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Michael Pronko
Shitamachi Scam
After the suspicious deaths of a seventy-something woman and a student recluse, Detective Hiroshi tracks a gang of scammers. Hiroshi teams up with Detective Ishii from the women’s crime task force, and together, they search for who’s been ripping off retirees in shitamachi, the old part of Tokyo. With his personal life on hold (almost), Hiroshi finds out who’s behind the scams and who’s behind the scammers—and who will kill for more than the scams.
In this sixth outing in the Detective Hiroshi series, the Tokyo accountant/police officer and his team navigate multiple levels of fraud: low-level hoodlum Takuya, whose gang swindles the elderly; a daring scooter-riding thief; and a secretive criminal named Kurono with his own agenda. The various threads come together in a major plan to redevelop Tokyo. Meanwhile, Hiroshi's girlfriend Ayana is pregnant, and he wonders if he can be both a detective and family man. Takuya finds that even criminals can face a midlife crisis, as he mulls over his romance with restaurateur Misaki.

A wonderfully twisty plot holds readers' attention, but the greatest joy comes from the characters as police and criminals move toward personal and professional reckonings. Pronko deftly moves Hiroshi from crime solving to coping with the hormonal Ayana and her mother. Hiroshi also must work with his fellow detectives, such as the old-fashioned detective Takamatsu with a penchant for European clothes and Ishii, a female detective who is both progressive and traditional. Pronko likewise crafts criminals who prove just as well-limned, stirring reader sympathy for the criminal Takuya, and hope for his redemption rather than his capture. The subtly effective character development elevates the story far beyond the usual police procedural.

The best character may be Tokyo itself, which Pronko neatly introduces to Western readers, from old-fashioned ramen restaurants with their dingy charm to the skyscrapers homogenizing the city. Pronko does as good a job of taking us on a trip through Tokyo—and a sweet and mournful journey it is—as Simenon does through Inspector Maigret's Paris. He also suffuses the story with Japanese ritual and tradition. The overall effect is a book that operates on multiple levels—and is successful with each of them. The clever plot, engaging characters and haunting themes will stay with readers long after they read the last page.

Takeaway: Clever, haunting procedural with a resonant cast and a vivid Tokyo milieu.

Comparable Titles: Keigo Higashino; Georges Simenon.

Production grades
Cover: A-
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A-