Find out the latest indie author news. For FREE.


Michael Pronko
The Moving Blade

Adult; Mystery/Thriller; (Market)

When the top American diplomat in Tokyo, Bernard Mattson, is killed, he leaves more than a lifetime of successful Japan-American negotiations. He leaves a missing manuscript, boxes of research, a lost keynote speech and a tangled web of relations. When his alluring daughter, Jamie, returns from America wanting answers, finding only threats, Detective Hiroshi Shimizu is dragged from the safe confines of his office into the street-level realities of Pacific Rim politics. With help from ex-sumo wrestler Sakaguchi, Hiroshi searches for the killer from Tokyo’s back alley bars to government offices, through anti-nuke protests to the gates of an American naval base. When two more bodies turn up, Hiroshi must choose between desire and duty, violence or procedure, before the killer silences his next victim. THE MOVING BLADE is the second in the Tokyo-based Detective Hiroshi series by award-winning author Michael Pronko.
Plot/Idea: 9 out of 10
Originality: 9 out of 10
Prose: 10 out of 10
Character/Execution: 9 out of 10
Overall: 9.25 out of 10


Plot: Pronko has written a fast-paced, highly entertaining tale steeped in elements of Japanese culture to follow his first book in the Detective Hiroshi series. The book is just the right length for readers to enjoy in a few suspense-filled sittings, and the storyline is creative and wraps up nicely.

Prose: Pronko's prose flows well and his knowledgeable and respectful use of Japanese and other Asian phrases and cultural references are perfectly inserted into the story at appropriate times. Pronko's dialogue is cleverly crafted and never feels stilted.

Originality: The Moving Blade is fresh and original. The contemporary issues that the Japanese face with American military bases may prove to be a novel topic for many mystery/thriller readers. 

Character Development: The characters are drafted realistically and feel authentic. Pronko clearly strives to present characters from various cultures, such as Detective Hiroshi and sumo wrestler Sakaguchi, accurately and fairly.

Blurb: A stellar novel with a unique storyline and setting.

Date Submitted: August 19, 2018

Blue Ink Review

From the beginning of The Moving Blade, Michael Pronko exposes readers to theft, murder and international diplomacy. The unease they provoke never diminishes in this riveting mystery set in Tokyo.

Hiroshi Shimizu officially works in the Tokyo homicide department but spends most of his time investigating white-collar crime from his cramped office. Because he’s bilingual, having studied in Boston, he’s asked to probe the murder of U.S. diplomat Bernard Mattson, whose stolen documents, some of which were to be presented at an upcoming global symposium on Asian security, potentially have worldwide implications.

The police have few leads other than the sword cuts on the victim’s body. (The title refers to the rapid-fire movement of sophisticated swordsmanship through use of various swords capable of inflicting different types of damage.)

When Jamie Mattson, who hasn’t seen her father in years, returns to Japan for his funeral, she’s immediately approached by people interested in publishing her father’s work once it’s recovered. Jamie, like readers, isn’t sure who is trustworthy among this group, and tension builds as Hiroshi and Jamie work together—and independently—to find Mattson’s murderer and the missing papers.

The author includes several clever plot diversions: for example, Mattson’s collection and research on Japanese erotica was also stolen, raising questions about what the thieves were truly seeking. Another diversion is a possible love interest. However, the main focus is on finding the documents before the symposium begins.

The large number of characters can occasionally be hard to track, but that’s a quibble. This is a true page turner, with main characters that come alive with their intelligence, curiosity and imperfections. Pronko combines suspense with occasional light-hearted moments as he takes readers to back-alley ramen shops, crowded train stations and busy Tokyo streets. The roller-coaster pace delivers slow acceleration to a critical point before plunging forward and into absorbing twists and turns.

With its well-crafted plot involving credible, menacing threats, The Moving Blade is sure to captivate mystery fans.

Kirkus Review

Pronko’s (The Last Train, 2017, etc.) Tokyo-based thriller follows a detective’s search for a manuscript so valuable some will kill for it.

