Novels in which naive Western sojourners in Japan become drawn into a maelstrom of violence are numerous enough to deserve a genre of their own. The most memorable include “Ransom,” by Jay McInerny (1985); “Whore Banquets” by Matthew Kneale (1987); “The Bang Devils” by Patrick Foss (2003); “Tokyo” by Mo Hayder (2004) and, — reviewed earlier this year — “Tokyo Nights” by Jim Douglas.
“Last Stop Tokyo,” billed as James Buckler’s debut novel, takes Tokyo as its backdrop. After surviving a traffic accident in which his troubled physician brother is killed, Englishman Alex Malloy flees to Tokyo, lands an English teaching job and meets Naoko Yamamoto, an ambitious woman trying to make it in a man’s world. Rather than the sanctuary he’d sought, however, Alex finds himself ensnared in a vortex of new troubles as both he and Naoko are both scarred, unhappy people whose self-destructive urges make for a script that would do credit to Edward Albee.
The Tokyoites Alex encounters are endowed with few if any redeeming qualities, portrayed as lecherous, deceitful, scheming and vindictive, and it quickly becomes evident that the Japan shown here is mostly a contrivance, symbolizing the unknown foreign places where, for the outsider, a little knowledge becomes a dangerous thing.
Despite its rather superficial portrayal of Japan, “Last Stop Tokyo” is partially redeemed by a well-crafted and cohesive narrative and three-dimensional characters with plausible motives for their actions. The verdict: a guarded recommendation.