"Fiendishly clever… Higashino offers one twist after another… Readers will marvel at the artful way the plot builds to the solution." Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Acclaimed bestselling novelist Kunihiko Hidaka is found brutally murdered in his home on the night before he's planning to leave Japan and relocate to Vancouver. His body is found in his office, a locked room, within his locked house, by his wife and his best friend, both of whom have rock solid alibis. Or so it seems.
At the crime scene, Police Detective Kyochiro Kaga recognizes Hidaka's best friend, Osamu Nonoguchi. Years ago when they were both teachers, they were colleagues at the same public school. Kaga went on to join the police force while Nonoguchi eventually left to become a full-time writer, though with not nearly the success of his friend Hidaka.
As Kaga investigates, he eventually uncovers evidence that indicates that the two writers' relationship was very different that they claimed, that they were anything but best friends. But the question before Kaga isn't necessarily who, or how, but why. In a brilliantly realized tale of cat and mouse, the detective and the killer battle over the truth of the past and how events that led to the murder really unfolded. And if Kaga isn't able to uncover and prove why the murder was committed, then the truth may never come out.
Malice is one of the bestsellingthe most acclaimednovel in Keigo Higashino's series featuring police detective Kyochiro Kaga, one of the most popular creations of the bestselling novelist in Asia.
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By Keigo Higashino, Alexander O. Smith
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2015 Keigo Higashino
All rights reserved.
OSAMU NONOGUCHI’S ACCOUNT
The incident took place on April 16, 1996, a Tuesday.
I left my house at three thirty in the afternoon to go to Kunihiko Hidaka’s place, which was only one station away by train. From the train station, you then had to take a bus, but even after adding in walking time, I could make the trip in twenty minutes.
I would often drop in on my friend for no particular reason; however, today was different. This time I had a purpose in mind. If I didn’t go today, I might not have the chance to see him again for quite some time.
His house was in a residential development and was one of the many upscale houses on his street. Some of the others would even qualify as mansions. The area had been forest once, and many of the owners had kept some of the original trees as part of their landscaping. The beech trees and oaks were tall enough to cast shade on the road.
Though roads in this part of town weren’t particularly narrow, they were all one-way. I guess that this was simply another indication of the residents’ status.
I wasn’t particularly surprised when, a few years ago, Hidaka bought a house in this neighborhood. Anyone in the area with any ambition at all dreamed of living here someday.
Hidaka’s house wasn’t one of the mansions, but it was definitely large for a couple with no children. Though the peaked gables on the roof gave it a Japanese look, it had bay windows, an arch over the front door, and flower boxes hanging from the second-story windows that were clearly Western in design. The house was the result of the application of ideas from both husband and wife, I reckoned, although, considering the low brick wall around the house, the balance seemed skewed in the wife’s favor. She once admitted to me that she always wanted to live in an old, European-style castle. His wife was odd like that.
Correction. His late wife.
I walked along the wall, which was laid so only the long sides of the bricks faced the street, and pressed the intercom button by the gate.
There was no answer. Then I noticed the Saab was missing from the driveway. Guess he’s stepped out, I thought.
I was wondering how to pass the time while waiting for him to return when I remembered the cherry tree in Hidaka’s garden. The buds had been about 30 percent open the last time I was there, which was ten days ago. I wondered how the buds were coming along.
I let myself in through the gate, figuring it wasn’t too much of a transgression. The path to the front door split into two along the way, with the offshoot leading toward the south side of the house. I followed that one to the garden.
A number of the cherry blossoms had already fallen, but enough were left on the tree to make it worthwhile viewing. That is, it would have been, if it hadn’t been for the woman, a woman I didn’t know, standing in the garden, looking down at the ground. She was dressed casually, in jeans and a sweater, and had something white and crumpled in her hand.
“Hello?” I called out.
She seemed startled and looked up at me quickly. “Oh, I’m sorry.” She showed me what was in her hand: a white hat. “The wind caught it and carried it into the garden. I didn’t see anyone home—I’m sorry.”
