Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Catching Up #51: Tokyo Year Zero by David Peace

There’s no getting around that David Peace is a great storyteller and prose stylist, but there’s also no denying that you have to psyche yourself up to read his shit. Tokyo Year Zero is an especially tall order, what with the chanting, repetitive prose style and incessant Japanese names, places and phrases (there’s even a glossary at the back of the book and a map of Tokyo in the front), but it’s also very rewarding and - when you’re up for it and with the rhythm - it’s a visceral, mind-fuck experience like few books you’ll ever read.

Tokyo Year Zero is based on the true story of the Kodaira Yoshio, a serial killer and rapist who carried out his particular brand of nasty in the year following Japan’s defeat at the Americans in WWII. Our narrator is Detective Minami, a desperate man with debts to the local mob boss, a sleeping pill addiction, a mistress, a near-starving wife and kids, and a shady past. While Minami investigates the strangling deaths of numerous young women in and around Tokyo, he’s also trying to keep his affairs and life in order, with often violent, hair-raising consequences.

Now, seeing how I just told you who the fucking killer is, you might be thinking of telling me to go fuck myself first, vowing to never read this book now that it’s been spoiled for you second. But I assure you, dear reader, that shit is not spoiled. They figure out and catch Kodaira PD-fucking-Q, and then it’s merely a matter of working through the limited resources and infuriating bureaucracy to connect him to other bodies and missing person reports. The real mysteries and thriller-ish aspects of the novel come from Minami’s affairs outside of the investigation involving the local mob boss and a shady fellow detective on the force.

And what really makes this shit sing is the world Peace establishes. His depiction of U.S.-occupied Tokyo post-firebombing is basically fucking hell on earth. Evidence of destruction and chaos is on every street and within the hearts of every citizen. It’s a world where you can’t afford not to be corrupt, where rice and jewelry are worth more than money, where prostitution and thievery are often the best – if not the only – options.

Hell, the book's worth it just for the insight into how the Tokyo police department conducts business. There’s a fantastic discussion early in the book where the brass bitch about how the Americans are forcing them to adopt their western interrogation tactics, complaining about how they now have to have evidence and a charge before they arrest and beat the shit out of a suspect. The book is just packed with kick ass lore and commentary like that.

But as I said, this shit can be hard to read at times. When you’re ready for it and you just fucking get it, you’re flying through the pages and completely in tune with Minami, reeling at every twist and turn just like he does. But it’s hard to keep up such a grueling pace, to speed through such a dense and complicated story, and the names and fucked-up style and Japanese phrases and glossary-checking can slow your ass down and make the reading feel like a chore. But then you’ll hit your stride again and burn through a section like you’re on meth and the book is your dirty carpet that can’t seem to get clean no matter how much bleach and elbow grease you dump on that motherfucker.

So basically I’m saying you should fucking stick to it, dear reader. Don’t read this while in the middle of another novel because when the going gets tough and you haven’t picked up Tokyo in a while, it’ll be fucking daunting-as-shit to get back into it. Like an Ellroy novel (I’m required by law when reviewing a David Peace novel to mention James Ellroy’s name at least once), you have to bring a lot to the book itself, but your careful reading and investment no doubt pays off in fucking spades.

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