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Greed Trickles Down

Michael Pronko Author Interview

Azabu Getaway follows a detective in Japan who investigates a murder and kidnapping. This case takes the detective into a dark world of greed, and he must find the girls before more violence occurs. What was the inspiration for the mystery in your story?

I was reading all these articles about how wealthy businesses and individuals were moving their money overseas to avoid taxes, and it really irritated me. Most people stumble around, complain, and pay their taxes, but some feel the need to avoid paying any tax at all. They really got away with it, so it all seemed so simple and so unfair. I wanted to look at how that system affects ordinary people, and what it means. I don’t believe in any economic trickle-down theories, but I’m sure that greed trickles down. I also wanted to look at how non-Japanese live in Tokyo, and how they integrate into life or fail to. That’s a topic close to home for me. So, all of that mixed together into this mystery about marriage and crime.

With five books (so far) for Detective Hiroshi, he has faced a number of unique and creative adversaries. Where do you get your inspiration for the villains in your novels?

I’d like to say the inspiration is outside of me, but I think all of us have some degree of villainy lurking inside of us. One of the problems of the media is they don’t go into the motivations of criminals, so that’s why novels are so important, to give us a more rounded and complex view of why crime happens. I don’t think it’s about taking a crime and putting that into a character. It goes both ways. Usually, I start by wondering what kind of person would do these terrible things and then think about why. In that sense, Detective Hiroshi is not fighting crime but fighting individuals. The adversaries are very good at what they do, even though they do horrible things. So, I imagine how that kind of person would think or act, and then I ratchet it up a level or two.

What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?

I often rewrite while I’m commuting. I try to find a not-too-scrunched space on the train or at least with enough room to move my right hand, which isn’t easy on Tokyo trains. And then I pull out a pen and work over a few printed pages. Fairly old school, but the paper printout seems to give space to the words and makes them special. Writing on the train helps me see the flow of words differently. I have to finish the chapter before the last stop. When I get home, or to my office, I type the changes in and print them out for the next commute. It seems to help me focus.

Will you be continuing the Detective Hiroshi series, or do you have any new series planned? 

I have several more in the series outlined, so I’ll finish those. There is a new detective, Ishii, and Hiroshi will have some changes in his home life. I do have another new series planned, one written in the first person, and also set in Tokyo, but it’s still in the planning stages. I’ll probably work on two historical standalone mysteries I’ve been researching before I start that new series, though. I’ll squeeze in another collection of non-fiction essays about Tokyo life, too. Lots more to write!

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Money isn’t the only thing. It’s the deadly thing.

After the murder of a high-flying executive in one of Tokyo’s wealth management firms, Detective Hiroshi finds himself investigating the financial schemes that secure the money of Tokyo’s elite investors. His forensic accounting gets sidetracked, though, by a second murder and the abduction of two girls from the home of a hotshot wealth manager.

The abducted girls are the daughters of an international couple who seemed to have it all—a large apartment in the high-end Azabu district, top schools for the children, and a life of happy affluence. Their life falls apart and they are swept up in threats and pursuits for reasons they cannot fathom.

Tracking the money and tracking the two daughters leads Hiroshi into Tokyo’s murky financial past and outside Japan’s borders as he discovers how overseas investments and tax shelters are really managed.

Hiroshi works with Sakaguchi and Takamatsu and others on the homicide team, including an assertive new detective, as they confront greed and violence in one of the wealthiest cities in the world.

Azabu Getaway is the fifth novel in the award-winning Detective Hiroshi series.

“A series that’s only getting better.” Kirkus Reviews

“If there’s a better crime series set in Japan, I’ve not yet read it.” Crime Thriller Hound.

“Hiroshi is one of the most distinctive and intrepid detectives in contemporary crime fiction.” Best Thrillers.

“Fans of quality police procedurals will welcome more of Hiroshi.” Publishers Weekly

Azabu Getaway

Ripped away from the typical cases he could solve from the safety of his computers, Detective Hiroshi Shimizu is forced into a case with layers of secrets and dark histories. Along with fellow detectives Takamatsu and Ishii, they hurry to track down Patrick Walsh, who broke into his soon-to-be ex-wife’s home and whisked away their two daughters. But the plot thickens when Joseph Leung, CEO of the Nine Dragons, is found murdered in his office. Our brave group of detectives must solve the mystery of his murder and the abduction and how they are connected. But can they solve this complicated mystery before it’s too late?