Hiroshi Shimizu’s injury from a previous case is the perfect excuse for the detective to work white-collar crimes from a computer. But Sakaguchi, Tokyo’s head of homicide, needs his English-speaking adeptness, courtesy of Hiroshi having studied in Boston. On a bisected body, a medical examiner has found a flash drive that contains images of woodblock prints and corresponding notes in English. It doesn’t seem like much, until detectives learn the only specialist who could find the physical prints has just died—American diplomat Bernard Mattson, murdered by burglars at his home. As Hiroshi and others investigate, it’s soon clear someone is after Mattson’s manuscript. But what exactly is in the manuscript is the biggest mystery: the diplomat is linked to myriad sensitive issues, from U.S. military bases in Japan to the Status of Forces Agreement with America. Hiroshi is also keeping an eye on Jamie, Mattson’s Japanese-American daughter from New York, who’s in Tokyo for her father’s funeral. She may be a target; whoever wants the manuscript will likely assume she knows its location. Pronko’s portrayal of Japan is an elegant balance of Japanese customs with an American-style hard-boiled procedural. For example, lovingly detailed sushi preparation contrasts with the police station, a site of whiteboard scrawls, corkboards covered in notes, and piles of folders next to out-of-date computers. The concise mystery runs at full tilt with characters that focus assiduously on the investigation. Accordingly, welcome humor is plot-relevant: detectives at crime scenes alternate heading off the assistant chief, who’s more annoying than helpful. Hiroshi, in his second appearance (along with fellow detectives), is a winsome but unassuming protagonist. Though he’d rather be at his computer, he faces a blade-wielding killer with confidence and relatively few complaints.

A tight, rock-solid installment in a series that’s only getting better.

Midwest Book Review

A respected American diplomat is stabbed to death and a private investigator is carved up like an overlarge sashimi in the opening pages of this masterful mystery set in modern-day Japan.

It then falls to Tokyo P.D. detective Hiroshi Shimizu to try and find the one responsible for both these violent acts and to see if there might be a link.

This is a first-rate murder mystery, played out against the exotic urban backdrop of Japan's largest city, and expertly written by an acclaimed author who is clearly at home there. Indeed, the book is as much an intimate guide to Japanese customs and timeworn cultural ways as it is a thrilling whodunit.

But there's more at stake here than just finding two ruthless killers -- if in fact the murders were done by two separate people. Bernard Mattson, a top expert on Pacific Rim policy matters, was the unfortunate stabbing victim. He was scheduled to give a sea change speech at an international conference in a few days that reportedly would have had a dramatic effect on relations between Japan and the U.S. And that speech has disappeared.

So all eyes fall on Mattson's gorgeous young daughter, who arrives just after the murder, expecting a long-anticipated reunion with her famous father. Instead, she joins Hiroshi in a methodical quest to find both the murderers and the missing manuscript.

She finds she has a target on her back, however, as the most likely holder of the unknown papers. And just like that, she requires police protection, 24/7 -- though she chafes at the measure. Even after burglars brutally tie her up during a failed search of her father's house and leave her to slowly suffocate, she stubbornly refuses to return to New York.

The plotline then moves along apace, expertly intertwining new investigative revelations with cinematic chase scenes on foot through first one crowded Tokyo neighborhood, then another, then an airport, then -- actually, we lost count. But unlike many cliched characters in modern day mysteries, honorable detective Hiroshi-san shows an endearing penchant for making all-too-human mental lapses that repeatedly throw others into dire physical jeopardy.

Still other cast members are similarly satisfying. A detective colleague of Hiroshi's, a former sumo wrestler named Sakaguchi, frequently steals scenes by using his sheer bulk to even the odds in confrontations with the bad guys. And even the minor characters come vividly to life through the author's lyrical descriptive abilities:

"To the side, a third man leaned on the counter, one leg propped on a stack of old encyclopedias. He was thin as a sumo judge's gunbai fan, with stringy grey hair down both sides of his sunken face. The taut pucker of smoker's wrinkles held his last comment unfinished as they turned silently towards Sakaguchi."

Seriously, does good writing get any better than that? Such turns of phrase are standard fare throughout the novel, which is the second in a series. We look eagerly forward to the next installment.

But to wrap this one up, the author mixes a dynamite detective story with a compelling argument cum expose on the prolonged existence of American military bases on Japanese soil and around the world. But this call for change is delivered very subtly through the author's main and secondary characters, and enumerated with a quiet authority that is never preachy. This carefully researched aspect of the book presents a model for other writers who try -- and fail -- to deliver a moral message inside a work of fiction.

Five-plus stars to The Moving Blade. We say to readers, come for a satisfying story -- but stay for an immersive experience in Japanese ways and a better-than-Frommer's guide to Tokyo. You'll be glad you did.

Awards for The Moving Blade

Named One of Kirkus Reviews Best Indie Mysteries and Thrillers (2018)

Grand Prize Winner Chanticleer International Book Awards Global Thrillers (2018)

Winner Independent Press Award for Crime Fiction (2019)

Gold Award Literary Titan Book Award (2018)

Five Star Honoree B.R.A.G. Medallion (2018) 

Gold Award Independent Publisher Awards for Mystery (2019)

Silver Medal Readers’ Favorite for Thriller (2019)