Pronko smoothly informs new readers of all they need to know about Hiroshi. He’s a refreshing character who defies the tough-cop stereotype, a thinker whose expertise is in following the money. There are just enough moments spent on his private life with his girlfriend, Ayana, to understand the fraught complexity of their relationship. Hiroshi’s colleagues on the force are also memorably portrayed and have wonderful camaraderie. The main characters all get their own detailed backstories and sense of agency, with the women having particularly rich, varied motivations.
Attention to detail is essential to this novel’s success. Pronko overexplains some cultural details, which slows the narrative’s otherwise tight pace, but it’s worth it as he makes the setting pop. While he doesn’t flinch from the unsavory details of murder, child pornography, and human trafficking, Pronko is careful not to exploit them for thrills. Modern details, such as cryptocurrency as a method for criminals to make money vanish, add a 21st-century touch. This is a sophisticated, humane, and compelling take on the modern police procedural.
Takeaway: Fans of police procedurals will thrill to this mystery’s lively characters, vivid descriptions of Tokyo, and unlikely heroics.
Great for fans of Seicho Matsumoto’s Inspector Imanishi Investigates, Arimasa Osawa’s Shinjuku Shark, Miyuke Miyabi’s All She Was Worth.
Design and typography: A
Marketing copy: B
Michael Pronko’s Tokyo Traffic, the third in his compelling crime series featuring Tokyo police detective Hiroshi Shimizu, revolves around human trafficking and the use of undocumented and underaged foreign women in Japanese porn movies.
The novel opens with a grisly scene: three people brutally murdered in a warehouse where porn films were made. Thai woman Sukanya survived and escapes with a wad of cash, a laptop and an iPad. Wandering into the heart of Tokyo, she’s befriended by a Japanese woman, Chiho, who welcomes her into her tiny “apartment,” a booth at an Internet café where she sleeps under a desk.
Meanwhile, gangsters—including the trafficker; another man who is more entrepreneurial than evil; and three low-level thugs —are after the computer and iPad, which contain incriminating videos and business documents. When Chiho’s friend offers to hack into the computer, a tracker is unwittingly activated, giving away their location.
The detectives previously featured in the series return here: Hiroshi Shimizu, formerly an accountant, who’d rather work a safe, desk gig but finds his forensic financial skills are needed in the field; Sakaguchi, a former sumo wrestler; and Takamatsu, Shimizu’s mentor, a bossy know-it-all.
Journalist and critic Pronko has lived in Tokyo for decades, and his appreciation and knowledge of Japan and its people shines throughout. He skillfully captures the feel of Tokyo and cultural nuances, such as this poetic description of what a kendo (sword-fighting martial arts) competition sounds like: “The shout-whacks, squeak of feet, and short screams formed a collective rhythm, like the buzzing attack of large, angry insects with hard shells and deadly stingers.” It’s clear the author knows Japan deep in his soul.
Pronko is also a masterful storyteller. As the narrative’s tension builds, readers will find themselves racing toward the inexorable moment when police, victims and villains collide.
A riveting story, Tokyo Traffic is sure to leave readers yearning for the next Hiroshi Shimizu novel.
