Tokyo Redux

Written by David Peace
Review by Bethany Latham

Tokyo Redux centers around the mysterious death of Sadanori Shimoyama, President of Japanese National Railways, on July 5, 1949—when the beleaguered bureaucrat disappeared. He later reappeared, in a variety of little pieces, on the railroad tracks of the Jōban Line near Tokyo. The one point of agreement is that Shimoyama was hit by a train, but was it suicide, or murder? Harry Sweeney, an investigator with the American occupying forces’ Public Safety Division, attempts to solve the case. He’s hampered by various players that include intelligence operatives, both American and Communist, as well as the Japanese police and gangsters.

This novel is the last in Peace’s Japanese crime trilogy (Tokyo Year Zero, Occupied City), and might be better appreciated in that context. One has the feeling lesser characters that are given a passing, pinpoint scrutiny here probably appear only because they’re characters in other novels in this triad. Taken singly, this is an engrossing look at occupied Japan in the years immediately following its WWII surrender, a crime thriller that ultimately fails due to its unchecked literary pretensions. The prose reads like Hemingway on the manic side of a meth binge: there is seemingly endless examination and repetition of minute mundane actions, offered through clipped, reiterated sentences (how many times can a man look at a broken watch face, or mop his sweaty neck with a handkerchief?), no quotation marks to denote dialogue, and occasional jarring lapses into full-on surrealism. This presentation provides a cadence that adds to atmosphere and has its moments of beauty. It also works to build suspense—the plot cannot move forward when the author is so busy repeating himself—but it is, ultimately, an approach overplayed to the point of annoying the reader.