August 2018


Death in Kanda

I knew the French woman was dead the moment I saw her naked body on a backstreet in Kanda-Jimbocho.

Finding mself free on Saturday afternoon I thought it would be a pleasant diversion from the hustle and heat of the Yamanote Line to forget about squeezing myself onto the next train out of Nippori back home to Abiko and instead get off at Kanda, make the 10-minute hike up the hill through the snowboard shops billowing air conditioned cool onto the promenades… and lose myself among the secondhand bookstores that dot the backstreets behind Yasakuni-dori.

I used to eat my ham-mayonaise-French-mustard sandwiches under the shade trees of the shrine to the imperial war dead that the main road was named after, that was when I was a fresh-faced English-teacher-for-hire to Japanese salarymen around the time the bubble burst, back when there used to be a Berlitz language school at Kudanshita, across the road from the Budokan, where the Beatles had once played.

Iidabashi, the French quarter, was just out of sight, over the crest of the hill, where once upon a time I’d sit on prolonged smoke breaks with my French-teacher buddy, Loic, sipping black coffees and imagining glorious futures. He might have known the dead girl. But that was surely impossible. He was French-Canadian, not French-French. And besides, that was getting on for 30 years ago now.

My thoughts were interuprted by the earsplitting sound of a Japanese crooner warbling a wartime tune in homage to the emperor, back when he was a god, and I glimpsed the  black truck speeding down the main road. The nationalists like to remind us foreign residents of Japan of our place at uncomfortable volume. I wondered if the driver hated the French too. Even their beautiful women?

A single white tofu-van trundled up the hill against the flow of traffic, but from its tinny speaker John Lennon was imploring us to imagine all the people. I was trying, John, I really was. But it was becoming increasingly embarrassing for me to gaze at the French woman’s spread-eagled body.

I furtively flipped the black-and-white pages over and checked the publication date — 1953. Then it could mean only one thing. The pin-up girls staring imploringly at the camera must all be dead now, every last one of them.

The book slid silently back into its place at the back of the bargain bin, and I hurried across the road for an ice cafe au lait.

* * *

Hello there, hot enough for you? Here are 10 items I think are worth your time this month:

  1. I interview loyal newsletter subscriber Martin J. Fridabout his new book, “Kamikaze to Croydon,” that I edited and designed the cover for. Read the interview. You might even like the book. And if you think you might, Martin has authorized me to send the first five people who reply to this email a free copy of the book that you can read on any Kindle or phone with a free Kindle app. So, hit reply to this email pronto if you’d like a copy.   
  2. Friend and equally loyal newsletter subscriber Matthew Dons received some bad news in his battle with colon cancer. He could really do with some cash to prolong his life. I hate to ask, but I’d hate even more not to ask. 
  3. This YouTube trailer for the Japanese film that won in Cannes, “Shoplifters”, looks good (yes, I know, I’m always late to the party).
  4. I’m still plodding my way (enjoyably, it has to be said) through the late Alan Booth’s masterful Japan travelogue “The Roads to Sata,” but all hail Our Woman in Nagoya Maria Godebska who linked to this gem, a TV documentary interview with the man.
  5. The books I’m planning on reading this month.
  6. I somehow missed the anime boom in Britain in the early 90s, but three fine chaps didn’t. And they started a podcast, Otaku on Writing, to revisit the anime classics and steal the best ideas for their own fiction. Worth a listen.
  7. Apart from saying Asterix instead of asterisk, there are no amateur mistakes at all in this video I made about the three steps necessary to turn a manuscript into a published book. At all. Honest.
  8. This was the best Japanese noir I read (actually listened to) this month, much better than the author’s more celebrated but bloated “Cult X.” 
  9. Rest in peace Shinobu Hashimoto, the last of the Kurasawa screenwriters.
  10. Question of the month: HOW DID YOU HEAR ABOUT THE LAST BOOK YOU READ?

    My reason for asking is I’m getting a handle on editing and publishing fiction, but marketing it is still a foreign country to me. Time to do some original research, thought you might be able to help. 

    To answer, just hit reply on your email and I’ll piece the bits together and post them next month for all subscribers to see.

    Last month’s question was: Have you read any good mysteries or thrillers set during sporting events? 

    GUY YATES: I’ve been scouring my brain and not striking much. The only one I read was The Bomber by Liza Marklund. The story centred around a journalist tracking down some crime or another but there was in the backdrop an Olympics that had been awarded to Stockholm. Set in the relative present though…and I think it may have been a winter Olympics. Was a good introduction to the author’s work and she has plenty more in the series to work through. I do, however, have a sport-related one on my to read list which may well be of interest: Off Side by Manuel Vazquez Montalban. Our mutually enjoyed author Mr. Camilleri homaged his detective’s name on the Spanish author. In Off Side, Barcelona’s new soccer star is receiving death threats and Pepe Carvalho, gourmet gumshoe and former political prisoner under Franco, is hired to find out who’s behind it. What is not to like, huh?

Thanks for reading, have a good month. And if you have enjoyed reading any of my stuff, be a sport and leave a review on Amazon, Goodreads or your own blog, or drop me a line on Twitter or Facebook. You can find past issues of this newsletter at Letter from Abiko. If you appreciate this newsletter feel free to forward it to a friend, post it on social media, or, perish the thought, buy one of my books. Abiko salutes your sacrifice.

Next month, I’m planing to publish an interview on book marketing with newsletter subscriber and marketing whiz Matthew Dons, which I know now will be worth your time.

All the best,



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