Sunday, 20 August 2017

Last Stop Tokyo by James Buckler

"This is your second new beginning in a year. How many more will you need before you finally destroy her?"

A couple of weeks back the folks at Doubleday sent me a proof copy of James Buckler's debut novel Last Stop Tokyo which immediately made it to the top of my stack. I'm a massive fan of contemporary Japanese literature in translation so I was curious to read this novel from an English writer which is set in Japan but from the perspective of a gaijin; a non Japanese or alien.

To set the story up, Alex has moved to Tokyo to catch up with an old University friend. He's left London to escape trouble, be that professional or family were not entirely sure. In any case the bright neon lights of Shinjuku and the maze of bars in the Golden Gai seems like the perfect place to hit the reset button on life. The trouble is that no sooner does Alex land at Narita Airport and he's drawn into a complex net of crime in the Tokyo underworld.

Last Stop Tokyo is a well paced thriller that careers around the Tokyo area like a tour bus through an alternative side of the city. From bath houses and dingy bars to back street ramen shops this is more the Tokyo of Murakami's After Dark than the shiny corporate landscape of Shibuya or quirky extravagance of Harujuku. Buckler's Japan is more edgy and dark which works as a metaphor for the experience of a gaijin being, at least at first,  lost in an almost impenetrable world of excitement and risk.

Supporting characters, such as seductive yet curious Naoko, are well observed and clearly written from extensive experience of Japanese culture. The yakuza (organised crime groups) are sometimes a cliche in fiction but Buckler navigates around all the traps to deliver a believably frightening backdrop.

As I raced through the chapters I was waiting for the part where my disbelief was shattered by an implausible plot twist or a hackneyed expression but Buckler just keeps on delivering. Alex is sometimes naive but that's what makes him so easy to empathise with; I'm a sucker for a character looking to make a fresh start even though its a well worn literary trope.

For me, Last Stop Tokyo is a brilliant debut thriller from a writer with a distinct voice and a well honed instinct for a solid story. I'm looking forward to reading more from James Buckler.

I read this novel mostly on the train into Marylebone.

Last Stop Tokyo by James Buckler published by Doubleday, 288 pages.     

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