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Unknown Male

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Member Reviews

A huge Thank You to The author, The publisher and Netgalley for providing the e-arc in exchange for a unbiased review of these works.

Great read, strong characters and a ending I did not see coming
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After a gap of ten years, Kosuke Iwata has returned to Tokyo to investigate the murder of a young British student, Skye Mackintosh. The Olympic Games are about to begin, the eyes of the world are on Tokyo, and the Japanese authorities have to be seen to do everything by the book. DC Anthea Lynch from the Met has been sent over with Skye’s family to assist as she speaks some Japanese. Like Iwata, she has a disregard for authority but is also an excellent detective. 
There is a parallel storyline about the disappearance of sex workers; there does not appear to be any connection between the two cases. The story mostly focuses on Iwata, interspersed with the thoughts of Mr Sato – an ‘invisible’ man in a suit, with a horrific secret.   
I have read all of Nicolas Obregon’s books featuring Kosuke Iwata (Blue Light Yokohama and Sins as Scarlet) and this is his best yet – a gripping thriller with just the right mix of description, action and dialogue. Even though Nicolas Obregon is not a native of Japan, his poetic descriptions of the neon-lit streets of Tokyo, and insights into Japanese culture, make Unknown Male a wonderful example of Japanese noir. It remains to be seen whether this is the last book to feature Kosuke Iwata, but I hope we catch up with him again one day. Thanks to the author, publisher and NetGalley for a copy to review.
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Having read and liked the first two of Nicolás Obregón's  books featuring Kosuke Iwata, I was delighted when I got the opportunity to read a review copy of Unknown Male.

This time Iwata returns to Tokyo after a 10 year absence.  Commissioner Shindo has brought him in officially as a case consultant into the  murder of a young British exchange student whose body was found in a love hotel in San'ya district.  In reality Iwata is to be lead investigator.  Commissioner Shindo needs a result but also has to be seen to be following proper procedure as millions of visitors are about to descend on Tokyo for the Olympic Games and the world will be watching.

Not everyone is happy with Iwata leading the case..There are tensions.  A colleague from his past, Inspector Shingo Hatanaka,  who sees the murder as an opportunity, is taken off the case and transferred out of the homicide unit to work on another case involving missing prostitutes.

Iwata is also in Tokyo to seek out someone from his past and settle old scores and perhaps lay some ghosts to rest.

As expected, there are several threads and layers to the story – the student's murder, the missing prostitutes, the unknown male, the tensions between Iwata and his former colleagues.  However the writing is so good it's a joy to read, albeit quite dark and sometimes gruesome. There is a wonderful balance of description, action and dialogue so it never seems overly complicated.  

We meet the unremarkable Mr Sato very early on and learn of his routine and impeccable behaviour, however…..

I like that there are characters from the earlier novels as well as new characters.  The family of the murdered girl are flown to Tokyo accompanied by a UK detective, DC Anthea Lynch who has been roped in as their family liaison, partly because she can speak some Japanese.  She's an interesting character. I think I would like it if her path were to cross with Iwata's in a future book.

Unknown Male works well as a stand alone novel but I'm glad I've read the earlier books in the series.  Like all good fictional detectives, Kosuke Iwata is a complex, flawed character, but over time you do get a sense that he is changing, perhaps mellowing.  I'm wondering where he will go next?
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I’m a fan of Obregon’s work, having read other books in the series. This book has two seemingly unconnected stories running parallel; the murder of an English exchange student and the grisly murders of sex workers. Obregon’s writing is beautiful and he really brings Tokyo to life. This book is worth reading for the sheer pleasure of the prose alone. This is a very dark book and chilling. As Iwata investigates, he finds himself sinking deeper and deeper into Tokyo’s dark core.
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Unknown Male is the second book I have read by Nicolás Obregón and it doesn’t disappoint. Set mostly in Japan, a British woman is murdered just before the Olympics. Inspector Iwata is brought from LA in as a consultant to solve her murder but manages to step on the toes of some of the other detectives, which creates friction within the force. We are also introduced to Mr Sato, who unknown to the police is an extremely dangerous man, these two story threads weave together through this well paced thriller. A thrilling read.
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This is the third book I've read by this author and, like the previous two, it didn't disappoint.  I thought it  was well written and I didn't expect the ending at all. Most enjoyable.
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Unknown Male by Nicolas Obregon is the second in the Iwata series, it is worth starting with the first in the series Blue Light Yokohama.

