Verdict: THE MOVING BLADE, Michael Pronko's smoothly written and fast-faced police thriller, is populated with colorful characters and will be of particular interest to readers wanting to learn more about Japanese culture.
Tokyo detective Hiroshi Shimizu, still smarting from both the physical and bureaucratic wounds of a case last year, is called into the murder investigation of Bernard Mattson. Mattson was an expert on Japanese art and an American diplomat, and Hiroshi’s American education makes him ideal for analyzing the case. But things become complicated when Jamie, Matton’s headstrong daughter, shows up and becomes a target. It seems that Mattson’s killers aren’t done yet, and it’s up to Hiroshi and his allies to figure out what they’re still searching—and willing to kill—for.
There are no particular surprises in the narrative of THE MOVING BLADE. As a thriller, it is smoothly written and follows the standard boilerplate of political intrigue. There is also a dash of current events. The writing is compact and sometimes quite elegant, and the plot is populated with colorful characters like Sakaguchi, a jovial cop and ex-sumo wrestler, Takamatsu, a police officer on disciplinary leave turned scroungy private eye, and the Endo brothers, skittish twins who run a bookshop with an eccentric clientele.
But where the novel really shines is in its descriptions of Japanese culture and contemporary Tokyo. The city’s various neighborhoods, whether they’re historical or the ones you wouldn’t want to be in at night, are all sketched in a loving style. Tokyo comes across as truly cosmopolitan, and the novel touches on Japan’s place in the international realm as it deals with the United States, China and the Korean peninsula.
Author Michael Pronko was born in Kansas City, but he’s worked as a writer and educator in Japan for decades. His skills as a cultural researcher are clearly on display. Not only international distances are covered, but temporal ones as well. References to 21st century Japanese society are incorporated alongside the etiquette of medieval swordsmanship and the philosophy of samurai Miyamoto Musashi. Perhaps this complex relationship is best explored in the character of Jamie, who poignantly describes herself as caught between the cultures of traditional Japan and the fast paced United States. “I always felt Japanese there, but I feel American here,” she confides to Hiroshi. “It’s like I have two identities arguing with each other in my head. Two passports. I’m supposed to choose one, but I’ve kept both.”
THE MOVING BLADE, Michael Pronko’s smoothly written and fast-faced police thriller, is populated with colorful characters and will be of particular interest to readers wanting to learn more about Japanese culture.
~Colin Newton for IndieReader