Book Review: The Cherry Blossom Murder – A Josie Clark In Japan Mystery
First in a series of books set in Tokyo!
In popular manga and anime Tokyo Babylon, there is a character called Seishiro Sakurazuka who is a dangerous onmyoji posing as a friendly vet. He kills his enemies and buries their bodies under a huge cherry tree; in fact it is the only cherry tree that bears deep red blossom and even redder fruit. In The Cherry Blossom Murder, Londoner, Josie discovers a body under the cherry blossom and goes in search of the killer.
Josie enjoys all the pomp and circumstance of Tammy Izumo’s Tea Party, but doesn’t quite fit into Japanese society. She is a friendly sort, but many see her as an outsider. Keiko works in IT and acts as her best friend who also got her interested in the Takurazuka Fan Club. An English teacher, she wanted to live the dream of working in Japan, but ended up in Sapporo in a freezing classroom, having to tell her English boyfriend to get another woman as she doesn’t know when she will be returning home. Despite this upheaval, everything seems all right, as does everyone else including Mai-Chan who was at the fan club party with her. Her peaceful life in Japan gets clouded however as she sees Mai-Chan’s body laid out under a cherry tree. While Josie wants to uncover the mystery surrounding her death, she feels as though the truth of what happened to her is being hidden or brushed aside as meaningless gossip, and as an outsider, Josie finds it hard to get through to the authorities on the matter of her death.
Being the only English woman in a Japanese environment she has a hard time getting other people to take her seriously. Her boss and the men at her workplace treat her as a nuisance, while some of her male colleagues are promoted above her, and the other women around her. Mr Ueda is another work colleague who actually gets along with Josie, and it would seem he becomes a love interest for her too. When Josie asks her friends what they thought about Mai-Chan’s murder, she discovers that none of them want her to go to the police with any of what she has discovered. She believes they might be trying to help her out in one way as they don’t want her to become the next target for murder, but she also get the feeling they are trying to hinder her finding out the real truth of why she was killed.
As an author, Pickering takes readers through the ups and downs of life in Japan. It could be easy to say she is descriptive about every nuance of Josie’s life in a foreign country, or, at times overly descriptive of all aspects. This happens when trying to get the reader to immerse themselves in the novel’s setting and characters, though as the story is very readable this hardly matters. There are a few colourful characters in here, but most of them like Mineko, Ms Kato and Mr Tanaka are pretty ordinary. Those who are part of the fan club have a high opinion of themselves and the world around them. What truly captivate are the references to the Takurazuka, or all female Japanese theatre troupe who tour Japan and have their own following of both young and older females. The novel is very well researched and picks up on the Japanese need for tradition, colour and ceremony. Their productions are typically taken from manga and popular Japanese folk tales. Their first performance was in 1914 and called Donburako; other performances are The Rose of Versailles and Elizabeth as featured in a humorous way in comical anime Ouran High School Host Club.
Fran Pickering is a London-based murder mystery writer who’s travelled extensively in Japan. Her experiences there provide the inspiration for the Josie Clark in Japan mystery series. She writes about London art and events with a Japanese connection on her blog, Sequins and Cherry Blossom. The first book in the Josie Clark in Japan mystery series, The Cherry Blossom Murder, sees Josie track down a backstage murderer at the spectacular Takarazuka Revue. In the second book, The Haiku Murder, a haiku-writing trip turns to tragedy when a fellow tripper falls from the top of Matsuyama castle. But was he pushed? The Haiku Murder will be published in October 2014. Find out more at http://www.franpickering.com
Format: Hardback, Paperback and Kindle
Pages: 314 pages
Publish date: 3rd January 2014
Publisher: Createspace Independent Publishing Platform
Available from all good booksellers including Amazon.co.uk
Sandie has a keen interest in Anime, Manga and all things Japanese. Her interests other than reviewing are Japanese Language, dress and culture, liking Harajuku Girls, Gothic Lolita, folding some neat Origami, drawing her own Manga characters, writing her own Manga stories and everything in between.