Skye Mackintosh, a young English student is found brutally murdered in a “love” hotel in Tokyo. Several prostitutes have disappeared off the streets with no trace. How are the two linked?

Iwata has been away from Tokyo for a decade after the Akashi case (Blue Light Yokohama) he is summoned back by his old commander to lead the search for the murderer of Skye assisted by Anthea Lynch, a detective sent to Tokyo by the Met police who also has some skeletons in her closet.

Combine the twists and turns of a murder investigation with a truly chilling serial killer and Iwata’s struggle for resolution with his long estranged father and you get a cracking novel.
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So we come to the last instalment of Nicolas Obregon’s remarkable Tokyo trilogy featuring former detective Kosuke Iwata. Having previously reviewed both Blue Light Yokohama and Sins As Scarlet and quite frankly, raved about both, I approached Unknown Male with more than a sense of delicious anticipation. What I love about Obregon as a writer is the way he so consistently holds his reader in the palm of his hand and the sense of real storytelling that is so absolutely central to the narrative. I must admit that I find it hard to define what it is about his writing that enthrals me, but will try in my own ham-fisted way to do so…

Firstly I think Obregon’s obvious love affair with Tokyo is absolutely central to this book, and his fearlessness in portraying this city with very much a love/hate edge to his depiction of it: “As he walked, he inhaled a cologne of rubbish, exhaust, wet concrete. No city had more nameless streets or alleyways…To walk through her ways was to be inveigled in her web…She murmured from steam vents and snickered from overflowing gutters.” All through the book the intangible hold of the city both on the main characters, and the general populace is front and centre, with Obregon exposing the pulsing beat of a city where there is a real sense of sink or swim, poverty or success and a constant feel of movement in “this shingle beach of crossed purpose“. Obregon also emphasises how easily people become lost, in this teeming morass of people, whether slaves to a wage, slaves to people basest violent desires, and how people seek to navigate a society that slows for no man. Although our detective figure Iwata is a native to the city, Obregon also instils in him a feeling of having to get to grips with this mercurial city after time abroad, and the very particular problems that arise in having to almost start afresh in navigating its unique idiosyncrasies.

Iwata himself is also a complicated soul, imbued with a deep sense of morality pertaining to his professional standards and the way he conducts himself in relation to this particular investigation. However, back amongst his countrymen he does at times seem like a square peg in a round hole, as his methods and thought process put him at odds with his fellow investigators. He is an outsider, but in that mould proves to be extremely effective at approaching the case from a different angle, and intuitive thinking. The issue of morality is explored in many ways throughout the book both through Iwata who is also seeking some personal retribution, but also through the British female detective Anthea Lynch (who finds herself despatched to Tokyo after a serious blip in her own career) and individuals involved with Skye, the murder victim. Throw into the mix one of the most strangely motivated serial killers I have encountered for some time (the thermos flask-eugh) and what Obregon gives us is a real smorgasboard of the good, the bad and ugly where the lines of morality and decent behaviour become fractured, and at times difficult to discern. People acting in surprising and unpredictable ways give a real emotional heft to this book, and also work beautifully in concealing the real villains of the piece, with revenge being another incredibly strong motif resonating through the characters.

