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A fierce, exquisitely dark novel that plunges us into post–World War II Occupied Japan in a Rashomon-like retelling of a mass poisoning (based on an actual event), its aftermath, and the hidden wartime atrocities that led to the crime.
On January 26, 1948, a man identifying himself as a public health official arrives at a bank in Tokyo. There has been an outbreak of dysentery in the neighborhood, he explains, and he has been assigned by Occupation authorities to treat everyone who might have been exposed to the disease. Soon after drinking the medicine he administers, twelve employees are dead, four are unconscious, and the “official” has fled . . .
Twelve voices tell the story of the murder from different perspectives. One of the victims speaks, for all the victims, from the grave. We read the increasingly mad notes of one of the case detectives, the desperate letters of an American occupier, the testimony of a traumatized survivor. We meet a journalist, a gangster-turned-businessman, an “occult detective,” a Soviet soldier, a well-known painter. Each voice enlarges and deepens the portrait of a city and a people making their way out of a war-induced hell.
Occupied City immerses us in an extreme time and place with a brilliantly idiosyncratic, expressionistic, mesmerizing narrative. It is a stunningly audacious work of fiction from a singular writer.
Set in 1948 and based on a Japanese murder case, Peace's second novel in his Tokyo trilogy (after Tokyo Year Zero) is a tour de force. One afternoon, just after closing, a man posing as a health official arrives at a Tokyo bank. He gets the bank's employees to ingest poison by pretending to inoculate them against dysentery, then escapes with the bank's money. In Roshomon fashion, a number of disparate characters, including Murray Thompson, an American army doctor who's convinced the Japanese are lying about bioweapons experimentation, offer dramatically different perspectives on a horrific crime that claims 12 lives. By presenting these points of view through newspaper articles, police reports, and letters to a faraway spouse, Peace humanizes his characters and provides subtle insights into how they interpret the facts of the mass murder. This literary thriller will more than satisfy readers with a taste for ambiguity.