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2.9 out of 5 stars
Tokyo Year Zero (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard)
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31 of 34 people found the following review helpful
on September 16, 2007
Format: Hardcover
A strange but effective mystery set in early post-war Tokyo, this novel always seems a bit off-balance. There are murders, there is a police investigation (of sorts), but the primary interest is the portrayal of Japan under the Occupation forces and the desperation of day-to-day life in Tokyo.

You will not get a feeling about being comfortable knowing what's going on. Wheels within wheels, the police at all levels work clandestinely with the criminal gangs, and the police at all levels often seem to be working at cross-purposes to each other. Only the top-level police have access to automobiles, and it is odd to see the day starting with the sergeant barking "Bow!" and everyone bows deeply to their superiors.

When you finish the book, there's no sense of satisfaction--but this dark and disturbing work makes you feel as if you've been given a glimpse of hell--rather like Dante's Inferno. If you want a good, more conventional Japanese police novel, try Matsumoto's Points and Lines. If you want the classic police procedural, try Freeman Wills Croft's series. Tokyo Year Zero is unconventional, unsettling, and harrowing--and effective.
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23 of 26 people found the following review helpful
#1 HALL OF FAMEon September 12, 2007
Format: Hardcover
In the summer of1946 Tokyo, the ravages of the war permeate every aspect of life in the battered city. One year to the date of the surrender, two female corpses are found in Shiba Park. Both were rape victims before being strangled.

Police Detective Minami leads the official investigation into the homicides. As he struggles with a drug addiction that helps him forget his ignominious past during the Chinese Occupation, Minami owes his allegiance to a drug lord who feeds his habit. Still he wants to solve this particular brutal case so in spite of a lack of running water, he is out seeking clues amidst the ruins of the city; that is when he is not with his mistress. When more dead females surface; each raped before being strangled, Minami knows he must concentrate on uncovering the identity of a serial killer even if he believes the victims deserve what they get as these prostitutes know the risk of picking up a customer.

TOKYO YEAR ZERO is going to be considered one of the best historical police procedural of the year. The investigation is top rate and the depressing Minami is a fascinating lead character who readers will dislike once they learn he ignores his starving family for his drug needs and his mistress. However, with the American occupation led by the invisible emperor with no clothes and MacArthur occupying a country in ruins with only a thriving black market efficiently run by criminals, Japan especially Tokyo owns this dark whodunit.

Harriet Klausner
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on December 23, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Tokyo Year Zero is a unique book written in a unique style. I enjoyed it very much. I am a frequent visitor to Tokyo and so I particularly enjoyed the ability of the author to integrate history and physical Tokyo into his novel. The author's biography says he now lives in Tokyo and to my observation this has allowed him to write a novel of Tokyo with accuracy and atmosphere. However, my enjoyment of the novel was somewhat diminished when I read pages 244-246.
Apparently, Mr. Peace in preparing to write his novel took the time, as any good author should, to read what others have written about Tokyo. In particular, Tokyo Stories edited by Lawrence Roberts. In that collection of literary short stories about Tokyo you will find on page 122 the short story The Old Part of Town by Hayashi Fumiko. In Hayashi's short story a young woman in the ruins of Tokyo after the war (sound familiar?) is looking for a place to sell her tea which she is peddling to survive. She comes to a place where, as Hayashi describes it, has piles of rusting iron, a shack with a glass door, and a man with a sweat cloth tied on his head. Inside the shack she finds that there is one stool and a postcard tacked to the wall. The man tells her about his wartime experiences in Siberia where he was interned in Mulchi near the Amur Riveer.
Turning now to Tokyo Year Zero, at page 244 Peace writes that Inspector Minami comes to a lot with a huge pile of rusty iron, and a cabin with a glass door. The worker living in the cabin has a handkerchief tied around his head and in the cabin there is a single stool and a postcard tacked to the wall. The man tells Inspector Minami that his son is interned in Siberia at Mulchi on the Amur River.
Having read this remarkably similar description taken from a work written in 1949, my opinion of the creative genius of Mr. Peace was somewhat diminished and although I continued to enjoy the novel very much I was left with the doubt that not everything written was a product of his own creative abilities.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on November 30, 2007
Format: Hardcover
David Peace is probably best known as the author of The Red Riding Quartet, which garnered international praise and recognition for the British expatriate. Peace, a resident of Tokyo since 1994, has chosen his adopted city as the setting for a new trilogy, the first installment of which is TOKYO YEAR ZERO. The book reads as if Peace had channeled a rambunctious collaboration involving Dashiell Hammett, William Burroughs and Kenzaburo Oe.