I think it goes without saying that Unknown Male has secured a place in my Top 5 of the year with its masterful depth of characterisation, use of location with Tokyo as a living and breathing entity so crucial to the lives and crimes unfolding within it, and the way that the book keeps you in its grasp from beginning to end. It is the close to a trilogy which left me tinged with sadness as I loved these books so much, but also heartens me that hopefully more readers will discover these for themselves. Absolutely outstanding.
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It was a very insightful novel, with a strong cast of characters. I enjoyed the story line very much and would definitely recommend this book.
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Gritty thriller set in Japan, maybe the last featuring Detective Iwata - engaging read

Iwata flies to Japan for personal reasons but also as a consultant helping  to solve the murder of an English girl. He gets involved in all sorts of other crime and political machinations. An officer from the Met is also brought in and they work together. There’s a lot of interesting characters and the style can be quite literary at times. The plot is suitably complicated and engages the reader although it is not for the faint-hearted. Enjoyable novel, especially if you’re familiar with the two previous books about Iwata. Definitely recommended. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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When a female, British student is murdered in Tokyo shortly before the 2020 Olympics,  Inspector Kosuke Iwata is summoned back from his self-imposed exile in Los Angeles. The city can't afford any publicity which might negatively influence tourism, least of all the murder of a British citizen. 

You can read my full review of this creepy and twisted Japanese Noir novel on Crime Fiction Lover or on my blog. (link attached)
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Nicolás Obregón is an author whose trilogy I’ve read from the start. His debut, Blue Light Yokohama, introduced us to his protagonist, Inspector Kosuke Iwata. Iwata was a newly appointed Tokyo homicide cop and was on the trail of a serial killer, the Black Sun Killer. Iwata was an outsider in the force and the events of that novel led him to leave the Tokyo Police under a cloud; he relocated to the United States, where he worked as a private detective, and this is where we found him for the sequel, Sins as Scarlet. In Obregón's second book, Iwata was asked to look into the death of a transgender relative and stumbled upon a cesspit of corruption and violence in the US/Mexican borderlands. Both Blue Light Yokohama, and its sequel, Sins as Scarlet, were brilliant novels, and so when the author brought out the third novel in the trilogy, I was keen to read it.

Unknown Male takes Iwata back to Tokyo, Japan. A British student, Skye Mackintosh, has been found murdered and with the world’s press taking an interest, the Tokyo Homicide Department is desperate for a quick result.  Iwata’s old boss, the head of the unit, is dying of pancreatic cancer and determined not to have the Mackintosh murder unsolved, and thus a blot on his legacy. He calls Iwata back to Tokyo to lead the investigation, installing him as a consultant, though in actual fact he is in charge. Joining him as an observer is DC Anthea Lynch of London’s Metropolitan Police. She has as many issues as Iwata and has been sent to Tokyo to keep an eye on the Japanese investigation into Skye’s murder as a means of keeping her out of trouble back home.

Alongside the high-profile investigation into the murder of Skye Mackintosh is a second investigation which is receiving much less attention, the disappearance of a number of sex workers. It is not clear how linked this is to the murder of Skye and the author does not reveal this until the very end. Neither does he reveal until the end what link, if any, and to which case, the seemingly normal but in actual fact brutal serial murderer, Mr Soto, has. The author weaves all these strands together throughout the novel, each barely touching the other, but doing so enough that we know that one or more are going to impact with each other in the finale. He does this deftly and the plotting of Unknown Male is impressively done.

This isn’t a particularly violent or gruesome novel, but Unknown Male has some horrific elements. Most noticeable is what Mr Soto does with women he’s kidnapped. I won’t go into details but the drink he prepares for them is the stuff of nightmares. But like Hitchcock, the author knows the power of imagination, and these elements are touched on lightly, with much left to the reader to picture for themselves. This is much more effective, in my opinion, than those writers who graphically describe in technicolor and visceral detail.

