BLUE LIGHT YOKOHAMA by Nicolás Obregón is a dense and layered police procedural set in contemporary Japan. The title is that of a song which keeps playing in the mind of the main character; like the song, the book is one I won’t soon forget because of evocative descriptions, dramatic character flaws, and the double twist ending.

Inspector Iwata is a youngish but experienced detective reassigned to Tokyo after an extended leave. The reason for the break in his professional life isn’t revealed right away and is one of the elements that keep us guessing.

Iwata quickly runs into a cranky boss, abusive coworkers, and a junior partner with a chip on her shoulder. He is assigned to a murder case previously handled by a cop who committed suicide.

The case might be a random killing but Iwata discovers a clue in the form of a symbol of a black sun. Days later, the sun is seen at a second crime scene. The symbol is an eerie reminder of the book’s prologue, in which the soon-to-be-dead cop sees it tattooed on a woman as she jumps to her death.

More clues to the murder cases flicker by in subtle and elegant fashion as Iwata grapples with his personal misery and the lyrics to the title song play in the background of his inner voice. Iwata’s mystique is further reinforced by scenes that call into question his current sexual preference and reason for his inner turmoil. His backstory unfolds in a series of flashbacks in a style reminiscent of Peter May’s THE BLACKHOUSE. These tragic vignettes slowly put his current actions into perspective.

In what becomes a “last man standing” device, the black sun investigation is hamstrung by Iwata’s fellow detectives and his partner’s truculent attitude. When Iwata is finally able to corral some help, the climax delivers surprises I never saw coming.

BLUE LIGHT YOKOHAMA is a moody, poetic, and immersive read with a deeply troubled hero whose sanity is challenged even before a police investigation leads him into dark places. Obregón has a lyrical yet unflinching writing style, and the ability to twist a mystery plot in upon itself.

In short, BLUE LIGHT YOKOHAMA is an intriguing start to a new and unusual Japanese noir police series.

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