Peace sets all but a few pages of TOKYO YEAR ZERO on the first anniversary of Japan's surrender in World War II. This Tokyo is not unlike a Hieronymus Bosch painting, with the Four Horsemen of The Apocalypse --- Pestilence, War, Famine and Death --- running through the streets at will. When the decomposed bodies of two women, raped and strangled, are discovered in a Tokyo park, Detective Minami of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police is assigned to the investigation. It is almost immediately obvious that Minami is half-mad, serving not only the police department but also a local crime lord who has risen to ascendancy as the result of the murder of his mentor. Discerning the identity of the killer/rapist is accomplished through dogged police work; the problem is that the fiend's deeds are not limited to two women or, for that matter, to Tokyo.

Minami's investigation is impeded not only by office politics and jurisdictional squabbles but also by the unofficial inquiry he is making at the behest of the local crime lord, one whose trail leads him back to his own office. At the same time, Minami is balancing duties and a great deal of guilt between his wife and children and his mistress. Meanwhile, Tokyo sinks under the weight of its defeat, the souls of its residents shattered by Japan's defeat and the failure of their beliefs. As both of Minami's investigations draw to a close, he is forced to confront his own demons, deceptions and potential for self-destruction.

As with his Red Riding Quartet novels, Peace has based TOKYO YEAR ZERO on real-world events --- serial murders depicted here actually occurred. But what is perhaps most spellbinding in this work is the manner in which Peace has infused it with a dark atmosphere of defeat and depression in which the individuals involved still struggle on, even without hope. One can only wonder --- with great anticipation --- what will be next.

--- Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on October 14, 2008
Format: Paperback
Tokyo Year Zero is much more than a crime fiction. It is also a depiction of life in post World War II Japan a year after the horror of the bombings. The novel is a bleak, graphic and sometimes disturbing picture of the struggle to survive by the Japanese people. It is a time of "peace with no peace" where death is constant and the "survivors are the losers."

Amidst all the chaos and destruction, the naked remains of a young woman are found stuffed in a closet of a former Navy factory just outside Tokyo. Detective Minami with the Tokyo Metropolitan Police and his Murder Squad are called to the scene along with the Kempeitai, the Japanese military police. The Kempeitai find an old Korean man living near the murder scene. He is judged, executed and buried on the spot. Case closed - except two more bodies are found in similar circumstances and once again Detective Minami is called to the scene. Using only pad and pens, no money for uniforms or cars and not allowed to have guns, Minami and his team begin their investigations only to find many more murdered young women of similar circumstances.

A dark subplot weaves throughout this story and is more a mystery than the crimes. Minami's diligence to the case becomes obsession. Always on the verge of starvation, eaten up with lice and fleas, wearing ragged clothes and shoes, he begins to sacrifice what little he has left to pay his "debt to the dead."

Sometimes difficult to follow, David Peace uses a unique style in writing this novel and relies heavily on single Japanese words throughout, however, a dictionary is provided for translation. Peace, a British author, has lived in Tokyo since 1994 and has been an award recipient for his novels from Britain, Germany and France.

This book is extraordinary in its study of a man who has seen too much, lost too much and perhaps, killed too much as a soldier only to be returned home to deal with more death and grief. Tokyo Year Zero is a must read.

Armchair Interviews agrees.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Format: Hardcover
The "Year Zero" in Japan is 1946, the first year of defeat, of the Allied occupation, of the "Emperor MacArthur." It's a year of disease and near starvation, of ragged clothing and war crimes trials, of false identities and political purges, of gang warfare and the constant sound of hammering. Most of all, it's a year of lies and secrets. Many of the upper ranks of the civilian police have been dismissed for their political affiliations and solving "ordinary" murders in a country with several million unidentified dead has become nearly impossible. But that's Detective Inspector Minami's job, as far as he can manage it. The story -- the visible one -- involves a series of similar sex-murders and the complex investigation into the identities of the often skeletal remains and the search for evidence to convict the suspected killer, all of which is made more difficult by the secrets in the lives of nearly all the principle characters, on both sides of the law. And it's those secrets that make up the real story. Minami, as we gradually discover, has a secret involving the Japanese military police in the brutal occupation of China. His boss has his own secret regarding a cover-up, and his subordinate detectives have yet more secrets. Minami also has the head of the local gang on his back, and he's probably responsible for the murder of a journalist, and perhaps for the murder of another detective. It's a dark plot in a dark world, filled with people living dark lives, and in most respects Peace succeeds quite well. My only real complaint is with his attempt at a self-consciously "literary" style, in which he frequently repeats the same sentence fragments over and over (and over and over), and in which the same phrases (apparently the product of Minami's damaged psyche) crop up again and again, and always in italics. An unadorned, straightforward writing style would have been more successful and less obtrusive in communicating the despair and the horror of the time and place. The story and the raw emotional milieu in which it is set would have been sufficient to convey the feelings Peace obviously wants the reader to share -- and the book would have been probably fifty pages shorter. But if you *bleep* over that part of the story, it's a pretty good book.
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18 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on December 30, 2007
Format: Hardcover
For a piece of genre writing to succeed as great fiction, it must transcend the boundaries that normally lie around the detective novel, the sea-faring tale, science fiction, etc., and do so with seeming artlessness. Raymond Chandler and Elmore Leonard did so for crime fiction; Patrick O'Brian even more conspicuously took historical novels to a higher level. It is clear that David Peace wants to achieve more than a police-procedural period piece with "Tokyo Year Zero." He wants to say something about post-war Japan, guilt, and human corruption and make as, Monty Python once observed, "a plea for understanding in a mechanized ethos."

