Tokyo Redux by David Peace, Knopf, 464 pages, $28
One of the major incidents of the seven-year postwar occupation of Japan occurred in 1949. Sadanori Shimoyama, president of the newly reorganized Japan National Railways, disembarked from his company limousine and walked into a Tokyo department store around 9:30 am on July 5, supposedly to shop for a birthday gift for his wife.
Around 1:30 am the next day, Shimoyama’s mangled corpse was found on the Joban Line tracks in the northeast part of the city.
Did Shimoyama – who was under tremendous pressure from the military occupation to dismiss thousands of workers – commit suicide? Or was he abducted by a person or persons unknown and murdered? Contradictory autopsy findings and exhaustive investigations notwithstanding, the circumstances leading to his death have never been satisfactorily explained.
Tokyo Redux, the long-awaited third part of British crime writer David Peace’s Tokyo Trilogy, brings the investigation into the Shimoyama case back to life.
Harry Sweeney, an American investigator assigned to the occupation’s Public Safety Division, liaises with the Japanese civilian police and follows up on leads, in classic police procedural style.
While this is a work of fiction, the author incorporates numerous historical personages and facts gleaned from the actual case, in a manner resembling a Truman Capote-style non-fiction novel.
Sleepless and wilting in the oppressive summer heat, fueled mainly with infusions of whiskey, Sweeney runs an obstacle course of lies, callousness and greed. As far as the occupation’s major players are concerned, Shimoyama’s death matters only in how it can be harnessed to manipulate the media and wean the public away from left-wing causes.
Investigator Sweeney eventually cracks under pressure from his bosses and in a drunken rage metes out a vicious beating to an elevator operator in his hotel. Even then his bosses refuse to let him resign as they need him to keep a lid on events.
The unsolved case is pursued in two subsequent parts set 25 and 40 years later. Presented with those three snapshots of Japan’s postwar history, readers are challenged to connect the dots and make sense of what happened to Shimoyama in 1949.
The first two books in Peace’s Tokyo Trilogy involved the 1946 case of serial rapist-murderer Yoshio Kodaira (Tokyo Year Zero) and the robbery-murder incident at the Teigin Bank in 1948.
Taken together, the books have invited comparisons to the noir works of American crime author James Ellroy (author of The Black Dahlia), whose flawed protagonists also emit waves of negative energy.
Peace deserves credit for meticulous research into one of the most baffling incidents of the postwar period. His hypothesis concerning Shimoyama’s death is plausible, and the surprise at the end is eminently satisfying.
A translator, newspaper columnist and book collector, Mark Schreiber is the author of The Dark Side: Infamous Japanese Crimes and Criminals, He arrived in Asia in 1965 and currently resides in Tokyo.