by Michael Pronko
In Tokyo, being street-wise isn’t always enough.
Running from a life she didn’t choose, in a city she doesn’t know, Sukanya, a young Thai girl, escapes into Tokyo. With her Bangkok street smarts, she stays ahead of traffickers willing to do anything to recover the computer she took when she fled a murder scene. After befriending Chiho, a Japanese girl living in an internet café, Sukanya tries to rid herself of her pursuers, and her past, forever
Meanwhile, Detective Hiroshi Shimizu leaves the safe confines of his office to investigate a triple murder at a porn studio. The studio’s accounts point him in multiple directions at once. Together with ex-sumo wrestler Sakaguchi and old-school Takamatsu, Hiroshi tracks the killers through Tokyo’s teen hangouts, bayside docks, and crowded squares, straight into the underbelly of the global economy.
As bodies wash up from Tokyo Bay, Hiroshi tries to find the Thai girl whose name he doesn’t even know. He uncovers trafficking rings and cryptocurrency scammers whose connections extend to the highest levels of Tokyo’s power elite.
'Tokyo Traffic' is the third in Michael Pronko’s Detective Hiroshi Series, following the impressive novels ‘The Moving Blade’ and ‘The Last Train’.
The book opens with a triple murder on the set of a porn studio called Jack and Jill. Fourteen-year-old Sukanya is drugged up but that doesn’t stop her crouching behind the set, only coming out of hiding to find death strewn out before her. She scans the murder scene, panics, then goes on the scavenge, grabbing up a laptop and iPad from the vicinity of the fat director’s corpse. She puts them into a bag, takes a jacket and slips down the stairs.
Sukanya finds herself on the run from a man in a white suit, Kenta. With her Thai features and ill-fitting clothes, Sukanya stands out. What’s more, she’s under the influence of drugs and playing high-stakes hide-and-seek in a big unfamiliar city. And in the Japanese capital, being street-wise isn’t likely to be enough to keep you hidden when the bag, laptop and iPad may all allow the bad guys to track you.
A victim of child trafficking, Sukanya is desperate to shake off her past and get a passport to America. To that end she tries to find Ratana who’s also disappeared, with the group's passports. Sukanya’s new friend Chiho, a local girl from an internet café, is a great aid and has a computer-whiz friend who might be able to reveal the laptop’s information – information that would show what happened at the film studio – only Sukanya doesn’t know it.
Knowing its importance, Kenta and the dangerous, unpredictable Kirino are determined to get their hands on that computer.
On the trail is Hiroshi, the ex-sumo wrestler Sakaguchi, and Takamatsu, and old-school rebel never far from trouble. Detective Hiroshi has moved in with his on/off girlfriend Ayana and still can’t give her the time she deserves. After he’s called to the murder scene, it’s clear that this is going to be another time-sapping case.
Hiroshi is an accountant who speaks English, two attributes that the police need in a world where, in crime, it’s often the case of follow the money. In this case, cryptocurrency and blockchain technology complicate matters and Hiroshi will need all his skills to find a connection to the powerful and a finance bureaucrat with a seedy hobby.
The girls, bad guys and sleuths move around Tokyo in this fast-paced story of sex trafficking and more.
Hiroshi realizes that there should have been three girls at the film studio, and that there more to this than sex trafficking. Who was the target, who was collateral damage, and who’s missing?
If there’s a better crime series set in Japan, I’ve not yet read it.
About the Author
Michael Pronko is a Tokyo-based writer of murder, memoir and music. His writing about Tokyo life and taut character-driven mysteries have won awards and five-star reviews. Kirkus Reviews selected his second novel, The Moving Blade for their Best Books of 2018. The Last Train won the Shelf Unbound Competition for Best Independently Published Book.
Michael runs the website, Jazz in Japan, which covers the vibrant jazz scene in Tokyo and Yokohama. During his 20 years in Japan, he has written about Japanese culture, art, society and politics for Newsweek Japan, The Japan Times, and Artscape Japan. He has read his essays on NHK TV and done programs for Nippon Television based on his writings.
A philosophy major, Michael traveled for years, ducking in and out of graduate schools, before finishing his PhD on Charles Dickens and film, and finally settling in Tokyo as a professor of American Literature at Meiji Gakuin University. His seminars focus on contemporary novels, short stories and film adaptations.