Michael Pronko’s Tokyo Traffic, the third in his compelling crime series featuring Tokyo police detective Hiroshi Shimizu, revolves around human trafficking and the use of undocumented and underaged foreign women in Japanese porn movies.
The novel opens with a grisly scene: three people brutally murdered in a warehouse where porn films were made. Thai woman Sukanya survived and escapes with a wad of cash, a laptop and an iPad. Wandering into the heart of Tokyo, she’s befriended by a Japanese woman, Chiho, who welcomes her into her tiny “apartment,” a booth at an Internet café where she sleeps under a desk.
Meanwhile, gangsters—including the trafficker; another man who is more entrepreneurial than evil; and three low-level thugs —are after the computer and iPad, which contain incriminating videos and business documents. When Chiho’s friend offers to hack into the computer, a tracker is unwittingly activated, giving away their location.
The detectives previously featured in the series return here: Hiroshi Shimizu, formerly an accountant, who’d rather work a safe, desk gig but finds his forensic financial skills are needed in the field; Sakaguchi, a former sumo wrestler; and Takamatsu, Shimizu’s mentor, a bossy know-it-all.
Journalist and critic Pronko has lived in Tokyo for decades, and his appreciation and knowledge of Japan and its people shines throughout. He skillfully captures the feel of Tokyo and cultural nuances, such as this poetic description of what a kendo (sword-fighting martial arts) competition sounds like: “The shout-whacks, squeak of feet, and short screams formed a collective rhythm, like the buzzing attack of large, angry insects with hard shells and deadly stingers.” It’s clear the author knows Japan deep in his soul.
Pronko is also a masterful storyteller. As the narrative’s tension builds, readers will find themselves racing toward the inexorable moment when police, victims and villains collide.
A riveting story, Tokyo Traffic is sure to leave readers yearning for the next Hiroshi Shimizu novel.