THE LAST TRAIN
by Michael Pronko
When an American businessman turns up dead, Detective Hiroshi Shimizu’s mentor calls him out to the site of a grisly murder. A glimpse from a security camera video suggests the killer was a woman, but in Japan, that seems unlikely. Hiroshi quickly learns how close homicide and suicide can appear in a city full of high-speed trains just a step—or a push—away.
Hiroshi heads for the hostess clubs and skyscraper offices of Tokyo in search of a killer who’s trying to escape Japan for a new life by playing a high-stakes game of insider information. To find her, Hiroshi goes deeper and deeper into Tokyo’s intricate, ominous market for buying and selling the most expensive land in the world.
When his mentor disappears, Hiroshi teams up with ex-sumo wrestler Sakaguchi. They scour Tokyo’s sacred temples, corporate offices and industrial wastelands to find out where he went, and why one woman would be driven to murder when she seems to have it all.
Hiroshi’s determined to cut through Japan’s ambiguities—and dangers—to find the murdering ex-hostess before she extracts her final revenge—which just might be him.
This is the first in a series set in Japan and featuring Hiroshi Shimizu. The detective had been living in Boston with his American girlfriend Linda but he’s now back in Japan, originally with Linda but now on his own, often sleeping in his office. A dedicated employee, Hiroshi works in white collar crime as part of the homicide division, mostly following the money, but this means there’s a crossover with those working the murders. His colleague and drinking partner Takamatsu has called him in on a job, a dead Caucasian, killed by an express train. By this time the reader has already discovered that this well-fed businessman has been bumped off by an attractive Japanese woman, a femme fatale.
Hiroshi is reluctant to tackle the case, suspecting suicide, but this was no local so suicide, in this way? Unheard of. Takamatsu says he wants Hiroshi’s translation skills but we suspect he likes is company and admires his talents. All the cops are entartaining, the dialogueis amusing and the that fact two of them are ex sumo wrestlers provides fun - they can crush you but can't chase you. As for the killer, she’s a fitting foil: calculating and deadly but sexy and tantalising at the same time; her motivations revealed as the story progresses.
There’s corruption and the world of high end finance comes into focus but so too the low level criminals of petty crimes. This is a book of contrasts, as the old world with its rituals and customs, and temples, exists inside the huge modern city of Tokyo, with its technology and skyscrapers. The world of hostesses is one where the two merge, with tradition having developed a seedier side.
The Last Train is not a who done it, it’s a why done it, with memorable characters and a fresh setting. Enjoyable and at times educational, what more could you want?
About the author
Michael Pronko has lived in Tokyo for twenty years, but was born in Kansas City, a very different world. After graduating from Brown University in philosophy, he hit the road, traveling around the world for two years working odd jobs. He went back to school for a Master's in Education, and then took a teaching position in Beijing. For two years, he taught English, traveled China and wrote.
After more traveling and two more degrees, another M.A. in Comparative Literature in Madison, Wisconsin and a PhD in English at the University of Kent at Canterbury, he finally settled in Tokyo as a professor of American Literature at Meiji Gakuin University.
Pronko has published three award-winning collections of essays: Motions and Moments: More Essays on Tokyo (Raked Gravel Press 2015), Tokyo's Mystery Deepens (Raked Gravel Press 2014), and Beauty and Chaos: Essays on Tokyo (Raked Gravel Press 2014).