By Diana Renn
Available now from Viking (Penguin)
TOKYO HEIST, available today, is Diana Renn's first novel. It's a mystery that takes protagonist Violet Rossi from the streets of Seattle to the ryokan of Kyoto. At first, I was very, very worried that I would hate TOKYO HEIST. The press release claims, "[I]t's the Di Vinci Code for the teen generation with an exotic Asian twist." That description made me cringe. Violet doesn't make the best first impression either. This is going to make me sound so old, but her bad work ethic annoyed me.
But the Asian part of TOKYO HEIST is more than an exotic background. The book begins shortly after a set of Van Gogh sketches are stolen from the Yamadas, who are employing Violet's father to paint a mural in their main office in Tokyo, Japan. Once Violet and her father go to Japan, almost all of the other characters are Japanese. Violet's fellow lady sleuth is Reika, a friend who is half-Japanese, half-American, and all happy to have someone she can speak her first language with. Even before the acknowledgements at the end of the novel, it is clear that Renn did her research. She pays attention to cultural detail.
As for Violet, she never realizes that her comic book store boss was normal rather than overbearing. (Seriously, being asked to stock the store and not spend your time doodling or talking with a friend? Totally reasonable. Her former boss even tells her about a comic contest she can enter.) Fortunately, that's a very minor character quibble and most people aren't going to care about it like me. Plus, she proves her mettle in other ways. She's dedicated to solving the mystery and protecting her father. She keeps working on her own comic, Kimono Girl, (including revising!) and helps the Yamadas catalog their art collection.
Kimono Girl often proves helpful to the investigation. As Violet creates a plot loosely based on real-world events, she makes connections she wouldn't have noticed consciously. I am a fan of stories-within-stories, so I liked following along with the fantastical action of Kimono Girl as well as the more realistic TOKYO HEIST.
The book does really get moving once the action moves to Japan. You see, the sketches were stolen, but the painting they were practice for is still missing. It should be somewhere in the Yamadas' possession, but they haven't found it. And a yakuza boss wants the painting - or else. The FBI does what they can to help, but the Yamadas prefer not to involve the police and undercover investigations are illegal in Japan.
The Japan section is also where Violet's love interest drops out of view. Edge is a hipster and filmmaker wannabe who barely shows up. I don't think TOKYO HEIST would've suffered by cutting the obligatory love interest. TOKYO HEIST a mystery, yakuza, and a cool (female) best friend. Who needs a boy?
I thought TOKYO HEIST was fun. It's a good summer read, especially if you have a long plane ride ahead of you. (Just don't start thinking everyone around you is in on an international art heist.) I'm interested in reading whatever Renn does next, because she shows promise.