Geisha Confidential: An August Riordan Mystery

Image of Geisha Confidential: An August Riordan Mystery
Release Date: 
March 4, 2024
Down & Out Books
Reviewed by: 

Private eye August Riordan finds himself in the Shibuya Ward of Tokyo at the beginning of Mark Coggins’ Geisha Confidential. Riordan is looking to meet someone at a designated location, the bronze statue of a dog who waited nine years for his master to return to work. (If you’ve seen the movie Hachi: A Dog’s Tale, you know the story.) Like that dog, Riordan is equally true-hearted—and loyal.

In this case, the dedication is to his former assistant, Chris Duckworth. Duckworth’s murder, and Riordan’s work to avenge it, were the focus of The Dead Beat Scroll, the seventh entry in the August Riordan series. Here, in the eighth book, Riordan extends that devotion to Duckworth’s last boyfriend, Ken Ono.

Ken now goes by the name Coco and the pronoun “she.” Coco has given up her job in tech to work in a hostess bar, entertaining businesspeople with conversation and, occasionally, more. Riordan isn’t too surprised. Or taken aback. He’s rarely surprised, but always curious. Besides, Chris Duckworth had been a cross-dresser who had been “eerily convincing” as a woman.

“With Chris, though, it had been exactly that: a performance,” thinks Riordan. “With, Coco, it seemed like a course correction.”

Coco summons Riordan from California to help investigate a matter involving the yakuza, the Japanese mafia. Feeling “lost and rudderless” since Chris’ death, Riordan accepts the invitation despite not knowing any Japanese and having never traveled outside the United States.

Coco tells Riordan that she had come to Japan for the services of a renowned surgeon who would perform the surgery for her transition. But a nurse from the surgeon’s office tried to talk her out of the procedure and then Coco said she was followed, probably by yakuza thugs. 

“The story wasn’t what I was expecting,” thinks Riordan. “I felt like a tourist who had taken a wrong turn on the way to the Taj Mahal and ended up at a bouncy castle.”

That kind of sly, wry humor is what you get with August Riordan. He’s guileless. He’s unpretentious and winsome. He’s a non-judgmental guy who takes the world as it washes over him.

Coggins puts Riordan right in the crossfire from the outset of Geisha Confidential. Coco plays the role of Chief Explainer of all things Japan—from various food delicacies to the shifting patterns of in society, with the youth rejecting traditional ways (even inside the yakuza). Riordan—frequently befuddled or gently amused by his surroundings—is the gleeful sponge. The case leads to celebrities, cryptocurrency, and the upper echelons of government through a series of porn shops, brothels, and a “love hotel” with a French name (“Entre Nous”).

The commotion around Coco continues even with Riordan’s presence and soon there is a dead body. And another. The unlikely pair poke around where they don’t belong including, in Riordan’s case, maneuvering a scissor lift in order to peer in a window.

“I climbed onto the platform, closed the gate at the back and stepped up to the second console to take hold of a joystick. Pushing it forward caused the lift to roll ahead with a high-pitched whine; tilting it to one side or the other allowed you to steer. I trundled across the street at the pace of a discharged robot vacuum, imagining the conversation I would have with a police officer—or anyone else for that matter—if they happened to come upon me.”

Riordan, the “big-footed gaijin,” leaves his shoe print in a bad spot, drawing unneeded scrutiny. The story gives plenty of chances for Riordan to comment on Japanese food, language, customs, and his long-time nemesis: technology. 

Riordan has been studying and appreciating all forms of humanity since the first book in the series, The Immortal Game. That’s when he first met his cross-dressing, gay assistant Duckworth. Riordan isn’t hardboiled. He doesn’t think he understands how the world works, let alone all the individuals within it.

Riordan’s refreshing approach to his events and surroundings—whether it’s a hotel run like a vending machine or a subway system with women-only cars—gives the series a light, but hardly frivolous edge. Geisha Confidential is a fine entry in a unique series and one is left to wonder what Coggins has in mind for August Riordan to explore next.