Reverse-Cinderella novel set in LONDON
Dark thriller set in Tokyo, plus author piece
23rd August 2017
Last Stop Tokyo by James Buckler – dark thriller set in Tokyo.
Last Stop Tokyo is the story of Alex and Naoko. Both are escaping from their pasts – Alex from events in London which made him move 6,000 miles from home, and Naoko from events in Tokyo which she would rather put behind her. Their fit is that they are less than 100% honest with each other.
They are introduced by Hiro – a successful Tokyo broker with whom Alex was a student in London. Naoko is a childhood friend of Hiro’s. Hiro, because he knows both their pasts, does not want them to be together – he fears someone will get hurt. Alex (for reasons I won’t reveal for fear of a spoiler…) spends six days in gaol in Tokyo. It is a degrading and frightening experience… He makes some not very nice ‘friends’ who continue to haunt him once he is free again. The seamier side of life in Tokyo comes to the fore. His relationship with Naoko goes through ups and downs.
There is involvement with gangsters, drug dealers, and prostitution. Alex and Naoko sink deeper into a pit from which escape is difficult. The story progresses to a thrilling and unexpected finale. But, a word of warning, don’t be tempted to put the book down with ten pages to go when all seems to have been happily resolved. There is more to come!
Last Stop Tokyo is a debut novel that has a great deal to recommend it. It is generally well written and it is genuinely exciting. I do, though, have a couple of concerns. The first is to question some of the editing. There are a few paragraphs that read a tad simplistically, and there are descriptions of the check-in procedures at an airport (and other irrelevances) that add nothing at all to the story. The second is the accuracy of some of the locations (very important, of course, to TripFiction). The book opens with Alex flying back into Narita from Thailand. Important for the story he has only hand baggage – and, so as not to arouse suspicion – he decides to wait by the baggage carousel until other passengers had collected their bags, and then join them, before proceeding through immigration control. But, in Narita (as indeed in most airports around the world), you pass through immigration before you get to the baggage carousels… Similarly, later in the book, one of the characters pulls the communication cord on a Shinkansen and alights from the train before walking back down the track. I doubt, in such a situation, it is possible to open the sealed door – and it would be suicidal to walk on the track. Such ‘errors’ do not, of course, detract from the excitement the book genuinely generates – but they do jar a bit with the location purists.
All that said, though, Last Stop Tokyo is a gripping and insightful read.
Tony for the TripFiction team
Over to James for our #TalkingLocationWith… feature
LAST STOP TOKYO is my first novel. It’s the story of Alex Malloy, a young Londoner who relocates to Japan to begin a new life. As is the way with crime fiction, his plans soon begin to go awry and he is drawn into a series of entanglements that become progressively more sinister and dangerous. When the head of the local yakuza crime syndicate presents him with an offer he can’t refuse, Alex realizes he’s a long, long way from home.
There are many different characters in LAST STOP TOKYO, but the city itself is definitely one of the leads. For anyone who hasn’t visited Tokyo yet, I urge you to go as soon as possible. You won’t regret it. As soon as I arrived in the city, I knew I wanted to write a novel set there. I was instantly mesmerised by the country and the culture; the vastness of Tokyo, the crazy mixture of ancient and modern architecture, the relentless 24-hour pace of life which made you want to sleep as little as possible in case you missed something. It was all intoxicating from the start.
I worked in the central district of Shinjuku, in a small school, teaching English to very shy, adult students. Shinjuku is a city within a city, a metropolis all on its own. Most of the typical film and television scenes of Tokyo are shot in Shinjuku. It is a district of vibrant energy and relentless neon – the inspiration for BLADE RUNNER. At the heart of Shinjuku is Kabukicho, this is one of the first places I was drawn to as a new resident of the city and somewhere I would recommend spending some time exploring. The streets of Kabukicho and the nearby area of Golden Gai are a warren of ramen bars, traditional onsen bath houses and shady establishments catering to every kind of vice under the sun. Despite this, the area is still very safe for visitors, even at night. Go in the early hours and see all the city’s strangest characters emerge onto the streets.
The Shinto shrine at Yasakuni was the inspiration for the temple scene in LAST STOP TOKYO. The shrine is the subject of controversy for its connection to the Japanese military, but it is an amazing building nonetheless. At the rear of the shrine, hidden away from the crowds, is a rarely visited traditional garden with a carp pond and a bamboo shozu water feature. Even though the busy streets of Tokyo are only the other side of the garden walls, you will feel as if you are transported back to a more tranquil time and place, when monks listened to the sound of running water as they contemplated the nature of impermanence. On a hot day in summer it is a peaceful refuge.
Amazing food is found everywhere in Tokyo, especially in the small, counter-style restaurants you will find on every side street. They often have blue noren curtains hanging over the doorways and steam spilling out of their tiny kitchens. Try takoyaki – deep fried octopus balls, or yakitori – skewered pieces of chicken, barbecued over an open brazier. Shabu shabu was an obsession with all the Japanese people I dined with during my time in the city. It is a dish of gossamer thin slices of beef that are cooked in a broth at your table. Feel free to slurp as you eat!! Oishi, as you will hear repeatedly from the satisfied Japanese customers.
The train and metro system in Tokyo are both amazing, despite the transport map of the city being so complex as to be incomprehensible even to long term residents. One of the reasons I chose the title, LAST STOP TOKYO, was as an oblique reference to how much time people in the city spend riding on trains. Take a trip around the Yamanote line that circles around the centre of the city to see how the districts all differ from one another – just avoid the morning and afternoon rush hours that see unbelievable crowds crammed into every carriage. If you travel during these periods, be prepared to be shoved through the doors by white gloved platform attendants.
Outside of Shinjuku, there are many other interesting suburbs. Akihabara is the place for the latest video arcades and electronic stores. Harajuku and Omotesando for fashion. Yoyogi and Hibaya have great parks. Tsukiji market for early morning sashimi, fresh from the Pacific. Or leave the city, and visit Yokohama or Enoshima Island. Or the beautiful hillside temple at Niko. Or take a shinkansen bullet train to Osaka for the best okonomiyaki you will ever taste. Or Kyoto…
My main advice is just go to Japan. But avoid yakuza entanglements. And read LAST STOP TOKYO while you’re there.
Thank you so much to James for sharing “his” Tokyo and do mind the yakuza!
James is not on Social Media as we publish this post. You can buy his book through TripFiction.
For more books to take you under the skin of Tokyo, just access the TripFiction Tokyo database.