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The Last Train (Detective Hiroshi) (Volume 1) Paperback – May 5, 2017
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"Tokyo comes to vivid life in this taut thriller, an unrelenting portrayal of a strong female character driven to dark deeds in a foreign land--and the heart-pounding search to find her." Publishers Daily Reviews
"An absorbing investigation and memorable backdrop put this series launch on the right track." Kirkus Reviews
"For anyone who loves crime and cop novels, or Japanophiles in general, this is a terrific thriller. Fans of Barry Eisler's early novels will find the same satisfactions here." Blue Ink Review Starred review
"The Last Train is nothing short of electrifying, a masterpiece that combines action with humor and suspense." Readers' Favorite 5 stars
"I would definitely recommend it to crime and murder mystery fans, especially those with an interest in Japanese culture." Online Book Club 4 out of 4 stars
"Set in Tokyo, this exotic crime thriller is a lightning-fast chase to the finish line that'll leave hearts pounding and pages turning." Best Thrillers
"Written from knowledge rather than research, he knows a lot more than he has any need to tell us...brings the city gloriously to life." The Bookbag 4 ½ stars
"...a well written and enticing look into the culture of Tokyo. The story behind Michiko Suzuki is compelling and engaging, you can't help flipping the pages to see what she is going to do next and find out why her victims were chosen." Literary Titan 5 stars
"While mystery readers will relish the progress of a detective torn between two cultures, it's the reader of Japanese literature who will truly appreciate the depth of background and references that make The Last Train a standout story." Midwest Book Review
"...a heartfelt, thoughtful ode to a strange and beautiful city, in the way that so many classic detective novels are. Lyrically written, with plenty of suspense, this a novel that aims to please, and can't really help but do so." IndieReader
"A well-paced and absorbing mystery, with quick action and a look at urban life, theirs is an utterly page-turning adventure." Foreword Reviews
"Gripping and suspenseful, this fast-paced thriller unfolds on the streets of Tokyo, where a clever and cold-blooded killer exacts revenge." Booklife Prize Rating 10.00
"The Last Train by Michael Pronko is a five-star detective read. It is unique, intriguing, and will hook the reader from beginning to end. I highly recommend it to all mystery lovers!" Reader Views
"It's no surprise to find that Pronko's first published fictional work would focus on the city, and that his deep affinity for the city would translate into such an awe-inspiring read. Pronko truly knows how to use the setting in the read, exploring the many facets of the city to maximum effect. The Last Train is a gripping read, and leaves you really wanting to dig into the next book in the series." Self-Publishing Review, ★★★★
About the Author
Michael Pronko has lived in Tokyo for twenty years, but was born in Kansas City, a very different world. After graduating from Brown University in philosophy, he hit the road, traveling around the world for two years working odd jobs. He went back to school for a Master's in Education, and then took a teaching position in Beijing. For two years, he taught English, traveled China and wrote.
After more traveling and two more degrees, another M.A. in Comparative Literature in Madison, Wisconsin and a PhD in English at the University of Kent at Canterbury, he finally settled in Tokyo as a professor of American Literature at Meiji Gakuin University. His seminars focus on contemporary novels and film adaptations, and he teaches other classes in American indie film and American music and art.
Pronko has published three award-winning collections of essays: Motions and Moments: More Essays on Tokyo (Raked Gravel Press 2015), Tokyo's Mystery Deepens (Raked Gravel Press 2014), and Beauty and Chaos: Essays on Tokyo (Raked Gravel Press 2014).
He has published books in Japanese and two textbooks in both English and Japanese. Over the years in Tokyo, he has written regular columns for many publications: The Japan Times, Newsweek Japan, Jazznin, ST Shukan, Jazz Colo[u]rs, and Artscape Japan. He runs his own website Jazz in Japan (jazzinjapan.com). He also continues to publish academic articles and helps run a conference on teaching literature.
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Which is why the plausibility factor spoils so many mysteries for me. Who is the killer? What are his/her motivations? (Pure naked viciousness isn't good enough.) Was the murder planned or impulsive? Generally I'm dissatisfied with elaborate puzzle boxes because I find them preposterous, the kind of mystery that concludes with the detective gathering all the suspects in a room and explains the steps that reveals the murderer.
Michael Pronko's debut, The Last Train: A Tokyo Mystery is doesn't do that and in fact is satisfying on all three counts: character, place, and plausibility.
