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Conspiracy in Tokyo by Matthew Legare (Book review)


Tokyo, March 1931

The Great Depression has wrecked Japan’s economy, leaving thousands unemployed, desperate, and angry. Dark rumors swirl around the city, hinting at an impending coup d’etat against the civilian government. Inspector Kenji Aizawa of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department must go undercover and infiltrate the Kusanagi Society, one of the right-wing groups that are threatening to overthrow the government.As Aizawa goes deeper into Tokyo’s underworld, he meets Masaru Ryusaki, the enigmatic leader of the Kusanagi Society and the key figure in a vast conspiracy. Aizawa must thwart Ryusaki’s plot or risk Japan being thrown into chaos.

The exciting prequel to the Reiko Watanabe/Inspector Aizawa series, Conspiracy in Tokyo dives into an often overlooked period in Japanese history filled with danger and intrigue.

Thursday Quotables Meme

This is a novella which acts as a prequel to Matthew Legare‘s mystery series, which is, in my opinion, its only shortcoming. More than a story that stands on its own, this is an opening, a presentation of characters and situation, that doesn’t feel complete or concluded.
Apart from this, it’s a good one. 1930s Japan is an unusual place to set a mystery, and I really enjoyed reading about it. The setting feels well-researched and skilfully built. There’s a great balance between the necessary historical and cultural explanations and the actual story, the two merging together in an admirable way that historical fiction not always achieves.

I appreciated the way the Japanese characters express their culture. The author managed to create a sense for a way of live and think that is very different from any Western culture and still present it in a way that is accessible even to Western readers.

Japan in the 1930s looks remarkably like Europe in the same period. Liberation, civil rights and a larger form of freedom lived beside strong nationalistic, dictatorial aspirations. Although I know next to nothing about this time and place, I never felt confused. The author always managed to keep me on track, supporting me with all the information I needed.

There are few characters, but all of them sound interesting and complex enough for a shorter story. Kenji Aizawa, the protagonist, is a character with a huge sense of duty and justice, a man who feels his privileged position in a time where jobs and the opportunity of a good life are in such short supply for so many people.

All in all, an enjoyable adventure.

Conspiracy in Tokyo

An excerpt

Sensei,” Aizawa said, “how many casualties are we expecting?”

The loyal seven fixed him with offended stares but Ryusaki nodded with sympathy.

“Your main objective is to cause panic, not kill innocent civilians. Unfortunately, casualties are inevitable.”

Aizawa nodded his acceptance, fighting a deep rage inside. Thanks to this gang of patriotic criminals, Tokyo was about to descend into chaos. Police Headquarters entered his mind, smoldering and littered with his fellow officers bloodied and burnt. A flood of memories surged forth; Tokyo shattered by the Great Kanto Earthquake and transformed into a hellish sea of flames.

Thursday Quotables Conspiracy in Tokyo

Ryusaki’s voice cut thought the silence like a gunshot. “The simultaneous explosions will trigger the Army to occupy the Diet Building and declare martial law. The cabinet will either resign or face arrest and the new shogun will assume power. In the span of two hours, the future of Japan will be decided.”

The words echoed a statement Aizawa had learned in history class. Admiral Togo had made a similar pronouncement just before the historic victory over the Russian fleet at Tsushima. The fate of the Empire depends of this one battle. The Kusanagi society had declared war on the government.

There were problem with this current system, to be sure, but every men now had a vote, rich or poor, which was far more than Aizawa’s father or grandfather could ever hope for. Men like Ryusaki, the samurai, the aristocrats, and the wealthy, had always ruled Japan and now their grip on power was loosening. No, they wouldn’t win again. Aizawa owed it to the generations of peasants and commoners who toiled in fields and factories, yearning for some form or representation.

“Ryusaki-sensei, I cannot carry out my mission,” Tanaka said, snapping forward. A shameful sullenness drooped his cheeks. The others stared back in stunned silence glancing to Ryusaki for instructions.

“And why is that?”

“Police Headquarters is heavily guarded. Any dynamite would be intercepted by one of their patrols.”

Ryusaki ran a slender finger across his chin, his brow furrowed in contemplation. Indeed, the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Headquarters was almost a fortress. It would take a whole squad of men to even attempt to storm such a stronghold.

Inspiration shone behind Ryusaki’s glasses. “If you cannot attack from the outside then you must do it from within. Become a human bomb for the Showa Restoration!”

The implicit order for suicide brightened Tanaka’s dour expression. His life, sent adrift and meaningless since the depression, has been given purpose. How many others would become human bombs for men like Masaru Ryusaki and his shogun? No matter. In a matter of hours, law and order would swoop down upon the Kusanagi Society.

Still, Aizawa couldn’t dismiss sole level of sympathy for Tanaka and his ilk. A career in the Metropolitan Police had shielded him from the cruelty of this depression and harnessed his past into something useful for society. Under the same circumstances, would he really behave any different?

The Thursday Quotables was originally a weekly post created by Lisa Wolf for her book blog Bookshelf Fantasy. It isn’t a weekly post anymore, not even for Lisa, but just like her, I still love to share my favourite reads on Thursday and I still use the original template which included an excerpt.

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