tokyo by Mo Hayder

“Because ignorance, as I’d got tired of hearing, is no excuse for evil.” 

Rarely does a book haunt me but ‘tokyo’ (or ‘The Devil of Nanking’) by Mo Hayder tortured me with vivid nightmares long after I’d turned the final page.

Mo Hayder, author of ‘Birdman’ and ‘The Treatment’, takes the concept of evil and impressively, albeit shockingly, weaves it into a complex tapestry focussed on the Nanking massacre of 1937. With mass slaughter comes brutality, cruelty, and savagery – three things ‘tokyo’ is not short of.

Now imagine there was a film of such atrocities.

That’s the basis of ‘tokyo’. Grey, a young and troubled woman from England, begins her obsessive search for the Nanking film in Japan, where she locates Shi Chongming – a professor who she believes can help her. The story is split in two. It flips between 1990’s Tokyo – as Grey doggedly hunts for the roll of film – and the 1937 Japanese invasion and massacre of Nanking. It is the latter which allows Mo Hayder’s exceptionally detailed writing to shine, breathing life into historical events – though in a chilling fashion.

All good authors draw upon their own unique experiences to conjur evocative imagery simply from words in a book. Mo Hayder, previously an escort in an illustrious Japanese gentleman’s club, channels her own encounters and projects them through Grey’s eyes. Witnessing the inner workings of such secretive and unvoiced organisations was the most captivating part of the book.

The story could have done without Jason, however, a creepy American who serves no real purpose other than to be an obnoxious pervert. Grey’s infatuation, and her inability to look at him without keeling over, adds to her unappealing nature – something which intermittently threatens to quash the rousing voice threaded through the bones of ‘tokyo’.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how feeble and wishy-washy Grey’s character is. ‘tokyo’ carries an important and thought-provoking narrative that concludes with a candid look at the essence of human beings, culture, and, ultimately, existence.

Book Worm’s score: 8.5/10