I loved Barry Eisler’s thriller set in Tokyo, so when the offer to review The Last Train: A Tokyo Mystery by Michael Pronko came into my mail, I was intrigued.
An American falls in front of an express train and main character Detective Hiroshi Shimizu is called in — even though he’s supposed to investigate only white collar crime — because his boss wants someone who is fluent in English on the case. Questions begin to pile up. Was it a suicide or murder? What was the role of the mysterious woman seen on the security footage? It will take all of Detective Shimizu’s stamina to find out.
Although the cover says it is a mystery, this book is technically a thriller because the killer is revealed early in the story. Unlike the typical thriller, however, the pace is relatively leisurely as Detective Shimizu journeys around Tokyo gathering clues.
This is not a bad thing. You want Detective Shimisu to wander around Tokyo, because Pronko has a talent for describing all things Japanese in a unique way.
Roppingi pulsed and glowed. Lighted signs listing the clubs inside zipped up the sides of buildings from sidewalk to rooftop. The names shouted over each other — Black Moon, Abrazos, Kingdom Come, Patpong Alibi, ManZokku, Balibago Den… Light cascaded out of these mini-marquees that climbed the buildings like electric ivy.
I’ve seen the neon signs in Las Vegas, and “electric ivy” seems like an apt description.
These sort of clever turns of phrase are sprinkled like gems throughout the book. Take this quote about Hiroshi’s AWOL girlfriend:
Hiroshi could understand now how her loneliness piled up with boredom at teaching and the pressure of adapting to a new culture…– so much so that the pressure pushed her into action and she left. When she did, she handed the loneliness to him.
She handed his loneliness back to him? Incredible imagery.
That is not to say the novel is perfect. It took me some time to get used to the unusual rhythm of Pronko’s voice. It seemed to come in fits and starts, and at times I wanted to pull out my editor’s pen and smooth it out. My guess is it may be because he lives in Japan and he’s subconsciously adopted some of the rhythm of the Japanese language. Anyway it is not a severe issue and many readers probably won’t even notice it.
If you like thrillers/mysteries and have traveled to Tokyo, want to travel to Tokyo, or are interested in learning more about Tokyo, then this book is for you. The Last Train may be Michael Pronko’s first foray into fiction, but it deserves a second look.