Tokyo Express by Seichō Matsumoto

Tokyo Express presents its readers with an intriguing set-up that is somewhat let-down by the story giving away too much too soon. The premise made me think that this would be a whodunnit with some noir undertones, but it soon became apparent that the mystery driving the narrative was more of the whydunnit variety. There was a cat-and-mouse sort of dynamic that had the potential of elevating the story into the realms of a work of psychological suspense that is never utilised to its full potential (the characterization for both cat and the mouse is too surface-level). Nevertheless, the writing is concise and clear-cut, and the plot develops in a cogent manner. There are some unlikely coincidences (our detective is questioning someone who after claiming they can’t remember X or Y, all of a sudden come up with some vital bit of info). The atmosphere is the driving force of the story, as I found the setting (1950s Japan) and ambience in Tokyo Express to be strongly rendered.

Our unassuming detective, Torigai Jutaro, is convinced that the death of a young, attractive woman and man was not, contrary to what evidence suggests, a lover’s suicide. Jutaro is certain that a key witness connecting the two deceased is somehow involved in their death. Trains and timetables are crucial to exposing this person, and Jutaro spends much of his investigation travelling trying to understand how to break his suspect’s alibi. Jutaro was kind of a blank, and I happen to prefer my detectives to be either pompous eccentrics or walking disasters. Jutaro has this vaguely hinted-at personality that doesn’t really emerge given the pace and brevity of the story. The culprit is revealed too early on, and I would have found Jutaro’s investigation more intriguing if that had not been the case. There is an attempt at a twist later on in the story which utilizes a femme fatale/vixen sort of figure, and I happen to have a love/hate relationship with this trope.
For the most part I enjoyed the train motif in this story even if it wasn’t quite on the level of Agatha Christie’s train-related whodunnits.
Still, Tokyo Express made for a quick and fairly engaging read that I would recommend to fans of Georges Simenon and Keigo Higashino.

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

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