Tokyo comes to vivid life in this taut thriller by consummate storyteller Michael Pronko. The fast pace is set early as an American businessman is pushed in front of a speeding express train deep underground — with predictable and gory results.
But who shoved him and why?
A trail of business cards leads two Tokyo detectives through the fascinating world of Japanese “hostess clubs” in search of a tall, brunette woman glimpsed only briefly in security camera footage.
Pronko’s richly layered and detailed description of Tokyo’s many facets — which only a native or long-time resident, like the author — can imbue, fill the narrative with the city’s robust sights and sounds, from glittering and raucous karaoke bars to savory ramen noodle shops.
Private detective Hiroshi Shimizu is paired with a seasoned plainclothes cop named Takamatsu to begin a methodical search for the killer under pressure from the U.S. Embassy — and it leads them inevitably through a string of nightclubs each night.
Drinking is serious business in Tokyo, as are the ritualized greetings and averted eyes that are so much a part of the culture in the Japanese capitol. If you’ve never been to Japan, you’ll learn a lot, just by soaking up the scenes that enrich this story.
The emerging list of clues the twosome must follow up is daunting. Like the startling fact that Tokyo has more than five suicides each and every day at train stations alone — more than 2,000 a year.
That would be an easy way to write off the unfortunate American’s death. But, for Hiroshi and Takamatsu, the image of the tall, broad-shouldered beauty glimpsed in the railway camera archives keeps floating to the top of the list of things that just don’t add up.
You, as the reader, have the woman’s name early in the book, and even a bit of back story on her. But watching as the determined detectives unravel the knotted skein of clues that will give them her name and location — that’s the most delicious part of the novel.
Well, that and the tough guy talk that’s apparently dished out by cops in Tokyo just like in New York. After roughing up a reticent doorman at one of the clubs, the manager says, “If you need information, you should ask politely.”
“That was polite,” says an ex-sumo wrestler plainclothes officer assisting in the investigation.
On and on, the trail becomes more tortuous but never tedious, filled with colorful characters that come and go as Shimizu and Takamatsu begin tightening the noose around the lovely neck of this mysterious — and deadly — killer.
In fact, you’ll know almost everything about the crimes, the perpetrator and the stunning number of times she’s struck long before you gain that last vital piece that marks any good whodunit — the motive.
Why did Michiko Suzuki do all these terrible things?
That’s what will keep you turning the pages of this first-rate piece of fiction far into the night. And you won’t be disappointed.
We’ll even go so far as to say this beautifully crafted thriller rivals The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo in its unrelenting portrayal of a strong female character driven to do dark deeds in a foreign land — and the heart-pounding search to find her.
Five-plus stars to Michael Pronko and The Last Train. They just don’t get any better than this — in any country, anywhere in the world.
Don Sloan Publishers Daily Review