Azabu Getaway by Michael Pronko is a murder mystery that takes place from different perspectives of the characters. We mainly follow Hiroshi Shimizu and Patrick Walsh and their different journeys in this captivating plot. I thoroughly enjoyed all the characters, Detective Hiroshi is an enjoyable reluctant hero, and Patrick is a caring father you can’t help rooting for. However, it is worth noting that the other detectives, Takamatsu and Ishii, won my heart completely. Takamatsu is a character I grew fond of because of his laid-back, sometimes snarky attitude and humor, which complemented rookie Detective Ishii’s easy-going attitude, and her tenacity and intelligence. Truly, all the characters were interesting and played a role in this adrenaline-inducing story.

This was an incredible story that kept me interested in every new development. The only critique I would give is that the ending seemed rushed, but that would be the only thing I would fix. Everything else was great, with excellent grammar, world-building, and intriguing characters you grow fond of. I think it’s a great story if you’re seeking a murder mystery to keep you interested.

Azabu Getaway (Detective Hiroshi Series Book 5) is a fast-paced, thrilling crime novel that gives readers an excellent mystery to follow and memorable characters they will want to get to know more about. Readers will enjoy the adventure they are taken on in Japan as the hunt for a killer takes the detective team into a world of wealth, greed, and violence.

Pages: 324 | ASIN : B0B4FMYGC4

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What Can That Do To People?

Michael Pronko
Michael Pronko Author Interview

Tokyo Zangyo follows Detective Hiroshi into Tokyo’s intense corporate world to solve the mystery of the death of a top executive. What inspired you to take Hiroshi into Tokyo’s corporate world in this novel?

The news is filled with stories of suicides from overwork, depression from work-related stress, many forms of harassment, the job-quitting rate. The large companies in Japan have long wielded tremendous power all through society. It affects everything. My students, for example, devote most of their energy in the last year and a half of university to getting into a company. They skip classes for interviews, ask for extensions on assignments, and generally freak out, all in the pursuit of a good job. I’ve heard some startling and sad stories from my students about their experiences after they’ve started working. When classmates get together after they graduate and start working, they often invite me to come along. It’s great to see them mature and grow into their lives. But also, after a few drinks, the truth about their workplaces comes out. More often than not, the truth is pretty grim. The Japanese dream is to get a job in one of the big companies, and there’s a powerful and impressive side to Tokyo’s corporate world, of course, but the downside is more of the focus in this novel.

What were some ideas that were important for you to personify in your characters?

One of the ideas is about the importance of work, its centrality to our lives. Many Japanese build lives around working and working only, so that they get cut off from other facets of life. It’s a kind of religion in some ways, or at least a set of sincerely held beliefs. The characters in the novel are pressured by those ideas and controlled by them. Japanese workplaces are very authoritarian in some ways, but quite democratic in others. As in all societies, some things work phenomenally well, but others are not very healthy. So, the novel explores those kinds of ideas through the characters and looks at the intensity of workplace pressure. What can that do to people?

How did the idea for the character’s motives come to fruition for you?

I think that almost all people want to be treated with respect at work and also to succeed. So, those are basic motives. They want to fit in and contribute, which is a strong motive in Japanese culture, but they also want to be themselves, to live freely. So, those conflicting motives can become very, very complicated. The characters in Tokyo Zangyo want a lot of things, but the system wants a lot of things from them in return. So, those conflicting motives are not easy to negotiate, and can drive people to extremes—suicide, murder, mental illness, and very strange ways of coping. The inner dynamic of the novel is having to figure out how to handle the pressure of work.

What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?

The story revolves around an international marriage in Tokyo. In Japan, after a divorce, custody of the children is usually awarded to the wife, and the husband can be denied all rights of visitation. Child abduction has become an issue as well, with one parent abducting the children and then fighting it out in the courts for years. And when there’s not enough money, or too much money, things can get a lot worse. It will be out in the summer of 2022.

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In Tokyo, your job can kill

After a top-tier manager in Japan’s premier media company ends up dead in front of company headquarters, Detective Hiroshi enters the high-pressure, hard-driving world of Tokyo’s large corporations. Hiroshi quickly finds out the manager fell from the roof at the exact same spot as an employee suicide three years before.

With little more to go on, Hiroshi can’t tell if the manager’s death was a guilt-ridden suicide, a careless accident, or a grisly personnel decision. The only certainty is that Japanese workplaces rely on “zangyo,” unpaid overtime that drives employees to quit—or to kill.

Teaming up with his mentor Takamatasu, Hiroshi scours the off-record spending, lavish entertaining and unspoken agreements that keep Japan, Inc. running with brutal efficiency. Working overtime himself, Hiroshi probes the dark heart of Japanese business, a place he’s tried to avoid all his life.

