Cover Image: The Wrong Goodbye

The Wrong Goodbye

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At long last, after a career encompassing more than three decades, Japanese Manga artist-turned-novelist, Toshihiko Yahagi, has published his first book in English. Seasoned translator Alfred Birnbaum, who has also translated the work of Haruki Murakami, had the mammoth task of converting Yahagi’s unique prose into English.

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I'm quite a sucker for all the tropes of noir. The lone wolf anti-establishment cop with an alcohol problem, the mysterious femme fatale(s), the (usually quite incomprehensible) twists and turns of the plot, shadowy government agents out to thwart out brave hero-I love them all. THis book has all those elements and an interesting non-American perspective. It's nice to read of noir elements of a country otherwise usually associated (for me, at least) in fiction with futuristic glitz or exoticised samurai. All countries have many sides to them and it's nice to see a different side to Japan! The story is set in Yokosuka, and I didn't realise how practically colonial the AMerican defence services presence is in Japan, with permits and border control checks required-for Japanese citizens entering! 
Like any good noir worth its salt, this book's plot is quite convoluted- the catalyst is our down-on-his-luck (for unspecified reasons) cop, EIji Futamura and his new drinking buddy's inexplicable death in Taiwan. Things are much more involved than that, and Futamura follows loose threads, gets roughed up by unsavoury characters, is demoted at work to a position with less responsibility for his pains. This gives him the time to pursue his amateur sleuthing and he uncovers corruption that ranges far and wide, across geographies, and even across industries. Through the conventions of noir, Yahagi explores geopolitics and the butterfly effect of global capitalism and war-for instance, there's a really interesting exploration of the flourishing drug trade, that started in Japan during the VIetnam War, the effects of which have bled over to the present day. I find it fascinating how well the author weaves in the issues of gentrification, illegal immigration, disposal of toxic waste and unequal access to healthcare completely organically into the plot, like a perfectly done jigsaw puzzle. It's a great read about a different city that has its unique problems, and not the mean streets of LA/Chicago or New YOrk. While it follows classic noir traditions, it's completely original,and makes excellent use of Yokosuka's unique setting and the idiosyncrasies of the US-Japan diplomatic agreements, that provide diplomatic immunity and lack of passport restrictions or adequate controls, in the American bases.
KNocking off a star because the book could have been better edited-there seemed to be several superfluous scenes, some involving a violinist that seemed to be added just because a femme fatale is needed-she's really not a well-etched character at all. It's a very compelling ,fun read however, and warrants a re-read for any nuance you might have missed out the first time.  ̣
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As suggested by the title, Toshihiko Yahagi's novel is a homage to the hard boiled noir of Raymond Chandler, and it certainly has a very Chandler-like feel, along with more than a hint of Dashiell Hammett's Sam Spade. Even the setting, often in the seedier streets of Yokosuka gives off the vibes of the 1930s and 40s. However, the presence of mobile phones, Internet cafes and talk of the past war in Vietnam, indicate that it is in fact set in a much more contemporary time.

Eiji Futamura is Yahagi's hard bitten detective. He is investigating the murder of barman Tran Binh Long, whose frozen corpse washed up near the Yokosuka US naval base, when he meets ex US pilot and Vietnam veteran, Billy Lou Bonney. They become drinking buddies and late one night he gives Billy a lift to the US base with three large suitcases. When Billy doesn't return and it's discovered he has left a body behind, Eiji finds himself stood down as a detective. However, he continues looking into Tran's death, especially once the police loose interest in the case and also takes on a private case investigating the disappearance of a woman and the mystery surrounding the origins of her adopted violinist daughter. Both cases will turn up traces that link back to shady dealings in Vietnam as well as to the disappearance of his drinking buddy Billy. 

