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

Peter Tasker Author Of Samurai Boogie
By Peter Tasker

Who am I?

Japan has been my home for many decades. I know the world of business and finance inside out, and have an obsessive interest in art, film, and literature. I’ve written several books, fiction and non-fiction, and countless articles on Japan-related subjects, as you can see on my blog. I think I may have actually been Japanese in a previous life…


I wrote...

Samurai Boogie

By Peter Tasker,

Book cover of Samurai Boogie

What is my book about?

Life is tough for private detective Kazuo Mori, with a renegade yakuza on his trail, an exotic dancer to look after, and well-funded competitors muscling in on his territory. He can handle it, though. He always does, which is why he has been a fixture in the business for so long.

“One of the best detective novels ever written,” according to Publishers’ Weekly.

The books I picked & why

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In the Miso Soup

By Ryu Murakami, Ralph McCarthy (translator),

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.

In the Miso Soup

By Ryu Murakami, Ralph McCarthy (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked In the Miso Soup as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From postmodern Renaissance man Ryu Murakami, master of the psychothriller and director of Tokyo Decadence, comes this hair-raising roller-coaster ride through the nefarious neon-lit world of Tokyo's sex industry. In the Miso Soup tells of Frank, an overweight American tourist who has hired Kenji to take him on a guided tour of Tokyo's sleazy nightlife. But Frank's behavior is so strange that Kenji begins to entertain a horrible suspicion-that his new client is in fact the serial killer currently terrorizing the city. It is not until later, however, that Kenji learns exactly how much he has to fear and how…


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.

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

By Robert Whiting,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Tokyo Underworld as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A riveting account of the role of Americans in the evolution of the Tokyo underworld in the years since 1945.

In the ashes of postwar Japan lay a gold mine for certain opportunistic, expatriate Americans.  Addicted to the volatile energy of Tokyo's freewheeling underworld, they formed ever-shifting but ever-profitable alliances with warring Japanese and Korean gangsters.  At the center of this world was Nick Zappetti, an ex-marine from New York City who arrived in Tokyo in 1945, and whose restaurant soon became the rage throughout the city and the chief watering hole for celebrities, diplomats, sports figures, and mobsters.

Tokyo…


Out

By Natsuo Kirino, Stephen B. Snyder (translator),

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.     

Out

By Natsuo Kirino, Stephen B. Snyder (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Out as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner of Japan's Grand Prix for Crime Fiction • Edgar Award Finalist • Nothing in Japanese literature prepares us for the stark, tension-filled, plot-driven realism of Natsuo Kirino’s award-winning literary mystery Out.

This mesmerizing novel tells the story of a brutal murder in the staid Tokyo suburbs, as a young mother who works the night shift making boxed lunches strangles her abusive husband and then seeks the help of her coworkers to dispose of the body and cover up her crime. The coolly intelligent Masako emerges as the plot’s ringleader, but quickly discovers that this killing is merely the beginning,…


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.

A Clean Kill in Tokyo

By Barry Eisler,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Clean Kill in Tokyo as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Previously published as Rain Fall

Name: John Rain.
Vocation: Assassin.
Specialty: Natural Causes.
Base of operations: Tokyo.
Availability: Worldwide.

Half American, half Japanese, expert in both worlds but at home in neither, John Rain is the best killer money can buy. You tell him who. You tell him where. He doesn’t care about why…

Until he gets involved with Midori Kawamura, a beautiful jazz pianist—and the daughter of his latest kill.

A Clean Kill in Tokyo was previously published as Rain Fall, the first in the bestselling John Rain assassin series.


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.

Scandal

By Shusaku Endo, Van C. Gessel,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Scandal as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Suguro is an eminent Catholic novelist who is about to receive a major literary award. When a drunk woman he has never met before approaches him at the award ceremony, claiming she knows him well from his regular visits to Tokyo’s red-light district, he assumes she must surely be mistaken. But with a scurrilous press campaign damaging Suguro’s reputation, his sleazy doppelgänger appears more and more, as if deliberately trying to discredit him. He is sighted touring the love hotels and brothels of Shinjuku; a leering portrait of him appears in an exhibition—and Suguro is forced to undertake a journey…


5 book lists we think you will like!

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