Tokyo Zangyo is the fourth in the Detective Hiroshi series.

Tokyo Zangyo

Tokyo Zangyo (Detective Hiroshi Series Book 4) by [Michael Pronko]

Tokyo Zangyo, by Michael Pronko, is the engrossing story of Detective Hiroshi Shimizu, who is put in charge of solving the case of murder victim Shigeru Onizuka. Under the authority of Detective Sakaguchi, Hiroshi must delve into the unsavory practices of a large corporation located in Marunouchi, Japan’s business district, to uncover the truth. As Hiroshi sets out to investigate Onizuka’s death, purposely set up to look like suicide, he finds himself entangled with questionable people and suspecting some he trusts. While considering these revelations, Hiroshi finds himself plunged into a corrupt world of sexual exploitation, harassment, and cloak-and-dagger practices.

Author Michael Pronko writes this mystery convincingly. He has created realistic characters the reader will sympathize with, and some they will loathe. He puts the reader into each situation and transitions the scenes smoothly. Pronko also gradually reveals the true character of Onizuka, the victim. We, like Hiroshi, learn about Onizuka’s personality as each new aspect is discovered. Pronko’s dialogue is engaging and crisp. His characters’ words reveal what is necessary to develop the story, and keeps it moving along toward the inevitable climax. Like all great mysteries, Tokyo Zangyo has its twists and turns, as well as a few red herrings and surprising revelations. Pronko clearly and cleverly ties up all the loose ends in a way that feels satisfying and entertaining.

While the unique and exotic (at least to me) character names were interesting and gave the story an air of authenticity, I had difficultly pronouncing the character names in my mind, which pulled me from my suspension of disbelief. However, I was so captivated by the story I was able to fall back into the action, due to Pronko being a talented writer.

Tokyo Zangyo is yet another thrilling crime fiction story by prolific mystery writer Michael Pronko. With a believable cast of characters, an engrossing storyline, and superb writing, Pronko has delivered a hard-boiled whodunit any murder mystery fan will enjoy. Tokyo Zangyo is one of the best in the mystery genre.

Pages: 340 | ASIN: B0964KJH49

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Aren’t We All Some Kind of Contradiction?

Michael Pronko Author Interview

Michael Pronko Author Interview

In Tokyo Traffic detective Hiroshi is once again called in, to solve a crime that involves human trafficking and crypto-currency scamming. Did you know what criminal themes you were going to use for this novel or did they develop while writing?

The theme was there from the beginning, but only in an abstract way. The concrete actions and decisions of the characters, along with the motivations and results, shaped the themes and made it something to see and touch and feel. The interesting part is how they develop inside the characters. As those broad themes became embodied in the characters, they came alive.

At first the theme of human trafficking threatened to swamp the whole story. It’s too big and too horrible. The more I thought about it, the more I wondered how can they get away with that? How can something so vicious and inhumane just keep going? And who’s “they”? Part of the answer is cryptocurrency. Follow the money to where theme meets characters. Some people will cast aside all human feeling for money, and cryptocurrency makes that easier. Its hidden, digital, clean. Of course, the way of the future will probably be all kinds of digital currencies, but the downside is how people use that illicitly, and for such terrible purposes.

This being book three in your series was there anything new you wanted to introduce into Hiroshi’s character?

He moves in with his girlfriend and works at being with her and not sleeping in his office on a pull-out futon. That’s hard work for him. Overall, Hiroshi gets a bit more of his footing in this novel. His skill set is limited, so he bumps against his own limitations, but he learns to pay attention to what he stumbles onto, what he suspects but isn’t sure of, and what others tell him. An intuitive accountant may sound like a contradiction, but aren’t we all some kind of contradiction? We all have that internal division between our different sides.

What were some challenges you set for yourself as a writer with this book?

This one took me a lot longer to finish than the second one. The tricky part was having three main characters. Before I’d always just focused on two. Adding that third one made the story exponentially harder to keep track of. Braiding the three threads of the bad guy, the victim and the detective, plus the people on their side, was tricky. It was like passing a point-of-view baton. The race kept going as each character carried it a bit further. But to me, that’s very Tokyo-like, different kinds of stories flung together.

It was also a challenge to have two young women as main characters. Sukanya doesn’t know Tokyo at all and Chiho knows Tokyo all too well. So, those two different young women and their different views of Tokyo were hard to get right. But I felt their point of view was important. They see the city so differently than I do, but that’s the interesting part. I’m not sure I set those as challenges for myself, writing is enough of a challenge in and of itself, but those became the challenges to tell the story the way I wanted to.

Does Tokyo Traffic end the story for detective Hiroshi or do you have other novels planned?

