Naoko was originally published by Bungei Shunju in 1998 under the title Himitsu, (Secret), and it won the Mystery Writers of Japan Award the following year. Like Kotaro Isaka many of Higashino's novels have been adapted to film, you can see a trailer for Himitsu here, his latest book translated into English, The Devotion of Suspect X was directed by Hiroshi Nishitani and released in 2008 starring Masaharu Fukuyama, who recently appeared in Ryomaden. Naoko was translated by Kerim Yasar and published by Vertical Inc back in 2004.
The narrative of the novel comes from Heisuke who works at a factory engineering automotive parts, he returns from work on what seems to be a day like any other, although his wife Naoko and daughter Monami have travelled to Nagano to attend a funeral of a cousin. Switching on the TV his attention is caught with the news of a crash involving a bus that's shuttling people on skiing holidays, knowing that his wife and daughter are on a bus similar to the one mentioned his worst fears are confirmed when Naoko and Monaki's names are mentioned among the casualties. Not long after arriving at the hospital Naoko passes away, Monami remains in a coma, when Monami regains consciousness it appears that Naoko's spirit/personality has transferred to Monami's body, she tells Heisuke of events that are known only between Naoko and him . Heisuke is caught between grieving for his wife and then his daughter, as they begin to adjust to this phenomenonal event Naoko decides to return to attend Junior High to pick up school where Monami had left off. Heisuke attends a meeting amongst family members of the victims to discuss compensation with the bus company, they discover that the driver crashed due to overwork and through this he meets the driver's wife, Seiko Kajikawa. Escorting her home after she slips over he notices that their home is not at all luxurious, Seiko continues to work at a firm contracted with Heisuke's, to provide for her daughter, Itsumi. Heisuke is puzzled as to where the driver's earnings were going as he was putting in so much overtime. The novel follows the two plots of Heisuke following the clues as to where the money was going, and also the events unfolding between himself and Naoko/Monami. Naoko is determined to study hard and do her best for Monami which causes tension between her and Heisuke, Heisuke frustrated as the physical side of their relationship has come to an abrupt end finds himself increasingly drawn to Monami's room tutor, Ms Hashimoto, Naoko discovers a photo of her tucked as a bookmark that Heisuke was reading, but things come to an end when Monami moves on to her next school.
Seiko Kajikawa discovers money orders her husband made to a Noriko Negishi who lives in Sapporo, which at first adds to Heisuke's perplexity, but he gets the chance to follow the lead later when he gets sent to Hokkaido on business. Tension begins to increase when Heisuke begins to suspect that Naoko is having an affair with Haruki Soma, a boy at her High School tennis club, Heisuke's paranoia and suspicions reach new heights when he taps their phone to listen in to his wife's conversations. Heisuke learns from Itsumi that Seiko Kajikawa has passed away, Itsumi gives Heisuke a clock that belonged to her father, Heisuke takes it to a jewellers to have it repaired and they discover a photo of a young boy when they remove the casing. The novel is a taught exploration of jealousy emanating from it's strange parenthesis, and Higashino constantly moves the boundaries of these as the novel progresses towards it's uncertain ending. There's a possible little reference to Soseki's I Am A Cat too, when Heisuke pretends to be looking for a copy in Monami's room, later a cat is seen in the garden, who's watching who?. I'm looking forward to reading The Devotion of Suspect X soon.
Naoko at Vertical Inc