It is the year after Hiroshima and in a shattered Tokyo Detective Minami investigates the murder of two young girls found close to each other in Shiba Park. The chief suspect is very quickly identified and charged and the majority of the book follows Minami as he searches for connections to a number of similar murders; all of which point to a hidden truth in his own past.
The murders and the identity of the killer are secondary to a mediation on the meaning of identity and are ultimately a metaphor for the birth of a new Japan- a country struggling to find itself after the devastation of American victory.
David Peace is a writer, for me, whose imagination and stylist inventiveness are barely contained by the robustness of his craft. He treads a very fine line between dazzling brilliance and unreadable pretentious twoddle. Never more so than here.
The plot points, the characters and the stylistic flourishes will be familiar to any reader of his Red Riding Quartet, but everything is turned up to eleven. We have the familiar corrupt cops, the lead character tortured by his past and searching for redemption. We have the betrayed family, the lust for prostitutes, the underworld father figures, the drugs and a killer- whose identity is a clue to the protagonist's shady past. All of these will be familiar to anyone who has read 1974 and 1977, as will be the cascading text, narrowing to a point of a single word, and the repeating mantras that make up such a bulk of the text.
Tokyo Year Zero is undoubtedly an impressive book, it is a beautiful evocation of time and place, written in a hugely distinctive style which can be both exhilarating and disturbing.
In parts Peace's writing is simply stunning, but too often it loses itself in a miasma of repetition and the substance becomes buried by the style. Still, it has to be said that not many authors chart the territory of inner turmoil as thoroughly or as effectively as Peace.
This is a hugely ambitious novel and in parts fails because of it's aspirations, but the ending is shattering and just about manages to pull it back into something worth the undoubted effort that it takes to read this book. Just about.