I have two more in the Hiroshi series already outlined. The one I’m working on right now is titled Tokyo Overtime. It’s about the pressures of the workplace. What other country in the world has a word, karoshi, for death from overwork? After that, I’m planning to write about the whole fish industry, which is very big business in Japan. Two years ago, one of the owners of a sushi chain restaurant paid the equivalent of three million dollars for a single six-hundred-pound bluefin tuna! After that, I have notes for a standalone with sumo wrestler-turned-detective Sakaguchi and Detective Takamatsu is ripe for a prequel about his early, rough days. So, I’ll see where those lead. I’m looking forward to finding out.

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Tokyo Traffic (Detective Hiroshi Tokyo Series Book 3) by [Michael Pronko]

Running from a life she didn’t choose, in a city she doesn’t know Sukanya, a young Thai girl, loses herself in the vastness of Tokyo. With her Bangkok street smarts, and some stolen money, she stays ahead of her former captors who will do anything to recover the computer she took. After befriending Chiho, a Japanese girl living in an internet café, Sukanya makes plans to rid herself of her pursuers, and her past, forever.

In Tokyo, street smarts aren’t always enough

Meanwhile, Detective Hiroshi Shimizu leaves the safe confines of his office to investigate a porn studio where a brutal triple murder took place. The studio’s accounts point him in multiple directions at once. Together with ex-sumo wrestler Sakaguchi and old-school Takamatsu, Hiroshi tracks the killers through Tokyo’s music clubs and teen hangouts, bayside docks and byways, straight into the underbelly of the global economy.

As bodies wash up from Tokyo Bay, Hiroshi tries to find the Thai girl at the center of it all, whose name he doesn’t even know. He uncovers a human trafficking ring and cryptocurrency scammers whose connections extend to the highest levels of Tokyo’s power elite.

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Tokyo Traffic

Tokyo Traffic (Detective Hiroshi Tokyo Series Book 3) by [Michael Pronko]

When bodies start to pop up in Tokyo bay detective Hiroshi is one again called in to solve the horrible case and put together the pieces to a perplexing crime that involves the grim underworld of human trafficking and crypto-currency scamming.

Pronko’s characters are always something I look forward to. This being the third book in the Detective Hiroshi Tokyo series I found detective Hiroshi to be a well established character but Hiroshi Shimizu continues to hold an allure that is subtle yet ever present. While the investigation seems to go off in many directions I was always impressed with Hiroshi’s detective skills, which were always believable, which allowed me to follow an otherwise circuitous story easily.

Sukanya is the story of a girl lost in a big city. She’s being chased by thugs but luckily for her her cunning and intelligence keeps her one step ahead of the villains. It’s always nice to see strong female leads and with Sukanya and Chiho we’re treated to a nuanced view of women contending with a dense city that cares little for them by using their own wits.

The way in which these two genuinely intriguing characters riveting story lines come together is something that I rarely see and makes Tokyo Traffic the most thrilling book I’ve read this year. We’re treated to modern versions of Japanese culture that have evolved in the shadow of Tokyo. Michael Pronko creates the backdrop to this story as if it is a character all on its own and invites readers into this colorful world in an easy yet striking way.

If you’re looking for a thrilling crime fiction set in an exotic location then Tokyo Traffic is a prime choice. The enigmatic mystery at the heart of this intriguing novel was something I swiftly gave up in trying to solve as I realized that the chaotic and dramatic journey was the fun part. Tokyo Traffic is an exceptional ending to an extraordinary series from a mystery writer that knows how to entertain.

Pages: 341 | ASIN: B087QVRXZB

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A Different Kind of Curiosity

Michael Pronko Author Interview

Michael Pronko Author Interview

The Moving Blade follows detective Hiroshi as he navigates street level politics to solve the murder of an American diplomat. What was the direction that you wanted to take book two in the series that was different from book one?

The direction I wanted to take it is not the direction it ended up going. So, I headed more into the characters, who became more and more interesting. I focused on the roiling tumble of conflicts inside them, and what that might reflect of social, political and historical conflicts outside. I think that’s similar to book one, but because the characters are embedded into a larger framework of political pressures and international relations, their actions resonate differently. The canvas is broader in this second book, and I go deeper into Tokyo, to see the background of the characters and their choices, good and bad.

I enjoyed the mix of interesting characters throughout the novel. Who was your favorite character to write for?

