Beyond a keen interest in karate and a fondness for sushi, my knowledge of Japan is pretty limited. So when I say that Japanese culture and society seems to be a strange blend of contrasts, it’s not based on any direct experience of the country or its people.
I get the impression that, while age and heritage are respected and venerated, it’s also somewhere that youth and novelty are celebrated. Whether it’s this mix or just the fact that it’s a place relatively few in the west have travelled to, it feels very different to our own country.
That lack of familiarity adds to the sense of unease and tension that runs through Blue Light Yokohama by Nicolas Obregon.
From the geography of the country to the jargon used by police, there’s a lot that seems alien about the setting and the characters.
Obregon, in his debut novel, skilfully takes the reader by the hand and guides us through this strange landscape. One stereotypical western view of Japan is that its cities are bustling, brightly-lit temples to technology but the author introduces us to the darker corners of Japanese life.
Although very definitely a work of fiction, Blue Light Yokohama was inspired by a real-life cold case which Obregon heard about during his first visit to the country. As a lifelong fan of all things Japanese, he’d been looking forward to bullet trains, amazing architecture, unfamiliar language, anime cartoons and all the rest.
What captured his imagination was a report about a family being killed by someone ten years previously. The killer, who made use of the family’s food larder and internet during his overnight stay and has still managed to avoid detection.
In Obregon’s story, the investigation falls to a newly-arrived detective, Inspector Kasuke Iwata, keen to prove himself to his new bosses and escape a troubled past of his own.
A thriller with a unique atmosphere and tone. It may take you a few chapters to become absorbed in Iwata’s world but, once you are you’ll want to see it through to the conclusion.