Unknown Male is perhaps the final book of the author’s to feature his hero Kosuke Iwata. The book closes his story nicely, and while it’s left open for his return in a future novel, it’s also quite possible that his journey has come to an end. It’s a brilliant novel and a fitting end to a brilliant trilogy.  Nicolás Obregón is now working on a standalone and some scripts and if they’re as good as this series of novels then I await them eagerly.
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It's safe to say I really love Obregón's writing style. Especially when he writes about Japan: so atmospheric, so "Japanese" that it really feels like a book written by a native. And then his characters: Iwata is simply perfect, in my view! His torment is so real, so palpable, I always feel it in my bones. And it's the same with other characters too. The author sure has a magic pen when it comes to transmitting the inner turmoils of his characters and of the city itself. 
I actually had issues with this book, yet I couldn't not give it 5 stars, because at the end of it, no matter what I disliked, I just felt touched. So very touched, so emotional, so wowed and so willing to read another installment.
That being said, it seemed to me, this novel was a bit rushed maybe? Or better said, the various narrative lines weren't well interconnected.  
Sato's story is very dark, gruesome even. Literally some passages made me wanna puke. But Obregón was a bit skimpy with the details. I would have liked to read way more about Sato's master-plan, even details about the victims, no matter how gruesome. His arrest also comes out of the blue(I am not saying it cannot happen, I am sure it is based in reality but...) and felt a bit as if it was there just to give a chance to shine to some of the secondary characters like Anthea. 
Then the "link" between Sato and Skye is underdeveloped. It is suggested but not explored and then nothing comes of it, enough to make one wonder if it was needed...
But the twist was very well done, I really didn't see it coming...not at all!! Plus tying up a few loose ends like Iwata's  father, Shindo etc is also well delivered and works wonderfully in the context.
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In the 3rd of Nicolas Obregon's series, Inspector Kosuke Iwata leaves LA after working as a PI for missing persons, returning to Tokyo after an absence of 10 years, a place that holds memories of trauma, tragedy, sorrow, and grief. Obregon's Japan set Noir drips with atmosphere as he immerses us in the neon lights of the city, it's culture, criminal underbelly, sex workers, the growing tribes of homeless living by the river, a Tokyo anxiously preparing for the upcoming Olympics. Iwata has returned at the behest of his old mentor and boss, Commissioner Shindo, a terminally ill man, now a frail shadow of himself, to serve as consultant and lead Inspector on the politically sensitive case of the murder of 22 year old English exchange student, the beautiful Skye Mackintosh at a love hotel. Arriving in Tokyo with Skye's grieving family and boyfriend, Dylan White, is DC Anthea Lynch, a woman of mixed Nigerian and Irish heritage, to support the family and observe the murder investigation.

Iwata's appointment stirs up resentment and jealousy in his police team, and whilst his and Lynch's position owes more to PR and reputation management than any integrity, the two mismatched detectives form a strangely effective partnership. Additionally, Iwata had an ulterior motive in accepting the case, he wants to address the demons that haunted his troubled childhood, planning to address old injustices but will this threaten his new life with 'son' Santi? Meanwhile, fear runs rampant amongst women with the disappearance of sex workers. They are the victims of a sick and unhinged serial killer, Mr Soto, a careful and intelligent salaryman, unobtrusive, unremarkable in apearance and demeanour, the invisible man that is noticed by no-one as he goes about his well planned everyday macabre life.

This latest addition to the series by Obregon is the best one yet, he shines with his rich and lyrical descriptions of a Tokyo that feels like a living, breathing, vibrant and contrary character in its own right, a multilayered and complex city well practiced in the art of seduction, but hard faced, cruel, ruthless and unforgiving, yet insidiously unforgettable, a city that makes its mark on a person for life. The central protagonist Iwata faces the horrors of his past, Hideo Akashi's final moments, the unbearable memories of the loss of Cleo and Nina, and Norika Sakai. He begins to find a certain sense of coming to terms with who he now is as he lays the ghosts of his past to rest, bringing Santi to Tokyo, gaining a much needed measure of peace. This is a beautifully written novel, you can visualise the city and the diverse range of characters with ease, everthing all feels so vividly alive, with its echoes of the old classic crime noirs. A brilliant read. Many thanks to Penguin Michael Joseph for an ARC.
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I am now a new addict to this intriguing and appealing detective with deeply grieving heart but a warm, beating one - who takes over an appalling series of sex worker deaths, and alongside him the creepy sexua predator - we get right into his mind, which was not easy to take but it is done with real knowedge of such a character - or so it feels. The parallel stories run side by side of his investigation and the crimes of the other,  but I was glad to switch to the detective's journey each time. 