Sorry, it didn't work this time. Mr Pearce tries too hard and forgets that "the art is to conceal the art". Intent on transposing Dostoevsky to Tokyo in 1946, he concentrates on relentlessly exposing his protagonist's tortured inner dialogue to the exclusion of writing an entertaining mystery. There are 345 pages in this novel and I would estimate that 200 of them are spent describing itching, scratching, sweating, and ritually apologizing. The publisher tells us that Mr Pearce has two more novels planned in this series; he will also have one fewer reader.
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13 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on May 7, 2010
Format: Paperback
I itch and I scratch. gari-gari. (gari-gari is the japanese word for the sound of scratching). I just finished the 6th of the Bernie Gunther detective novels by Philip Kerr that are set in Berlin (all of them an excellent read) and so I was hoping this would be a similar post-war historical noir. Unfortunately, it was unreadable. I itch and I scratch. gari-gari. I only made it to page 80, hoping it would get better but it never did. The problem? The author repeats phrases. The problem? The author repeats phrases, usually up to four times. The problem? The author repeats phrases, usually up to four times in a single paragraph. The author repeats phrases, usually up to four times in a single paragraph. I itch and I scratch. gari-gari.
The phrase "I itch and I scratch. gari-gari" appears on average twice per page thoughout the entire book. It adds NOTHING to the book. Where was David Peace's editor? A decent editor would have coached him to cut out the endless repetition. Repetition is fine in a short poem. Repetition is fine in a short poem. Repetition is fine in a short poem. But, repetition in a 343 page novel is not fine.
Interspersed thoughout the narrative is the main characters (Detective Minami) thoughts, set in italics and ending with an ellipsis... which would lead me to believe... that the next time I see an sentence in italics... it will be a continuation of this thought... but this is never the case. All these thoughts, set in italics and ending with an ellipsis are disconnected individual thoughts, and whenever they occur it's like slamming into a brick wall in the flow of the narrative.
Also, everyone, and I mean everyone, is constantly apologizing to everyone else around him, and for what? I itch and I scratch. gari-gari. The need for these apologies is never made clear, or even apparent. I itch and I scratch. gari-gari. Minami's called upon in meetings (as an example) to stand up and give his report - and the first thing he says is "sorry"! For what? Standing up? I itch and I scratch. gari-gari. I spent a month living in Kyoto and I don't recall the Japanese as this remorseful.
On page 355 David Peace acknowledges as a source the 1949 film 'Stray Dog' by the great Akira Kurosawa. It must not have made a very deep impression on him. My advice? If you want great Japanese Noir, don't buy this book, buy or rent 'Stray Dog' instead. You won't be sorry, and you'll save the cost of the book.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on December 22, 2009
Format: Paperback
I have recently read and much enjoyed two other popular and well-received mystery novels, Tom Robb Smith's "Child 44" and Stieg Larsson's "The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo". Having said that I think "Tokyo Year Zero" was superior to both those novels. The portrait of post war Japan is spectacular, devastating and terryifying. The plot held my attention until the very end in ways few mystery novels or other serious fiction for that matter have done. I agree with reviewers who find the prose can be a bit tiring but I gradually got into and came to appreciate the rhythm of it. I warn this is very very far from an easy read - those looking for "easy summer reads" will be deeply frustrated. But serious readers looking for a rivetting multiple murder mystery placed in fabulously renderred historical setting narrated by a frenzied, neurotic, yet engaging main character, may find "Tokyo Year Zero" will make for an unforgettable read.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on August 7, 2012
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
As a member of the Army of Occupation in "Tokyo Year Zero", this novel brought back many memories of the conditions in that demolished city that year. The author's style is somewhat difficult but if the reader sticks with it, it all
makes sense in the end. A great story!
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