The Moving Blade, One of the Year’s Best Thrillers, by Michael Pronko

The Bottom Line: One of the year’s best thrillers. A string of grisly murders, high stakes geopolitics and the prose of a master craftsman elevate this crime thriller to rarefied air.

What do a murdered American diplomat, a set of rare erotic Japanese wood block prints, and an agreement to keep American bases in Japan have in common?

That’s the question facing investigators in The Moving Blade, the second in Michael Pronko’s Detective Hiroshi series. The book opens with a break-in at the Tokyo home of diplomat Bernard Mattson during the victim’s own funeral. The experienced burglar quickly finds his target: two files from the deceased’s computer, which he downloads onto two USB drives before hiding them in a cigarette pack. Less than an hour later, the burglar himself is slain on a dead-end street.

Fortunately for Detective Hiroshi Shimizu, the swordsman leaves one of the precious files behind. Tokyo Police find a curious file containing two rare erotic woodblock prints. The post-it notes and pencil sketches around the margins are of particular interest. And what of the filename, “SOFA,” an acronym for The Status of Forces Agreement with America, the agreement governing the continued military presence of American military following the post-War occupation?

Mattson’s estranged daughter, Jamie, hasn’t been back to the country since she was 13 years old. She finds a world of quiet expedience where everything from the autopsy to the particulars of her father’s death have been all-too-conveniently whisked away. Through her eyes, we experience the seemingly impenetrable bureaucracy and bewilderment of a relative outsider in Japan. It’s inevitable that her insistence on a thorough investigation will put her in danger, but thanks to Pronko’s expert pacing, the build-up is anything but predictable.

In this second series installment, Pronko resists the temptation to morph Hiroshi into a Western-style investigator trademarked by quirkiness or self-abuse. Instead, Hiroshi remains a likable but thoroughly believable vehicle through which we explore this sophisticated, multi-faceted puzzle. Thanks in large part to the extreme care in which each and every sentence is crafted, Fans of Barry Eisler’s John Rain series may find a new favorite author in Pronko.

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