Nick Hurst’s first novel (his previous book, “Sugong: The Life of a Shaolin Grandmaster,” was a biography of a kung fu master) could more accurately be titled “Falling Into the Floating World.”
Ray is your average English teacher in Tokyo, except that he’s fluent in Japanese and has developed a relationship with Tomoe, whose beauty is surpassed only by her reputation as an artist.
Her sudden disappearance pulls Ray into the darker side of modern Japan, where yakuza, sex workers, corrupt politicians and the odd sumo heavyweight lurk. Through misstep after misstep, Ray gets so lost in the underworld that he is left with only two options: become yakuza himself or get beaten to death. He opts for the former, though the beatings don’t stop for long.
There are many tropes familiar to readers of either gaijin-in-Japan fiction or Tokyo underworld thrillers, but Hurst’s easy style and fast-paced storytelling keeps the pages turning. Those who like their yakuza with a dash of morality, lead characters out of their depths and their cops dumb and bent will find much to enjoy here.
The subplot of yakuza interference in Japan’s energy industry really piqued my interest, but Ray’s story unfortunately veers off from this fruitful avenue as the violence intensifies and the net around him tightens.
The main plot is nicely twisted, and it’s never clear — even at the end — quite who is really on Ray’s side. In the floating world you are never on secure ground.