Fiction – paperback; Bantam; 480 pages; 2005.
Having written just two previous novels, Mo Hayder already has a reputation for writing fast-paced, intelligent thrillers. Tokyo is no exception.
For the first time, Hayder sets her novel on foreign soil, although her main narrator, the weird “Grey” whose shadowy past is never detailed in full, is English.
Grey has an obsession with the infamous Nanking Massacre of 1937. She tracks down a Chinese professor working in Tokyo who may be able to help her find a piece of film that records the atrocities that happened at the hands of the Japanese. But when Shi Chongming meets her he denies all knowledge of the film, claiming that it does not exist. Grey, who is annoyingly childlike and frustratingly naive throughout this entire novel, is unconvinced.
Not wanting to give up the search for the missing film, she moves into a crumbling old house in the Tokyo suburbs with a set of Russian twins and the weird Jason, who has an accent that sounds like he “might have been from England or America or Australia. Or all three”.
Despite her odd looks and penchant for Oxfam clothing, she finds work in an upmarket hostess club frequented by the Japanese mafia (yakuza). It is here that Grey is drawn to a wheelchair-bound gangster who drinks a strange elixir rumoured to ensure his ongoing health and well-being.
Little does she know that this yakuza “connection” will help her discover the real truth about what happened at Nanking all those years ago. Together with Chongming’s assistance, she sets upon a dangerous and terrifying adventure that will have you riveted from page to page. In fact, the stomach-churning conclusion is one of the finest heart-hammering pieces of fiction I have read in a long time.
Hayder has peppered this book with a vast array of mysterious characters with shady, unexplained pasts, which only adds to the intrigue. She deftly captures the seedy underbelly of Tokyo life, transporting the reader to a strange world of glass skyscrapers, neon lighting and oppressive weather conditions. And she successfully intertwines past and present by putting Chongming’s 1937 story and Grey’s modern day experiences in alternate chapters. (At first this is a little annoying, but the reader soon gets used to it.)
All in all, a very fine and fast-paced novel.
5 thoughts on “‘Tokyo’ by Mo Hayder”
I finished this novel last night. It had me page turning and saying to myself, one more chapter! I literally could not put it down in the end. I was so scared at one point in the novel (when The Nurse visits) I went and double checked all the doors! True. I loved it and thought it really was terrifying. Thanks for giving me your copy.
I will keep my eye out for more of her books and also The Earthquake Bird.
Glad you liked it – it seems to have gained some mixed reviews. Her first two books are excellent, but make sure you read them in the right order (I didn’t). I believe her latest book “Pig Island” isn’t that hot, but I’ll probably get around to reading it when it’s released in paperback.
I recently read Pig Island and did not think it as good as her previous three.
I agree. I think Tokyo (or The Devil of Nanking) is one of Hayder’s greatest books. I also love Gone, in a very different style.
Thanks for your comment, Jerome. I’ve not really kept up with Hayder’s career and haven’t read anything else by her since posting this review almost six years ago! I really must rectify that.