Tokyo Year Zero by David Peace

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Tokyo Year Zero by David Peace

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Category: Crime
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: The story of a serial killer hunt in post-WW2 Tokyo is distinctive enough without the unique style. You might find the latter swamps the former.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 400 Date: September 2008
Publisher: Faber and Faber
ISBN: 978-0571231997

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To begin with - no, the style of this book never changes from the first pages. And guessing you don't have those or any other pages right in front of you at this moment, here goes. Probably three quarters of paragraphs are actually less than a line in length. There is a great habit of splitting sentences between paragraphs, however, especially when it comes to then repeating those sentences, or bits of them, or using onomatopoeic phrases and noises on a loop to near-frustrating effect. There are also, in a sense, two narrative voice-overs, one in italics, the other not - these also loop. There is an exceptionally noticeable poetic result from all this, however - and therefore the autopsy scene in this book is certainly distinctive (still gory, but unique at the same time).

It is a style that Peace has used before (this isn't the first book of his I've encountered on my reviewing travels), and it is definitely hard to avoid. Your reaction to this book will definitely be derived from your reaction to his style, and many will be put off by it. I can only say that I managed to gloss over all the repetitions peppered throughout - it is possible to register them, accept them and read on - and I could get to the gist of the novel and read to the end reasonably happily.

I'm not saying I liked Peace's unique approach, mind.

Having got past that, I should actually mention that this is a police procedural thriller, with a very interesting historical setting. The setting is Tokyo, immediately after World War Two. Thus many of the buildings are falling down, rationing is still in force, and you can't take the hugely over-populated public transport without getting a face full of someone's nits and lice.

Our prologue concerns the recovery of a young woman's corpse, and the despatch of the Korean considered to be guilty for her murder. And on VJ Day as well - when everyone has been ordered to down tools at midday, be near a radio and accept what for the Japanese was a horrific end to the war - the surrender by the Emperor's government.

However events exactly twelve months later suggest that raping and killing young women is not unique to that case, and by the time we witness all the travails of our Inspector Minami he might well be up against a serial killer.

The setting comes across very well, however you appraise the style. There seems a great accuracy in the police routines - the investigative questioning delves throughout the suspect's background, to establish character, honour and prestige, as well as potential alibi. Such a book could wear its research all too brightly on its sleeve, but I don't think this novel does. There are too many mentions of which train station taken, and the initial map is more than useless, but I found the milieu rather enjoyable.

If I didn't get across the fact that style is more important than other content in this book, then I'll try again. The diary entry format means each chapter peters out at day-end, and there is no sense of a forced cliff-hanger. Unfortunately, there is a lack of forcible pace a couple of times - the aforementioned interview with the suspect seems too long, even if realistic. The efforts to accumulate victims and force a confession seems to sprawl across the closing third, when there surely is more to be said (however I guess the marketeering and criminal elements will continue to the next two books in this series).

A further query is when the reader should turn to the extra footage-style pre-prologue that wallpapers the back of each book part title page. I saved it to last, but it's one more slightly awkward sign of the book struggling with only mild success to prove itself above and beyond the thriller norm.

I will agree the style is most interesting for fans of studying literature, and for contrasting with the standard airport novel. Yet by the end, I think I got what I expected. Was it just that the ending was no surprise or I had not got to care enough? As far as the climax relates to Minami's character, the character of the historical setting is the bigger element of the book, and the biggest draw.

It's an interesting book, for sure, but one I can't enthuse over. Peace certainly has a cult following, so many will leap at this volume whatever I say. I have to thank the publishers for sending a sample to the Bookbag to review - it certainly is a memorable volume, in a divisive style.

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