5 Star Review
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Editorial Book Review:
by Michael Beas
Michael Pronko's Shitamachi Scam draws readers into the dark and complex world of Tokyo's underworld. In this sixth installment series, Pronko deftly navigates the cultural nuances and social complexities of Japan's capital, giving readers a thrilling and insightful look into the darker side of Tokyo life.
The story begins with the mysterious deaths of a 70-something woman and a reclusive student, setting the stage for Detective Hiroshi to delve into a web of deception, manipulation, and exploitation. As Hiroshi investigates these deaths, he uncovers a malicious syndicate that preys on retirees and orchestrates scams that rob them of their savings, pensions, and even home ownership.
What sets "Shitamachi Scam" apart is its careful depiction of Tokyo's "Shitamachi," an old eastern district of Tokyo that embodies tradition while harboring complex layers of crime and deception. Pronko masterfully combines research and cultural insight to provide readers with a vivid depiction of the collision of modernity and tradition in contemporary Tokyo.
The collaboration between Detective Hiroshi and Detective Ishii, who leads the women's crime task force, adds depth into this book. Their partnership not only highlights the tenacity required to fight such nefarious activities, but also sheds light on social issues, including the treatment of the elderly, a theme that runs through the story. Additionally, Pronko's deft character development enriches the story and highlights the dynamic between Hiroshi, Detective Takamatsu, and Chief Sakaguchi.
Their collective expertise and diverse backgrounds create a fascinating synergy that moves the investigation forward and heightens the tension and intrigue of the plot.
Although the complex plot keeps the reader on edge, Pronko seamlessly integrates cultural insights and provides a nuanced understanding of Tokyo's nature.
From the labyrinthine backstreets of downtown to the collision of modern criminal tactics and ancient traditions, this book captivatingly depicts Tokyo's diverse landscape. Shitamachi Scam is a testament to Pronko's storytelling talent, blending crime fiction and cultural exploration to provide a fascinating and insightful read.
This is a fascinating addition to the Detective Hiroshi series, and will appeal to both mystery lovers and those interested in the intricacies of Japanese society.
Pronko's deft storytelling and deep understanding of Tokyo make this a must-read for anyone seeking a comprehensive literary experience.
About the Author
Michael Pronko is a Tokyo-based writer of murder, memoir, and music. His writing about Tokyo life and his character-driven mysteries have won awards and five-star reviews. Kirkus Reviews selected his second novel, The Moving Blade for their Best Books of 2018. The Last Train won the Shelf Unbound Competition for Best Independently Published Book.
Michael also runs the website, Jazz in Japan, which covers the vibrant jazz scene in Tokyo and Yokohama. During his 20 years in Japan, he has written about Japanese culture, art, society, and politics for Newsweek Japan, The Japan Times, and Artscape Japan. He has read his essays on NHK TV and done programs for Nippon Television based on his writings.
A philosophy major, Michael traveled for years, ducking in and out of graduate schools, before finishing his PhD on Charles Dickens and film. He finally settled in Tokyo as a professor of American Literature at Meiji Gakuin University. His seminars focus on contemporary novels, short stories and film adaptations.
“All of my books are set in Tokyo, a city I’ve become addicted to for its size, sweep, and speed. It’s an amazing place to experience on a daily basis, to try to get hold of. I’m still overwhelmed by it at times, maybe most of the time, but writing about Tokyo in both fiction and non-fiction is one way to understand the place, and to understand myself, too,” Michael said.
“I’ve come to feel that our lives are constructed by stories. We all have problems, conflicts, and confusions, but also moments when the sheer beauty of the world shines through. Thinking of those ups and downs, I feel stories are essential to live more freely and more creatively. They restore our humanity. Stories are also great fun! I feel privileged to keep working with stories and to be able to share those stories with others.”