The Mystery to the Solution

David Peace is a master of crime fiction. He is also a master of sport fiction, but his artistry aligns with the best when it is applied to the shadowy nuances of crime. One does not merely read a David Peace crime novel. One becomes obsessed with it, as obsessed as the crimes he describes and the cover-ups he reveals. Yes, it is the stories he tells that invite the reader in, but it is his craft at telling them that does not let the reader go. From the shadowy streets of Yorkshire in the Red Riding Quartet to the halls of Maggie Thatcher’s 10 Downing Street and the Battle of Orgreave during the 1980s miner’s strike in Britain in GB84, Peace weaves tales where the forces of law and order are as suspect as the serial killer roaming the streets of Yorkshire and the economic policy of the Thatcher regime is exposed through fiction for the crime against humanity that it was. Indeed, that—as the genesis of neoliberalism—it continues to be.

His most recent work, titled Tokyo Redux, maintains the standard his previous work has set. The final novel of the Tokyo Trilogy, Tokyo Redux is a tale about the investigation of one of Occupied Japan’s most notorious murders. Still unsolved to this day, the murder of the President of the Japan National Railways Shimoyama riveted the devastated-but-recovering nation of Japan in 1949. Found in several pieces after being struck by a train, Shimoyama’s death came while the railway workers union was up in arms because Shimoyama had been specifically appointed to lay off over one hundred thousand members of their union. The primary reason behind this move was the desire of the Occupation forces to destroy the union and, ideally, to privatize at least some elements of the public transit system in Japan. In other words, classic moves by the Pentagon and its corporate affiliates in a defeated and occupied nation. Naturally, the attack on the railway workers union enhanced the position of the communists in the union and throughout the country; a position that was already fairly strong given the uncertain political situation in most of Asia after the war. Of course, the right-wing elements among the US officers heading up the Occupation saw the communist workers not as workers angry at losing their jobs, but as tools of the Soviet empire intent on provoking a violent overthrow of the US and other anti-communist elements then ruling Japan.

In what can best be termed a classic David Peace narrative structure, the book is divided into three sections. The first is told through the eyes of Harry Sweeney, a police officer working as part of the US Occupation’s Public Safety Division. Sweeney is a classic detective, attentive to details, wary of the story being thrust on him by is superiors and skeptical of the media’s investigations. Sworn to detail and determined to seek the truth, his use of alcohol is both a salve and a trigger for violence. As the story reveals itself, it becomes clear he is running from something and someone in the States—a woman and a relationship that at the least confuses him. He makes friends among those he questions and uses his gangland connections to gather knowledge from those in the know who won’t talk to cops. Besides the reactionary military officers is a considerably more sinister element at work. Once known as the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), they have morphed into the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Their mastery of subterfuge and subversion is just getting started. Sweeney knows there is someone who wants the world to believe Shimoyama’s death was a suicide, but he does not know who that is. Nor does he know who did kill him. His last words to his driver are “I’ll be back in five minutes.”

The second section features a private eye named Murota Hideki and takes place in 1964 as Tokyo prepares for the Olympics that summer. Hired by a corporation to track down a possibly mad Japanese crime novelist named Kuroda Roman, he finds himself immersed in an investigation of Shimoyama’s death. When asked why his client wishes to find the writer Roman, Hideki is told that Roman has information about who really killed the Railway president. In fact, he had written a novel that no one would publish detailing the crime. The publishers publicly state that the reason the book wasn’t published was because Roman was insane. In fact, he had been committed. Hideki’s search takes him to places and people he never expected to find, preferring his usual investigations of unfaithful spouses. Interestingly, one of those latter investigations leads him to another path of shadows in the Shimoyama/Roman case.

The last section is set in 1988. The Emperor is dying—his medical updates set the timeline for the section. An American academic owns the eyes through which this part of the story is told. His original role when he moved to Japan at the behest of the Agency during the Occupation was as a translator. He became something else. He also married another spy, while apparently maintaining a closeted gay existence. This part of the text involves a Greek Orthodox Patriarch, a closeted gay spy, and no solution to the principal crime. Hence the phrase which appears occasionally throughout the text: “The mystery to the solution.” Like no other crime novelist except perhaps James Ellroy, David Peace leaves the reader not with an answer to whodunit, but instead still wondering who coulda’ dun it? It could have been a conspiracy of men whose jobs were being lost, an individual who was losing his job, a suicide, or a conspiracy of the leadership of some or all of the Occupation forces. By leaving the question as unanswered as the actual instigation did, Peace’s novel creates a scenario which forces the attentive reader to continue asking questions.

Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. He has a new book, titled Nowhere Land: Journeys Through a Broken Nation coming out in Spring 2024.   He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com