Over the decades, I have enjoyed reading novels based on science-fiction (the classic authors like Asimov and Bradbury), fantasy (The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant by Stephen R. Donaldson or the Tolkien stuff), and some stuff an old girlfriend suggested I read come to mind) and comedy, though admittedly very few authors have managed to amuse me in a novel—Douglas Adams and Samuel Clemons aka Mark Twain. Horror? I’ve read all the greats, but nothing has come close to being horrific in my mind, even if entertaining…. and yes, I’ve read all the Stephen King stuff, and Clive Barker tales, as well as all the classic stuff of Dracula, Frankenstein, Phantom of the Opera, The Invisible Man, the Island of Dr. Moreau… many times…
But what gets me off today more than any other genre, is a good detective novel.
I got my first taste of the detective novel from reading Two-Minute Mysteries by Donald J. Sobol (my son actually bought the same book from school - and I showed him MY copy bought 40 years previous), and The Hardy Boys… starting at book #50 and then getting all the others, including the Detective Handbook.
While I do prefer period pieces, such as Victorian era Sherlock Holmes, or Hugh Corbett in the 13th century and Ma’at of the 15th century BC, and, of course Brother Cadfael in the 12th century, pretty any detective story will do it for me. Look up those italicized names if you want a great read.
And so, it was with great anticipation when Smith Publicity offered to send my a copy of The Last Train: A Tokyo Mystery written by Michael Pronko and published by Raked Gravel Press on May 31, 2017.
Folks… I know I’m a pretty positive person, but what a great book! It’s what people call a page-turner… where you can’t put the book down and need to keep going even if it means you are only going to get four hours of sleep... which is what I did for a few nights.
The star of novel is Japanese detective Hiroshi Shimizu (surname last - only because that's how it is written in the book) investigates boring old white collar crime in Tokyo.
He's the typical down-and-out detective - lost his significant other who has left him, has a boring job, has a crappy office and a bare-bones apartment that still has the missus-smell about it.
He's not a happy camper... but he is good at his job.
As a former policeman living and working in the U.S., Hiroshi has experience in following the money to solve crimes - quite literally the boring accounting and or financial statements.
But, it's his familiarity with dealing with Americans that gets him the nod to come and help out his former mentor Takamatsu to come and help solve the death of an American businessman who appears to have either jumped in front of a Tokyo subway train, or been thrown in front of it.
In order to get a look inside the mind of the killer, we get to see things from the killer's point of view - what drives them... and in this case, author Pronko almost makes us feel completely sorry for the killer... almost makes us feel like the crime(s) are a justifiable homicide...
I say "almost" only because as any upstanding citizen of the planet Earth knows, revenge is never the answer.
Even though I lived in Japan for a few years and visited Tokyo many times, I can honestly say that I do not have a handle on all of the areas of that city or its people, but thanks to Pronko's style of writing, even those who know nothing of Tokyo can easily visualize the scenes where the book's action takes place.
It's not an over-bearing sense of descriptive writing either. Have you ever read a Stephen King book? That man can spend 10-pages describing the smell of blood or every nook and cranny in a room right down to the number of cobwebs, and while I'm sure many will agree that it gives you the perfect sense of ambiance, I say it slows down the pace of the book. And yes, I know that Stephen King is one of the greatest authors of our time... but to me, that's just needless padding of the book... when 700 pages could just as easily be 300 pages.
Me... I hate too much description. I love conversation in my books - it's engaging and keeps things moving.
We don't get that over-indulgent need for description with Pronko. It's just the right amount to inform, add color and keep the reader interested in turning the page.
Horoshi, Takamatsu and ex-sumo wrestler Sakaguchi team up to search through Tokyo's temples, corporate offices and industrial wastelands, and then into the seedier elements of the city's yakuza-run booze joints filled with sexy bar hostesses... looking for the next clue that will help them locate the mysterious killer.
But who is hunting whom?
Yup... the cops are hunting a killer who might also be hunting them. Why? Aye, there's the rub.
The Last Train: A Tokyo Mystery is a very well written book. It's a very well written detective book. And it's a very well written book about Japan and the ins-and-outs of some of the darker bits of Japan that you and I might have heard about but decorum prevented us (or maybe just me) from actually learning about first hand.
I've always tried to abide the saying that if you want trouble you can find - but as a police detective, Horoshi isn't afforded that luxury.
The Last Train: A Tokyo Mystery is a book well-worth the read. I'm going to read it again.
I am already looking forward to reading the next book in the series from Pronko. There is going to be one, right?
Apparently the next book is called Japan Hand, with the third in the series entitled Thai Girl in Tokyo.
From Raked Gravel Press (love the name!), buy a copy of The Last Train: A Tokyo Mystery, and settle back for an entertaining ride to the end of the line.
The paperback book is 333 pages long. The paper it is printed on is white, the font clean and large enough to read... though my only complaint is the plastic film on the cover that has picked up my oily fingerprints... not a cool thing when you are reading a detective novel.
If you would like more information, you can go over to: www.michaelpronko.com/raked-gravel-press.
Yeah, yeah... I've read all the Shakespeare plays, all the so-called Penguin Classics books (The Once And Future King (King Arthur), Marco Polo, 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, Moby Dick, War and Peace, Anna Karenina, Jayne Eyre, Wuthering Heights, The Art of War, The Prince, The Little Prince, The Egyptian Book of the Dead, The Tibetan Book of the Dead, and hundreds more - and that's just recently), classics like The Loved One, the 2001: Space Odyssey series, Ra series, Alice in Wonderland, Oz, Captain Underpants, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, the Percy Jackson books - all of them, anything Star Trek, Discworld, Ty Cobb The Terrible Beauty, not to mention the stuff I read on Japan.... thousands of books, really... often one a week, usually one every two weeks because I spend a lot of time writing this blog and others. I have 35,000 comic books and I've read about 34,000 of them because some are doubles, and I'm reading them again because I can't afford to collect (read the collections of Uncle Scrooge by Carl Barks and then the ones by Don Rosa), 100s of Big Little Books, National Geographic, The Hockey News... heck I even had a subscription to Cosmopolitan for two years, and Model Railroader for a few. I have even been known to read the odd newspaper.
People... we need to read more, and to instill that love we have into our kids. My kid hates reading, which is a blow to me, but the trick is to find a book or series that will intrigue him.
I pity the home that lacks a bookcase filled with books. I know people like that. Their kids are as dumb as nails.
So... give a hoot, don't pollute their minds, and instead fill them with words of adventure and heroism and facts and figures. Buy a book and read to them, or better yet, allow them the privilege of reading themselves.
Above is an image from the great Twilight Zone television series - and episode entitled Time Enough At Last starring Burgess Meredith. It was one of the most horrific episodes I ever saw along with Nightmare at 20,000 feet (starring William Shatner, and later John Lithgow in the 80s movie... and hillariously reprised by both gentleman on the comedy tv show called Third Rock From the Sun). If you aren't sure who that is, he was in the first Rocky movie starring that bum Sylvester Stallone, but was more famous for his iconic portrayal of Batman nemesis The Penguin in the 1960s television series. Wak-wak-wak-wak!
BTW, Meredith also played a librarian in another Twilight Zone episode entitle The Obsolete Man. I hav also been know to watch television, as well as to read a book.
Don't worry about me: I also played and still coach sports, and played and taught music.