Hiroshi Shimizu could be mistaken for one of any number of the faceless salarymen in Tokyo. With a stable desk job and a wage that gives all the small luxuries one can expect to enjoy from it, he can swallow his past regrets and the warm hazy memories of not so long ago. But Hiroshi isn’t just any old desk jockey; he’s a detective, specializing in white-collar crime – a serious problem with the inhumanly-efficient paperwork fever dream of modern Tokyo. And things are about to get a lot more complicated.
When Hiroshi’s mentor calls in a favor in investigating the gruesome murder of an American businessman, Hiroshi is pulled into a the fringes of the clean-cut society he’s used to. With unlikely allies and danger lurking around every corner, Hiroshi is about to find himself in deeper than he ever imagined…
The Last Train is a new detective thriller – and the start of an upcoming series – by American author Michael Pronko. Born in Kansas and having settled in Japan after several years of travel, Pronko has written several books on his personal experience of Japanese life, including the fascinating autobiographical essays on the culture in titles including Beauty and Chaos: Slices and Morsels of Tokyo Life and Motions and Moments: More Essays on Tokyo. Pronko has shown a panache for cutting to the heart of what makes Tokyo life so unique, in particular, and both informs and refracts out those core truths through his essays.
It’s no surprise to find that his first published fictional work would focus on the city – this time an exploration of the seedy underbelly of crime, in addition to the woes of the white collar world and the vibrancy of life in the cultural epicenter of Japan – and that his deep affinity for the city would translate into such an awe-inspiring read. Pronko truly knows how to use the setting in the read, exploring the many facets of the city to maximum effect. The book is colorful without being overdone. One might expect any American-written story involving a sumo wrestler as a significant figure might lapse into some dreadful stereotypes and poor attempts at weight-based humor, but not so here.
Pronko’s writing does suffer at times with some slight affectation, though there’s no point where the meaning isn’t immediately obvious. Rather, what seems to be a quirk of Pronko’s writing style is a slight abruptness and the odd sentence that comes across as jarringly direct. This may be due to the more direct nature of Japanese speakers and writers showing on the edges of Pronko’s English than an overt flaw in the novel. As one of the few criticisms that can be really found in the book, it should be an indicator of the novel’s quality.
The Last Train is a gripping read that’s not without its quirks, and leaves you really wanting to dig into the next book in the series, with two new books slated for release, currently titled Japan Hand and Thai Girl in Tokyo. This modernized throwback to the oft-forgotten Japanese detective story and classic noir is a thoroughly enjoyable start to a promising new detective series.
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