THE LAST TRAIN
Raked Gravel Press (348 pp.)
$15.99 paperback, $5.99 e-book
ISBN: 978-1-942410-12-6; May 5, 2017
In Pronko’s (Motions and Moments: More Essays on Tokyo, 2015, etc.) first foray into thrillers, a Tokyo detective investigates a death by train that may be just one in a series of murders.
It seems white-collar crime is Detective Hiroshi Shimizu’s specialty. His fluency in English makes him ideal for chasing down foreigners who’ve ripped off investors, among other things, and working with departments overseas. But he’s still a part of the homicide branch, so lead Detective Takamatsu calls Hiroshi to the scene at Tamachi Station, where a male foreigner’s mangled body lies on the tracks. Security cameras caught an earlier glimpse of a woman near the victim, but it’s unclear if his death was murder, suicide, or accidental. Evidence on the deceased leads the investigation to the various night clubs in Roppongi. Based on a theory that the unidentified female is a hostess (and a perfect cover for Takamatsu’s favorite pastime of drinking excessively), the detectives frequent the clubs. Hiroshi and his new assistant, Akiko, meanwhile, look into previous suicides by train, ones that might not be suicides at all. Discovering a link between the vics draws Hiroshi closer to a woman whose plan could put the detectives in a speeding train’s path. Pronko’s early introduction to the possible killer fosters sympathy with her perspective and back story. But there’s still mystery and suspense. Her motive isn’t initially apparent, and readers will surely anticipate a murder every time she strikes up a conversation with a man. Tokyo is welcoming without being exoticized; its foods are delicious but sometimes practical. Ramen noodles, for example, are excellent hangover comfort food. Pronko, for good measure, adds tasty metaphors: an inevitable hangover makes Hiroshi’s eyeballs feel “like they were roasted in salt.” Supporting characters occasionally steal the spotlight, especially Akiko, who excels at research (when paperwork proves essential to the case’s resolution), and Detective Sakaguchi, a former sumo wrestler.
An absorbing investigation and memorable backdrop put this series launch on the right track.
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