The Last Train, Volume 1 (A Tokyo Mystery)

Michael Pronko,
Narrator: Robbie Belgrade

MYSTERY:  A foreigner falls in front of a Tokyo express train. A woman walks away. Did he jump or was he pushed? Detective Hiroshi Shimizu is called to the scene, his English skills in demand. Normally a fraud investigator, Hiroshi has a nose for following the money, a useful trait as the investigation tracks the moves of the dead real estate wheeler and dealer. The trail leads through hostess clubs and the dark financial web of those trading on secrets for profit. Eventually, Hiroshi identifies the woman, Michiko Suzuki, and knows that she isn't finished as she's tied to another supposed suicide. As Michiko continues with her plans, a series of flashbacks paint the forces that have put her on her chosen course. Hiroshi closes in, and in a powerful climax the two come face to face and a brutal truth is revealed.

Long-time Japan resident Michael Pronko draws on his experience to create an intricate mystery with an eye to detail that captures the complex layers that make Tokyo. While the beginning pulls the listener in immediately, the narrative soon slows down. This is partly due to the excessive use of flashbacks, which also create a confusing timeline. Furthermore, too many names begin with “Shi-“ or “S-.” Varying them to help distinguish characters would help listeners. Moreover, a deeper POV would have strengthened the impact of the ending. That said, Hiroshi is appealing as are the sumo detectives. This is a promising series.

Narrator Robbie Belgrade does a commendable job navigating the Japanese phrases sprinkled throughout. The lack of voice differentiation coupled with similar intonation patterns, however, makes it difficult at times to know who is speaking. Also, there needs to be a greater pause before flashback scenes to orient listeners. With more experience, Mr. Belgrade will improve his craft.

Tricia Hill