Thursday, 24 February 2011

Tokyo Station by Martin Cruz Smith

A masterclass in how to write an historical thriller without resorting to cheap plot devices or 500 bloody pages.

It's set in Japan on the eve of the attack on Pearl Harbour and follows an American called Harry - the son of a missionary who's grown up running wild in Tokyo. He's the cynical club owner with a heart of gold, - a fixer, a conman and a part time spy. A real Humphrey Bogart type, but always comes across as a real character rather than a cliche. He's also got a really interesting and ambiguous relationship to his adopted country.

The plot concerns his plan to get out of Dodge before things get too hot for the gaijin. He's also busy playing one side off against the other - the Japanese army and navy, the thought police, big business zaibatsu and the yakuza. Things are revealed slowly and subtly. And, of course, there's more than one woman in his life.

There's also a crazy old school samuari who wants to chop Harry's head off. His eventual appearance is worth waiting for.

Very well written, and the historical details seem part of the fabric, rather than "the setting for a thriller" if that makes sense.

The only downside is that it's possibly a little too short for all the great characters Cruz Smith is trying to bring in. It feels like I'm getting snapshots of fascinating relationships, but I suppose leaving the reader hungry for more is no bad thing.

Thanks to Bryce for his constant nagging for me to read this - it was worth it. And finish your Mao! Turns out he's a rotter (spoiler.)

I finished this a couple of weeks ago, but I've just got my internet set up here. Inspired by Tokyo Station I'm now a few hundred pages through Embracing Defeat - an absurdly big chunk of Japanese postwar social history. It's really good, and I'll write a review even if I don't finish it.

I've abandoned a couple of books on tape - Peter Ackroyd's biography of Poe (turns out he was a whiny wee prick) and the other David Mitchell's book about the Dutch and Japanese in the 18th century. Alright, but not brilliant. Instead I've been listening to dozens of old Russell Brand radio shows. Genius, but not for everyone I'd imagine.
I have just got hold of the audiobook of Al's recommendation - Full Dark, No Stars. More Stephen King short stories but now with 0% haunted paintings.


Anonymous said...

If it's postwar Japanese social history you're after, check out a novel called "Grass for my Pillow" by Saiichi Maruya. It's about a likeable Japanese WWII draft dodger who can't outrun his past. In fact read anything by the guy - "Singular Rebellion" is a wry comedy about a salaryman who finds out his mother-in-law is a murderess.

Greek has cut into my reading time but I just finished Nabokov's "Pnin" - it was OK but I just can't bring myself to love old Nab.

Joe said...

Glad to hear you're pushing through with the Greek. My old teacher reckoned it was easier to pick up than latin once you'd got used to the alphabet.

Not so glad to hear you're not loving the nabakov. Can't remember anything about pnin, except I always mix it up with wodehouse's psmith. But lolita and pale fire are still think about and remember lines from years after reading them.

And thanks for the heads up on maruya (stlll don't know what's the equivalent surname over there, though I think I've finally figured it out for
Romans.) I never got round to reading the pelevin you recommended, because the library demanded it back. Bit of a scene actually.

Here, thanks to James too for his recommendations. I need a gadget so people can throw out general props.

Bryce said...

I read the first of your sleazy pulp 'The Getaway'. It started great but went a bit peculiar at the end. I would say it went quite 'Stephen King'... which is a shame cause I hate him. Next time I run that creep over he'll stay runned over.

Joe said...

haha, good old Jim Thompson. You always hear of bandits trying to run over the border to Mexico, and they finally manage it in the Getaway. I can't remember the details, but the words sinister and bonkers spring to mind.

It's not the only very odd ending from Thompson. More words to describe the end of Killer Inside Me - "crazy" and "makes no sense"

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