David Peace is probably best known as the author of The Red Riding Quartet, which garnered international praise and recognition for the British expatriate. Peace, a resident of Tokyo since 1994, has chosen his adopted city as the setting for a new trilogy, the first installment of which is TOKYO YEAR ZERO. The book reads as if Peace had channeled a rambunctious collaboration involving Dashiell Hammett, William Burroughs and Kenzaburo Oe.
Peace sets all but a few pages of TOKYO YEAR ZERO on the first anniversary of Japan's surrender in World War II. This Tokyo is not unlike a Hieronymus Bosch painting, with the Four Horsemen of The Apocalypse --- Pestilence, War, Famine and Death --- running through the streets at will. When the decomposed bodies of two women, raped and strangled, are discovered in a Tokyo park, Detective Minami of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police is assigned to the investigation. It is almost immediately obvious that Minami is half-mad, serving not only the police department but also a local crime lord who has risen to ascendancy as the result of the murder of his mentor. Discerning the identity of the killer/rapist is accomplished through dogged police work; the problem is that the fiend's deeds are not limited to two women or, for that matter, to Tokyo.
Minami's investigation is impeded not only by office politics and jurisdictional squabbles but also by the unofficial inquiry he is making at the behest of the local crime lord, one whose trail leads him back to his own office. At the same time, Minami is balancing duties and a great deal of guilt between his wife and children and his mistress. Meanwhile, Tokyo sinks under the weight of its defeat, the souls of its residents shattered by Japan's defeat and the failure of their beliefs. As both of Minami's investigations draw to a close, he is forced to confront his own demons, deceptions and potential for self-destruction.
As with his Red Riding Quartet novels, Peace has based TOKYO YEAR ZERO on real-world events --- serial murders depicted here actually occurred. But what is perhaps most spellbinding in this work is the manner in which Peace has infused it with a dark atmosphere of defeat and depression in which the individuals involved still struggle on, even without hope. One can only wonder --- with great anticipation --- what will be next.
--- Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub