Tokyo Year Zero

Tuesday April 21, 2009 in books read 2009 | david peace

David Peace’s Red Riding quartet of novels are very much trapped in the time and place of 70s and 80s Yorkshire. Grey days, both for victims of violent crime and the innocent people drawn into police corruption, lies and brutality. The image of 70s and 80s British policing has recently been a popular subject for television, both with the entertaining yet completely unnaturalistic Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes, and with the adaptations of three of the Red Riding novels which wallowed in smoky rooms and grim period fashion.

Although native to Yorkshire, Peace has lived in Japan for a number of years and wrote his early quartet of crime novels there. Far removed in a setting from the world of Edddie Dunford, Jack Whitehead et al it is perhaps surprising that he makes the novels so believable, haunting and effective. Therefore it is even more surprising that many of the themes of 1974, 1977, 1980 and 1983 surface in the first of Peace’s Tokyo Trilogy, Tokyo: Year Zero.

cover of Tokyo Year Zero by David PeaceTokyo: Year Zero has one of the most brilliant opening sequences I have read for some time, where a murder victim is discovered on the day of the Japanese surrender of 1945. Although a suspect is found in the locality and executed, there is a doubt that he actually guilty of the crime, here beginning the familiar Peace pattern of justice serving as injustice and the police helpless in the hands of those with power. The following chapters jump a year forward to 1946, with Detective Minami showing the characteristics of the typical Peace narrator. Typically repetitive dialogue driving into you, where dreams and reality merge. One of the most arresting sequences surrounds an autopsy, where in a nightmarish sequence Minami perceives the murder victim as still conscious.

In terms of plot, Tokyo Year Zero is most similar to Peace’s earlier 1980, where a detective investigating a series of murders slowly begins to lose his grip on authority and his perception of the world surrounding him. Where 1980 followed the crimes of the Yorkshire Ripper, this novel is based on another real life murderer Yoshio Kodaira, who was executed in 1949. Like Peter Hunter and the Ripper, Minami attempts to piece together a trail of murders that may or not lead to his suspect. One of the murders, one that Kodaira does not confess to, remains unsolved, and Peace enjoys one of his favourite themes of policing and detection masking other crimes that remain a mystery.

That Tokyo Year Zero is so reminiscent of Peace’s earlier novels shows good and bad in Peace’s writing. Some of the episodes appear too familiar, and perhaps it is not a good thing where the voice of a Tokyo detective in the 1940s at times sounds eerily similar to the voice of Brian Clough in The Damned Utd.. There are also other Peace motifs; the mental asylum, the seedy journalist, the prostitutes, the all powerful kingpin sitting outside of the law. Most obviously recognisable is the weak man as an officer of the law, being led, step by step, into an inevitible doom. Criticisms about familiarity are only minor however; this novel also creates an excellent sense of a very different culture at a crucial time in history.

Tokyo: Occupied City, the second part of the trilogy, is out later this year. It will be interesting to see where Peace takes his writing; if it’s more of the familiar or something more surprising. It will still be atop my summer reading list. This is a writer difficult to leave alone.

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