Review

Occupied City

by David Peace

Those who are familiar with the work of David Peace,
particularly TOKYO YEAR ZERO, are forewarned to expect the
unexpected. Peace’s latest book, OCCUPIED CITY, is no
exception. While not a sequel to the 2007 novel, it certainly
continues some of those themes. Tokyo is totally if uneasily
occupied by American forces in 1948; the focus of the title,
however, is on a mass murderer who arises from the indigenous
population to wreak havoc, if briefly, upon the populace.

OCCUPIED CITY is based on a real-world occurrence that took
place in post-war Tokyo. A man who identified himself as a
physician attached to the national government entered a bank at
closing time and announced that it had been exposed to a
contaminant. He proceeded to administer an antidote to the bank
employees and customers who were present. The antidote was in fact
a fast-acting poison that killed 12 people. A suspect was quickly
apprehended, tried and convicted of the crime. Although he died in
prison, appeals to clear his name continue to the present.

What Peace does is present the prism of the incident and its
aftermath from a number of points of view over the course of 12
chapters, or “candles.” These range from the murdered
victims whose collective consciousness --- caught between life and
death --- give voice to a haunting, unforgettable chorus to a
survivor who feels guilt and a quiet madness in which nothing will
ever be as it seems again. Yet another candle consists of the case
file of the murder investigation, which reflects the notes of a
detective who ultimately helps crack the case but who may be
relying too much on instinct and supposition. The accused murderer
is also heard from. Some of the most chilling candles, though,
concern Japan’s biological warfare program, composed by one
charged with investigating it --- and possibly falling victim to it
--- and another who may have contributed to its creation.

OCCUPIED CITY is a difficult work that is somewhat dense in
spots. One could quite reasonably be forgiven for questioning the
utility of some of Peace’s narrative, which is (overly)
repetitive in places and obtuse in others. Yet, by the time one
reaches the conclusion, it feels as if a quantum perception shift
has been achieved, which, perhaps, was the author’s intent
all along. I was reminded to some degree of THE BRIDGE AT SAN LUIS
REY by Thornton Wilder and (to a greater extent) THE ALEXANDRIA
QUARTET by Lawrence Durrell, though in the end I would have to
conclude that OCCUPIED CITY stands on the shoulders of those books,
if unsteadily so. It is a work designed more to be sipped than
swallowed, more to be nibbled a few pages at a time than
devoured.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 13, 2011

Occupied City
by David Peace

  • Publication Date: February 2, 2010
  • Genres: Fiction, Thriller
  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf
  • ISBN-10: 0307263754
  • ISBN-13: 9780307263759