I like all of them. Well, I don’t like the bad guys, but I like hating them. My favorites were maybe the bookstore owner twins and the radical leftist. They were fun to write and to put in scenes together, the twins steady and demure and the leftist stridently angry. Sakaguchi, the ex-sumo wrestler, is always fun to write for. He has this core set of values that is rock solid Japanese. When he explodes, he really explodes. And of course, Hiroshi developed and grew as a person and as a detective, in perhaps meandering ways, but human ways. The women characters are great to write for, too, as they pull the story in their direction.

It quickly unfolds that the missing manuscript was the driving factor behind the diplomat’s death. How do you balance storytelling with mystery and action to ensure readers are engaged to the very last page?

Among all the different types of mysteries, whodunnits, whydunnits, I-dunnits, I didn’t-do-its, I tend towards the why. Maybe because I was a philosophy major? Not-knowing who creates a different kind of curiosity than not-knowing why. Withholding certain pieces of information is essential. As Alfred Hitchcock pointed out, if you know there’s a bomb under the table, but the characters don’t…well, that’s suspense. And if you don’t know why the bomb is under the table in the first place, it’s really intriguing. As jazz musicians often say, and I think Mozart said it originally, the music is not in the notes, but in the silence between. I think writing should be aware of what’s not spoken, what’s not known. The unknowns make you lean in and pay attention.

Where will book three in the Detective Hiroshi series take readers? 

Book three is called Tokyo Traffic. The story revolves around a young Thai girl who gets lost in Tokyo, after running away from some horrible people. She is rescued by a young Japanese woman who lives in an internet café and plays in a rock band. Most of the story takes place in the nighttime youth hangouts in Shibuya and Shimokitazawa, another side of Tokyo. The detectives are the same, though Hiroshi has moved in with his college girlfriend and Takamatsu is off suspension. It goes deeper into the characters and deeper into Tokyo.

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The Moving Blade by [Pronko, Michael]

When the top American diplomat in Tokyo, Bernard Mattson, is killed, he leaves more than a lifetime of successful Japan-American negotiations. He leaves a missing manuscript, boxes of research, a lost keynote speech and a tangled web of relations.

When his alluring daughter, Jamie, returns from America wanting answers, finding only threats, Detective Hiroshi Shimizu is dragged from the safe confines of his office into the street-level realities of Pacific Rim politics.

With help from ex-sumo wrestler Sakaguchi, Hiroshi searches for the killer from back alley bars to government offices, through anti-nuke protests to military conspiracies. When two more bodies turn up, Hiroshi must choose between desire and duty, violence or procedure, before the killer silences his next victim.

THE MOVING BLADE is the second in the Tokyo-based Detective Hiroshi series by award-winning author Michael Pronko.

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The Moving Blade

The Moving Blade by [Pronko , Michael ]

This book made it to my favorites list before I even finished reading it. I am a sucker for a good mystery and The Moving Blade provides suspense and intrigue from the very first chapter. In fact, the first chapter is what kept me going through the next several chapters which do get a bit dry as far as action goes. However, I love the authors style of writing which is very descriptive without being overly wordy and this keeps the reader interested even when nothing spectacularly interesting is happening.

The characters are effortlessly interesting which I think is pretty hard to accomplish, so kudos to the author there as well. I particularly enjoyed the scenes with Shibata, who was an old friend of Jamie’s recently deceased father. Shibata is eager to meet with Jamie after her father’s (Bernard Mattson)  funeral and while his demeanor is calm and kind and heartwarming you can tell there is something more to him than he lets on to. It’s also clear early on that Jamie is in for more than she bargained for and that staying in Tokyo to settle her father’s affairs will not be as simple as expected.

The main intrigue of the story surrounds Bernard Mattson’s writings, which are unpublished but well sought after at the time of his death. In fact, Jamie immediately finds herself bombarded by those who wish to obtain them. The detectives on the case of Mattson’s murder are unsure that his death was politically motivated, but it quickly unfolds that the missing manuscript was probably the driving factor behind his death.

The book is a good mix of drama between its many likeable characters and the action that can be expected from a murder mystery. I love the imagery that the author invokes with his good use of descriptions. For instance, reading about the book shop owned by the Endo brothers (maybe because I love books!) gave me such a great image of the shop. I find that in a lot of newer books that I pick up these types of small details are left out and they really make or break a book in my opinion. I also loved the description of Shibata’s home. When Jamie mentioned that she somewhat remembered his house, he told her that it was actually a completely different house and only looked the same on the inside. These little details are a great addition to the literary quality of the book and I found them throughout the story.

These are the types of things that really stand out to me and give the author distinction as a great writer. Some books you read because they’re quick and fun, but like I said, this one ended up on my favorite’s list because of the great writing.

Pages: 339 | ASIN: B07GCYRY61

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