When violent intruders interrupt a film shoot in a Tokyo pornography studio, they brutally murder three people but overlook a young actress hiding in the cavernous building.
Sukanya is an illegal Thai immigrant who was smuggled into Japan and lured into the business with the promise of big money and transit to the United States. She makes her escape with cash from the dead director’s wallet and a leather bag containing a computer and iPad. Penniless and friendless, she wanders aimlessly through the streets of the megalopolis; though she’s lost, she’s not undetected. Unknown to her, the digital devices she’s taken contain sensitive information as well as trackers that reveal her location.
Kenta, a shady businessman and loan shark wants those devices back. The information they hold could compromise him and his relationship with Yoshitaka Kirino, the ruthless mastermind of the criminal enterprise he’s involved in. Kenta assigns three street punks the task of recovering the priceless data as well as the only person who witnessed the crime.
Detective Hiroshi Shimizu was trained as an accountant in America. Now he’s a Tokyo detective specializing in deciphering the finances of criminal activities by examining bank records, statements, spreadsheets, and cryptocurrency. Money trails extend “like spokes from every murder,” and Shimizu has the expertise to grasp their implications.
As Sukanya tries to elude the men sent by Kenta, she’s assisted by Chiho, a young Japanese woman who empathizes with her predicament. Together they manage to stay one step ahead of their pursuers. But for how long? It’s a race to see if Hiroshi and his colleagues can unravel the motive and identify the murderer(s) before they catch up with Sukanya and the evidence in her possession.
While being a tightly plotted, well-structured murder mystery, Tokyo Traffic, provides insights into criminal activity surrounding pornography, the sex trade, human trafficking, and to some extent how organized crime uses cryptocurrencies to transfer and conceal profits from illegal activities.
Equally engaging is author Michael Pronko’s knowledge of contemporary Japanese culture including food, fashion, entertainment, and the environs of the world’s largest city.
Pronko’s characters are fully developed, his dialogue is authentic, and his writing is clear and concise. An ambitious novel, Tokyo Traffic at times feels bogged down with the excessive Tokyo travelogue, a confusion of characters, and plot minutiae; however, realistic detective work, action, romance, and even humor make for an overall entertaining and enlightening story.