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‘Tokyo Station’: Taut thriller has slow start, strong finish

by

Special To The Japan Times

The bulk of Martin Cruz Smith’s “Tokyo Station” is set in 1941, when the impending war with the Allied Forces was the talk of Tokyo.

Tokyo Station, by Martin Cruz Smith.
464 pages
SIMON & SCHUSTER, Fiction.

Yet a third of the way into the book, which was published as “December 6” in the U.S., the reader, like the characters, is still waiting for action, the meat and bones of any thriller. It comes in time, but Cruz Smith certainly does draw out the tension.

That said, he is an entertaining storyteller, and his cast of characters manages to be both stereotypical (geisha, sumo wrestlers) and three-dimensional.

The book hinges on Harry Niles, the wayward son of Christian missionaries. Harry is a sinner and a savior, a crook, con man, lover, nightclub owner, confidant to Japan’s navy and thorn in the side of just about everyone. He’s both a foreigner and an old hand, a street urchin who came of age in the alleyways and brothels of Asakusa, where he learned to survive as an outsider and an enigma.

Harry pulls off his biggest stunt in China by saving the heads of five Chinese from certain execution at the sword of Lieutenant Ishigami.

Proving that no good deed goes unpunished, the despotic Ishigami is now back in Tokyo to extract his revenge.

Meanwhile, Harry is trying to evade a small army of pursuers and get on that last plane out of Tokyo before war is announced.

Cruz Smith picks up the pace as the cards start falling, and delivers in the end on the promise of a true thriller.

Read archived reviews of Japanese classics at jtimes.jp/essential.