Author: Diana Renn
Genre: Contemporary YA, mystery, thieves
Publisher: Viking Children’s Books
Release date: June 14, 2012
Challenge: Debut Author Challenge
Source: DAC ARC Tour
Summary: Sixteen-year-old Violet loves reading manga and wearing scarves made from kimono fabric, so she’s thrilled that her father’s new painting commission means a summer trip to Japan. But what starts as an exotic vacation quickly turns into a dangerous treasure hunt.
Her father’s newest clients, the Yamada family, are the victims of a high-profile art robbery: van Gogh sketches have been stolen from their home, and, until they can produce the corresponding painting, everyone’s lives are in danger — including Violet’s and her father’s.
Violet’s search for the missing van Gogh takes her from the Seattle Art Museum, to the yakuza-infested streets of Tokyo, to a secluded inn in Kyoto. As the mystery thickens, Violet’s not sure whom she can trust. But she knows one thing: she has to solve the mystery — before it’s too late.
Friends, there’s not much about TOKYO HEIST, the debut from Diana Renn, that doesn’t push several of my must-read buttons. Art heists, Japan, characters who have creative talents of some kind–I had nerd bells going off all over the place when I first heard about TOKYO HEIST, a story about a young girl and her flaky artist dad who get caught up in this yakuza-infested art mystery, with a generous side helping of Japanese culture, manga, and family dramz. If that sounds like a winning combination to you, well, I agree. TOKYO HEIST was fast-paced fun, the mystery element was pretty legit, and the Japanese culture was AWESOME.
It doesn’t take long for the action in TOKYO HEIST to get moving, but first there some pretty great emotional foundation. Violet is a smart, creative girl whose parents are divorced. She sounds a little emo, but essentially she’s a completely normal teenage girl, with all the usual hang-ups, except she also draws manga, and is working on one during this book that weaves its way into the story pretty nicely, I thought. Violet also has a MAJOR crush on her bff, Edge, who is one of those arty-farty West Coast hipsters. She’s feeling a little awkward around her dad, too, who’s divorced from her mom and living an artists life, free of all responsibility to anything but his MUSE or whatever. He’s got a girlfriend at the beginning of TOKYO HEIST, and this is a surprise to Violet. Also, Violet is a surprise to the girlfriend. So that’s the baggage we’re dealing with here.
Those aspects of TOKYO HEIST are well done, and they gave the story some emotional heft. But the best parts of Diana Renn‘s debut revolved around the missing Van Gogh painting, and the glimpse we get of Japanese culture when Violet and her father go to Japan to help the Yamadas–those are her father’s patrons, I guess you could call them–locate the missing paintings and stave off an attack by the yakuza, who claim the lost painting in theirs, and want it back ASAP. I am always fascinated to read about foreign cultures that I have little experience with, and my experience with Japanese culture extends to sushi, Japanese baseball players in the Major Leagues, and some WWII history. In a nutshell. So getting to see a glimpse of it up close was fun for me.
But as someone who loves art heists, art history, and visiting museums, and also a HUGE fan of The Thomas Crown Affair, I was geeking out the most over the stolen artwork. People in TOKYO HEIST work in museums, restoring artwork, talking about how Van Gogh was inspired by Japanese artists in some his own works. It was really fascinating.
I will say, though, that it was this aspect that provided the foundation for some of my gripes about TOKYO HEIST as well. See, I have seen The Thomas Crown Affair several times, and right when I started reading Diana Renn‘s book, I was like, “Oh man, PLEASE don’t let it be like The Thomas Crown Affair. Be different, book! Be different!” And it kind of was, but in some ways it wasn’t. Don’t think that I didn’t enjoy this aspect of TOKYO HEIST because I did. I just wish that it had been a little bit more surprising to me, that’s all.
Also, I found Violet’s role in the investigation to find the missing Van Gogh really implausible. Guys, this is a teenage girl. The FBI is investigating this crime. The Yamadas are wealthy and influential Japanese industrial tycoons. They all listen to Violet’s suggestions and accept her tips without pause or without even seeming to INVESTIGATE them further to make sure they are legit. THE FBI! It just seemed SO unreal that I had a hard time swallowing it.
Speaking of the Yamadas, I have to say also that the background of their family’s role in the missing painting and the stolen drawings was pretty legit. I often found it a little more emotionally satisfying than Violet and her father’s issues. In fact, I would totally read a book about the Yamada’s family problems. It was really kind of sad and romantic and awesome. I wasn’t expecting it when I started TOKYO HEIST but I am glad it was there.
Friends, I have a major soft spot for thieves and spies, as I’ve mentioned before. TOKYO HEIST by Diana Renn is a solid debut, with some great, unexpected emotional storylines, but most importantly, a fast-paced, dramatic art heist that kept me interested and on the edge of my seat. I’ll be looking for more from Diana Renn for sure!