Best of Debut of the Year from Suspense Magazine
Winner of the Barry Award for Best Debut Novel
In this “sophisticated international thriller” (The New York Times Book Review), an American antiques-dealer-turned-reluctant-private-eye must use his knowledge of Japanese culture to unravel a major murder in San Francisco—before he and his daughter become targets themselves.
San Francisco antiques dealer Jim Brodie receives a call one night from a friend at the SFPD: an entire family has been senselessly gunned down in the Japantown neighborhood of the bustling city. As an American born and raised in Japan and part-owner of his father’s Tokyo private investigation firm, Brodie has advised the local police in the past, but the near-perfect murders in Japantown are like nothing he’s ever encountered.
With his array of Asian contacts and fluency in Japanese, Brodie follows leads gathered from a shadow powerbroker, a renegade Japanese detective, and the elusive tycoon at the center of the Japantown murders along a trail that takes him from the crime scene in California to terrorized citizens and informants in Japan. Step by step, he unravels a web of intrigue stretching back centuries and unearths a deadly secret that threatens not only his life but also the lives of his entire circle of family and friends. “Readers will want to see more of the talented Jim Brodie, with his expertise in Japanese culture, history, and martial arts” (Publishers Weekly, starred review).
About the Author
Barry Lancet is a Barry Award–winning author and finalist for the Shamus Award. He has lived in Japan for more than twenty-five years. His former position as an editor at one of the nation’s largest publishers gave him access to the inner circles in traditional and business fields most outsiders are never granted, and an insider’s view that informs his writing. He is the author of the Jim Brodie series: The Spy Across the Table; Pacific Burn; Tokyo Kill; and Japantown, which received four citations for Best First Novel and has been optioned by J.J. Abrams’s Bad Robot Productions, in association with Warner Brothers. Visit Lancet at BarryLancet.com or on Twitter @BarryLancet.
Read an Excerpt
TWO shades of red darkened the Japantown concourse by the time I arrived. One belonged to a little girl’s scarlet party dress. The other was liquid and far too human. City officials would evince a third shade once reports of the carnage hit the airwaves.
But long before the news jockeys began grappling with the Japantown slaughter, the problem landed on my doorstep.
Minutes after receiving an urgent summons, I was charging down Fillmore in a classic maroon Cutlass convertible. Before the midnight call had interrupted my evening’s work, I’d been repairing an eighteenth-century Japanese tea bowl, a skill I’d picked up in the pottery town of Shigaraki, an hour outside of Kyoto. Now, even with the top down on the Cutlass, I could still smell the stringent lacquer used to fix the thumbnail-size chip on the bowl’s rim. Once the lacquer dried I’d apply the final flourish—a trail of liquid gold powder. A repair was still a repair, but if done right, it restored a piece’s dignity.
I swung left on Post hard enough to leave rubber and cut off two gangbangers tooling uphill in a flame-red Mazda Miata. A crisp night breeze swirled around my face and hair and wiped away every last trace of drowsiness. The gangbangers had their top down, too, apparently the better to scope out a clear shot.
They slithered in behind me, swearing in booming voices I could hear over the screech of their tires, and in my rearview mirror, angry fists shot into the air as the sleek sports car crept up on my bumper.
A pistol appeared next, followed by a man’s torso, both etched in ominous shadow against the night sky. Then the driver caught sight of a police blockade up ahead, slammed on his brakes, and snaked into a U-turn. The drastic change in direction flung the shooter against the side of the car, and nearly into the street. Arms flailing, he just managed to grab the frame of the windshield and drop back into the Miata’s cushioned bucket seat as the car peeled away with a throttled roar of frustration.
I knew the feeling. If I hadn’t received a personal invitation, I’d have done the same. But I had no choice. A marker had been called in.
When the phone rang, I’d peeled off the rubber gloves, careful not to let remnants of the poisonous lacquer touch my skin. With my days filled to overflowing at the shop, I tackled repairs in the darker hours, after putting my daughter to bed. Tonight it was the tea bowl.
Lieutenant Frank Renna of the San Francisco Police Department wasted no time on pleasantries. “I need a favor. A big one this time.”
I glanced at the pale green digits of the clock. 12:24 a.m. “And a fine time it is.”
On the other end of the line, Renna gave a grunt of apology. “You’ll get your usual consultant fee. Might not be enough, though.”
“Keep thinking that way. I need you to come look at something. You got a baseball cap?”
“Wear it low over your eyes. Cap, sneakers, jeans. Then get down here asap.”
“Japantown. The outdoor mall.”
I was silent, knowing that except for a couple of bars and the Denny’s coffee shop, J-town was bottled up for the night.
Renna said, “How soon can you get here?”
“Fifteen minutes if I break a few laws.”
“Make it ten.”
