Michael Pronko’s sixth novel in the Detective Hiroshi series showcases his ability to weave a gripping crime story with his deep knowledge and appreciation of Japanese culture and society.
The novel opens with a police sting. An elderly woman is set to give a bag with money and documents to a low-level crook, part of a ring preying on older people, especially women. But the exchange goes awry when a young man on a scooter unexpectedly appears, tries to grab the bag and accidentally kills the woman, forcing the scammer to retrieve the bag and flee.
It turns out that the scammers are a group of young hoodlums on scooters and skateboards, all orchestrated by a mysterious, powerful group that hired but now appears to be double-crossing them. The criminal relationship is confusing initially, until Detective Hiroshi digs into the numbers. He’s a forensic accountant who primarily investigates financial crimes but is constantly asked to help solve homicides with financial angles by his friend and mentor, Detective Takamatsu.
Soon more people are killed, and eventually, Hiroshi uncovers a years-long campaign to buy up buildings in the Shitamachi district and redevelop the land into modern businesses, shopping and residential complexes.
On the personal side, Hiroshi’s girlfriend is pregnant, and his uncle suggests the detective leave the police force and take over his accounting business, an appealing prospect for a family-man-to-be.
The story is engrossing as Hiroshi and his team study clues and Pronko offers details about Tokyo’s modern history. Fans of the earlier books will especially enjoy the reappearance Akiko, his super-efficient assistant, and Ishii, the woman detective assigned to the department’s first-ever group investigating crimes against women. Pronko adds the usual skillful descriptive passages and observant details that illustrate his deep knowledge about Japan and love for the culture.
Shitamachi Scam is a highly satisfying read for fans new and old and leaves everyone hoping for a seventh installment… if Detective Hiroshi chooses to stay on the force.
Also available as an ebook.