The book-a-week challenge continues with Return to Hiroshima, by Bob Van Laerhoven.
“Memory is a monstrous thing.”
It is the memory of events real or imagined that accelerates Bob Van Laerhoven’s grisly Return to Hiroshima to the first rank of macabre noir. Return to Hiroshima could stand alone as a work of horror. Or post-apocalyptic dystopia. Hiroshima since August 6, 1945, certainly qualifies.
Van Laerhoven’s mastery of his subject and his flawless maneuvering through Japan’s unique past make one forget the depth of his narrative. There are many layers to Return to Hiroshima, and Van Laerhoven’s gift is crafting many intriguing subplots to create an energetic whole. But ‘layered’ is not quite right. Like an iceberg, a predictable part of Japan is visible for anyone to see. But beneath the surface lies mortal danger. And Van Laerhoven bravely plumbs those depths, for what’s underneath is a separate universe. What’s unsaid. What’s unaccounted for. Secrets no one admits to. Furious, revengeful rages hide beneath cool facades. Unspoken but understood conspiracies feed quests to right ultimate wrongs.
But whose catastrophe? Which people? Ultimately, Return to Hiroshima is a thriller, set in motion by a tormented woman determined to escape her past, explaining away her grotesqueness by being a daughter of hibakusha – survivors of the atom bombing. By a Belgian man who returns to Japan to come to grips with the death of his sister. By a Japanese son of privilege bent on sadistic pleasure. By a tortured half-Dutch, half-Japanese police inspector who cannot reconcile his past. By a criminal overlord determined to resurrect Japan’s past glories. And what propels Van Laerhoven’s narrative are the winds of Nationalism. Militarism. Nihilism. Anti-modernism. Mysticism. Myth.
“In the train to Hiroshima, I leaf through the old diaries I have taken with me from Hashima Island. On May 8th, 1988, I’d written: ‘Rokurobei hunts at night. Do not underestimate the demon’s power. When his victims hear his footsteps and see his long neck, it’s too late. He seduces if he can, kills if he must. Although his gentle nickname for me as a child was Aonyobo, a singing female spirit that haunts abandoned imperial palaces, it would be a mistake to overlook the Serpent Neck’s true nature, his capacity for violence.’”
There are times when myth and monsters are the only way to explain the inhumane in us all. And at the heart of Return to Hiroshima, longing turns violent, dreams morph into their own violent realities, and memories prove to be unworthy of trust. Yet the desire to return endures. To return. And return again. Memory is a monstrous thing, indeed.
Return to Hiroshima, by Bob Van Laerhoven, Crime Wave Press.
Five stars out of five.
Check in every week for Book Review Wednesday. I’m reading and reviewing a book a week throughout 2018. Join me. Authors, if you have a book you would like reviewed, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Joseph Mark Brewer writes the Shig Sato mysteries. Mix up some Lieutenant Columbo and Kurt Wallander and you have an interesting character in Sato and a thrilling new series set in the heart of Tokyo. Click for your copy of The Gangster’s Son, The Thief’s Mistake, Traitors & Lies, or Cat’s Meow. And check out Shig’s Readers Club to get a free copy of Tokyo Summer, the exciting Shig Sato prequel that tells the story of the events that led up to The Gangster’s Son.