Zero hour

Tokyo Year Zero by David Peace is one of the most haunting and powerful thrillers I've ever read. It's also one of the most unusual, as Peace has a unique, unmistakable, writing style that, for me, took a little getting used to. His use of repetition produces a hypnotic effect that both reflects the inner workings of the tortured mind of Detective Minami, and also the claustrophobic world of post-World War II Japanese society. A society still deeply enmeshed in the social conventions and complex etiquette of an earlier age, but struggling to come to terms with its recent past, and a new society in which nothing and no-one is quite what they seem.

Minami's narrative opens with the discovery of a murder victim on the day of the Japanese surrender. Investigated by the feared Kempeitai (Japanese military police) as well as the local police, because the body is found on naval land, the investigation ironically turns into a war crime, when the Kempeitai murder a Korean worker, who just happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Shortly afterwards more female bodies start to turn up, all apparently raped and murdered by the same serial killer. Minami is sure that these are all linked to the initial discovery on the day of surrender; but as the Tokyo police become ever more paranoid over Allied investigations into war crimes, and as it becomes clear that Minami is right, and nothing and no-one is what it seems, can he find the murderer, and stop the mounting number of deaths around Tokyo?

It's powerful stuff, with a journalistic edge to it. The hypnotic quality is also offset with realism making this a riveting and, at times, difficult read. Tokyo, the city, that had been through so much, is also present as a character in this novel. Peace has spent many years living in Japan, and Tokyo is a city that he knows well, and portrays in great detail.

It's a novel that certainly provokes questions. Not least, how do you deal with murder in a city that is inundated with the dead? It's not always clear in Tokyo Year Zero who is alive, even the survivors of the war live in their own odd shadow world, beset by memories that they would rather forget.

I'm so glad that I persevered with this novel. It's not the easiest to get into, and the mesmeric quality I found very challenging; but it's an amazing thriller, one that can truly be said to embrace both crime and literary fiction. Tokyo Year Zero is the first of Peace's Tokyo trilogy. I can't wait to read the rest.


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