Written by Jonelle Patrick — In recent years, the seedier underbelly of Japanese nightlife and hostess clubs has been exposed by Mo Hayder in her novel Tokyo (aka The Devil of Nanking) and Susanna Quinn’s Glass Geishas. The popularity and also potential dangers of this system, particularly for foreign girls, were starkly highlighted following the gruesome murder of Lucie Blackman in 2000.
This novel, however, introduces readers to a lesser-known but equally well-established facet of Japanese nightlife: host clubs. This time, it is wealthy women who pay for the privilege of being listened to and fussed over by young, androgynous-looking men. Sex is seldom on the cards, but rivalries and lies abound, especially when large sums of money are at stake. In this strange world where nothing is quite what it seems, Tokyo Metropolitan Police Detective Kenji Nakamura is called out to investigate the death of popular hostess Cherry, who seems to have fallen to the bottom of the stairs in her house. Under pressure from his superiors to file the case as an accident – plausible enough given the amount of alcohol ingested – Kenji nevertheless continues to investigate. He discovers that Cherry was not only terrified of one of her regular customers, but that she was also far too involved with Hoshi, the most popular host at the Nova Club. When two other hostesses are attacked within a week, it becomes obvious that something serious is at stake.
Meanwhile, the love of Kenji’s life, English translator Yumi, is worried about her old school friend Coco, who seems to be falling in love with the very same Hoshi. Yumi reluctantly accompanies Coco to the club, first in an attempt to dissuade her from spending far too much of her money on Hoshi and then in an effort to help Kenji with the investigation. Yet she knows that she can ill afford to be seen in the red-light district, as she is about to enter into an arranged marriage with the son and heir of a very influential, wealthy family. Yumi is torn between the expectations of her family and her love for Kenji: there is an undeniable frisson of attraction between them which adds piquancy to the story. They make a formidable couple of sleuths, the professional and the amateur, as both are equally dogged, even foolhardy at times, in their pursuit of truth and justice. Along the way, we are given occasional glimpses into other enticing characters such as less experienced host Shinya, demanding rich customer Mrs Ono, and Tommy Loud – the red-haired Australian crime tech guy who speaks perfect Japanese.
Jonelle Patrick divides her time between Tokyo and San Francisco, and writes regularly about cultural differences in her blog Only in Japan. Her knowledge and love of the country shine through in this novel, with just enough additional explanation (and even pictures, at least in the Kindle edition) to appeal to readers unfamiliar with Japan. If you are looking for an enjoyable read, a clever little puzzle and an exotic location, you will find much to entertain and inform you in Fallen Angel.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars