Review of ‘Unknown Male’ by Nicolás Obregón

We’re back in self-isolation again, and the week has gone slowly enough, even with working from home, so I wanted to get my teeth into a decent book this weekend to while the hours away. I’d won a copy of ‘Unknown Male’ in a Twitter competition a few weeks ago, and the premise sounded great…

A photo of the back cover of ‘Unknown Male’ by Nicholas Obregon.  Features the text: He is a completely unremarkable man.  Who wears the same black suit every day.  Boards the same train to work each morning, and arrives home to his wife and son each night.  But he has a secret.  He likes to kill people.

I’ve read plenty of crime thrillers in the past, but none set in Japan – I enjoyed the change of pace and the references to local cultures and everyday practice. The other thing that I found fascinating were the similarities and differences between the UK and Japanese police forces. Who knew that in Japan, you can hold someone without charging them for 23 days? I’d recommend this to anyone who enjoys crime thrillers but is maybe in a rut with their reading, and wants something of the genre that will be a bit different.

In terms of Obregón’s style, it probably most reminds me of Robert Galbraith’s Cormoran Strike novels; the author combines the current events with the protagonist’s past to create a novel that works on lots of different levels. There’s also a touch of the Stieg Larson about the narrative – it’s not for the faint-hearted or easily offended, but then most crime reader’s probably wouldn’t bat an eyelid.

I liked the strong female sidekick – DC Lynch – who has unexpected talents and proves herself to be more than capable of working within Tokyo’s male-dominated police force. She acts as the foil to the much darker and more complex character of Detective Iwata. This is the third in a series of novels surrounding Kosuke Iwata, but it reads fine as a stand-alone novel. I’d be interested to read both ‘Blue Light Yokohama’ and ‘Sins as Scarlet’ in the future.

Like Tokyo itself, I did find this novel somewhat disorientating at first. The unfamiliar names meant that I struggled to keep track of the different characters, and I spent most of the first 50 pages furiously leafing back to remind myself whether I‘d already learnt anything about the character mentioned, or if indeed they were new. However, I should have trusted the author on this one, as he did generally add a few hints on the second mention, and once I learnt to just read it without question, I found that it all explained itself.

Unknown Male’ is a dark, at times gory and revolting, crime thriller with lots of twists and turns.

The picture shows the front cover of ‘Unknown Male’.  A man in a black suit is walking through a subway to his train.
You can buy ‘Unknown Male’ here.

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