She looked to be in her late thirties. Eyes, nose, and mouth small and unremarkable. A plain-faced woman with an unhealthy cast to her skin. For a moment, I wondered about her story, if the wind had really been blowing hard enough to carry a hat.
“Is there something interesting on the ground there?” I asked.
She smiled. “The grass was growing in so nicely, I wondered how they were taking care of it.”
“I wish I could tell you.” I shrugged. “This is my friend’s house.”
She nodded. It seemed to me that she’d already realized I didn’t live here. “Sorry for the intrusion,” she said quickly, then walked past me to the front gate.
About five minutes later I heard a car pulling into the driveway. It was Hidaka. I walked around to the front door to see his navy-blue Saab backing into the garage. Hidaka noticed me standing there and nodded. In the passenger seat, his new wife, Rie, smiled and bowed her head.
“Sorry,” he said, getting out of the car. “I just stepped out to do some last-minute shopping, and the traffic was terrible. Have you been waiting long?”
“I was enjoying your cherry blossoms.”
“What’s left of them.”
“It’s a beautiful tree.”
He grinned. “Yeah, it’s great when it’s in bloom, but after that? It’s a real pain in the ass. That tree’s right next to my office window and you should see the caterpillars.”
“Then it’s lucky you won’t be working here for a while.”
“Anything to escape caterpillar hell. Come on inside. We still haven’t packed all the cups so I can at least offer you some coffee.”
We went in through the arched entryway.
Practically everything in the house was already boxed up. Even the paintings had disappeared from the walls.
“You almost done packing?” I asked.
“All but the office,” Hidaka said. “Not that we did much of it ourselves. We had the moving company come in a few times.”
“Where’re you going to sleep tonight?”
“I made a reservation at a hotel. The Crown. Except, I might end up sleeping here anyway.”
We went into his office. It was decent size and looked oddly vacant with just a computer, a desk, and a small bookshelf remaining.
“I take it you’ve got a deadline tomorrow?”
Hidaka frowned and nodded. “Yeah, it’s the last in a series. I have to send it to my publisher by fax tonight, if you can believe that. That’s why I haven’t turned off the phones yet.”
“How many pages do you have left to write?”
“Thirty or so. I’ll make it.”
We sat in a couple of chairs facing each other by the corner of the desk. Rie came in, bringing the coffee.
“I wonder how the weather is in Vancouver. It’s got to be colder than here,” I said to both of them.
“It’s a completely different latitude, so it’s definitely colder.”
“But it’s nice that it’ll be cool in the summer,” Rie added. “I never liked having to run the air-conditioning all the time.”
“I’d like to think that a cool breeze through the office will help me get more work done, but we both know that’s not going to happen,” Hidaka said with a grin.
“You should definitely come visit us, Osamu. We’ll take you on a tour,” Rie offered.
“Thanks. I’ll take you up on that.”
“Please do.” Rie bowed slightly. “I’ll leave you two to it, then.” She headed back downstairs.
Hidaka stood, coffee cup in hand, and went over to the window. “I’m glad I got to see the cherry tree in full bloom at least.”
“Hey, if it blooms nice next year, I’ll take a picture and send it to you in Canada. Do they have cherry trees over there?”
“No idea. I know there’s none near the place I’ll be living, at least.” He took a sip of his coffee.
“That reminds me. There was a woman in your garden a little while ago, before you got here.” At first, I’d been hesitant to tell him.
“Oh, yeah?” Hidaka frowned.
I told him about the woman, and his suspicious frown turned into a wry smile. “Did her face look like one of those round-headed, wooden kokeshi dolls?”
“Yeah, now that you mention it, it did.” I laughed.
“Yeah, her last name’s Niimi. Lives down the street. She might look young, but she’s definitely over forty. Rie thinks she’s married, but that her husband works in another city and they have one of those distance-marriage arrangements.”
“You seem to know her. Are you friends?”
