Author: Michael Pronko

Publisher: Raked Gravel Press 2018

ISBN: 978-1-9422410-16-4

With his recent tome, The Moving Blade: A Tokyo Mystery Michael Pronko has given his readers a great deal to chew on and digest. He has crafted a yarn that includes a well-respected American diplomat and expert on Japanese American relations, a corrupt member of Japan's bicameral legislature or as it is referred to as The National Diet, the transporting of nuclear waste as a result of the powerful earthquake and tsunami that crippled Japan's Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant, and the international agreement between the USA and Japan known as the Status of Forces Agreement or SOFA which governs facilities and areas granted to the USA as well as the status of US armed forces in Japan. And thrown in for good measure are a few murders that seem to be interlinked.

The novel opens where we read about a break-in of an apartment located in Tokyo of an American diplomat, Bernard Mattson. The thief was hired to retrieve two important files, download them onto two USB drives, and erase the computer before carrying the drives across town. During his escape, the culprit is chased by a foreigner who demands that he turn over the files, whereupon a fight ensues and the thief is stabbed to death by a Tanto sword. One of the drives that the thief was hiding flew out of his pocket and landed in a sewer while the other was found by the thief together with a wad of ten- thousand yen bills. The foreigner escapes with the drive-wiping DVD as well as the cash.

While all of this action is occurring, Jamie Mattson is at the Shida Funeral Hall and Crematorium where her father, Bernard, who was recently murdered lays in a casket. Jamie soon discovers that she likewise is in danger and that the thief who broke into her late father's apartment was after his research work that was to be revealed in a speech he was to make at the opening of the conference on Asian security and defense. She also learns that her father was in the process of writing a book and that the manuscript of the book is missing.

Detective Hiroshi Shimizu is assigned to the case and immediately calls upon a recently suspended colleague to help solve the murder of Mattson as he had been involved in a previous murder where the murder instrument was likewise a sword as was the case with Mattson. The two together with another detective set out to solve the mystery and what they eventually uncover is mind-boggling that even includes erotic images or shunga of ukiyoe masters that were found on the stolen USB drive that the detectives managed to retrieve. Apparently, as they were to discover, these masters knew how to conceal politics in erotics and Mattson had been an expert on these images. Moreover, they discover the book Mattson was about to publish concerned SOFA and its deficiencies and he was laying the groundwork for a new agreement between Japan and the USA. His work would no doubt have a significant influence on Pacific Rim politics however, there were people who did not take too kindly to what he had discovered while doing his research at the national archives.

What immediately stands out in this fluid, ambitious snaky thriller of great momentum is its immediate hook where Pronko manages to arouse the reader's curiosity about who, what, where, when, how and why? And he does not wait too long to introduce his principal character, Detective Shimizu leaving no doubt that he is the lead. In addition, he manages to stir emotions that keep his readers identifying with Shimizu's feelings. Another aspect of the story that is quite an eye-opener is how Pronko takes a knife to the heart of the SOFA agreement between Japan and the USA and addresses the broader question of some of its shortcomings and messy situations that even involve criminal activities on the part of the Americans. In the end and notwithstanding the complexity of the story, it is narrated with a style and execution that is surprisingly straightforward.