We rejoin protagonist Jim Brodie at his Tokyo-based security firm, meeting with a potential client – the elderly Akira Miura and his son. Akira tells Brodie of his past as a soldier in World War II and how he was stationed in Manchuria. Veterans of Akira’s unit have been turning up dead, murdered in brutal fashion. Akira and Brodie suspect the Triads, perhaps as revenge killing for the war or a more monetary reason.
Brodie’s second occupation – an antique dealer – is brought into play with the introduction of long lost treasure, specifically that belonging to the Manchurian Emperor Pu Yi. These valuables were buried by Akira’s unit at the end of World War II, but some of mysteriously resurfaced. Brodie takes on the case, providing protection to the elderly vet, but is shocked when Akira’s son turns up murdered.
The investigation takes Brodie to a kendo club that the son was a member at. There he’s brutally beaten by men wearing masks, adding a new piece to the mystery. Brodie follows the clues into Yokohama’s Chinatown, where the Chinese gangsters there cast doubt as to whether or not the murders are the Triads doing. Two new potential suspects come into play – the Chinese Intelligence Service and Black Wind, a secretive group formed during World War II. No, not that Black Wind.
Brodie isn’t alone in this adventure. He’s helped by his loyal pit bull Noda, and by a new addition – the policewomen Rie Hoshino. Rie serves as a potential love interest for the widowed Brodie, but her law enforcement connections move the story along. There are a few good action set pieces, most notably on a riverboat. Brodie’s half-Japanese daughter – Jenny – played a large role in the Japantown, and is mostly absent from Tokyo Kill. I guess she didn’t really fit into this story. Kids are a tough fit in the thriller genre.
While I enjoyed Japantown more, Tokyo Kill is a solid book that should slake the thirst of Japanophiles and thriller fans alike.
Barry Lancet Interview
1) Was Tokyo Kill a planned sequel or did you come up with it after the success of Japantown?
I had the vague idea of a second Jim Brodie book in the back of my mind. When Simon & Schuster bought Japantown they offered a two-book deal with the stipulation that the next book also be a Jim Brodie book. I said fine and his name went into the contract. My fictional character became real in a way I couldn’t have imagined.
2) World War II plays a big part in the plot of Tokyo Kill. Did you do any specific research about the war while writing the novel?
Yes, I did research to fill in some holes, but it was a lucky encounter that triggered the whole World War II storyline.
One day we missed our rental payment by a day because we were busy. This had never happened before, so I decided to simply walk it down to the realtor’s office and apologize. The office was only about five blocks away. I walked in and the realtor was deep in conversation with a British customer. I sat down to wait. The realtor didn’t speak any English and the British guy had no Japanese. As I waited I saw almost immediately that they were talking at cross-purposes and getting nowhere. There was a lot of gesturing and smiles and words, but no progress.
It wasn’t my place to interfere but the realtor looked over at me after about three minutes and asked if I wouldn’t mind translating. I said I’d be happy to, and together the three of us sorted things out in short order. His customer left and the realtor, an elderly gentleman, was quite happy. He invited me into his back room for tea.
Then he started telling me war stories.
But not of the kind you’d expect.
He was a WWII vet. He began talking about his adventures in China during the war. How he was part of the Japanese military, how he was put in charge of a rural village, and how he became friends with local Chinese and their families despite the war.
And then, surprisingly, how he returned to China decades later when it first opened up and found the families he had befriended living in poverty. He began visiting them regularly and bringing food and money and supplies, and they were extremely grateful. He renewed his friendships and developed new ones with the next two generations.
That is how I became interested in the human side of the war between Japan and China. What went on between the Japanese and Chinese people despite the brutal rhetoric of war. When it came time to write the book, the incident of the late rent and our realtor’s stories sprang to mind and I chose to write about the human element where like minds could meet.
3) Tokyo Kill and Japantown both have lots of globetrotting – I’m assuming the other Brodie books do as well. Do you intend to have your characters visit these places or does the plot simply take you there?
I decide on the locations. My desire is to introduce readers fascinating places in Japan and around the world. In Pacific Burn sites San Francisco, Napa Valley, Tokyo, Kyoto, D.C., and more. The Spy Across the Table extends the canvas to North and South Korea and China.
4) Tokyo Kill introduces a possible love interest in the Japanese policewoman Rie Hoshino – I’m curious, will she be back for future books (possibly filling the void of his dead wife) or is Brodie like Bond with a new girl every time?
Brodie’s late wife is the major female figure in the first book, as you noted, but Rie Hoshino steps into those shoes after that and, yes, she returns in books three and four, Pacific Burn and The Spy Across the Table. In all of the books, she contributes in vital ways to Brodie’s investigations. And their relationship grows—then hits a seemingly insurmountable snag in Spy.
5) There are lots of twists and turns involving yakuza, triads, and even hints of Chinese spies. Were there any real-life stories involving these organizations operating within Japan that influenced you while writing the book?
Yes, many. The sit-down Brodie has with the spy in Tokyo Kill is drawn from an encounter I had in Japan. Quite by accident, at a wedding reception of all places, I found myself pushed to sit down with a solitary stranger who was not part of the wedding but was the only other foreigner in the room. Friends had taken over a whole restaurant for the wedding party. At the last moment, the owners asked if one of their long-time customers couldn’t take a seat in a back corner, away from the party, since he’d just flown in and always ate at their place when he was in town.
Of course, my friends said yes, and the man wasn’t in the way. It was a vast space and they were only using a third of it. But because he was the only other non-Japanese in the place, and for a time was sitting alone, my Japanese friends felt sorry for him and pressured me to go over and keep him company for a while. After two polite refusals, I finally consented because I didn’t want to sour the festive mood of the celebration.
Unfortunately, I soon found myself involved in some nasty mind games and a potentially life-threatening situation similar to that which Brodie finds himself in. For Brodie, the danger is immediate. For me, I realized too late that the guy I was talking to was not only extremely dangerous but slightly unstable. He could come after me at a later date since we’d exchanged cards and he knew where I worked. It was an intense mental battle. I struggled to extract myself from the exchange without irritating my adversary, which was not an easy matter. The probing mind games in the book are both taken from, and inspired by, that real-life encounter.
6) What are you currently working on?