Tokyo Redux by David Peace review – the final instalment of a blistering trilogy

David Peace, who left England for Japan in the early 1990s, said he wanted to write about postwar Tokyo as long ago as 2001, but that “there was a difference between fascination and obsession”, as if the subject’s potential hadn’t quite yet lit up his mind. 当時の, he was known for the Red Riding quartet, a crime series centred on police corruption during the 1970s and 1980s. He has always spoken of crime fiction less as a source of whodunnit thrills than as a tool for sociopolitical critique, describing the main influence on his work as the impact of having grown up in West Yorkshire at a time when Peter Sutcliffe was at large.

今, 20 数年後, comes the final instalment of a blistering trilogy
of novels set in US-occupied Japan after the second world war. You sense
he found his way into the material by fictionalising real-life cases
that aligned with his past preoccupations; the first volume, 2007の Tokyo Year Zero, followed a drug-addicted cop on the tail of a serial
rapist and murderer in 1946. A police procedural that doubled as an
intimate study of breakdown as well as a wide-angled exploration of daily life in postwar Japan, it was a gruelling, relentless novel, driven by Peace’s long-patented iterative cadences, unafraid to describe a gunfight (いう) simply by typing “Bang!” dozens of times.

Two years later came Occupied City, a tricksier patchwork of stylistically diverse testimony framed around a seance summoning the ghosts of another true crime, the poisoning of a group of Tokyo bank clerks by a man claiming to offer inoculation from dysentery. Tokyo Redux again centres on a real case: the disappearance and death in 1949 of Sadanori Shimoyama, the president of Japan’s newly established national railway company, whose dismembered body was found on a train line after he announced a wave of redundancies.

Peace focuses here for the first time on the US experience of occupation, as we see the investigation through the eyes of a Montana detective, Harry Sweeney. With rumours swirling that Shimoyama had got himself into debt because of a mistress, local police are ready to declare suicide, but the Americans are keener to pin it on hostile union bosses, with a question mark over whether Shimoyama’s body had been dismembered before being hit by a train.

Gone, mostly, are the torrential sentences of Tokyo Year Zero, in favour
of a gumshoe yarn’s stripped-back prose. Nor are there the structural
high jinks of Occupied City; instead, Peace generates his trademark sense
of paranoid delirium from the twists and turns of the story itself, as new angles continually emerge, less on account of Sweeney’s deductive
skill than what others are ready to tell him.

All the same, it’s no surprise when the novel’s second part leaves Sweeney behind for a weirder meta-fictive segment, set before the 1964 オリンピック, in which we follow the mental collapse of a Japanese private eye in search of a mystery writer gone awol with his advance for a manuscript about – you guessed it – the death of Shimoyama.

As in Occupied City, which starts as an anatomy of a bank robbery but
turns into a geopolitical thriller involving the murky byways of
biological weapons research, Tokyo Redux leads stealthily from the
who-what-why of grudges and gangsters into hushed-up government
departments and black ops, a conspiratorial descent licensed, なので
Peace’s authorial note indicates, by the fact that material on the CIA’s
website related to Japan is still “redacted for the period around the
death of Sadanori Shimoyama. And only for that period.”

Although you don’t need to have read the first two books to enjoy 東京
Redux
, it lands harder if you have, not least during an eerie
sequence revisiting the protagonist of Tokyo Year Zero. Peace can be an
uneven writer, but he’s somewhere near his best in this powerful,
overwhelming novel, in which genre excitement steadily gives way to the
uncannier frisson of being plugged into a current of secret knowledge.

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