Zangyo – or overtime – is what keeps the corporate wheels turning in Japan, and American author Michael Pronko’s newest novel, the fourth in the Detective Hiroshi series, examines the cost of this pressure to succeed. When a top-level manager at Senden Central is found dead at the base of the company’s Tokyo office tower on the anniversary of a young office assistant’s suicide, Hiroshi is brought in to determine whether the man’s death was suicide or something else. Senden is one of the largest media companies in Japan with ambitions to expand internationally. Onizuka, now dead, was chief of one of the highest performing sections of the company and at the forefront of that expansion. So what led to his death?
Hiroshi has his own problems with Japan’s intense work culture. He hoped that investigating international cryptocurrency fraud would mean he would be able to avoid the worst aspects of Japanese workplace culture. The late nights drinking, the forced overtime, the strain placed on personal relationships – these are all things that factored in his move to Boston, years ago. Since returning to Tokyo he’s found himself dragged deeper and deeper into that world, alongside his mentor Sakaguchi, the ex sumo wrestler who is quite literally larger than life. The problem with late night drinking sessions with a sumo wrestler, Hiroshi finds, is that Sakaguchi is in control. He pours the shochu, and being twice Hiroshi’s weight, holds it better too. Together they dig deep into the world of corporate Japan, to find out what really pushed Onizuka over the edge.
What Hiroshi finds is a variation of a familiar story in the Japanese corporate world. Onizuka was a man who trod the thin line between bully and motivator. The subject of multiple complaints surrounding his management style, he was also a man with a slew of secrets. His bullying led directly to the death of Mayu Yanase, a young woman who worked closely alongside him, who threw herself off the roof of the company building on her 26th birthday. Exactly three years later Onizuka is found dead at the same location, and Hiroshi is sure that something about his death doesn’t add up.
As he digs and digs into Onizuka and Senden, what he finds is a drunk and unsympathetic wife, two sons who feel nothing for their dead father, and a bondage mistress who saw more of Onizuka than his wife did. In Senden he uncovers financial irregularities and bullying, and a cover up that goes right to the top. A corporate thriller as well as a mystery, Tokyo Zangyo is detail heavy, which means at times it can feel a bit light on the action. In fact the majority of the action occurs in the first chapter, in which Onizuka takes his drunken dive from the 28th floor. The strength of Pronko’s writing is in how he uses the detail to portray Tokyo and Japanese corporate life, but this can become frustrating as Hiroshi finds himself again and again frustrated by the management at Senden and their lack of concern for anything except the reputation of the company. Hiroshi’s tenacity, and little else, is what drives the novel on.
We’re reviewed and enjoyed the first three in the Detective Hiroshi series here on Crime Fiction Lover, and I’d recommend that anyone who hasn’t read the first three pick them up before Tokyo Zangyo. The character of Hiroshi has developed over the course of the series, and the true value of Tokyo Zangyo comes out of the way that this character has developed. International readers who can’t travel to Tokyo currently will love Tokyo Zangyo’s immersive representation of the megacity, and anyone who has read the first three will find a lot to love in Tokyo Zangyo.
Raked Gravel Press
CFL Rating: 4 Stars