The plot of the second novel by Hogashino revolves around the investigation of a ‘murder by poisoning’ case of Yoshitaka, a reasonably rich Japanese man. Married to the pretty woman that Ayane is, Yoshitaka is in an extramarital relationship with Hiromi, his wife’s pupil assistant at the patchwork training school run by her. The novel opens to the reader with a feel of the apparent discord and unease that has crept in the fabric of Yoshitaka and Ayane’s married life. The Ikai family comes to the couple’s house for a party following which the wife leaves for her parents’ place in Sapporo for a break. After she leaves, Hiromi meets Yoshitaka and the following day he is found dead on the floor in his house. Kusinaga, the detective from Tokyo takes on from here and investigates the case with his assistants Utsumi and Kishitani. It is established that the man has been killed by poison in his coffee. The wife and the paramour both emerge as the suspects. Interestingly it so happens during the course of the investigation that Kusanagi, the detective gets enamoured by the beautiful wife and his observations are subsequently guided by this feeling he develops for the woman who is a suspect in the case. The remaining plot is further foray into the investigation during which arise some necessary and emotional and at times not so necessary and not so emotional situations before the murder mystery is cracked.
In my opinion, the strength of a novel or of a film lies in the ability of the writer or the director to conceal to the extent possible the design of the work from the reader and the viewer. What adds to the mediocrity of a work is its manifest attempt at explaining situations and justifing the occurence of events or continually relating one event with the other so that reading the novel becomes a major exercise in nothing else but connecting the dots. In the process, the reader loses the essence of the larger aesthetic that the author has in mind. I found Salvation of a Saint to be precisely such a case. The author says almost everything through his characters. This approach frames the characters very well as we get to know who they are and their personalities stay with us. At the same time this approach makes reading the novel a mechanical exercise if one may call it that. A lot of ink is spent on the ‘thinking aloud’ characters. Consequently the author fails in painting the canvas where his characters stand as wonderfully drawn sketches. Undoubtedly the novel has a good plot and makes for an interesting reading. There is much that goes missing in the detailing of things not so necessary, of dialogues not so pertinent.
Lastly, Salvation of a Saint is a translated piece and hence a comment on its language might end up being unfair. Yet it may be pointed out that it makes for an ordinary reading of what could have been a brilliant thriller. Despite these shortcomings, Salvation of a Saint does moderately succeed in keeping the reader glued till the end. It is in my opinion a sincere attempt at targeting a readership that has predetermined ideas of what a ‘murder mystery novel’ should be and hence fails to break new ground.