The debut novel by James Buckler, published by Doubleday Press, follows in the footsteps of other debut novels by bright new voices of British crime fiction, Joseph Knox and Daniel Cole; where you have an unlikeable protagonist who does not fit the mould of crime novels, they are on the peripheries with a dark history looking for a change and seemingly unfamiliar with an ever-changing world they find themselves struggling in.
Buckler's lead is Alex Malloy, an English language teacher in Tokyo, who is running away from a tragic accident in London. From the outset, much is made of Alex's otherness in the Oriental jungle of Japan's capital city, his white skin, fair hair and Peter O'Toole blue eyes set him out from the crowd. However, as much as he tries to avoid trouble, trouble keeps finding Alex from drunken late nights with his friend Hiro, to the illicit relationship with Hiro's sister, Naoko; an affair that could prove deadly.
Buckler paints Tokyo as a city of vice and sin for foreigners, part-time citizens in a twenty four cityscape where they can get away with murder if they so wish. From geisha girls who are treated like prostitutes, to unseemly businessmen who treat women as objects of lust to drug lords and vengeful work colleagues.
The trouble for Alex leads him to jail where he encounters Jun who cuts him a deal to get out of the predicament but this has a trickle effect on all of his relationships and those people's lives.
Alex is no saint and Buckler paints him as such, the moral fibre of British people has been called into question in novels recently especially the aforementioned Knox's Sirens where the toeing of the line between right and wrong is complexly handled in a nourish fashion involving double crosses, femme fatales and dark urban settings.
If you are seeking one of those fish-out-of-water novels where an Englishman is lost abroad this is not for you, what you have here is an Englishman experiencing the effect of a gradual resentment of the English values from overseas territories, people do not like English but Alex still finds his saviour in an understanding detective Saito who wants to bring down a yakuza king pin and sees Alex as integral to the investigation.
Buckler writes with a real zip and thrust to the proceedings which is useful where the book comes in at under 280 pages, however, there is a real surprise in the ending which turns the point of view of the book to Naoko ending from a surviving female perspective, which is fitting as Naoko, a female character written by a man who is not merely an object of desire but a fully rounded character.
The ending will pack a punch and is quite a brave step for the modern day novel, Buckler has written a standalone novel that is both enticing and yet downbeat which is not surprising given the current uncertain political climate we find as a people find ourselves.
Last Stop Tokyo is released from Doubleday Books on 28th August in Hardback and all e-book formats.