“A Midsummer’s Equation” by Keigo Higashino

A Midsummer's EquationA few weeks ago, my book group read All She Was Worth by Miyuki Miyabe, and it reminded me that I had been meaning to check out some more mysteries translated from the Japanese. If you look at any list of the “best ever” crime novels from Japan, one name is certain to appear again and again: Keigo Higashino. The prolific author won acclaim for his Edgar Award-nominated The Devotion of Suspect X, which is almost Agatha Christie-like in its ridiculously clever plotting. If you’ve never read a Japanese mystery, start with Suspect X.

A Midsummer’s Equation features a character who first appeared in Suspect X, a brilliant physicist named Yukawa. While many of Yukawa’s statements and actions seem cryptic at first, he is, of course, a genius who has a knack for solving crimes by using his amazing powers of deduction. In Equation, Yukawa turns up in the sleepy seaside town of Hari Cove, whose resorts and businesses seem to be on an endless downhill slide as tourists have opted to go elsewhere. The cove has been proposed as a site for offshore underwater drilling that could provide valuable resources. A series of hearings about the proposal’s pros and cons is being held in the town, and Yukawa is on the scene to participate in the talks.

He winds up staying at an inn housing only two other guests. One is a retired police detective who is also attending the hearings. The other is a non-paying guest: Kyohei, the nephew of the inn’s owners, is spending the summer. When the retired detective is found dead, at first it looks like an accident, but it soon becomes clear that he was murdered. The police investigating the crime can’t figure out what he was doing in Hari Cove in the first place, since not even his wife knew he was there, and he appeared to have no prior interest in environmental issues.

Yukawa’s interactions with Kyohei are delightful, as he teaches the young boy about science and math (with a few life lessons thrown in for good measure). The physicist is a fascinating character, one who is as knowledgeable about the human heart as he is about equations and theorems. My only quibble is that I wish I’d begun jotting down a “who’s who” when I started reading the book, as there are two teams of detectives (one from Tokyo and one local), and I found myself getting the names mixed up from time to time. No matter where a book takes place, be it Tokyo or Topeka, there are two little extras I always appreciate whenever they are included: maps, and lists of characters.