Review published on August 6, 2018.
This is the author’s second novel, a sequel to his debut Blue Light Yokohama (a title which I reviewed). Once again, we’re with Kosuke Iwata, though post the events of Blue Light Yokohama he’s no longer with Tokyo’s homicide division, but instead has returned to California where he works as private eye, surveilling unfaithful husbands. But when his late wife’s mother approaches him and demands his help solving the murder of Meredith, her transgender daughter and the sister of Kosuke’s wife, he has no choice but to acquiesce. He soon finds that Meredith’s death isn’t the first, that there’s been a string of transgender women murdered. As his investigation unfolds, Kosuke soon finds himself embroiled in a malevolent conspiracy.
One of the selling points of the original book was that it gave the reader an insight into both Japanese culture and Japanese policing, worlds that are not very understood by many in the West. I have to admit to being a little disappointed that the author has chosen to move away from that and relocate his hero to LA. In an already very crowded marketplace – crime fiction is the most popular genre in the UK, hugely popular throughout the world, and consequently many crime novels are published each year – it felt like he had sacrificed his USP. That said, the first novel established Kosuke as a character and I was keen to see how he progressed, while the book is well written and so I soon forgot these minor reservations.
In some ways Sins As Scarlet harks back to the great PI novels of old, there was something a little Philip Marlowe about the lonely character Kosuke cut as he traipsed around the seedier side of LA working his case. This is obviously a grittier read than such titles though, more Chandler meets James Elroy. Sins As Scarlet also touches on some sensitive and current themes: illegal immigration, transgender issues, the violence and discrimination both communities face. As well as the main plot, the author takes the time to flesh out Kosuke and his tortured family background somewhat more and we get a deeper understanding of what makes the character tick. This bodes well for the continuation of the series.
Sins As Scarlet is an accomplished novel and a great read. I enjoyed it as much as the author’s debut, albeit on a different level. It’s a very different book to the Blue Light Yokohama, the move away from Japan and back to the States giving Sins As Scarlet a very different vibe. This isn’t a bad thing, both books are enjoyable, but it is worth mentioning. It will be interesting to see where book three takes us and I look forward to reading it.
James Pierson 4/4
Sins As Scarlet by Nicolás Obregón
Michael Joseph 9780718184056 hbk Jul 2018