“Hardly.” He opened the window and closed the screen. A warm breeze blew in, carrying with it the smell of leaves. “Quite the opposite, actually. I believe she has a grudge against me.”
“A grudge? What for?”
“A cat. Her cat died the other day. Apparently she found it lying by the road. When she took it to a veterinarian, he told her he thought it had been poisoned.”
“What does that have to do with you?”
“She thinks I’m responsible. That I put out a poisoned meatball and her cat ate it.”
“Seriously? Why would she think that?”
“Oh, that’s the best part.” Hidaka pulled a magazine off the bookshelf and opened it. “Take a look.”
It was an essay, entitled “The Limits of Patience,” and Hidaka’s photo was next to the title. The essay was about a cat that had a habit of wandering onto the author’s property and bothering him. Every morning, he found cat poop in the garden, pawprints on the hood of his car, and his potted plants shredded. He’d seen a white-and-brown-speckled cat around, knew it was the culprit, but could do nothing about it. He’d tried everything he could think of but nothing worked. An old wives’ tale says that cats are afraid of their reflections, so, in desperation, he lined up plastic bottles filled with water in the hope that the cat would see itself in these makeshift mirrors and be scared away. But that didn’t work at all. The gist of this short essay was that the limits of his patience were tested daily.
“And the deceased was a white-and-brown-speckled cat?” I asked.
“Something like that, yeah.”
“I see. No wonder she thinks you’re the culprit.”
“Last week, she comes over with this dark look on her face. She didn’t accuse me of poisoning her cat outright, but she implied it strongly. Rie told her she was crazy and sent her packing. I thought that was end of it … but if she’s been snooping around in the garden, I must still be her prime suspect. She’s probably looking for poisoned meatballs.”
“Persistent, isn’t she?”
“Oh, women like that always are.”
“Doesn’t she know you’re moving to Canada?”
“Rie explained that we were moving to Vancouver in a week, so why would we worry about a cat we only had to deal with a little while longer? She may not look it, but when it comes to a fight, Rie can really dig in.” Hidaka laughed deeply.
“Well, she has a point. I can’t see any reason why you guys would bother to kill that cat.”
For some reason, Hidaka didn’t respond right away. He just grinned, looking out the window. He finished his coffee before saying, “I did do it, you know.”
“Huh?” I said, unable to grasp his meaning immediately. “Did what?”
“I killed the cat. I killed it with poisoned meatballs that I put out in our garden. I didn’t really think it would work, at least not as well as it did.”
I thought he was pulling my leg until I saw his face. He was smiling, but it wasn’t the kind of smile that went with a joke.
“Where did you get the poisoned meatballs?”
“That part was easy. I just mixed in some pesticide with cat food and left them out in the garden. A cat will eat anything, you know.” Hidaka put a cigarette in his mouth and lit it, taking a leisurely drag. The smoke dissipated in the breeze coming in through the window.
“But, why?” To tell the truth, I was a little disturbed by this revelation.
“I told you we haven’t found a tenant yet?” His cold smile faded.
“Our real estate agent’s still looking, but when he was here the other day, he said something that bothered me.”
“He didn’t think it made a good impression to have all those plastic bottles lined up in front of the house. It would make people think we had a problem with strays, which would make it hard to rent.”
“So just throw away the bottles. They didn’t work, anyway.”
“Yeah, but that wouldn’t solve the basic problem. What happens if someone comes here to check out the place and there’s cat shit all over the garden? If we’re here, we can clean it up, but what happens once we leave? I can’t have the place smelling like a litter box.”
“So you killed the cat?”
“Hey, the owner’s as responsible for what happened as I am. Not that she seems to understand that at all.” Hidaka stubbed out his cigarette in an ashtray.
“Does Rie know?”
The corner of his mouth curled up in another smile and he shook his head. “Are you kidding? Women love cats. If I told her the truth, she’d think I was the devil incarnate.”
I sat in silence, at a loss for how to respond. Just then, the phone rang and Hidaka picked it up.