Nine minutes on, I found myself speeding toward the blockade, an impromptu cluster of rolling police steel parked haphazardly across the road where the pedestrian shopping mall on Buchanan came to an abrupt end at Post. Beyond the barricade I spotted a coroner’s wagon and three ambulances, doors flung open, interiors dark and cavernous.
A hundred yards short of the barrier, I eased over in front of the Japan Center and cut the engine. I slid off tucked black leather seats and walked toward the commotion. Grim and unshaven, Frank Renna separated himself from a crowd of local badges and intercepted me halfway. Behind his approaching bulk, the rotating red and blue lights of the prowl cars silhouetted him against the night.
“The whole force out here tonight?”
He scowled. “Could be.”
I was the go-to guy for the SFPD on anything Japanese—even though my name is Jim Brodie, I’m six-one, a hundred-ninety pounds, and have black hair and blue eyes. And I’m Caucasian.
The connection? I’d spent the first seventeen years of my life in Tokyo, where I was born to a rugged Irish-American father, who lived and breathed law enforcement, and a more delicate American mother, who loved art. Money was tight, so I attended local schools instead of one of the exorbitant American international facilities and absorbed the language and culture like a sponge.
Along the way, I picked up karate and judo from two of the top masters in the Japanese capital, and thanks to my mother got my first peek at the fascinating world of Japanese art.
What drew my parents to the far side of the Pacific was the U.S. Army. Jake, my father, headed up a squad of MPs in charge of security for Western Tokyo, then worked for the LAPD. But he took orders badly so he eventually returned to Tokyo, where he set up the city’s first American-style PI/security firm.
He began grooming me for a position at Brodie Security a week after my twelfth birthday. I accompanied him and other detectives on interviews, stakeouts, and research trips as an observer. In the office I pored over old files when I wasn’t listening to the staff speculate about cases involving blackmail, adultery, kidnapping, and more. Their conversations were gritty and real and a thousand times better than a night out at a Roppongi disco or an ultracheap Harajuku izakaya, though I managed to work those in too, four years later, with a fake ID.
Three weeks after my seventeenth birthday, Shig Narazaki—Jake’s partner and “Uncle Shig” when he visited our home for dinner—took me on a “watch-and-see.” It was a simple information-gathering stakeout for an extortion case involving the vice president of a major electronics firm and a local gang of yakuza wannabes. Japanese mafia. Just a recon trip. No action, no approach. I’d been on dozens like it.
We sat for an hour in a car tucked up an alley watching a neighborhood yakitori shop long closed for the night.
“I don’t know,” Shig said. “I may have the wrong place.” And he left to take a look.
He did one circuit around the restaurant and was heading back when a street thug sprang from a side door and clubbed him with a Japanese fighting stick while the rest of the gang escaped out another exit.
Shig collapsed and I leapt from the car and yelled. The attacker zeroed in on me, glaring and cocking the stick like a baseball bat, which told me he had no training in the art of bojutsu. Then he charged. Luckily, the stick was the short version, so the instant his front foot shifted, I rammed my shoe into his kneecap. He went down with a howl—enough time for Shig to recover, snag the guy, and take me home with a story that made my father proud.
Unhappily, the incident demolished what was left of my parents’ rocky marriage. While Jake loved his adopted country, my mother never really took to it. She felt like the perpetual outsider, a pale-faced Caucasian in a size fourteen dress surrounded by a sea of eternal size sixes. “Putting me at risk” was the last straw in a precariously high haystack. We flew to Los Angeles, and Jake stayed in Tokyo. The arrangement became permanent.
But that was fifteen years ago. A lot had happened in between: my mother passed away, I moved to San Francisco, and I got a handle on the art trade—soft work, according to Jake, but a world I found as fascinating as my mom had, though it was filled with its own brand of shark.
Then nine months ago, not a word between us in years, Jake died suddenly, and when I flew to Japan to attend the funeral, I landed in the path of real yakuza this time, not Uncle Shig’s cheeseball yaki hopefuls. I managed to hold my own against them—barely—in the process tracking down a long-lost tea bowl that belonged to the legendary tea master Sen no Rikyu. The events made the headlines and I became something of a local hero.
Which was another reason I’d been invited to Japantown. That, and the fact that I had resources the SFPD did not: Jake had left me half of his agency, despite our estrangement.
Both my parents were gone, and I was being sucked into the life that had driven them apart. Which is how, at the age of thirty-two, I found myself juggling an art store and a detective agency. Refined on the one hand, brutish on the other.
In short, I was the bull in the china shop—except I owned the shop.
And tonight I had a very bad feeling about where that might lead.
What People are Saying About This
“Japantown is an expertly written story with vivid, complex characters. The mystery holds surprises until the very end.”
“From gritty San Francisco to exotic Tokyo, Japantown is a whip-smart, razor-fast ride, and entertaining from cover to cover.”
