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‘Blue Light Yokohama’: Crime fiction that sinks under the weight of its cliches

by

Special To The Japan Times

“Blue Light Yokohama” is optimistically billed as the first in a new crime series. While the plot twists are of the caliber required for successful crime fiction, this debut is riddled with cliches, errors and inconsistencies. Anyone familiar with Japanese culture or crime fiction will struggle to reach the end in the face of mounting frustration.

Blue Light Yokohama, by Nicolas Obregon.
448 pages
PENGUIN, Fiction.

The narrative is full of anachronisms. Japanese police officers wink at each other, shake hands, make casual references to U.S. pop culture and speak like U.S. TV cops. It’s often only the names that remind us this is set in Tokyo. The characters certainly don’t come across as Japanese. Rendering non-English speech is always tricky for authors, but here Obregon has laced the standard police talk with slang and expletives that seem ridiculous given the context.

Genre markers abound. The outsider cop? Check. The talented female officer dealing with sexism on the job? Check. Corruption? Check. Red-herring petty criminals, no-good thugs, Jackson Pollock references at a murder scene? Check, check, check.

Writers who have spent time in Japan are often tempted to data-dump, and Obregon is guilty of this. From underwear-stealing perverts to Korean-hating racists via misanthropic religious cults, all the usual bases are touched. Perhaps now that Obregon has gotten it out of his system, the next book will be more nuanced, but without closer attention to detail, it’s hard to see his Inspector Iwata ever appealing to readers in Japan.