Tokyo Traffic by Michael Pronko
A Detective Hiroshi Mystery
Tokyo Traffic is an entertaining and involving crime read. Set in modern day Japan it is rich in local colour and culture, an intriguing element of the story for Western readers. The unfolding investigation into the dark underbelly of Tokyo life, sex trafficking and the pornographic film industry, is fascinating, if disturbing. There’s a degree of subtlety in this novel, the story is not only grittily real but also thought provoking and emotionally alive. It easy to feel for the plight of the central characters, particularly Sukanya, a child trafficked from Thailand to Tokyo’s sex industry. However, some of the villains are rounded too and more interesting for it. The first novel in The Hiroshi series, The Last Train published in 2017, promised much. Tokyo Traffic, the third in the series is a mature thriller, a nice melding of suspense elements, an engaging detective team and a mystery with a few twists.
Sukanya stumbles around the film set, drugs still in her system, she throws up. The warehouse has been turned upsidedown, there’s glass on the floor and blood – blood everywhere. Celeste, her only friend, they clung together on the boat from Thailand, is dead. Ratana, the other girl is gone, a man took her away before it happened, they could return at any moment. Sukanya needs to get out of the warehouse now. She approached the two dead men, takes money from their wallets, grabs an iPad and scarpers into the night time city. Sukanya doesn’t knows the streets or the people, she has no passport and barely has any clothes on her back. The film studio owner, Shibaura, waits outside the crime scene for Kenta – Kenta saved the porn film peddler from financial ruin, now he will fix this. They will have to involve the police but first Kento has to track his missing iPad, Kirino will take care to everything else.
Finally the police are alerted to the crime scene. Sakagushi, a former Sumo wrestler, head of Homicide, allocates the case to Detective Hiroshi Shizumi. There are three dead people, a girl probably underage probably foreign, the film director, (a young man from a wealthy family), and a senior official at the ministry of finance. As the team start looking for witnesses and a motive they have to figure out which one was the target.
Sukanya has money but she doesn’t realise how dangerous the iPad she took is. She can’t book into a hotel, she can’t turn to the police, and the criminals are not the only predators out there for a child alone in the city. She badly needs a friend but who can she trust?
This is the most accomplished of the Hiroshi Mysteries. There’s a real sense of peril in the hunt for Sukanya, who proves to be a very resourceful child. There’s a serious theme underlying the story of a girl lured from her home to Bangkok on the promise of a job only to be abused, beaten, raped and transported to Japan to ‘work’ in the sex film industry. That said, there are moments of humour and real triumph as she manages to avoid falling into the hands of her would be killers.
Michael Pronko is a professor of American Literature and Culture at Meiji Gakuin University in Tokyo. He has written three non-fiction works on Tokyo life. The other novels in the Hiroshi series are The Last Train (2017) and The Moving Blade (2018).
Raked Gravel Press, Paperback, 20th June, ISBN 9781942410195, also available as an eBook.
Tokyo Traffic by Michael Pronko