Manga-loving Violet is to stay with her artist dad for the summer while her mother is away. The Yamadas, his latest clients, find their priceless van Gogh artwork to have been stolen and everyone is a suspect. Her dad’s job, and the investigation, takes them overseas to Japan where he has been commissioned to do a large scale painting by the Yamada’s nephew. Violet turns to her manga drawing and, with the help of her friends, attempt to solve the crime before the Japanese mafia, or yakuza, get their hands on it – and them.
Art heist in a foreign setting? Very intriguing. I was really excited for this book as it’s not that often that YA reads are set outside of North America. Not only does it mostly take place in Tokyo, Renn has infused so much Japanese culture into the story as well. With elements of manga, traditions and vocabulary, I felt like I was learning a bit about the culture while going along with Violet’s crime solving. Another element I really enjoyed was the reference to actual works of art. That was one of the main reasons why I enjoy Dan Brown’s novels, because he makes use of actual landmarks & artwork. I found myself searching online to see for myself what the van Gogh paintings looked like, to get an even better idea of how it fit into the story.
While I enjoyed the cultural aspect, as well as the story itself, many of the characters really irked me. Save for maybe Violet and a handful of others, everyone else felt a bit one dimensional and wasn’t overly relatable. Her dad and gal pal bugged me immensely. Reika & Violet are supposed to be teenage BFFs yet Reika’s behaviour speaks otherwise. In Violet’s narration, she speaks of her best friend constantly abandoning her when a hot guy is around, even so much as plotting to chat up Yamada’s much-older (I’d imagine 30’s or 40’s) nephew rather than reconnect with a friend she hadn’t seen in a while. Her actions just didn’t seem to suit the age she was supposed to be.
That being said, Renn is like a magician in that she does a really good job of misdirection. By keeping the reader constantly guessing and suspecting different people, it allows the narrative to keep moving and the story to keep unfolding. There were times when I could have sworn I had it all figured out only to be swayed in another direction moments later. Tokyo Heist is an entertaining whodunnit book that is a fairly quick & easy read. At over 360 pages, it flies by because you want to keep reading to find out what happens.