“This is a terrific debut from a talented and very promising writer. Nimbly written and atmospheric, Lancet brings San Francisco to life in all its layers, focusing on the mysteries of the Japanese-American people. He depicts a rich mixture of art and violence, the past and the present, east and west.”
“Get ready for an action-packed, tension-filled escape with Barry Lancet’s thriller worthy of Elmore Leonard. The trail of crime races from Tokyo to New York and returns inevitably to Japantown, six square blocks in San Francisco, where antiques dealer and private eye Jim Brodie walks a dangerous line in the shadow world of clashing cultures.”
“An elegantly brutal thriller, Japantown is reminiscent of classic Daniel Silva and Barry Eisler. Lancet's unique background bleeds authenticity into the story. This is a bold and exciting debut. Don't miss it.”
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The eponymous area of San Francisco is comprises six square blocks and the scene, early in this new novel by Barry Lancet, of a horrendous murder of three adults and three children. (Ultimately one learns that the second man was in fact the bodyguard of the woman, who is the daughter of a wealthy and powerful Japanese mogul.) There are “no fingerprints, no trace evidence, no witnesses” and no clues except for a blood-drenched slip of paper bearing an unreadable kanji, a unique Japanese character. Jim Brodie, formerly LAPD, is now a 32-year-old private detective who is a 6’ 1”, 190-lb. Caucasian with black hair and blue eyes, had lived for the first 17 years of his life in Japan, where he has his office; he also has a shop in San Francisco where he repairs and sells art and antiques, primarily Oriental. (He says of himself that he is “refined on the one hand, brutish on the other,” and wonders if he can “make the leap from things people created to things they destroyed.”) He is called in as a consultant by the SFPD to assist in the investigation, and is staggered by the enormity of the crime. Brodie is a fascinating protagonist, intent in finding the perpetrators, but equally dedicated to protecting his six-year-old daughter, all the more so after having lost his Japanese wife in a lethal fire which had destroyed their home. The ensuing events put Brodie, his daughter, and all those around him and involved in the chase in great danger as it soon becomes evident that they are looking for a serial killer (or killers). The novel is obviously very well-researched, beyond the author’s own apparent knowledge of Japanese culture, history and martial arts. The plot draws the reader in. I have to admit that in the early pages I thought some of the dialogue a bit overwrought, but that reaction dissipated as I read further. The book is action-filled and suspenseful and surprises, as Brodie digs deeper into a twisting plot whose tentacles reach through parts of Asia, Europe, and the US to find the killers, of whom the description “ruthless” doesn’t even come close. A thriller in every sense of the word, the novel is recommended.
This was one terrific read. Fast paced and lots of great characters that kept you going because you had to know what was going to happen next. I enjoyed it thoroughly and will be checking out more of his books.
Could not put this book down! One is instantly involved in unrelenting suspense as the story unfolds, and you must keep reading to get closure.
Nonstop action from beginning to end. Jim Brodie has a small antiques business in San Francisco specializing in Oriental pieces. He was raised in Japan, where his father ran a successful security & investigation business. As a young man, Jim learned not only investigative techniques, but also a wide range of martial arts and self defense skills. He continued to hone these skills even after his father's death. It is no surprise when Jim gets a call from a friend in the San Francisco P.D. to consult on a murder case in Japantown. All of Jim's knowledge of Japanese culture as well as his skills as a martial artist will be tested as the trail of murder leads deep into Japan. Jim will put his life as well as the lives of his family and friends on the line as he digs deeper and deeper into a centuries old heritage of corruption and murder. I loved the action and the backdrop of Japan. I did feel that some of the situations were a little unrealistic, but then I suppose we are allowed to give our heroes a bit of stretch of the imagination. Book provided for review by Amazon Vine.
Very interesting I will read this 100 more times!
I was hooked from the first page. The book is a fast paced crime novel that moves from Japantown in San Francisco to Japan itself to New York City. The tension doesn’t let up until the very end of the book. This is one of those books you lose sleep over, I had to find out how it ended. The book opens at a brutal crime scene in Japantown in San Francisco. Jim Brodie, an antiques dealer who spent most of his childhood in Japan where his father was a private investigator, has been called to the scene of the crime by the police. The SFPD have consulted him before because of his knowledge of Japan and his training in investigating. He is drawn to one clue left at the crime, a Japanese symbol. This same symbol had been found at the scene of his wife’s death four years earlier. Despite his efforts at the time, he was unable to find out the meaning of the symbol. The police want this new crime solved, so does the father of one of the victims. The father, a wealthy and powerful Japanese business man, hires Jim Brodie to find the mastermind behind the killings. Jim’s search for answers takes him back to Japan where he is aided by his deceased father’s PI firm. As he continues his investigation he finds mysteries and a trail of deaths going back centuries. Disclosure: I received this book as part of a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.
Disjointed totally boring. Quit half way through complete loser.
This book is so slow-- and ton's of Japanese words that make it hard to read and understand unless you speak the language---Did not even finish reading it