The Last Train (Detective Hiroshi) by Michael Pronko

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The Last Train (Detective Hiroshi) by Michael Pronko

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Category: Thrillers
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: We've been delighted by Michael Pronko's non-fiction pieces about his adopted city of Tokyo. He's now turned his hand to fiction and produced a thriller that's brilliantly plotted and brings Tokyo to life as never before. Michael Pronko popped into Bookbag Towers to chat to us.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 348 Date: May 2017
Publisher: Raked Gravel Press
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1942410126

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Detective Hiroshi Shimizu usually investigates white-collar crime in Tokyo. It suits him: he gets to have his own office, which is rare. He's got space at home too: his girlfriend has not only left him, but she's moved back to the States as well. He's yet to ship all her boxes out of his apartment but when he's done that he'll be able to sleep in the bed again. White-collar crime's usually non-violent, but Hiroshi speaks English (many years spent in Boston when he was studying) and when an American businessman ends up dead under the last train, he's called in to help. He could have done without having to see the body - or the people removing it from the tracks with chopsticks - but detective Takamatsu insisted.

Suicide would be the simplest conclusion to the case, but there's footage from a security camera which suggests that a woman might have been with him as the train approached and might even have given the drunken man a little help in going over the edge of the platform. It's easy to confuse suicide and murder and the late-night train stations are the perfect spot for either. This isn't the first time this has happened. Hiroshi's used to business accounts and spreadsheets: when Takamatsu takes him to the hostess clubs of Roppongi, he's well outside his comfort zone, although the deeper he digs the more it becomes obvious that there's a dubious trade going on - the buying and selling of information about land deals in what's possibly the most expensive real estate in the world.

Takamatsu has a cavalier attitude to the way that the job should be done - and to marital fidelity as well, so his disappearance doesn't immediately ring alarm bells, but when it does Hiroshi works with ex-sumo wrestler Sakaguchi and they work their way through sacred temples, office blocks and industrial wastelands to find out what has happened. They know who's responsible: she's called Michiko, she's beautiful and she's very, very clever.

I don't usually enjoy books when we know whodunnit from the off, but here the story's about the chase and Michiko's motivation. What turns a beautiful and seemingly rich woman into a murderer? And why do these particular men have to die? The plot is excellent and it's supported by some exquisite writing. Let me give you an example:

Sakaguchi was waiting in front of the Almond Coffee Shop. His huge bulk drew stares. Everyone wanted to ask if he was a sumo wrestler, but nobody did.

There are glorious descriptions of food and it's not always high-end restaurant food that grabs you by the taste buds. Michiko has a meal with her Uncle Ono:

She got chopsticks for them both, and her favourite furikake topping of seaweed, sesame seed, and dry wasabi. Uncle Ono served the grilled fish, its skin crackling brown, on long thin plates with shaved daikon and grated ginger. Michiko scooped miso soup into small lacquer bowls. They both said Itadakimasu, and Michiko poured furikake all over her rice.

Michael Pronko knows Tokyo well and what comes through in The Last Train is that this is a book written from knowledge rather than research and that he knows a lot more than he has any need to tell us. He brings the city gloriously to life, but if you'd like to read more about his adopted home you can't do better than read his non-fiction books: Beauty and Chaos: Slices and Morsels of Tokyo Life and Motions and Moments: More Essays on Tokyo.

Michael Pronko's Detective Hiroshi Novels in Chronological Order

Bookinterviews.jpg Michael Pronko About The Last Train was kind enough to be interviewed by Bookbag.

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Booklists.jpg The Last Train (Detective Hiroshi) by Michael Pronko is in the Top Ten Self-Published Books 2017.


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Peter said:

Well crafted and unusual tale featuring a Japanese detective - looking forward to reading more from this author.