel, while Uesugi, despite leading the investigation, crops up only intermittently along the way until the final section.
       Newcomer is presented in nine parts, most of them focused on small businesses and/or families and individuals in Nihonbashi, an area dense with small, family-run shops that still sell traditional craft goods. Most of these parts focus on the personal and domestic, small bubbles -- with some overlap -- with laid-back (sloppily under-dressed, as Uesugi complains) Kaga eventually making an appearance. He always has some questions -- often some details about the business or the goods they carry -- and often takes a while before identifying himself as a policeman, or revealing that he is investigating a crime; often, those he speaks to only put two and two together after first meeting him.
       There was a murder. The novel doesn't begin with the murder, and it actually long remains in the background, but it's occurred by the time the novel starts -- as it is what has set Kaga off on his rounds. People are aware of it and discuss it, but it remains almost indistinct in the background, only the basics more or less known. The victim is a single divorcée named Mineko Mitsui, who was strangled. The time-range when it must have happened is known -- and narrowed down to a fairly small window. Circumstances suggest she knew her assailant.
       Various odds and ends lead Kaga down his different trails -- which he goes down generally entirely solo: he is a lone investigator, and while Uesugi does then feature more prominently, there's little sense of a larger police force at work.
       The last person to see the victim, for example, was an insurance agent who also stopped at the Kamikawa's rice cracker shop, and it takes Kaga's sniffing around there to make sense of the iffy timeline the police were initially presented with. So the first section of the novel focuses almost entirely on the Kamikawa family, with Kaga learning about the family and their situation: it has little to do with the murder itself -- except in ultimately explaining the insurance agent's claims -- but allows Kaga to get a better feel for their issues and for the neighborhood.
       And so it continues, Kaga working on what seems to be the periphery of the murder investigation, and meeting all sorts of people living and working in Nihonbashi. Some of the characters are, of course, less peripheral: there's the victim's son for example -- estranged from his parents after he dropped out of college and now trying to break into acting, he hadn't been in touch with his mother for almost two years. He didn't even know his mother lived nearby, and obviously has nothing directly to do with the murder -- but Kaga's sniffing around helps put peripheral pieces into place and shows how many things were indirectly involved.
       Higashino plays this up a bit much, but it works: Kaga's looking into the big(gest) picture, wandering around the neighborhood and popping into the likeliest and unlikeliest places, not only helps unravel and solve the case, but it also provides additional satisfactions for many of those peripherally touched by the case. The last part of the novel, centered around Uesugi, has Kaga lead the lead detective around and show him how he put together the incidental pieces that helped solve the case -- and how coming to the solution has also helped those around the crime. As he sees it: "People who've been traumatized by a crime are victims, too. Finding ways to comfort them is also part of my job". (And, of course, the final resolution has Kaga nudge Uesugi to put the final piece in place -- allowing Uesugi to face his own past and guilt and help him deal with that .....)
       Kaga's method does, at times, seem a bit of a stretch -- the friendly act, inviting folks out for a cup of coffee, more or less works, but he frequently over-shares: it's surely against police policy to comment on investigations, and certainly to the extent Kaga does, as when, with minimal prodding, he admits:

As we don't have any other plausible suspects right now, the Metropolitan Police guys have the hots for Takura.
       Kaga does claim at one point: "A policeman never likes to show his hand", and admittedly his revelations are strategic: he explains:
I won't shoot my mouth off, but sharing confidential information can sometimes help drive an investigation forward.
       Still, his willingness to share would seem to go way beyond the bounds of the professional -- and feels more like a convenient narrative device Higashino falls back on, allowing him to share more information without bothering with recounting the steps being taken in the investigation-proper (which, as noted, remains out of sight for almost the entire novel).
       The writing, and the mini-stories -- the glimpses of the various families and their own issues -- can be a bit hokey, but there's a genuinely genial feel to Newcomer which adds to its appeal. And the presentation -- the way Higashino sets the story up and presents it, piece by (slightly overlapping) piece -- really works well, making for a different kind of police procedural -- a welcome variation on the way-too-familiar kind of mystery.
       Appealing, and well worthwhile.

- M.A.Orthofer, 13 November 2018

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Links:

Newcomer: Reviews: Other books by Higashino Keigo under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Japanese author Higashino Keigo (東野圭吾) was born in 1958.

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© 2018 the complete review

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