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13 September 2014

Barry Lancet: Japantown: A Thriller (A Jim Brodie Novel)

Didn't fulfill early promise as a great début thriller  
Barry Lancet's début novel started with great promise of being a thriller that bridged the cultural gap between Japanese and American life. Unfortunately as the plot developed it became another overblown major conspiracy thriller where the hero and a few helpers took on well-organised baddies and managed to defeat them almost singlehanded.

Jim Brodie was born in Japan to American parents. He went to Japanese schools and integrated the Japanese society as well as any Gaijin (foreigner) is allowed and has a great expertise in Japanese culture, history, and martial arts. He shares his time as a dealer in Japanese art and antiques in San Francisco with running his late father's Tokyo-based private investigation firm.

When five members of  a rich and powerful Japanese family are gunned down assassination-style at a pedestrian mall in San Francisco's Japantown, Lieutenant Frank Renna from the SFPD asks for Brodie's help in deciphering a single Japanese Kanji character (a complex logographic which is part of the most complex Japanese writing system) left on a scrap of paper at the scene. What is chilling to Jim is that he had seen the same obscure and unidentifiable Kanji at the scene of a fire which destroyed the life of his wife Meiko.

Having lived 2 years as a true Gaijin in Tokyo, working and living with the Japanese I was fascinated by Lancet's fantastic perception of Japanese life, traditions and society from growing up in Japan in a similar way to fictional Brodie. I got lost when Brodie discovered that the Kanji led him to the ruthless and powerful Soga clan, the product of an ancient conspiracy (akin to the scope of the Da Vinci Code) that had its violent tentacles entangled around the most influential parts of Japanese business and government. I got further lost when Brodie and his PI firm took on the powerful Saga almost singlehanded.

What started out looking like an outstanding début thriller ended up as an almost unbelievable David and Goliath story. Despite this, because Lancet is undoubtedly a very talented author with an amazing understanding of Japanese life, I look forward to reading his next book, TOKYO KILL to see if he fulfills the promise shown in the first part of this book.

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