Book: Death in Little Tokyo

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Death in Little Tokyo: A Ken Tanaka Mystery

Author: Dale Furutani
Publisher: St Martins Pr (Mm)

When mystery buff Ken Tanaka masquerades as a private investigator at his local mystery club’s weekend event, a femme fatale right out of an old Bogart movie asks him for a favor. Ken takes the case as a joke—but there’s nothing to laugh about when his sleuthing leads him to a dead man in a Little Tokyo hotel room. Suddenly entangled in a real-life murder, Ken and his girlfriend, Mariko Kosaka, have to negotiate the unfamiliar streets and traditional customs of Los Angeles’s Japanese-American enclave.


Ken Tanaka isn’t a real P.I., but when he poses as one for his weekend mystery club—printing up phony business cards, renting a storefront office, buying a trench coat and fedora—he gets some real business in the form of Rita Newly, who offers him $500 to help extricate her from a blackmail scheme. Unemployed and with too much time on his hands, Ken can’t resist the prospect of adventure or cash. He takes the case, only to find himself the prime suspect when a member of the Japanese mafia turns up dead and in several pieces. To exonerate himself, Ken must find the real killer, and his inexpert gumshoeing tangles him in a complicated plot involving strippers, gangsters, and the World War II-era Japanese “relocation” camps.

The Anthony Award-winning Death in Little Tokyo introduces “the very first Japanese-American amateur sleuth mystery series written by a Japanese-American.” Ken Tanaka is a welcome addition; he’s likable, charming, nerdish, and unfailingly polite around old people and the police. He has a gently self-effacing sense of humor and a girlfriend, Mariko, who is an actress struggling against the lack of parts for Asian Americans. Set in Los Angeles’s Little Tokyo, the mystery unfolds around interesting little lessons on subjects as wide-ranging as woodblock prints, Latino culture, the game of Go, Japanese American history and social ritual, and the intricacies of plotting a mystery weekend. The city and neighborhood are evoked in especially vivid detail; food, in particular, is lovingly described. This is the commendable debut of a refreshing, somewhat less-than-gritty new voice. —R. Ellis

Barnes and Noble

The premise for Death in Little Tokyo is that mystery enthusiast Ken Tanaka belongs to the L.A. Mystery Club and he’s setting up a role-playing mystery for the group, in which he plays a hard-boiled P.I. When a beautiful woman hires him as a go-between, he immediately assumes someone is playing a joke. Unfortunately, the murder that follows is no joke. Good local color and interesting details about modern Japanese-American customs and rituals. —Margaret Maron

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