“Hello?… Oh, hi. I was wondering when you’d call.… Yes, all according to schedule.… Hey, okay, you got me. I was just about to start.… Sure, I should be able to get it done tonight.… Right, I’ll send it along as soon as it’s finished.… No, actually, this phone will be out of service after noon tomorrow. I’ll have to call you.… Yes, from the hotel. Right, bye.”
He hung up and gave a little sigh.
“Yes. My articles are usually late, but this time the stakes are a little bit higher. I mean, if he doesn’t get it from me tonight, then he won’t have it in time. I’ll be out of the country by the day after tomorrow.”
“Well.” I stood from my chair. “I should probably get going then. I don’t want to throw you off schedule.”
The doorbell rang. “It’s probably just a salesman,” Hidaka said, but then we heard Rie walking down the hallway, followed by a knock at the office door.
“Yeah?” Hidaka called out.
She opened the door and peered in, a dark look on her face. “It’s Ms. Fujio,” she said quietly.
Hidaka’s face clouded over like the sky before a squall. “Not her again.”
“She says it’s something she needs to talk to you about today.”
“Great.” Hidaka chewed his lip. “She must’ve found out we’re moving to Canada.”
“Should I say you’re busy?”
“Yeah”—then, after a moment of thought—“no, I’ll see her. Might as well get it over with now so I don’t have to think about it later. You can let her up.”
“If you’re sure…” Rie glanced in my direction.
“Oh, don’t worry about me,” I said. “I was just leaving.”
“Well, this is a fine pickle,” Hidaka said with a sigh after she’d left the room.
“Is that Fujio as in Masaya Fujio?”
“Yeah, it’s his sister. Her name’s Miyako.” Hidaka scratched his forehead beneath the longish locks of his hair. “If she just wanted some cash, that’d be easy enough. But a total recall? Rewrites? Give me a break.”
More footsteps sounded in the hall. Hidaka’s mouth snapped shut. I heard Rie apologizing for the lack of lights. A knock.
“Yes?” Hidaka said.
“Ms. Fujio,” Rie said, opening the door.
Behind her stood a woman in her late twenties. She had long hair and was wearing the kind of suit that college grads wear to their first job interview. For an unexpected visitor, she had put a lot of attention into her presentation.
“So, I’ll see you later,” I said to Hidaka. I was about to tell him I’d come to see him off the day after tomorrow, but checked myself. I didn’t know for sure if Ms. Fujio knew he was leaving and didn’t want to rock any boats. Hidaka nodded quietly.
Rie walked me to the door. “Sorry to rush you out like this.” She pressed her hands together apologetically, one eye closed in a wink. She was short and slender enough that the expression made her look like a young girl. It was hard to believe she was over thirty.
“That’s okay. I’ll come see you off the day after tomorrow.”
“Oh, it’s all right. We don’t want to trouble you. I’m sure you’re busy.”
“No, it’s no trouble at all. See you.”
“Good-bye,” she said, and stood watching me as I walked out the gate and turned the corner.
* * *
I was back at my apartment doing a bit of work when the doorbell rang. My place was a lot different from Hidaka’s: a large studio apartment in a five-story building. The room was divided down the middle, with one side functioning as a combined workspace and bedroom, while the other, slightly larger side served as living room, dining room, and kitchen.
I didn’t have a Rie of my own, so when the doorbell rang, there was no one to answer it but me.
I looked through the peephole, then opened the door. It was my editor, Oshima.
“Punctual as always,” I said.
“It’s the only thing I have going for me.” He held out a nicely wrapped box from a famous Japanese sweet shop. “Here, a bribe.”
He knows me too well.
“Sorry you had to come all the way out here.”
He shook his head. “It was on my way home.”
I motioned him in and poured some tea. Then I stepped into my office and brought out the manuscript that had been lying on the desk. “Can’t say how good it is, but it’s done. Here.”
“Let me take a look.”
He set down his cup and reached for the manuscript, beginning to read immediately. I opened a newspaper. It always made me uncomfortable to have people read my stuff in front of me.