There's a lot going on in this novel with many threads and characters to grasp at and I found I had to work hard to keep it all straight in my mind. However, it's worth the effort in order to enjoy this very compelling thriller with its dark undertones and a host of dark secrets and lies.
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I love murder mysteries and reading the genre in a different setting, Japan, was amazing.  The style is very reminiscent of traditional detective thrillers but taking the style and the story and putting them in a Japanese context added an extra appeal.  .
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Japanese writers are bringing back to life hard boiled and golden age mystery. Their works are excellent as they're talented writers and delivers story that mixes the tropes with descriptions of Japan and its culture.
This a dark, atmospheric and gripping noir set in a Cold War Japan. All the main noir themes are present and the author applies a formula to the Japanese society.
It's an excellent story and it's strongly recommended.
Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for this ARC, all opinions are mine
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Toshihiko Yahagi pays homage to the classic hard boiled detective noir, such as the likes of Raymond Chandler in this dense and complex post-war Japanese yarn featuring Homicide Detective Eiji Futamura, of the Kanagawa Prefectural Police Department, a man more interested in solving crime, unlike the police focus on how things looks rather than how they are. The frozen and scarred dead body of an immigrant barman Tran Binh Long turns up on the shores close to the Yukusuka U.S. Naval Base. Futamura meets drunk American pilot, Billy Lou Bonney in strange circumstances at Tran's bar, the two become erstwhile friends, becoming hard drinking buddies, with Bonney relaying stories from the Vietnam War, Saigon, black markets and profiteering.

When Bonney asks him for a favour late one night, a drunk Futamura acquiesces, driving Billy and his 3 heavy suitcases of 'goods' to Yokota U.S. Air Base, where he takes off in a plane, saying he will be back soon. When it is discovered that Bonney has left behind the corpse of a dead woman, Futamura finds himself shunted out of Homicide, no longer a detective, and instead working in Police Archives, which offers him the opportunity of time to carry out his own investigations. With the police closing down the Tran inquiry as a accident, Futamara is not satisfied, and then there is the question of exactly who Billy Lou Bonney is, and is he really dead? Then the intrepid detective is asked to look into the disappearance of famous concert violinist Aileen Hsu's adoption mother, Reiko Hiraoku, only to find there are connections to his other inquiries.

Yahagi evokes an atmospheric picture of Japan, its culture, history and its relationship with the US military, where it is hard to pin down the precise time period in which the action takes place. We begin to get a look into the nature of the US and Japanese alliance, and the murky links with a shady wealthy Triad tycoon acquiring vast swathes of the Mekong Delta marshland for development. There are below the radar connections forged in past history, the lies and secrets, some of them toxic, what happened in Vietnam and how Aileen came to arrive in Japan as a orphan with her violin. This is a wonderfully enthralling read, although you will need to play close attention to the details in the narrative as there is so much happening. Highly recommended to those who love hard boiled detective noir. Many thanks to the publisher for an ARC.
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The Wrong Goodbye pits homicide detective Eiji Futamura against a shady Chinese business empire and U.S. military intelligence in the docklands of recession Japan. 

After the frozen corpse of immigrant barman Tran Binh Long washes up in midsummer near Yokosuka U.S. Navy Base, Futamura meets a strange customer from Tran's bar. Vietnam vet pilot Billy Lou Bonney talks Futamura into hauling three suitcases of "goods" to Yokota US Air Base late at night and flies off leaving a dead woman behind. 

Thereby implicated in a murder suspect's escape and relieved from active duty, Futamura takes on hack work for the beautiful concert violinist Aileen Hsu, a "boat people" orphan whose Japanese adoption mother has mysteriously gone missing. And now a phone call from a bestselling yakuza author, a one-time black marketeer in Saigon, hints at inside information on "former Vietcong mole" Tran and his "old sidekick" Billy Lou, both of whom crossed a triad tycoon who is buying up huge tracts of Mekong Delta marshland for a massive development scheme. 

As the loose strands flashback to Vietnam, the string of official lies and mysterious allegiances build into a dark picture of the U.S.-Japan postwar alliance. 
I was engrossed from start to finish; such a well-crafted, thrilling and moving story surely marks this author as an author to watch. I can't wait for more!
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A successful wink and nod & a definitive throwback to the American hardboiled detective fiction of the 40s, The wrong goodbye is an engrossing & compelling murder mystery set in a postwar/Cold war Japan awashed with criminal wrongdoings and dubious political shenanigans. A tensly plotted thriller filled from start to finish with dread and constantly flowing on a menacing and dangerous current and blessed with a cast of troubled but unforgettable characters. I particularly liked the almost poetic bleakness of the urban landscape in a Japan still trying to heal from the devastating consequences of WWII. Suspenseful and very entertaining, this noirish journey into the criminal underworld of a defeated nation should easily find the readership it definitely and undubitably deserves. A wonderful fictional treat to be enjoyed without any moderation.

Many thanks to Netgalley and Quercus Books for this terrific ARC
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