I gather this is the third in a series, and i will certainly be looking out for the others. This one is set in Tokyo and I gather the others are in LA. The settings are so important, andthey are excellently and atmospherically set out here. This is a fine writer, and a gritty story line. Sometimes almost unbearable. The ending is blunt and tough - dark - be warned. But satisfying ...
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This is our third meeting with Kosuke Iwata, and this time we see him return to Tokyo to take care of some unfinished business. I imagine for anyone who hasn't read the previous two books there are parts that may be difficult to follow, but it would also not take away too much from the story line.

Kosuke is in Japan firstly to say goodbye to an old colleague, and secondly at the behest of Comissioner Shindo, who when facing a murder in the run up to the Olympics in Tokyo, brings in Kosuke to solve the crime. Kosuke is still followed by his demons, but this time, with Santi in his heart he seems a little more grounded. In fact, it's the Detective from London, Lynch, that takes on the mantle of the broken one.

The plot follows two crimes, we meet Sato very early on, claiming victims from the sex industry. The second is Skye, a sex worker. How these stories intertwine is really up to Nicolás Obregón to explain and not me.

Overall, this was a good foray. I think I prefer Kosuke in Japan than I did in Los Angeles. I feel the descriptions are more rich, I can smell the rain on the ground, feel the culture running through all of the descriptions. I didn't love the plot, the big twists I'd guessed really early on. But it's a good read. I feel I needed more from some of the characters, but I'd definitely be interested to see what Kosuke gets up to next.
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Nicholas Obregon gets better and better. This will appeal to anyone interested in police procedural which here is coupled with Japanese noir. A brilliant and thrilling plot with two main story lines intertwined together with the further development of the personal story of detective Iwata.
The writer might be compared with Raymond Chandler at his darkest but he is a a brilliant writer with his own very individual style. Descriptions of the local scenes are, to say the least, atmospheric and Obregon is able to maintain tension and build up suspense in a relentless fashion. Highly recommended.
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Japanese noir can be an acquired taste. It’s often stranger than the Scandi stuff: written in stylish prose that contrasts shattering acts of violence and fleeting images of bewildering beauty. It can be subtle to the point of obscurity yet explicit to extremes. This is not a genre for those who flinch easily, and unfamiliar readers might struggle with books like The Devotion of Suspect X or In The Miso Soup.

In Unknown Male, author Nicolás Obregón has crafted a rather more accessible story. His clever investigative tangle retains the hallmarks of its genre – an implacable killer, a genuinely perplexing mystery, complex characters motivated by conflicting experiences – but it’s not as outright bizarre as some Japanese fiction can be. Even so, this sophisticated story is definitely more challenging than the average police procedural.

This is the third book to feature the intellectually brilliant but psychologically scarred Inspector Iwata. He returns to his native Japan after years in America, somewhat out of step with his old colleagues and in an uncomfortably informal ‘consultant’ role. Iwata is a stranger in a strange land, not a welcome prodigal son. But he’s the perfect (…expendable) person to assign to a sensitive case which involves the death of a young English woman. The story which follows is as much about Iwata resolving his personal history as it is about catching a killer.

I read the first Iwata book (Blue Light Yokohama) a while back and missed the next one, so was somewhat behind with the character’s development. That wasn’t a problem: the story of Unknown Male is entirely self-contained. Obregón instils real depth in his characters with minimal exposition. He’s unleashed a genuinely ghastly killer, one who manipulates his victims with callous brutality but who passes unnoticed in the commuter throng. An anonymous salaryman, invisible in his dark suit and white shirt, an insidious stalker with a heart full of hate. The kinda of guy you meet every day at the water-cooler…

Balancing him, the investigators are rather more colourful and no less intense. A British police officer is sent to Tokyo as a liaison / observer, and she is a splendidly conflicted character in her own right. She’s sketched with a substantial back-story in a few deftly drawn paragraphs, and provides a familiar reference point for western readers to engage with an unfamiliar, occasionally unfathomable culture.

