REVIEW:  Non-Stop Till Tokyo by KJ Charles

REVIEW: Non-Stop Till Tokyo by KJ Charles


A man with a past is her only hope for the future.
Kerry Ekdahl’s mixed heritage and linguistics skills could have made her a corporate star. Instead, she’s a hostess in a high-end Tokyo bar, catering to businessmen who want conversation, translation and flirtation. Easy money, no stress. Life is good—until she’s framed for the murder of a yakuza boss.
Trapped in rural Japan with the gangsters closing in, Kerry doesn’t stand a chance. Then help arrives in the menacing form of Chanko, a Samoan-American ex-sumo wrestler with a bad attitude, a lot of secrets, and a mission she doesn’t understand.
Kerry doesn’t get involved with dangerous men. Then again, she’s never had one on her side before. And the big, taciturn fighter seems determined to save her life, even if they rub each other the wrong way.
Then her friends are threatened, and Kerry has no choice but to return to Tokyo and face the yakuza. Where she learns, too late, that the muscle man who’s got her back could be poised to stab it.

Warning: Contains graphic violence, swearing, and implied sexual abuse.

Heed the warning in the blurb please! The rape is not shown, but there is a scene of graphic physical violence against another woman in the book. I would say that the details of most violence are not shown, only results are mentioned, but that scene was graphic enough for me, although not very long

Dear KJ Charles,

I was very pleasantly surprised that your new book is set in modern Japan after reading (and loving) your m/m series set in AU Victorian England. It is always nice to see a writer who is not writing the same story over and over again. But I will be honest: right now the phrase “will read a cook book” does apply to how I feel about your writing, so it was not really a stretch that I wanted to read your m/f romance set in modern Japan.

The settings are very detailed and I felt as if I was in Japan. The narrator throws in details which only a person who spent time in Japan is likely to know. Kerry is fluent in Japanese and many other languages so it makes sense that from time to time there are some Japanese words appearing in the book – not that many, and they are explained or you can easily figure them out from context, but they are there. Of course I do not know whether those words are correct, whether settings details are correct, I want to think that author did her research, but I just do not know. I do know that now I want to visit Japan as a tourist even more than I did before. I also wonder whether the author speaks Japanese or just used really good beta readers who speak Japanese, but comments about the language that Kerry makes like this one for example help add the authenticity and made me feel that the narrator is indeed fluent in the language even if the person who is fluent in Japanese and will tell me that most of those details were incorrect. I guess it is written with a sense of authority, because when I hear something like this, I assume that the person is very familiar with the language.

“One of the commonest problems English speakers have with Japanese is remembering to leave out the subjects and pronouns that English repeats incessantly. If you mention that a dog bit your ankle, in English you might add, “I kicked it.” The same comment in Japanese, though, would be “Kicked.” It’s obvious from context who kicked and what got kicked, so unless you’re bringing in something new, you don’t need nouns and pronouns, even though most English speakers keep on putting them for safety.”

The book opens with a bang. Kerry is running for her life from Yakuza men and that opening sequence was intense and hooked me on the book. I was a little confused initially because right after the opening sequence Kerry starts explaining to the reader what caused her to run for her life and I was thinking – oh really, and why would Kerry the character do it besides the fact that reader needs to know? But I quickly realized that a) she was on the train, so it made sense that she could take a short breather at least and b) she was not telling me her entire life story yet. I suppose that if my life is in danger, the reason why it is in danger would be on my mind.

I was a little irritated with Kerry at first. You see, she is a polyglot; she picks up languages very fast. She is fantastic in some and only very good with others, but she seemed to think that working as a translator in a legit job would be boring and instead eventually found the job described in the blurb. I mean, we learn the bar owner tried very hard to not mix her girls with yakuza, and until the events that start off the book pretty much succeeded, so it is not like Kerry deliberately went and put herself in danger. She worked as a hostess; the bar was not a bordel, unless the hostesses chose to do more in their spare time. But I was still a touch irritated with her. Of course I did not think she deserved the horror which was happening to her, or was to blame for it, of course not. I kept thinking about it and then I realized that I just felt that she was wasting her gift by choosing to be a hostess which simply hit a little too close to home for me, so it was just my personal reaction (I really wanted to be a translator at some point in my life). But my irritation went away pretty fast. I really liked this woman. Kerry just seemed to be such a mix of reactions, contradictions, little flaws and still was decent and loyal – just as most people are in my opinion.

