Poetic, experimental, suspenseful, entrancing, page-turning - David Peaceís Tokyo Year Zero is easily one of the best novels of the year. The ending is shocking - Iíll say that for it - and I didnít particularly care for it - but, overall, Tokyo Year Zero is an amazing book. Itís based on a series of at least ten rapes and murders of young women that occurred in post-WWII Japan. The structure of the words and sentences on the pages and the repetition of certain words, phrases, and sentences, work to draw the reader in and influence readersí emotions similar to T.S. Eliotís ďThe Wasteland,Ē and the best epic poetry like The Iliad and The Odyssey. You donít so much read this novel as you get swept away by it and carried along for the ride. It is at times graphic, in both its descriptions and expletives, but in the context of the era and the situations the characters face, this is understandable.
Detective Minami of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police narrates the events that unfold in this potboiler. ďNo one is who they seemĒ is one of the repeated phrases that weave their way like a haunting mantra throughout the narrative. Many of the people he meets are trying to destroy their pasts and recreate themselves with new names and lives. This includes himself; he doesnít want to remember when he was a soldier fighting the Chinese, a father who went insane and died in an asylum, and his own stint in the same asylum.
He wants to do what is right, and obtain recognition and justice for the victims of the serial killer he tracks. This despite the fact that he doesnít, in his personal life, always do what is morally right, having a mistress and popping Calmotin pills to drive images of his past and the ghosts of the killerís victims out of his mind so that he can sleep at night. Living in a country that has been defeated militarily, Minami struggles with a case that he thinks of as being a ďcurse,Ē in which his superiors, like Chief Adachi, seem to do whatever they can to make his life more difficult. One year since the first body of a raped and murdered woman was discovered in the novelís Prologue and the Kempai (military police) executed a Korean yabo (old man) mistakenly for the crime, another body turns up:
This case is a curse.
Detective Minami lives and breathes the case for over a year, tying several unsolved murders to the killer. He experiences intense pressure to discover the identities of the victims and prove that they were all murdered by the same man. Though he requests a transfer to another department, itís denied - at least until he solves the case heís on. He humbly begs the help of a mob boss, Senju Akira, who supplies him with money and Calmotin in return for finding names linked with whomever put a hit out on his previous boos and mentor. This puts him under even greater pressure and makes him suspicious of his fellow detectives and superiors, who are involved in the coverup of the facts, and possibly in the death itself.
I curse her...
I look at my watch. Chika-taku. It is almost noon.
Chika-taku. It is August 15, 1946 -
The defeat and the capitulation. The surrender and the
occupation. The ghosts all here today -
I curse her. I curse myself...
It has been one year.
Tokyo Year Zero is a haunting psychological thriller, a character study of a man who tries to maintain a fragile grip on sanity while doing what he feels is morally right. Days and nights run into each other for him, identities are called into question, and feelings about what is right and wrong behavior and actions merge and reverse in meaning. Itís a fantastic tour de force by David Peace. I highly recommend it to mystery lovers.