For the first time, Hayder sets her novel on foreign soil, although her main narrator, the weird "Grey" whose shadowy past is never detailed in full, is English.
Grey has an obsession with the infamous Nanking Massacre of 1937. She tracks down a Chinese professor working in Tokyo who may be able to help her find a piece of film that records the atrocities that happened at the hands of the Japanese. But when Shi Chongming meets her he denies all knowledge of the film, claiming that it does not exist. Grey, who is annoyingly childlike and frustratingly naive throughout this entire novel, is unconvinced.
Not wanting to give up the search for the missing film, she moves into a crumbling old house in the Tokyo suburbs with a set of Russian twins and the weird Jason, who has an accent that sounds like he "might have been from England or America or Australia. Or all three".
Despite her odd looks and penchant for Oxfam clothing, she finds work in an upmarket hostess club frequented by the Japanese mafia (yakuza). It is here that Grey is drawn to a wheelchair-bound gangster who drinks a strange elixir rumoured to ensure his ongoing health and well-being.
Little does she know that this yakuza "connection" will help her discover the real truth about what happened at Nanking all those years ago. Together with Chongming's assistance, she sets upon a dangerous and terrifying adventure that will have you riveted from page to page. In fact, the stomach-churning conclusion is one of the finest heart-hammering pieces of fiction I have read in a long time.
Hayder has peppered this book with a vast array of mysterious characters with shady, unexplained pasts, which only adds to the intrigue. She deftly captures the seedy underbelly of Tokyo life, transporting the reader to a strange world of glass skyscrapers, neon lighting and oppressive weather conditions. And she successfully intertwines past and present by putting Chongming's 1937 story and Grey's modern day experiences in alternate chapters. (At first this is a little annoying, but the reader soon gets used to it.)
All in all, a very fine and fast-paced novel.
Mo Hayder's two previous novels, Birdman and The Treatment, are also reviewed on this site. But if you liked the seedy Tokyo setting and the weird narrator in this Tokyo, you might also like The Earthquake Bird by Susanna Jones.