He was about halfway through when the cordless phone on the dining-room table began to ring.
I got up and answered it. “Yes, Nonoguchi speaking.”
“Hey, it’s me.” Hidaka’s voice was somewhat muted.
“Hey there. What’s up?” What I really wanted to know, though, was what had happened with Miyako Fujio.
He paused for a moment. “You busy?”
“Well, I’ve got someone here right now.”
“Right. How long before you’re free?”
I glanced at the clock on the wall. It was just after six. “Not long, I think. What’s up?”
“Eh, it’s not really a phone conversation. There’s something I want to ask you about. Think you could come over?”
“Sure, no problem.” I almost asked if this was about the Fujios, but I resisted. I’d almost forgotten Oshima was sitting right next to me.
“How about eight o’clock?”
“Great, I’ll be waiting.” He hung up.
I set down the phone and Oshima started to get up from the sofa.
“If you’re busy, I can head out—”
“No, it’s fine.” I waved him back to his seat. “I made an appointment to meet a friend at eight. I’ve got plenty of time. Please, read.”
“I see. Well then.” He sat back and resumed reading.
I made another attempt to distract myself by reading the newspaper, but I couldn’t stop thinking about Hidaka. He’d written a novel a couple of years earlier, Forbidden Hunting Grounds, which was about a woodblock artist. It was supposedly fiction but its main character was based on a real person: Masaya Fujio.
Fujio had gone to the same middle school as Hidaka and me, and a lot of what the three of us had done and seen together ended up in the book. This would have been fine, especially since he changed everyone’s name, but the novel revealed some things that Masaya Fujio wouldn’t have been particularly proud to see in print. All of the various misadventures of his student life were detailed pretty much as they’d happened in real life, including the shocking finale, where Masaya is stabbed to death by a prostitute.
The book became a bestseller. Anyone who’d known Masaya could easily guess who the model for the novel’s main character had been. Of course, someone in the Fujio family eventually saw it.
Masaya’s father had already passed away, but his mother and sister raised a fuss. They said it was obvious that Masaya was the model for the book and that they had never granted permission to Hidaka to write such a book about him. The book was a violation of their family’s privacy, and a stain on Masaya’s reputation. They demanded that all copies of the novel be pulled from the shelves, and that the novel be extensively rewritten before it was republished.
As Hidaka had said, it didn’t seem to be about money. Though there was still some doubt as to whether the demand for rewrites was sincere, or simply a negotiation tactic.
Judging from his voice on the phone, the negotiations hadn’t gone well. Still, I wondered why he’d called me. Maybe he was really in a fix. Maybe things had somehow gotten worse. I wondered how I could help.
As I sat there lost in thought, Oshima finished reading the manuscript. “Seems good to me. Laid-back, a bit nostalgic. I like it.”
“That’s good to hear.” I was genuinely relieved. I took a long sip of my tea. Oshima was a good kid, not the type to offer empty praise.
Normally, we would then have discussed what was to come next, but I had agreed to go see Hidaka soon. I looked at the clock. Six thirty.
“You good on time?” Oshima asked.
“I’m fine, but I was thinking—there’s a decent restaurant near here. Why don’t we eat while we talk?”
“Sure thing. I have to eat, too, after all.” Oshima put the manuscript in his bag. If I remembered correctly, he was almost thirty, but still single.
The restaurant, one of those family places, was only a two- or three-minute walk from my apartment. We talked over casserole and mostly we just chatted about this and that. But I brought up the subject of Hidaka.
When I did, Oshima looked surprised. “You know him?”
“We went to the same elementary school and middle school. We grew up right around the corner from each other and not far from here. You could walk to our old neighborhood from here, though, of course, neither of our houses are still there. They were torn down to build apartment buildings years ago.”
“So, you were childhood friends.”
“We keep in touch.”
“Wow.” Oshima was obviously impressed. I could see the envious longing in his eyes. “I had no idea.”
