'Tokyo Year Zero' Gets Under Readers' Skin Some thrillers hit you over the head. But David Peace's latest post-war novel, Tokyo Year Zero, is more subtle. Peace has written half a dozen books that were well-received in England. His first American release is full of sound effects.


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'Tokyo Year Zero' Gets Under Readers' Skin

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Some thrillers hit you over the head. David Peace's latest post-war novel, on the other hand, has more subtle effects. Peace has written half a dozen books that have been well-received in England. His first American release is called "Tokyo Year Zero." And reviewer Alan Cheuse says it's full of sounds.

ALAN CHEUSE: As soon as this novel gets going, in a nearly flattened Tokyo, just after the surrender of Japan to the Allied forces in the Pacific, the book's main character, police detective Minami begins to itch.

I itch from black-headed lice, says this tortured soul of a cop, defeated as a man by the pains and desires that afflict him, defeated as a homicide detective even though he's instrumental in extracting a confession from a wily serial killer, defeated as Japanese citizen in the wake of the Allied victory.

I scratch. Gari-gari. That's how the glossary to this extensively researched novel renders the sound of scratching in Japanese. I get up from the low table. I itch. I scratch. Gari-gari. I go over to the kitchen sink. I itch. I scratch. Gari-gari.

That's just a touch of how David Peace depicts his main character's police work and his heightened awareness of the physical world.

Ton-ton, ton-ton, ton-ton, hammers echo throughout the city as citizens, survivors of the massive American bombing runs that have flattened much of Tokyo, rebuild from scratch. Gari-gari. Chiku-taku, chiku-taku, chiku-taku.

Time inches along for the detective as a series of ticks on a clock. Potsu-potsu, potsu-potsu. Drip-drop, drip-drop, goes the rain. Gari-gari, chiku-taku, potsu-potsu, ton-ton, ton-ton-ton.

With amounting chorus of sounds, Peace brings alive the harrowing mental state of the detective on the case and punctuates the story of his official quest for the killer and his personal quest to dampen nightmares of a humiliated city that stinks of decaying bodies, of feces and defeat.

"Tokyo Year Zero" is a many layered mystery. For those who want to do more than just scratch, gari-gari, the surface of things. It certainly got under my skin.

NORRIS: The novel is "Tokyo Year Zero" by David Peace. Alan Cheuse teaches writings at George Mason University. And our book coverage continues online. There you'll find a new installment of our series, You Must Read This, author Maile Meloy on the novel "The Cloud Atlas." That's at NPR.org.

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