Kenzo Kitakata, Japan’s undisputed don of hard-boiled and mystery writing, has never had any of his more than one hundred novels go out of print. Ashes, his brilliant portrait of an opinionated, irritable, shrewd, and lonely yakuza, and Kitakata’s first work to appear in English, is considered his masterpiece. Full of originality, and a prime example of Kitakata’s honed style and marvelous eye for detail, Ashes has recently been a “VLS Beach Read” for The Village Voice and a Book Sense 76 selection.
Tanaka, the novel’s hero, is a middle-aged yakuza. Once regarded as the heir to his gang’s aging boss, he has fallen out of favor and appears stuck as the head of one of the gang’s sub-branches. Tanaka is not your typical gangster, though. Not obsessed with expensive suits, jewelry, or prize women, he is a convincing and heartbreaking study in memory and ambition.
Filmmakers have cinematized many of Kitakata’s incisive works, including Ashes. One of Japan's most popular and revered novelists, and a past president of the Japan Mystery Writers Association, Kitakata’s stature is also evident from the dozen literary prize committees on which he sits. He lives in Kawasaki, Japan, near Yokohama.
“Discovering this book—the author’s first work to appear in English—is to find a real gem… This story about a midlevel Japanese yakuza (mafia) soldier going through a midlife crisis showcases Kitakata’s dialogue and descriptions, but especially the cunning thought processes of the protagonist.”
—Bob Spear, Booksense
“Best enjoyed in a dimly lit, smoky room with a glass of whisky on the rocks close at hand… Kitakata has crafted a complex and contradictory character in Tanaka.”
One of Las Vegas Mercury’s Best 10 Novels of 2003!
“Structurally spare and brilliantly contradictory perspectives on an aging yakuza; a refreshing crime novel from a notable Japanese author.”
—John Ziebell, LVM
“Male brutality suffuses Kenzo Kitakata’s portrait of a middle-aged gangster in Ashes. Like Tony Soprano…this man, whose name is Tanaka, attracts our interest and sometimes our sympathy.”
—The Globe and Mail
“Superbly translated into English by Emi Shimokawa, Ashes is a gritty, hard-boiled mystery…Ashes depicts yakuza life with a unique understanding and edge-of-your seat reality.”
—Midwest Book Review
“Kitakata… has stepped outside of genre fiction to write this absorbing character study, part Spillane, part Dostoevsky, but always hard-boiled.”