This complex and compelling novel of criminal intrigue contrives to be immense and intimate, simultaneously. The expansive narrative extends across time and philosophical space to pierce the psyche of a nation in turmoil, yet this sprawling story is told in intensely personal episodes. Author Bob Van Laerhoven pulls together an outlandish ensemble cast of peculiar personalities; fierce, fragile individuals who claw their way under your skin. Their predicaments –and their potential to unleash chaos – drag you into the narrative’s darkening abyss.
Return To Hiroshima is told in short, sharp chapters, alternating between the international cast of key players. It’s set in the mid-1990s against the backdrop of Japan’s economic depression and the legacy of nuclear holocaust. The body of a dead baby left by a peace memorial pulls Inspector Takeda into a bizarre investigation involving a demi-god Yakuza crime lord, an ultra-nationalist death cult, alienated young people who search for meaning in a modern world which offers them little hope of peace or prosperity… and Takeda’s own horribly troubled history, which takes us back to the worst of WW2. That looming monstrosity hangs over everything; the actual use of nuclear weapons against a civilian population, and the bone-deep scars it left on the soul of the Japanese nation.
Don’t expect a story of this complexity to make sense to you immediately. It takes a little while to weave its spell – but by the time I’d read a quarter of it I was sneaking away to spend quality time immersed in this unsettling, unpredictable universe.
The writing feels convincingly Japanese; an impressive accomplishment on its own given that the author is European. Maybe the setting swayed me, but I was strongly reminded of the two Murakamis. ‘Hiroshima’ is every bit as brazenly brutal as Ryu Murakami can be. Yet it’s also as subtle and sophisticated as Haruki’s early work (and Laerhoven even incorporates a tip of the hat to the Japanese grandmaster).
Return To Hiroshima presents bleak and bewildering insights into Japanese society, and into the wider world of the emotionally fragile and the terminally maltreated. It’s like being submerged in a blizzard of sensations; you’re kinda complicit in an avalanche of awful intent. Leave your expectations at the door, because the plot and characters do not conform to any easily predictable path. Instead they are as vibrant and transient as cherry blossom, but soak the sidewalk with an infinitely more ominous shade of scarlet…
This is not the kind of crime-thriller which ends tidily with the case closed, bad guys doing time and the DI and his DS enjoying a pint in the pub. Hiroshima is a meaty, substantial piece of work which exposes its audience to sustained nervous tension and acts of cruelty. Some scenes are gruelling and even gruesome, but they’re balanced by instances of extraordinary tenderness, of sacrifice and salvation.
Laerhoven deliberately skews our perception of what occurs within the story, to explore the nature of what is real within fiction. In this story two truths may be equally valid but ultimately opposed. It’s sinister and stylish; an accomplished feat of storytelling.
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
Return To Hiroshima by Bob Van Laerhoven is available at Amazon
Meet a complicated contract killer in A Last Act Of Charity:
Ideal for fans of Don Winslow, Derek Raymond and True Detective – and just £1.99 at Amazon