Review - The Last Train, Michael Pronko
Being a huge fan of Japanese crime fiction I admit to being particularly intrigued by THE LAST TRAIN. Set in Tokyo the viewpoint of this novel, written by an ex-pat American professor of American Literature at Meiji Gakuin University who has now lived in that city for twenty years, was a large part of this appeal.
Whatever elements there are that feed into THE LAST TRAIN, they have combined to create a fascinating police procedural / serial killer with a reason novel interwoven with aspects of Japanese tradition and culture. Things get underway pretty quickly, when we're introduced to a victim being led away from a bar district, absolutely hammered drunk, only to have him fall in front of an underground train. Obviously the first part of the investigation is to decide if this American man was an extreme form of suicide or a murder. Enter our detective hero - Detective Hiroshi Shimizu, a man who remembers fondly his time studying in America. Filled with regret over the loss of his foreign girlfriend, he is pulled into a murder investigation in a most unexpected manner. Shimizu is a white collar crime investigator - much more at home in the world of financial shenanigans and spreadsheets, it's via his mentor, Takamatsu that he finds himself included in a murder investigation that rapidly becomes a serial killer hunt. When his Takamatsu goes missing Shimizu teams up with ex-sumo wrestler Sakaguchi to track down that most unusual of things - a female serial killer.
The outsider's viewpoint really works well in the way that Tokyo life is observed and described. There's lots of little gems of information imparted as the action proceeds - from the food / the night life / the way that the nightclub and hostess world works, and there's great humour. It was impossible not to laugh out loud at sumo-sized thugs setting off overweight alarms in lifts, and an elderly man prepared to use machinery lathes as a lethal weapon if necessary.
Interestingly, even though it's an outsider viewpoint, it has an intrinsically Japanese feel to the novel - there's much to learn about the society, there's much to learn about the people, and there's much to admire in creating a female serial killer who is believable, and, more importantly sympathetic understandable.
Even with a little bit of heavy lifting towards the end dragging everything into line, THE LAST TRAIN is a really good novel for fans of crime fiction in general, and Asian crime in particular.
THE LAST TRAIN is the gripping new Tokyo-based mystery by multi-award-winning author Michael Pronko
Detective Hiroshi Shimizu investigates white collar crime in Tokyo. He’s lost his girlfriend and still dreams of his time studying in America, but with a stable job, his own office and a half-empty apartment, he’s settled in.
When an American businessman turns up dead, his mentor Takamatsu calls him out to the site of a grisly murder. A glimpse from a security camera video suggests the killer was a woman, but in Japan, that seems unlikely. Hiroshi quickly learns how close homicide and suicide can appear in a city full of high-speed trains just a step—or a push—away.
Takamatsu drags Hiroshi out to the hostess clubs and skyscraper offices of Tokyo in search of the killer. She’s trying to escape Japan for a new life by playing a high-stakes game of insider information. To find her, Hiroshi goes deeper and deeper into Tokyo’s intricate, ominous market for buying and selling the most expensive land in the world.
When Takamatsu inexplicably disappears, Hiroshi teams up with ex-sumo wrestler Sakaguchi. They scour Tokyo’s sacred temples, corporate offices and industrial wastelands to find out where Takamatsu went, and why one woman would be driven to murder when she seems to have it all.
After years in America and lost in neat, clean spreadsheets, Hiroshi confronts the stark realities of the biggest city in the world, where inside information can travel in a flash from the top investment firms to the bottom of the working world, where street-level punks and teenage hostesses sell their souls for a small cut of highly lucrative land deals.
Hiroshi’s determined to cut through Japan’s ambiguities—and dangers—to find the murdering ex-hostess before she extracts her final revenge—which just might be him.