Geisha Confidential by Mark Coggins

Mark Coggins’s new Tokyo-based crime novel, Geisha Confidential, features middle-aged San Francisco private investigator August Riordan, who may be familiar to you from previous books in this award-winning series. Read this fast-paced story, and you’ll barely have time to feel any trans-Pacific jet lag. Almost as soon as Riordan’s plane lands, trouble starts.

He’s made the trip for a personal reason. The last boyfriend of his dead former assistant has reached out to him for help, offering to pay Riordan’s airfare, hotel, and expenses. Riordan, who has never traveled outside the United States before and speaks no Japanese at all, is dubious about how much help he can provide, but goes out of loyalty to his late staff member.

The Japanese-American boyfriend, whom Riordan knew as Ken Ono, is certainly a surprise. She’s called Coco now—highly attractive, with long black hair, a mischievous smile, and a fondness for big straw hats. Coco is well into her gender transition; in the local slang, she’s a new-half prostitute.

That is precisely where the trouble may have started. Her doctor is a prominent Japanese gender reassignment surgeon, and his nurse warned Coco not to go through with her next operation. Ever since, Coco’s been followed and an attempt was made on her life. But the Tokyo police show complete disinterest in the troubles of a trans resident.

There’s quite a bit of solid humor in this story, given the inevitable cultural gaffes Riordan makes and Coco’s lighthearted spirit, despite the dangers. On the whole, it’s an interesting peek at the seamier side of Japanese culture—the Japanese Adult Video industry, high-end brothels, and the lifestyles of sex workers—in details sufficient to the story, but not too shocking.

Riordan is a well-developed, crusty character, and Coco is a delight. She recognizes the danger she’s in, but she’s not backing down easily. I was intrigued by the police sergeant named Miyojima, exiled to a lowly outpost due to some bureaucratic flap. He and Riordan are both prone to bend a few rules, and they click.

Author Coggins is an accomplished photographer whose work has appeared in numerous galleries and exhibits and reveals itself in his eye for descriptive detail. His descriptions convey an intimate knowledge of the city that makes this wild and wacky story quite believable. It begins with the story of Hachiko, the loyal dog who waited outside a Tokyo train station for his dead master for more than nine years. A statue now commemorates his devotion.

One request of authors who write books with lots of characters in a complicated story: include a list of them. Particularly when their names are culturally different from what readers are accustomed to, it can become hard to keep track of who’s who—at least for me! Bottom line: a winner!