Last Stop Tokyo by James Buckler

The Blurb On The Back:

The funny thing with suffering is that, just when you think you’ve suffered enough, you realise it’s only just beginning. 

Alex thought running away would make everything better.  Six thousand miles from the mistakes he’s made and the people he’s hurt, Tokyo seems like the perfect escape.  A new life, a new Alex.

The bright lights and dark corners of this alien and fascinating city intoxicate him, and he finds himself transfixed by this country, which feels like a puzzle that no one can quite explain.  But when Alex meets the enigmatic and alluring Naoko, the peace he sought slips ever further from his grasp.

After all, trust is just betrayal waiting to happen, and Alex is about to find out that there’s no such thing as rock bottom.  There’s always the chance things will get worse …

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

After a car accident destroys Alex Malloy’s high flying legal career in London, he flees to Tokyo and starts over as an English language tutor.  The only connection he’s kept to his old life is an old friend Hiro Ozawa who he knew at university and who now works for a Japanese bank.  Alex had resolved to avoid any personal entanglements in Japan but he’d reckons without the young gallery worker, Naoko Yamamoto.  Mysterious and full of secrets, all Alex really knows about her is that Hiro wants him to stay away from her but Alex has secrets of his own and when trust turns to mistrust, betrayal isn’t far behind …

James Buckler’s debut literary thriller is a disappointing and contrived affair with a main character who doesn’t get any agency until the final quarter (at which point his actions made him unsympathetic) while Naoko is such an over-reacting lunatic that I wondered what Alex saw in her while I didn’t feel as if there was much insight into Tokyo or its inhabitants that I wouldn’t get from a tourist book.

Alex is incredibly passive for most of the book – things happen to him rather than him driving events (e.g. his reaction to the car crash – there was no reason for him not to explain what actually happened other than to advance the plot), he’s remarkably dense at guessing that other people may be using him (the prison scenes made me roll my eyes) and when he does take control, his desire for revenge and actions are so unpleasant that I lost what little remaining sympathy I had for him.  This problem is exacerbated by the fact that Naoko is a lunatic – her over-reactions to situations really stretched credibility and made it difficult for me to see what Alex or Hiro saw in her other than sexual attraction while her rivalry with Megumi (equally unpleasant) reminded me of DYNASTY.  The twist to the conspiracy was easy to guess and the ending didn’t work on the emotional level that I think Buckler was aiming for, instead leaving me cold.  Some of the depictions of Tokyo are evocative and neatly detailed but I didn’t feel as if I got any insights into life there either as a local or as an ex-pat.  Ultimately, this debut didn’t work for me and I’m not sure I’d rush to read Buckler’s next book.

LAST STOP TOKYO will be released in the United Kingdom on 24th August 2017.  Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the ARC of this book.

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