Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Review of Tokyo Year Zero by David Peace (2007, Faber and Faber)

August, 1946. The bodies of two women are discovered in Shiba Park in Tokyo. Detective Minami is assigned to investigate the death of one of the women. Like Japan itself, Minami is suffering a kind of post-traumatic stress disorder. Struggling to survive on low wages, fighting political and personal battles inside the police force, dependent for drugs and supplies from a black market boss, and haunted by his mistress and atrocities committed in China, Minami struggles to retain his sanity and make progress on the case. Suspicious of everyone and scheming his own games, he ploughs on with dogged determination to solve the murder case despite the general apathy and opposition to his cause.

Tokyo Year Zero is the first book in what was to be a trilogy of books set in post-war Japan, though only two have been published. This book is set in 1946, though it seems to shuttle back-and-forth with earlier events, though this is difficult to determine at times given the fractured nature of the storytelling. The tale follows the exploits of Detective Minami as he investigates with colleagues a series of deaths into young women – indeed, it is a fictionalized account of a real serial murderer case in which ten women were raped and killed by a former imperial soldier. The story is infused with paranoia, scheming, and in-fighting as the police try to solve the case against the backdrop of a broken society and purges of officers no longer seen politically fit to serve. Minami has his own secrets to keep hidden, secrets that are destroying his mental state. Peace tries to capture this mental pressure and breakdown through the style and structuring of the text, with staccato often poetic prose, many phrases extensively repeated, and whole passages structured so as to have shortening line length down the page. While the prose did conjure up the paranoia and mental struggle, it was often grating and hard work, and the telling lacked clarity or was ambiguous in places, though I suspect that was deliberate. The result is a repetitive, fractured, messy police procedural and downfall full of visceral imagery. It’s an interesting read, but the literary pretentions did make it a struggle at times.

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