by Weston Cutter
Adelstein’s got a pulpy, noir-ish voice that all but lights its own Chesterfields and will seduce you in about the first three pages. Overtly about his time working for the Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shinbun (largest newspaper in the world–read the wikipedia article + proceed to gasp), Adelstein’s debut’s actually got quite a bit more mileage than a simple this-was-my-job story.
Picture him, too: tall, white, midwestern, Jewish guy who goes to Japan and gets a position with the country’s best newspaper. Also: gets a position on the police beat, which is almost criminally (ha ha ha ha) hard to do for anyone, let alone a gringo.
And in his sights as a reporter? The yakuza, Japan’s organized crime operators. The book actually, cinematically, opens with a scene of Adelstein getting threatened by a member of the yakuza, so the reader knows from the start how the story will end: Adelstein smoking cigarette after cigarette and listening to a man threaten his and his family’s existence. And, I suppose, just by knowing that much, you know what Adelstein decided.
Still: it’s fascinating, the story of how he got to that threatened and threatening point. Along with a cast of characters that’ll keep the reader fully plugged-in and laughing, and along with casual but significant doses of more abstract stuff (honor gets significant play throughout Tokyo Vice, and that virtue ends up being one of the big muscles behind the book’s heart; the yakuza have, of course, their own notions of honor, as does Adelstein [as both a man and as a foreigner]…it all gets real complex, but the quickest and easiest thing to say is that this book’s got a hell of a lot more on manners and virtues than you’d necessarily expect from some pulpy shoot-em-up/bang-bang book), Adelstein’s Tokyo Vice is, ultimately, about human trafficking—about various ways in which people use each other. Of course, overtly, the crime story of human trafficking is the book’s main emphasis—a young woman disappears, and she’s disappeared into a world in which young women are lured to Pacific islands and forced into sex work—but it’s hard, once that story’s threads start flapping, not to notice how the issue resonates through the whole book, every character.
It’s also worth at least noting that I’m a bastard who finds, in just about every first-person work of nonfiction, that voicey-voice crap that ends up being about as pleasant as the sound of microwaved cats. I’m happy to here acknowledge/report that Adelstein’s voice is not voicey-voicey, is not troublingly frustrating or me-me-me or in any real significant way annoying.
And so: what are you waiting for? The thing’s on sale, right now, probably not too far from where you’re sitting.