Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Blue Light Yokohama by Nicolás Obregón

This is a police procedural set in Japan. Our protagonist is Inspector Kosuke Iwata, newly transferred to Tokyo's homicide department from some provincial backwater, before which he trained with the police in America. His new partner is Assistant Inspector Noriko Sakai, a no-nonsense, tough, female cop. They’re assigned to a case nobody much cares for, the previous investigator having committed suicide. The crime Iwata and Sakai are now tasked with solving is the wholesale slaughter of a Korean family in their home. This case is of little interest to the department for two reasons: one the ethnicity of the victims, Japanese society characterised by deep-seated racism and prejudice towards Korean migrants, and two, the fact that their deaths have coincided with that of a famous actress, her passing attracting huge media interest.

Iwata and Sakai start to investigate the slaying of the Korean family and they discover a black sun was daubed inside the house. More killings follow and they soon realise that they have a serial killer on their hands. The Black Sun Killer, as they quickly daub him, is immensely strong having torn the hearts from his victims’ bodies. But he’s also incredibly clever and leaves virtually no trace. Iwata becomes obsessed with the case and with dogged determination tries to make headway, despite hostility from colleagues and interference from above.

Blue Light Yokohama is a gripping read; it’s a long book, running to 448 pages, but they swept by. I’m not normally one for serial killer fiction but this had me hooked. Both Iwata and Sakai are compelling characters, flawed and single minded in equal measure. If that sounds like a cliché -the maverick cop with a past - and in some ways, it is, the author carries it off with panache and a certain originality. For example, Iwata’s tragic history with his American wife was powerfully done and I felt for the character.

That all said, I had some issues with this novel. Normally in this kind of book the author leaves clues throughout the narrative as to the conclusion. Obviously if this is too obvious, the reader sees it coming a mile off. The ideal is to have the reader guessing until the final reveal, but then have them saying, “oh right, yeah I see that now.” What you don’t want is the author keeping everything to himself and then just dumping it on you in the final couple of chapters. That’s what Blue Light Yokohama does. While there are a few clues as to the killer’s identity – I guessed a few chapters from the end, much of their motivation is told to the reader in the last few pages. More concerning, there’s a major plot twist involving one of the main characters that just comes out of nowhere, a complete bolt out of the blue.

These aren’t major issues and I really did get through this novel in just a matter of days. I understand that it’s part of a series and we’ll be seeing more of Inspector Kosuke Iwata. I hope so.

4 out of 5 stars

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