The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan


May 2014
Trouble in Japantown
Fast-paced thriller provides enjoyable read
By Vicki L. Beyer

BookWhen we first meet Jim Brodie—the hero in Barry Lancet’s first novel, Japantown—he is speeding through the streets of San Francisco after being summoned to a crime scene by the police. A family of Japanese tourists has been brutally gunned down in the Japantown neighborhood and the police believe Brodie, an antique dealer with expertise in oriental art, can help. He is also a martial arts expert who spent his childhood in Japan, part owner of a Tokyo security agency, and a single father.

Brodie finds at the crime scene a paper containing an obscure kanji character that he has seen before, when his wife died a few years earlier. So begins Brodie’s wild chase to solve the brutal murders of a seemingly innocent family, as well as the supposedly accidental death of his wife. But nothing is as it seems Hara, a maverick Japanese entrepreneur who, it turns out, is the father/grandfather of the slain family, retains Brodie’s security agency to help find the assassins. Mysterious Japanese men with Western names and incredible fighting skills appear and disappear from the action, leading Brodie to Tokyo. From there he and his Japanese colleagues travel to Soga, a remote mountain village where they begin to get some idea of the group they are up against: a clandestine organization whose origins are shrouded in the mists of time. But they barely escape with their lives.

Slowly Brodie and his team learn more about the group, and realize that the Japantown murders were a message for Hara: don’t rock the boat that is Japan, Inc. Brodie also learns that Hara has been using him to draw out these mysterious powerbrokers.

But, by this time, things have gotten personal for Brodie. The Soga group has kidnapped Brodie’s six-year-old daughter in San Francisco to try to get him to abandon his pursuit of them. This brings Brodie back to the United States, and makes him really mad.

Something goes wrong each time Brodie seems to make headway in the case. It’s as if someone has anticipated his every move. Indeed, Brodie discovers that his home, his antique store, and his security agency are all bugged with high-tech surveillance gear. Can he successfully eliminate the wiretaps, or better yet, use them to feed misinformation? Can he even be sure of who to trust?

Lancet’s Brodie is a modern-day Sam Spade (private detective and protagonist in Dashiell Hammett’s 1930 novel, The Maltese Falcon), a man’s man whose rough edges were smoothed a bit by his late wife, Mieko. He shows this soft side on occasion—when parenting his daughter or repairing the lacquer of a tea bowl, and in the remorse he feels after shooting a female would-be assassin in self-defense. But otherwise, the detective occupies a stereotypical male-oriented world in which the most intelligent female character is his daughter, while the other women in the book have only walk-on roles.

Distracting elements of the story include misplaced vowels in some of the romanized Japanese phrases, and the Western names borne by Soga’s overseas agents. The latter is particularly strange, since a Japanese-looking person with a Western name like Dermott seems more likely to attract attention than a Japanese-looking person named Tanaka. Why would a clandestine organization call attention to itself in this way?

In spite of these minor irritants, this thriller is an enjoyable romp. The pacing is fast, the chapters are very short, and the action takes place over the span of just 10 days. The short chapters make it a pleasant read, perfect for a long plane ride or a day at home due to bad weather.



Vicki L. Beyer is a vice president of the ACCJ.