Murders on a pornographic film set expose a bevy of criminal activities in this third installment of a Tokyo-based detective series. Detective Hiroshi Shimizu’s forensic accounting skills and fluency in English make him an asset in the Tokyo police’s homicide department. The newest case consists of three dead bodies at Jack and Jill Studios, which specializes in porn. Who exactly was the target isn’t clear: the unidentified actor; the director, Ryota Noguchi; or Takeo Suzuki, a former Ministry of Finance official. But the business is definitely involved in illegalities, as the dead actor is not only underage, but likely one of many trafficked girls. Readers are aware that Sukanya, a Thai teenager who’s in Japan for a promised American passport, fled from the scene and may have witnessed the murders. She also stole a laptop and an iPad, believing they would help her get out of an unfamiliar Tokyo. Unfortunately, Kenta Nakamura from Jack and Jill is determined to retrieve those potentially incriminating devices by whatever means necessary. Hiroshi, meanwhile, uses his aptitude with numbers to link cryptocurrency to the porn industry and the decidedly more dangerous human trafficking ring—likely involving the same people responsible for the homicides. Series protagonist Hiroshi shares the spotlight with myriad characters, both recurring and new. The narrative perspective regularly shifts to Kenta, who’s working with someone even more menacing, and Sukanya, who thankfully finds a helpful soul in Chiho, a local woman. While Hiroshi and other detectives search for the killer, the story’s most shocking aspect is the sheer volume of crimes, including blackmail, kidnapping, and worse. But Pronko attributes this overwhelming seediness to individuals, not Tokyo itself. The Japanese city is instead rather lively and appealing, like a vivid character standing “amid the grid of apartment blocks, gyudon shops, manga cafes, and family restaurants.”A dark and striking thriller with an indelible cast and setting.
Detective Hiroshi returns for another tantalizing dive into the underbelly of Japanese culture and crime in Tokyo Traffic by Michael Pronko. From the seedy dungeons of pornography rings to the beating heart of Tokyo’s moneyed class, this detective thriller is raw and gripping, told by a confident, complex and creative author.
The gruff sleuth at the center of these mysteries is pursuing a new case- a brutal murder tied to the insidious porn and human trafficking rings of Tokyo. It is clear from the start that this is a triggering topic for Hiroshi, something that brings out a primal rage, and that intensity drives much of his revelatory plot line.
However, young Sukanya is captivating in a different way as she navigates unfamiliar streets, one eye always over her shoulder, knowing that influential and merciless powers are hunting her down. She is a born survivor though, armed with both charm and savagery, and is learning how to live on the run, making it up as she goes along.
As these two characters’ journeys converge, the scope of conspiracy swells, forcing them to decide what they want for their future, and what they’re willing to risk to get justice. Sukanya’s connection to Chiho is sweet and charming, while the buddy cop dynamic of Takamatsu, Sakaguchi, and Hiroshi is relatable, though their friendship feels quite unique. The procedural aspects of a detective case combined with the methodical schemes of Sukanya build and maintain tension well; readers know that the culmination of the story is going to be dramatic, and they will not be disappointed.
On the more technical side, Pronko is deeply in tune with emotional language and human connection. Moments of intimacy and closeness are told with the same authenticity as the most gritty and suspenseful passages in the prose. This flexibility and consistent believability in the characters’ interactions is rare, but the realism rarely slips in these pages. Hiroshi becomes even more deeply developed from the first two novels, proving himself to be both intrepid and flawed – a relatable hero that people will want to continue following through his escapades and tireless pursuits.
As has been true for all of the Detective Hiroshi novels, Pronko beautifully captures the alluring and mysterious essence of Tokyo. There is a patience in the writing that mirrors the slower pace of Eastern behavior – a consideration for easily overlooked details and subtle emotions lying just beneath the dialogue. The city itself is a living, breathing character, the result of the author’s two decades living in Japan. Such a thorough immersion in a culture and people allows for an unusually intimate understanding of the cultural nuance and minutiae, which makes reading experience rich and addictive, particularly for those who have no connection to daily life in far-flung places.
As both a love letter to Japan and a bold condemnation of certain human rights crises still alive and well in our modern world, Tokyo Traffic is a superlative addition to the Detective Hiroshi series.
Gold Award Literary Titan (2020)
Gold Medallian Book Readers Appreciation Group (B.R.A.G.) (2020)
Long-listed Shelf Unbound Best Indie Book (2020)
Reviewer’s Choice Feathered Quill Book Awards (2020)
Winner Thriller Independent Press Award (2021)
Winner Thriller National Indie Excellence Awards 2021
Silver Medal Reader’s Favorite Fiction Mystery Murder
Silver Winner Thriller and Suspense Foreword Indies 2020
Bronze Award Reader Views Reviewer’s Choice Awards 2020-2021 Mystery/Thriller
First Runner-Up Eric Hoffer Award 2021