Tokyo Year Zero

Written by David Peace
Review by Nicole Leclerc

Tokyo, August 1946: one year after Japan’s surrender and the extensive bombings of its capital. The murdered bodies of two women are found in a park. Thus begins Inspector Minami’s investigation, one which will lead to a serial killer and stir up old memories of war for the policeman.

The story is powerful and haunting mostly through the author’s ability to transport us to this post-war devastated city. He masterfully renders the atmosphere of a defeated nation at odds with the occupying victors, lacking the basic necessities, where survival is the only priority, where purges and corruption reign. It is also the realm of displaced people, looking for missing loved ones or grabbing the opportunity to create a new life by forging a new identity. “No one is who they say they are” is a leitmotif of the novel. Parallel to the criminal investigation and at the core of the book is the internal journey of the main character. The novel is written in first-person present tense and always reflects what Minami does and what he thinks. This style, while placing the reader squarely inside the main character, leads to a lot of trivial information (“I itch. I scratch”) and numerous repetitions. They do help to set the mood but soon become rather boring.

The plot is well-structured, however, and the other characters are as intriguing and shifting as Minami. This makes for a very complex and depressing book made difficult to read by the author’s striving for a ‘literary’ tone. This book will remain with me for a very long time but it was an arduous journey, one definitely not for everyone.