Even so, there are many moments of savage brutality, quiet poetry and oblique misery in Unknown Male. Don’t expect to be spoon-fed a straightforward story: much is understated or ambiguous… like that brilliant title, for instance.

Superb storytelling for the patient reader who enjoys the challenge of literary crime fiction. Not necessarily an easy ride!

8/10
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‘It had been almost ten years since Iwata had been back to Japan, a long time anywhere but a Tokyo lifetime.’

Set just before the start of the 2020 Olympic Games, this is the third entry in Obregón’s series of books involving Kosuke Iwata. After feeling slightly disappointed in the previous outing (Sins as Scarlet, set in the US and Mexico), this was a welcome return to Japan for our damaged detective. The twin elements of the plot may or may not be connected: a series of disappearances among the girls working in the sex industry is sending shockwaves through the city; meanwhile an English girl is found beaten to death in a love hotel. Iwata is assigned to the case of Skye Mackintosh, and is helped by the new character of Anthea Lynch, an officer from the London police. 

The two strands of the story are both intriguing; whilst we know from the outset who is killing the prostitutes – the undistinguished, ordinary-looking salaryman Mr Sato – the Mackintosh case gets more and more complex. Somehow the two cases get mixed up and everyone involved is put in peril.

This is a fast-paced, involving thriller. The narrative tone is very much in the vein of the Sam Spade/noir era (‘In San’ya, trouble was nobody’s business. The rest was business as usual’), but it feels toned down since the previous book, where it was a little too intrusive. The character of Iwata continues to be the focus of attention; indeed, his return to Tokyo to accept the case is merely an excuse for him to delve more into his own background, a mission of vengeance on his own part. The appearance of Anthea Lynch, herself a damaged individual, certainly leaves the door open for them to team up again. 

Tokyo, and Japanese culture and society, are crucial to these stories, which is why I feel that the second book just didn’t pack the punch that the other two do. This is a welcome return to Japan, and I hope that other books in the series don’t stray too far again from Iwata’s natural environment. It is exactly his place in Japan – being a hometown boy but also feeling alienated from the place at the same time – that both defines him and gives depth to the stories. A worthy 4.5 stars. Great stuff.

(With thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for an ARC of this title.)
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Unknown Male is the third instalment in the Inspector Kosuke Iwata series and how could I resist reading it given I am a Japanophile and these gripping thrillers are based in Tokyo, Japan.  Each instalment can be read as a standalone as the story is self-contained, however, you will miss out on Iwata's backstory somewhat. It follows a seemingly ordinary guy living his life the way most people do; working day in day out and going back each night to his family home where his wife and child await him. But Mr Soto is a serial killer with a penchant for the sadistic which results in a number of sex workers being cruelly plucked from the seedy Tokyo underbelly and subjected to horrifying torture before being murdered in cold blood. The second strand of the plot revolves around the death of a young British girl, Skye Mackintosh, discovered at a hotel who was in the country studying. This means Iwata must liaise with Anthea Lynch from the Metropolitan police service back in the UK.

I thoroughly enjoyed this complex and compulsive story and feel it is Obregon's best to date. It's jarring how one can be a brutal killer yet hold down a job and have a pretty mundane and uneventful family life too. It reminds us that you never know who could be doing what. Iwata and Lynch are in some ways mirror images of one another as they both have disgraced themselves in the line of duty and have lost the respect of many of their peers. They have overstepped the mark one too many times and appear to have problems listening to their superiors and following rules. Although sometimes rules are there to be broken. The tale is a gripping and fascinating one and the depictions of Tokyo were magical and so vivid I felt as though I was actually there. Not for the faint-hearted, this is a gritty, gruesome page-turner with twists aplenty and a shocking conclusion to put the cherry on the cake. Many thanks to Michael Joseph for an ARC.
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