Verdict: Lyrically written, with plenty of suspense, THE LAST TRAIN is a novel that aims to please, and can't really help but do so.
Suicide by train is an all too common event in Tokyo, but the death of a Western businessman named Steve Deveaux raises suspicions. Closed-circuit cameras show a woman with him, well-dressed and native-born Japanese by the looks of her, who seems to have pushed him in. Who exactly this woman is, and why she did what she did, is left to Hiroshi Shimizu, a detective who speaks fluent English and once lived in the United States. Assisting him is Akiko, a young woman with a sharp eye and a desire to burst through the glass ceiling; and Sakaguchi, a former sumo wrestler. Together they explore yakuza-owned hostess clubs and Shinto shrines alike, as they track down a crafty and elusive killer.
Michael Pronko’s THE LAST TRAIN is a story of Japanese-American cultural exchange, of Tokyo’s very strange seedy underbelly, and of the futility of trying to find one person in the world’s largest city. Hiroshi is a classic mystery novel detective through and through, his feelings on the case often hard to disentangle from his personal life. All the characters are quite unique, especially the story’s ostensible villain, the murderer. Fierce and vengeful, she shines through the text, and while the reader might never quite root for her, her portrayal is surprisingly sympathetic.
Where THE LAST TRAIN loses out is in how formulaic it can be. While it’s true that pretty much everything has been done in the realm of the mystery novel, this book seems to hit a lot of familiar terrain. From the Orphean journeys through a city’s underworld to a climactic chase at the end, not a lot of boxes are left unchecked.
Still, at the end of the day, THE LAST TRAIN is a heartfelt, thoughtful ode to a strange and beautiful city, in the way that so many classic detective novels are. Lyrically written, with plenty of suspense, this a novel that aims to please, and can’t really help but do so.
~Charles Baker for IndieReader