“Actually, he was the one who brought my work to your magazine.”
“You don’t say.”
“Yeah, your editorial director asked Hidaka to submit a piece but he turned them down, saying he didn’t do children’s fiction. Instead, he brought me in to meet with the editor in chief. You could say I owe him one.” I lifted a forkful of macaroni to my mouth.
“Huh! I hadn’t heard that. It’d be interesting to see what Hidaka would do with children’s literature, though.” Oshima looked up at me. “What about you, Mr. Nonoguchi? Have you ever thought of writing something for adults?”
“Someday, maybe. If the opportunity presents itself.” I meant it.
We left the restaurant at seven thirty and walked to the station together. We were going in different directions, so I said good-bye to Oshima at the platform. My train came soon after that.
I reached Hidaka’s at exactly eight o’clock. I first noticed something was wrong when I got to the front door. The house was completely dark, and even the entranceway light was off.
I tried the intercom button anyway, but there was no reply.
At first, I thought I’d misunderstood him. Hidaka had definitely asked me to come at eight, but maybe he hadn’t meant for us to meet at his house.
When there was no answer at the front door, I left and started walking back toward the station. Along the way was a small park with a pay phone by its entrance. I pulled out my wallet and stepped into the booth.
I got the number for the Crown Hotel from information and then called and asked for Hidaka. The desk put me through immediately and Rie answered, “Hello?”
“It’s me, Nonoguchi. Is Hidaka in?”
“No, he hasn’t come to the hotel yet. I think he’s still at home. He still had some work left to do.”
“I don’t think he’s there.” I explained that I’d been to the house and it didn’t look like anyone was home.
“He said he wouldn’t be here until pretty late.”
“So maybe he just went out for a bit then?”
“That doesn’t sound right, either.” Rie went quiet. “Look, how about I come and take a look,” she said after a minute. “I should be there in about forty minutes. Where are you now?”
I told her that I could kill time at the local café and then meet her at the house when she got there. After hanging up, I left the phone booth, but before going to the café I decided to take one more look at Hidaka’s place. When I got there, the lights were still all out. But this time, I noticed that the Saab was parked in the driveway. That bothered me.
The café was a specialty coffee shop and one of Hidaka’s favorite places to go when he wanted a change of scenery. I’d been there several times, and the owner recognized me and asked after Hidaka. I told him I was supposed to meet up with Hidaka, but that he’d been a no-show. We talked about baseball for a good half hour before I paid my tab and left, walking quickly back toward the Hidaka residence.
I got to the front gate just as Rie was getting out of a taxi. I called out to her and she smiled at me. But when she looked at the house, her face clouded over. “There really isn’t a single light on.”
“I guess he’s still out.”
“But he didn’t say he’d be going anywhere.”
She walked to the front door, pulling the keys out of her bag. I followed along behind her. The door was locked. She unlocked it, went inside, and started turning on lights. It was cool inside the house. Empty.
Rie walked down the hallway to Hidaka’s office. This door was also locked.
“Does he always lock the office door before leaving?” I asked.
She shook her head as she fished another key from her purse. “Not much recently.”
She opened the door. The lights in the office were off, but it wasn’t completely dark. The computer was on, and a pale glow came from the monitor. Rie felt along the wall for the light switch, then she abruptly stopped.
Hidaka was lying in the middle of the room, his feet pointing toward the door.
After being frozen for a few seconds, Rie dashed over to him. But before she reached him, she stopped in her tracks, frozen again, her hands pressed to her mouth.
Gingerly, I approached. Hidaka was lying facedown with his head twisted so I could see the left side of his face. His eyes were half-open. They were the eyes of a corpse.
“He’s dead,” I said.
Rie slowly collapsed to the floor. The sobs came welling up the moment her knees touched the carpet.
Copyright © 1996 by Keigo Higashino
Translation copyright © 2014 by Alexander O. Smith
Excerpted from Malice by Keigo Higashino, Alexander O. Smith. Copyright © 2015 Keigo Higashino. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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