According to his bio, Pronko has lived in Tokyo for twenty years. He has a BA in philosophy from Brown, an MA in comparative literature from Wisconsin, and a PhD in English from the University of Kent at Canterbury. He is a professor of American Literature at Meiji Gakuin University and has published three collections of essays about Tokyo. He says about The Last Train, "My book goes into the realities of Tokyo, the biggest city in the world, looks at the injustices of economics and the unfair position women are put into. It's not just 'set in' Tokyo, it's about Tokyo, in and of Tokyo."
The book begins by following a lovely, and determined young woman as she throws a drunken man into the path of the night's last express train.
In Chapter 2 we meet Hiroshi Shimizu, a police detective specializing white-collar crime, and his senpai, Takamatsu. A senpai is a senior, superior, predecessor, mentor; someone whose calls you take. The body on the tracks is a problem for the police: An American businessman. No sign of robbery. Unlikely to have simply fallen. Yet not someone who would kill himself. The American consulate is interested, as is the American Chamber of Commerce. Takamatsu wants Shimizu on the case because Hiroshi, after college in Boston and a romance with an American woman, speaks fluent English.
Pronko tells his story from the points of view of both Hiroshi and Michiko Suzuki, a woman strong enough and skillful enough in akido martial arts to throw a man in front of a train (and a former sumo wrestler through a plate glass window). Both are well-rounded and their motivations comprehensible. Pronko has lived in Japan long enough to understand the nuances of Japanese culture and behavior. We understand—if not agreeing with—Michiko's decisions, which echo those of the 47 ronin, the loyal retainers who took revenge on the lord who caused their lord's disgrace and death.
We follow Hiroshi and Takamatsu (until he ends up in the hospital after tangling with Michiko) and Sagamichi, the former sumo wrestler, as they visit the Roppongi entertainment district, goes to temples, corporate offices, and industrial wasteland in their effort to make sense of what they learn.
In a set piece at the end, Hiroshi fights his way through the maze of Shinjuku Station, something anyone who has been there can empathize with. You don't have to know anything about Japan to enjoy The Last Train, but if you do, much of it will resonate—even learn something new as I did
Death in a Family Business: A Tommy Lovell mystery
The story revolves around Michiko Suzuki and the team of detectives that are investigating the train murders. Michiko is the daughter of a factory owner whose mother died when she was young. She was raised by her father and his workers. She learned early that business is not always neat and clean, and that sometimes getting their hands dirty and making backdoor deals is the norm there. As Pronko tells Suzuki’s story he alternates between current events and her memories of the past, telling how she got to where she is, and how she has picked her victims. The main detectives investigating are Hiroshi and Takamatsu. Hiroshi is an accountant that due to spending part of his life in America is fluent in English so he works white collar crimes for the police. Takamatsu is a homicide detective that pulls together his own dream team to work on this case. Their case takes a high profile turn and soon they’re dodging politics as well the cultural need to keep everything neat and tidy. Michiko tries to keep her activities low key but when several of her victims survive her plot, things get messy for her and the police.
One of the most fascinating things about this novel is not the mystery aspect. The murder is not a secret from the beginning. What is a mystery is why she is killing people, figuring out what drove her to this life. Hiroshi is a complex character as well, and his dynamic interactions throughout the investigations add to the plot as well as provide an unique look at the culture. Even though he is from Tokyo, spending time in America gave him a different perspective on the way things are done; whereas Takamatsu comes off as the typical Japanese man. They make an interesting and effective partnership. Having the diverse views interacting with witnesses and other characters makes for a dynamic story line, it is diverse and provides multiple views from different cultural perspectives. Much of the story takes place in Roppongi, here you see all the varieties of hostess clubs, the basic lounge style, mud wrestling, nude women, and the high-end invite only David’s Lounge. Each club gives readers a different taste of the culture.
Overall The Last Train by Michael Pronko is a well written and enticing look into the culture of Tokyo. The story behind Michiko Suzuki is compelling and engaging, you can’t help flipping the pages to see what she is going to do next and find out why her victims were chosen. Hiroshi connects well with everyone he interacts with so there is an emotional response from the reader. Pronko uses emotion, mystery and attention to detail to keep the reader engaged and wanting more. I look forward to seeing more from Pronko and hope he has more stories to tell with Hiroshi.