The best Tokyo noir books: dark deeds in the neon wonderland

Peter Tasker Author Of Samurai Boogie
By Peter Tasker

The Books I Picked & Why

In the Miso Soup

By Ryu Murakami, Ralph McCarthy

Book cover of In the Miso Soup

Why this book?

Can there be redemption from crimes almost too sickening to describe? What turns a man into a monster? Deep down, do we share some of those dark impulses? These are questions raised in Ryu Murakami’s gruesome, but also gripping and sometimes funny page-turner. Kenji is a directionless young guy who makes his living on the fringes of Tokyo’s huge sex industry, guiding foreigners around the strip joints, lingerie bars, and bordellos. Until one of his clients turns the tables and guides him through a whole different world of experience. This one will stay with you, I guarantee.


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Tokyo Underworld: The Fast Times and Hard Life of an American Gangster in Japan

By Robert Whiting

Book cover of Tokyo Underworld: The Fast Times and Hard Life of an American Gangster in Japan

Why this book?

Though non-fiction, Whiting’s romp through the secret history of post-war Japan is more eye-popping than most novels. The “hero” is a rogue called Nick the Greek who brought pizza to Japan, amongst other more nefarious accomplishments. I myself knew Nick, loved his thick crust Margherita and believed at least half his stories of gangster showdowns, heists, and con jobs. They don’t make them like that anymore - thank God.


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Out

By Natsuo Kirino, Stephen B. Snyder

Book cover of Out

Why this book?

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to cut a corpse up into pieces small enough to dispose of easily? Apparently, it’s not very different from preparing a chicken for a family meal - it just takes a lot longer. So it seems to the four women who are suddenly faced with just that challenge in Kirino’s sensational story.  What stands out is the realism of her characterization. These are ordinary women leading humdrum but stressful lives. You understand their predicament. In their shoes, you might end up doing the same.     


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A Clean Kill in Tokyo

By Barry Eisler

Book cover of A Clean Kill in Tokyo

Why this book?

Barry Eisler is a prolific and highly successful writer, but for my money his first book is his best. John Rain is a half-Japanese, half-American killer for hire who was trained in the Vietnam war. He is deeply conflicted about his work, which sometimes requires him to cause harm to people close to him. At the same time, he is totally professional. Eisler lived in Tokyo in the 1990s, and he captures the atmosphere of the giant city superbly. Whenever I go to the Body & Soul jazz club, I’m reminded of Rain’s tortured romance with the pianist there.


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Scandal

By Shusaku Endo, Van C. Gessel

Book cover of Scandal

Why this book?

Imagine you are a respected member of the literary establishment, a prize-winning novelist, and, a rare thing in Japan, a devout Christian. A man like the real Shusaku Endo, in fact. Suddenly, rumors start circulating that you have been seen frequently in a raunchy part of town, partying into the wee wee hours with hookers and taking women to love hotels. You catch glimpses of a strange face at various events. It is your own face but wearing a horrible lewd sneer. Who is this person? What is going on? Endo has come up with a taut psychological thriller that explores the deep contradictions of the human heart. As well as being a Christian, Endo is a leading expert on the Marquis de Sade.


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