A Guest Review by Feliz
Summary Review: Enmeshed in the cruel machinations of the powerful Yakuza, young Shiro faces a tough call: will he let himself be blackmailed into becoming a killer by the people who have kidnapped his mother and friend? or will he follow his conscience and put his trust into a complete stranger, only drawing on the attraction he feels after seeing a photograph?
The Blurb: Shiro Yamada has infiltrated a fearsome Yakuza clan in Tokyo in search of his missing mother, but now both their lives are at stake, unless he’s willing to kill a New York City cop. Shiro Yamada’s problem has always been his lovely, wayward mum, Siono, who was whisked to her native city of Tokyo from their home in Honolulu, Hawaii by a mysterious businessman. Now she’s gone missing and may even be dead, according to a strange telephone call. Scraping together money to fly to Tokyo, Shiro learns that his mum’s boyfriend was none other than Shun’ichi Harada, a major Yakuza clan leader. He has no choice but to infiltrate the deadly gang as a low-level bike messenger. He finds out his mother was forced into sexual slavery, but is she dead or alive? Shiro puts his life at risk, and that of a young Yakuza prostitute, Miki, by asking too many questions. The Yakuza have figured out who Shiro is and if he wants to survive, he must travel to New York and eliminate a powerful enemy: Kono Takumi. The man’s crime? He is a NYPD detective who infiltrated the Yakuza to solve a murder mystery. Not only that, but Kono is gay, which the clan finds offensive. Unfortunately, so is Shiro. Will he shoot to kill the one man he finds so attractive? Or is this a dangerous game in which there are no winners?
The Review: Shiro Yamada is half-Hawaiian, born of a Japanese mother in Hawaii where he feels at home. When his mother, who is of somewhat easy virtue, falls for Yakuza boss Shun’ichi Harada and goes missing in Tokyo, Shiro sets about finding her by ways of infiltrating the Harada clan. But he is uncovered soon enough. His immediate boss Nobuo-san, an ice-cold sadist, takes his cruel delight in punishing Shiro for his “lies” with torture and afterwards presenting him with an awful challenge. Shun’ichi Harada, the head of the Yakuza clan, is under arrest in New York. Only one man can send Shun’ichi Harada to prison, NYPD Detective Kono Takumi, who’d been undercover in the Harada organization for a year. Nobuo-san sends Shiro to New York, commanding him to kill Kono within two days, or Shiro’s mother and his friend Miki will die. Even the life of Shiro’s beloved grandmother back home in Hawaii might be at stakes. Shiro knows the threat to the women is real, his own body bearing wounds to witness that fact. But Shiro is no killer. What’s more, he has felt an instant attraction to his assigned target from the moment he lays eyes on Kono’s face in a photo. But how can he risk his own life and the lives of three innocent women on behalf of a total stranger?
Ever since Kono Takumi has returned from his undercover assignment in Tokyo, he has been looking over his shoulder. He knows the Yakuza killers are after him. Faced with the decision of going into hiding with Witness Protection or in a remote police post in Far Rockaway, Kono refuses to cower. His new department, although reputed to be one of the hardest precincts in the NYPD, turns out to have upright colleagues and an impressive leader, Lieutenant “Loo” Jerrell, who has no problems both kicking his men’s asses as well as having their backs. When the threat of falling prey to a Yakuza assassin suddenly becomes very real for Kono two weeks before the crucial trial, Kono has to think very fast about how he can get out of this mess alive.
Both Kono and Shiro are well-rounded characters. In a way, Shiro is some kind of anti-hero who stumbles head over heels into something that is way to big for him, a fact he only realizes when it’s almost too late. Although he’s scared to death, he doesn’t run screaming, but faces the challenge and shows true courage. Kono is a no-nonsense kind of man, very self confident and determined to make his own destiny against all odds. Yet, he isn’t too stubborn to ask for help if he has to, and puts his trust firmly into justice and the law like a good law-enforcer should.
I always though that John Simpson’s and AJ Llewellyn’s writing styles were not too far apart, and after reading this, I think those two authors make a fine writing pair. Their styles merge into a clear and crisp narrative, which makes for a fast paced reading, although the many short sentences come across a little breathless at times. A few times the conciseness reminds of a court report or a police log, which might be intentional given that a big part of the action involves police procedures. The latter ring true with realism right down to the goings-on of everyday business in an ill-reputed and out-of the-way police district. The story is set in Tokyo, New York, and Hawaii, with all three settings vivid and carrying a distinct feeling of location.
What I like best about John Simpson’s writing is the way his characters get about what they want without a lot of rigmarole. Once they make a decision, they stick to it and set about making it work, just like Shiro does after he makes up his mind to defy the Yakuza, just like Kono does after he gets past his inhibitions.
In his more recent works, I found that A.J. Llewellyn wielded a deadly pen when it came to characterization, and I was delighted to find the same poignant observations here, particularly with some of the minor characters, like the greek waitress or Shiro’s friend Miki who came alive on just a few well-placed sentences. And Shiro’s grandmother was a real gem, all Arsenic and Old Lace with a decent dash of the Goddess Pele thrown in.
Normally I don’t care overly much if an author is male or female as long as the story is well written. In this case, though, the writing felt distinctively male, straightforward and unadorned, which fit the storyline nicely. This was also true for the sex scenes – of which there were a lot – which were graphic, right to the point, not without emotion but bare of sentimentality.
All in all, a gripping, fast, entertaining – if at times a tad bloodthirsty – read I’d recommend to fans of mystery, thrillers and hot cops.
***This story contains graphic scenes of violence, torture and (animal) abuse some readers may find offensive***