Kerry Ekdahl is working as a hostess in Primrose Path, one of many bars visited by rich, stressed and shy Tokyo men. However, she is far better than your typical hostess. She can listen patiently to her clients’ woes and joys looking interested all the time, she laughs with them, tells them jokes, makes them feel wanted, appreciated and desired; in return she earns better than her co-workers, far better than any foreign translator, interpreter or English teacher in Japan.
What’s more, languages are Kerry’s specialty – she speaks eight of them fluently and she is a very fast learner. The fact that she is of mixed parentage, half-Swedish half-Chinese, doesn’t hurt either – it means she can change her appearance with the help of wigs and clever make-up tricks, making herself look more European or more Asian as the situation and her clients demand.
One day Kerry’s comfortable, jolly life changes completely. She has been framed by a greedy co-worker and now one branch of powerful Yakuza, the Japanese mafia, is blaming her for the death of their elderly boss. Her presence is no longer welcome in Primrose Path; she must run for her life and she is endangering everybody close to her. Fortunately one of her friends, Taka, owes her a huge favour and is able to assist her. The favour comes in a equally huge form of a Samoan-American ex sumo wrestler, Chanko. Kerry needs help, any help, very badly; still is one big guy enough to save her from the worst? They are going to discover that much in a frantic, non-stop run…till Tokyo.
What I liked:
I loved the setting. I’ve had a thing or two for Japan since my secondary school and if you like that country and its culture then you might want to read this book asap because let’s face it, K.J. Charles has been there, has seen that and completely knows her stuff. I know I am perhaps not the best person to judge but the details about life in Japan ringed very true and the linguistic remarks came with authentic-feeling certainty. These are things you cannot fake.
The book is fast-paced, action-packed, and different from your run of the mill romances. To boot, the plot is interesting and the story is well written. To be fair, I’m not a romantic suspense reader but I enjoyed that one, maybe because the romance definitely takes a backseat to the mystery/suspense plot line, which was entirely what I was expecting. Basically, it’s a solid thriller which starts with a hectic scene in which Kerry is trying to get on the train and out of Tokyo before the yakuza guys notice her, but the tempo tended to get bogged down occasionally with the frequent details and descriptions and explanations and interpretations of the Japanese culture. Which I enjoyed immensely so it was fine.
The main leads were well developed and three-dimensional. I loved it how Kerry didn’t always make the best decisions, but she was selfless to the point of sacrificing herself in order to protect those she cared about. And Chanko was definitely not your typical romance hero as he didn’t fit the sexy-muscled-alpha stereotype, not exactly. As you can guess it suited me just fine. I loved the early scenes with him and Kerry and all the insults and banter flying back and forth. I loved their slow-burning passion.
What I didn’t like:
In my very humble and completely amateur opinion the novel would be even better with a bit of pruning. There were characters and scenes that soon became too repetitive. Like the endless negotiations with Yakuza over the phone which sounded stale after a moment. Or the character of Noriko, Kerry’s flat mate, who was raped by the mafia bad boys and left in a coma. I get it, she was a showcase of ruthlessness of Japanese thugs, a remainder why Kerry had to fight for her life really hard, but did she have to be mentioned every three-four pages or so? After all she was in a coma so not talking or doing anything important…I know, perhaps I sound dispassionate, callous even, but Noriko annoyed be a lot till the very end. Her and Yoshi, who seemed to exist just to whine, carp and deal with computer stuff.
With Non-Stop Till Tokyo K.J. Charles proved that, if you are a good author, you don’t have to be stuck in the same genre in order to write good novels. She is known for her historical m/m romances, especially the Charm of Magpies series so Non-Stop Till Tokyo is a kind of aberration. Still it remains a very good, refreshingly original aberration so I really don’t mind, quite the opposite in fact. Encore!
Other books by K.J. Charles reviewed on this blog: