The Last Train ISBN: 9781942410133, Raked Gravel Press, a mystery set in Tokyo, in e-book by Michael Pronko.
Basically, the story revolves around the activities of a young highly intelligent and capable woman, Machiko Suzuki, who is involved in the clandestine activity of obtaining information that is worth a great amount of money by reselling it to another party. Questionable death of a prominent American businessman with whom she had been seen causes entry of a second protagonist, Hiroshi Shimizu. He had returned to Japan with companion Linda from Boston who had just left him to go home because, at least from her standpoint, the relationship had become too strained by the activities of Hiroshi’s position. He serves as the de facto liaison between the Tokyo police department and their overseas counterparts. His understanding of the innuendos of the English language acquired from having spent years in America obtaining his education, placed him in the position which had advantages and disadvantages. It provided him an unusual private office, but simultaneously opened him to receipt of calls at any time day or night. These often caused him to remain there instead or going home which, along with the manner in which the Japanese police function, provided much of the reason for Linda’s departure. Most of his actual activity entailed business dealings between foreign companies with branches, holdings and/or other activities within Japan – one of his varied educationally obtained talents was in accounting. Thus officially, his position was to investigate white-collar crimes. However, crime knows no boundaries and homicide easily crosses the line. So, when the questionable murder/suicide of a particularly astute American business man who fell from the boarding platform in front of a fast moving Express train is reported, he becomes involved. From this moment the story becomes a rapidly expanding chase/thriller with considerable suspense that takes the reader through the intricate and exhilarating night life of the entertainment districts, the exquisite shopping possibilities and the women who function comfortably in this milieu – women once perhaps unkindly referred to by military personnel following WW II as “Women who know the price of everything and the value of nothing.” Simultaneously the interrelationship between this exciting scene peopled by fascinating people and the complex world of finance, although perhaps not appreciably different than that occurring within America, still is in a place where the rules appear to be somewhat less stringent and stakes even higher. Besides the scene provides that certain exotic atmosphere while exposing the tawdry behind-the-scenes life of a Tokyo where business practices of distrust, betrayal, deceit, dishonesty and treachery also may exists at even a higher level.
Discussion: The author indeed has presented a story that although slow starting, is uniquely intriguing for several reasons. 1) It is first a well-written, nicely paced thriller featuring a strong woman character reacting to long term wrongs suffered by her father and personal ones at even a greater level. 2) The setting provides a fascinating picture of the storied Japanese city’s brilliant, glitzy multilevel entertainment area and high-end clubs where visitors can find ‘somewhat different activity’. 3) A presentation of some of the not usually ‘thought-of ’ features of Japanese culture pertinent to the story.
4* Well-written, slow starting, fast-accelerating suspense thriller; -1 for unclear homicide motive.