While many novelists are content these days to merely sketch in a few rudimentary characteristics for their protagonists, it's refreshing to encounter a book as ambitious as Susanna Jones' remarkable thriller The Earthquake Bird
, which has no truck with such cursoriness. The central character in Jones' novel, Lucy Fly, is not only realised with richness and subtlety, but the reader is even allowed to change their mind about her as the revelations of the tale unfold--a rarity indeed these days. Not only that, Jones' book (her debut novel) is concisely written, making the amount she crams into this slim volume even more striking.
Set in Japan, The Earthquake Bird begins with an earth-tremor on its first page that echoes metaphorically through the book. Lucy is a young and insecure translator straining to survive in the bustling, impersonal city of Tokyo. She becomes the principal suspect in a murder case when her best friend Lily is killed. Initially, her dealings with the police present her as vulnerable and ill at ease (she has a quirky way of talking about herself in the third person), but revelations about her past begin to pull the metaphorical rug from beneath the reader's feet.
Jones' publishers invoke Iain Banks' The Wasp Factory in promoting the book, and the comparisons are not far-fetched. Like Banks' disturbing novel, the revelations here really do take the breath away. But there's more on offer than complex storytelling. Principally, this is a study of the mysteries of human character, and the ambiguity with which Lucy is presented has all of the skill that distinguished the brilliant novels of Iris Murdoch. Tokyo, too, is evoked with intriguing detail--the perfect backdrop for the steadily unfolding narrative:
The killer had a street stand selling noodles. He also had a dead body to dispose of. In order to avoid the fingerprint problem he had hacked off the corpse's hands. He then proceeded to boil the outer layers of skin off the hands by dropping them into the hot noodle broth, on the street, under the unknowing eyes of his hungry customers.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Early this morning, several hours before my arrest, I was woken by an earth tremor. I mention the incident not to suggest that there was a connection that somehow the fault lines in my life came crashing together in a form of a couple of policemen for in Tokyo we have a quake like this every month. I am simply relating the sequence of events as it happened. It has been an unusual day and I would hate to forget anything . . . So begins The Earthquake Bird, a haunting novel set in Japan which reveals a murder on its first page and takes its readers into the mind of the chief suspect, Lucy Fly a young, vulnerable English girl living and working in Tokyo as a translator. As Lucy is interrogated by the police she reveals her past to the reader, and it is a past which is dangerously ambiguous and compromising . . . Why did Lucy leave England for the foreign anonymity of Japan ten years before, and what exactly had prompted her to sever all links with her family back home? She was the last person to see the murdered girl alive, so why was she not more forthcoming about the circumstances of their last meeting? As Lucys story unfolds, it emerges that secrets, both past and present, obsess her waking life . . . Winner of the CWA John Creasey New Blood Dagger Winner of the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize
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