I liked that she was really scared when she was trying to save herself from Yakuza but rolled with the punches, and at the same time did not show perfect reactions when she had to face danger. I really hate when in the movies or books which have action/adventure storylines civilians who never before had to fight for their lives, suddenly become better fighters than people who do that for a living. I also really liked that the main (the only) reason Kerry eventually manages to get the Yakuza off her back is because she has friends. And I liked that getting Yakuza off her back did not mean that these friends became the heroes who freed Japan from Yakuza’ influence or anything like that. Let’s just say that because of their wits and joint talents they prevailed in a very limited way which allowed them to get immediate justice and live their lives without worrying about their deaths coming before the time given by nature would come, but that’s about it. I liked that Yakuza was not romanticized in this book in any way, shape, or form. These are criminals, dangerous criminals, they would not shy away from any criminal activity and they would do a lot of harm including physical harm to those who cross them.

I loved her friends; Youshi, Taka and Sonja were all distinct characters in their own right, who begged for their stories to be told. In fact women in this story are all very interesting, *all of them*. None of them are Saints, none of them are Devils, and unless they had tiny role to play in the story, they felt like a real human beings to me. In fact here is the taste of the writing for you – this is part of a lengthier action sequence which takes place when they are trying to save one of her friends from Yakuza.

“Finally, as the train pulled into Ikubero, a number of things did happen, pretty much at once.
One of the yakuza in the carriage to Sonja’s right had been jammed up against a woman for much of the journey. She was probably a bit chunky for his taste, and definitely past her prime, as she was pushing thirty, and I don’t imagine he even noticed her until, as the train lurched slightly as it slowed, she swayed against him, gave a shrill gasp of fury, turned and punched him in the groin with a cry of “Groper!”

The yakuza went down like a sack of bricks as any man would do, considering that Junko was a prizewinning kickboxer and her thick mittens were pulled over knuckledusters. The crowd swayed out of the way to let the poor man collapse, whereupon she gave him a short-range kick to the same target with her pointy shoe, adding “Pervert!” with righteous indignation. At this point his partner grabbed at her arm. Junko turned deftly, so that he appeared to be going for her breast instead, let out a shriek of maidenly alarm, and swung her loaded handbag, smacking the second man in the face so hard he went stumbling back into the awed crowd, where a hitherto unnoticed young man in a rather cheap suit jabbed two rigid fingers into his kidney as the train came to a complete stop”.

I liked Junko after I read this passage. Considering the fact that Junko was never mentioned in the story before this scene and was never mentioned again afterward, I think it takes a very talented writer to make me like a character after reading only a few paragraphs about her.

I have not talked about the romantic relationship in the book yet – that is mostly because I do not feel that this book is a romance, whether or not it was intended as such. I mean, yes, Kerry and Chanko form a relationship, but I really did not feel that the book devoted much time to developing that relationship. Chanko is an interesting character with a great backstory. He was tough and smart; he had a no nonsense attitude and couple of times he called Kerry out on her less attractive character quirks. I really liked how Chanko dealt with his past – I would not mind reading a short story about it in fact, if it were ever to appear. Unfortunately I did not feel much of romantic connection between him and Kerry, if any. I mean, obviously the story is a suspense story and they do not have much time to sit around and talk about feelings, or tell each other that they love each other, or anything like that, but I have read stories where a strong romantic connection was shown even in the midst of suspense/action/adventure. Touch to the shoulder could be electrifying, a smile, etc, – I was quite okay with the fact that couple of non explicit sex scenes  felt mostly like fade to black, but I needed an emotional connection and I did not feel any. I am also thinking that part of it was probably because both of the characters had been living in Japan for years and while neither of them was Japanese, they might have assimilated the more restrained attitude about public displays of affection. At some point the narrator says that public displays of affection are not wide spread in Japan, and I kind of knew that, but what about when they are alone? I don’t know, I feel like I should like them together more and I guess saving each other lives’ forms a great reason for liking each other, but I liked them as friends more than I liked them as lovers.

In spite of these caveats, overall I thought that it was a great suspense story with very interesting multilayered characters.

Grade B.

The book is available April 29.

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