Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Talk of the town: A review of Japantown

Japantown works.

It works as hard as San Franciscan Jim Brodie does dealing Japanese antiques to make ends meet for his six-year-old daughter.

But of course he’s more than your average single dad/Japan-hand, he also has a 50-percent share in his old man’s PI business in Shibuya. So when a family of Japanese tourists is gunned down in SF’s Japantown, naturally he’s called in to offer his advice. And naturally, he gets to grips with something the local boys in blue couldn’t fathom: a mysterious kanji left at the scene of the crime. Oh, the same one left at the scene of a fire that killed his Japanese wife. By the way, he’s an expert in various martial arts. Oh and his movements are being watched. There are bad guys out there and he has a cute-as-a-button daughter and who has no mother to look after her.

Get the picture?

Of course you do. This is a thriller. Japantown plays by the rules, even if the protagonist can’t (that’s in the rules too, right?) To say it’s a fast-paced, high-body-count formulaic thriller does not do justice to the formula, or to the book. Look, it’s a thriller. It says so right on the cover. You didn’t come here to read about the lost decades of the Japanese economy, the Fukushima cleanup, Japan greying faster than the hairs on a prime minister’s head.

Of course not.

You came here to read about deadly ninja, international conspiracies and to count the bodies as right defeats might. And Barry Lancet delivers on all of that. And then some. The novel comes into its own in the middle section as our hero relocates to Japan in the hunt for the bad guys. This is the locale where the conflicts play out best -- east versus west, old loyalties versus new realities. What comes before in San Francisco feels flat in comparison. The ending works well enough, leaving no strands untied. But I found myself more intrigued about what Noda, the monosyllabic hard man would get up to once his part was played out. Hopefully, he’ll play a big part in the sequel.

My only problem after having read the book is that it embodies, like all good thrillers, a fundamental cocky conservatism: the hero knows right, the rest of the world doesn’t, so blam blam blam. The hero rights all wrongs with 9mm of morality. But that’s a problem for the genre, Japantown is not the place to fight that battle.

But you want to know the bottom line? I was hooked and pulling for Jim as he overcame each obstacle in defence of the only cause we could all die for: love of family.  It’s an expertly paced page-turner and I heartily recommend it to any thriller reader.

The intrigue now is where Brodie and his crew can take us next.

Read an interview I did with Barry Lancet for the Abiko Free Press right here. Japantown is on sale from today. Check out Lancet’s website for purchasing details.

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