Cover image of "Japantown," a novel that celebrates Japanese culture

It takes a special kind of chutzpah to label your debut novel as the first in a series. On the cover, yet. You’ve got to know you’re good, and your publisher has to agree. Fortunately, this one did. Japantown by Barry Lancet marks the introduction of a remarkable new thriller hero, Jim Brodie. A San Franciscan, an expert both in martial arts and in the art and antiquities of the Far East, bilingual Japanese-speaker, expert in Japanese culture, and half owner of a high-profile private detective agency in Tokyo, Jim Brodie is one of those invincible, larger-than-life figures you encounter from time to time in novels of this sort.

Japantown is a cut above the rest — informed by the author’s 30-year residence in Japan and his command of the language, flawlessly structured and plotted, with blood-curdling suspense that builds to a crescendo. Above all, author Barry Lancet successfully conveys the utter foreignness of Japanese culture to American sensibilities. As is so often the case in contemporary thrillers, the growing number of corpses challenges credulity, but you can’t have everything. Still, I’ve already bought Tokyo Kill, the second novel in this series.

Japantown (Jim Brodie #1) by Barry Lancet ★★★★☆

The novel opens with the suspiciously precise execution of a Japanese family of four in San Francisco’s Japantown. The police lieutenant in charge of the case calls in Brodie as a consultant, having turned to him in the past on cases with a Japanese connection and become a close friend over the years. Brodie divides his time between running an art-and-antiques shop in San Francisco and checking in on the detective agency in Tokyo he inherited from his father, so he brings a unique combination of skills to assist the police. In short order, Brodie effectively becomes the chief investigator on the grisly Japantown murder.

As the action heats up — quickly, of course! — we are introduced in stages to Brodie’s back-story (a six-year-old daughter, a dead wife) and to the fabric of Japanese society at its highest levels. You’ll meet a maverick billionaire businessman there, a 300-year-old cult of assassins, and one of the country’s legendary king-makers. If nothing else, Japantown is a chilling portrait of politics in Tokyo. If Lancet is right, it’s even worse than you thought.

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