Fan of film noir? Are you in for a treat.
Last Stop Tokyo is a brilliant, carefully constructed literary noir work of immense sophistication set in contemporary Japan.
James Buckler’s debut novel delivers everything great noir should have. Down and out characters, crime, cops, crooks, seediness, culture clash, a strong femme fatale, romance and a city rich in danger, poverty, wealth and confusion.
The city: 21st century Tokyo. The prime characters: expat Englishman Alex Malloy running from past danger towards more; and his love, the beguiling leading contemporary art gallery manager, Naoko Yamamoto. One moment in their relationship unleashes hellish unexpected consequences which worsen with each attempt to fix the situation. Perfect makings for a fascinating psychological drama.
Buckler’s writing is so mature and smoothly controlled, given the immense tension of events and depth of relationships the novel deals with, which beg for urgency of pace. How easy it could have been for Buckler to go the raw pulp fiction path with this book. He has not.
Amidst moment to moment blood thumping dangerous drama, Buckler effortlessly manages to explore in fine, delicate detail the cultural and emotional barriers of a severe shade joining and separating Alex and Naoko from each other, their private secrets of shame and Tokyo itself. These moments greatly enrich and unpack Alex, Naoko and Tokyo in all their strength and weakness, leaving room for doubt and wondering as to their fate and true fidelity of character.
They are superbly flawed characters enduring the gradual stripping away of their outer defences with gritty determination. As circumstances push them towards choices directly against their set sense of values, they run the expanse of a Tokyo landscape which, in all its modern and ancient glory, refuses any real hope of refuge.
Reviewed by David O’Brien
Rating out of 10: 10
Distributed by: Penguin Australia
Release date: August 2017
RRP: $34.99 hardback, $32.99 trade paperback