End of the World Blues
by Jon Courtenay Grimwood
Review by Ernest Lilley
Spectra Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9780553589962
Date: 25 September 2007 List Price $12.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
In Jon Courtenay Grimwood's new standalone SF/thriller, End of the World Blues Kit Nouveau finds that there are worse, and better things in store for him than the quiet slide into oblivion that his life has become. Having run away from love, war, and home to run an Irish bar in Tokyo where he can indulge in a mixture of booze, drugs and numbness he discovers that life isn't done with him yet, or maybe it is...but that he's not done with it. Grimwood just keeps getting better.
"Kit Nouveau" started out as Christopher Newton back in the UK before he started a rock band, fell in love with the daughter of a crime lord(ess), went off to Iraq to be a sniper, wound up deserting while on leave, and somehow, before the story, starts running the best Irish bar in Tokyo, Pirate Mary's. Now he spends his days tutoring English and sleeping with the wife of a Japanese crime lord, while growing more and more distant from his Japanese artist wife. In short, Kit's spent his life running into and away from trouble, and he's gotten very lost in the process. At the outset of the book, he loses everything he's got as well when the bar blows up and his wife is killed in the explosion. It turns out that she'd never registered the marriage in Japan, and as a result, Kit's left holding pretty much nothing. Of course, as the song goes, that would mean he's got nothing to lose.
"Lady Neku," on the other hand, started out as a teenage Japanese girl named Nijie Kitagawa, who lifted fifteen million dollars off a Japanese crime family, all of whom turn up very dead in the newspaper. Having stuffed the money into a locker at a train station, she took the name Lady Neku and disappeared into the world of Goth Japanese cos-play (costume play) and street life. Ironically, she's as unlost as Kit is lost, though she's far more than she appears, and who, what, and why she's here are details teased out for the rest of the book. She's a wonderfully dark and deadly character, just coming of age sexually, but that's not the nature of her's and Kit's intersection. As far as Kit knows she's a street girl that he bought coffee for because she looked cold. The reality that she's a deadlier killer than he is, which is going some, and far more, only gradually sinks in. Why she's tagging along in his life is another story altogether.
She's here to make a new life, having come from the literal end of the world, while Kit is about to head back to the life he left, having come to the end of his rope, with nowhere left to go but back. Not that he wants to, but the girl he ran away from so long ago has apparently killed herself, leaving Kit her London flat and art gallery, and her mother, the now mostly retired crime boss, has come to Japan to ask help from the last person she wants to be indebted to, never having liked Kit to begin with. Because she thinks Mary is still alive, and Kit's her only hope for finding her.
Or to put his back story in a bit more perspective, as his biker friend "No Neck" recaps it in a bar after the explosion.
"What I don't understand…is why your ex-friend had nothing to say about this."
"Because he was dead...crashed his bike."
"...Did he know about you and…?"
"Yeah, I think he did."
What follows would stand by itself as an excellent crime/thriller as Kit works his way backwards into the life he left and the violent underside of organized crime. But it gets more interesting and considerably more twisted with Neku along because she has her own story, and it's weird by any standard because, and I guess I might as well tell you now...Neku is from the future, downloaded into the body of this young girl, and she's come back from the end of the world to make a life here and now amid the ashes of Kit's life, from which she knows will arise a work that will transcend humanity itself.
Here's the bad news for many of you. The work we're talking about will make more sense to Japanese readers than most of you lot. But I liked it.
Now, if that's a bit scrambled, well, that's life. There are a number of threads woven in here and they ultimately make a whole cloth. Grimwood is a terrific writer and you've got to go along for the ride to see where it leads. It's a great ride.