I have always been fascinated by the East. I find both the history and cultural differences quite enchanting. So you can imagine my delight when I picked up a thriller by a British bestselling crime writer set in Japan.
The story is partly told through the eyes of the troubled Grey, whose obsession with the massacres of Nanking in 1937 brought her to Tokyo in search of a missing film depicting the atrocities committed by the Japanese during this time. In her quest she seeks out Shi Chongming, a visiting Chinese professor at the University and a survivor of the Nanking disaster. She believes the film to be in his possession.
Here Hayder weaves in the other point of view of the story, the professor’s, told with the aid of his diaries. The move back and forth between old events and new can sometimes be confusing in thrillers, however the author manages to achieve this seamlessly as we follow both stories. And the historical content is impressive, if a little shocking at times.
When Chongming initially refuses to help her, Grey finds herself in a strange city with no money and is forced to seek out lodgings and take a job in a high class hostess club, entertaining Japanese businessmen. But she refuses to give up on Chongming, who eventually strikes a deal with her: she has to supply something to him before he will share the footage with her.
This quest sets her on a ride that examines the underbelly of Japan’s capital and puts her own life at risk. Hayder hikes up the suspense and you are left turning the pages urgently to see what fate has decided for poor Grey. As the two stories become interwoven, the denouement of the novel takes you on an emotionally charged ride, leaving you totally wrung out to dry with the final revelation in the end. This is a hauntingly moving novel that stays with you long after you have finished.
It is obvious when you read the book that Hayder has spent a lot of time in Tokyo. Having only visited the city myself for a week, some years ago, I was able to directly recognise some of the landmarks she mentions. But you don’t need to have visited Tokyo to read this novel; the sense of place she creates is near to perfection. When she describes the hostess club you feel as though you are sitting at the table with Grey watching the enigmatic Mama Strawberry pound the floors with her stilettos.
I would definitely recommend this book if you are looking for a crime thriller with a difference set in a foreign land. It won’t fail to disappoint.
Author’s Note: Initially published as ‘Tokyo’ in 2004, be aware that this book was re-released in February 2010 under the title of The ‘Devil of Nanking’.