Year 3 / Book 8: Blue Light Yokohama

8) Blue Light Yokohama by Nicolas Obregon

I got this in paperback for Christmas after reading about it a while back. I’m a sucker for novels set in Japan, and even more so for detective novels set in Japan, so this seemed an obvious choice along those lines. Recent reads that stick in my mind include the Devotion of Suspect X and Villain both of which have a distinctly Japanese sensibility and, in the case of the latter by Shuichi Yoshida, an eerie unsettling feeling throughout (both highly recommended). Blue Light Yokohama feels a bit closer to a more traditional ‘European’ crime novel, perhaps because it’s written by a European (!), albeit one who lived in Japan for a while. As he details at the end of the book, Obregon was inspired by a real-life Japanese murder story which remains unsolved to this day.

There’s a lot going on here – Detective Iwata is the main character, and he’s coming off the back of some unspecified tragedy with his American wife / girlfriend; he’s taking over from Hideo Akashi who has committed suicide; Iwata inherits a partner called Sakai who is feisty and blunt (and for my money, the most engaging and entertaining character); and in short order, a family is murdered, followed by some more people soon after….and there’s a healthy side-helping of Japanese cults and police corruption as well. Obregon does a decent job of weaving these into a coherent plot and narrative, and Iwata and Sakai are far from paper-thin in terms of characterisation, though some of the strands tie up a bit too neatly.

It’s a tense, involving read and I found myself reaching for it as soon as I sat down on the tube on the way to work – always a good sign that the story has you gripped. So I enjoyed it a fair bit – but couldn’t help think that it probably had a bit too much going on, and that this means it is not quite as successful or as powerful as it might have been. Cutting out a couple of unnecessary back stories and some minor characters (there is a university friend particularly, who may as well be called ‘Basil Exposition’ as he seems to exist purely for plot explanation purposes; a ‘cults’ specialist who pops up at the end is similarly helpful for the narrative) might have led to a sparer, tighter story with a fiercer emotional punch. It’s good but it could have been great. Tuck it away for a holiday read, and keep an eye out for Obregon’s next novel.

Score: 7/10

BUY IT NOW: Blue Light Yokohama (Inspector Iwata)

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