October 2018


A quick ink sketch of Our Man in Yokohama Baye McNeil I did Friday night.


I was quite touched that I got a couple of messages from concerned subscribers that their monthly Our Man in Abiko newsletter hadn’t arrived. Well, that’s because I decided to release the newsletter more regularly, in fact, at High Noon Abiko Standard Time on the first Sunday of every month, and it just so happens that today is the first Sunday of this month. Perhaps, I should have told you about the new plan. Sorry about that. Look out for the newsletter on the first Sunday of every month from now on.

  1. I enjoyed reading newsletter subscriber and Tokyo professor Michael Pronko’s latest crime thriller The Moving Blade, released last week. And I think you will like it too. I asked Prof P. if he could make a few review copies available in the library for fellow Our Man in Abiko newsletter subscribers (that means you) and he graciously agreed. Just drop him a line at michaelpronko@gmail.com and tell him I sent you. But hurry, he only has three copies left.  
  2. This month, I also really dug Naomi Hirahara’s fifth in her seven-part mystery series set on the mean strawberry fields of California’s aging Japanese community. Worth a listen as audiobooks too, right from book one.
  3. From tomorrow, I’m re-writing the first draft of the third (and final?) Hana Walker novel. This has been complicated by my computer dying and taking with it to its offline grave 50,000 of the 70,000 words I’d written but failed to save anywhere else. Sigh. I have six days off this week, so aim to get the new first draft done in a stream of consciousness. And coffee. But according to John Cleese, it will be better than the original. Watch my, er, progress on a daily video diary here if you enjoy wonky prose and even wonkier camera work.  
  4. Glenn Kardy, scourge of newsrooms on both sides of the Pacific, finally found his feet publishing manga for non-Japanese. He talked to me about 20 years of running the Manga University publishing imprint. 
  5. This was the best translated-from-the-Japanese police procedural I read last month.
  6. This month, I picked up this haul of Japan thrillers from the Abiko library to sink my teeth into.
  7. If you are into Zen Buddhist art and Dad jokes (if they subscribe to this newsletter, that’s a given – ed), this Tokyo exhibition might be your cup of green tea.
  8. Here, I use my 15 minutes of video fame to argue for planning publishing (and teaching) projects a year in advance. (If only you could follow your own advice, ed.)
  9. Looking for an editing job in Tokyo? There are a couple of vacancies here as posted by Loyal Newsletter Subscriber Alex Brooke.

    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.


    GUY YATES: Never judge a book by its cover so they say. But that’s the typical way I judge it. If the packaging doesn’t look professional then what hope for the contents? Sure, I may have missed some classics but based upon last month’s question you posed I hope to pick those up in other ways. I also need good presentation within the book. If care and attention has been taken here then I’m happy to assume similar level of care was taken by the author over their choice of words to place within this.

    LINDA LOMBARDI: Here’s a problem that often puts me off a book I’m considering buying – and it’s a totally modern issue – it’s when the Kindle sample isn’t long enough for me to feel I’ve gotten a fair taste of it. I think the problem is different with novels as compared to nonfiction or comics/graphic novels. As far as I can figure out, the Kindle sample is an arbitrary percentage. This means that with nonfiction, sometimes all you get is a long table of contents and front matter and then like two pages of the book, and with comics because they are short in comparison (and maybe the file size for the graphics plays into it?), you might get just one or two pages. I’ve also encountered situations where all you get in the sample is the introduction to the book, sometimes written by someone other than the author. Basically sometimes the sample clearly just doesn’t make any sense at all and it’s clear no human was involved in choosing the cutoff point.

    With novels it’s sort of different – you’ll almost always get a decent amount of the actual text, at least. But if the book doesn’t move like a bat out of hell right from the start, sometimes I don’t get enough of a feel for it. What’s particularly concerning about this is that the obvious solution for authors is one I don’t want to see happen! You could solve that problem by making sure your book jumps into the thick of things right away at the start, but I don’t think all books should be written that way. It’s often not that I’ve lost interest in the book because it’s too slow at the beginning – just that I need to know more to make a commitment. Which of course would be possible if I were in a bookstore holding a physical copy but that’s not a world I live in anymore.

    MARIA GODEBSKA: When making a quick decision, I am hugely swayed by the cover and the blurb. (I am unduly influenced by product packaging in stores, too; call me shallow, I deserve it… :/ )

    Obviously, a book cover has been designed to fit a certain genre and attract a certain reader, but if (for example) the book is described as steampunk – a genre I like –  and has a bodice-ripper cover, then even if the bodice is clockwork, I will pass.

    I also pass if the story is set in historical Japan, because the cliches and errors would probably irritate me too much.

    If the blurb contains certain overused words, like someone being enigmatic or inscrutable, spunky or perky, it’s a no-no.  I don’t mind “cosy” mysteries, but reject “clean” ones, which is, like “God-fearin’ “,  the author’s rather smug way of telling people they don’t have any dirty words, dirty deeds, or dirty thoughts.
    I am also irrationally put off by odd names, so if the main characters are called Pip or Raven, back the book goes.

    If I am buying online, I am also swayed by negative reviews. When checking reviews, I look at the overall ratings, then skim the first page of 5-star reviews, then skim the 1-star reviews.
    I know, I know, that this is terribly unfair, and I try to remember that not all reviewers are honest or even real, but still – I will go back to the same book a few times if it gets a good newspaper review or has been recommended by a friend, but if the low-star reviews mention a problem in the book like lots of typos, or characters making stupid decisions, I will leave without a purchase.

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. If you appreciated this newsletter feel free to forward it to ONE like-minded friend.

All the best,



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