Let me tell you a little (true) story that brought an unironic tear to my eye.
This time last year, I received a bunch of cheques in the post (really) from Amazon for proceeds from my best-selling (really) series of books, which I was actually a little ashamed of. These were the “Zen of xxxxx” adult colouring books where “xxxx” was a well-supported English Premier League football club. I’ve stopped selling them, largely because I was getting pretty poor reviews for the (admittedly shoddy) sketches of famous players. True fans of the clubs didn’t appreciate my tongue-in-cheek mockery of the adult colouring book genre and saw my efforts as taking the mick out of their beloved teams, and I didn’t have the heart (or wallet) to defend the books should they continue to sell well and attract the attention of football club trademark lawyers… so I quietly stopped selling them, although you can still see the titles on my Amazon author page.
Anyway, I cashed the cheques (eventually — have you ever tried cashing a foreign currency cheque in Japan?) and chalked the episode up to experience, vowing to focus on more productive uses of my time, like watching the paint dry on my watercolours, when I got a message from the UK from a damsel in distress.
She was desperate to get her hands on a copy of “The Zen of Everton” and had tracked me down on Twitter. I said that the book was no longer for sale, but I offered to send her a PDF of the manuscript for free if she really wanted it, and I apologised for the poor quality of my sketches.
I received this email last month:
Last year you kindly sent me a pdf of The Zen of Everton. It was for my uncle who was suffering from dementia. He passed away peacefully in his sleep mid- February. I printed and enlarged it for him. I thought I’d drop you a line to thank you once again. Regardless of the accuracy of your renderings, it afforded us another means to coax some lucid moments of conversation from him which are cherished particularly by his wife. I just want you to know your kindness was appreciated, thank you.
With warm regards,
- My latest project was to get some pro author pics done of myself. English Tokyo-based photo journalist Damon Coulter obliged and you can see what he took of me on my About page where they will stay until I make a proper media page.
- I don’t think I’ve ever given away my second novel, but for the next five days, “The Year of the Talking Dog,” a Hana Walker mystery, is free to download from any Amazon site. Just click here and then click on any of the links in the the post to download the book immediately. Then tell a pal. Bonus points if you review it on Amazon or Goodreads (please do, I’ll remember your kindness).
- It took three months to complete, but here it is, my interview with Japan folklore writing queen Thersa Matsuura. And I feature quite a bit too.
- Hurry, you have only eight days to listen to this great audio from BBC Radio 4 of Alberto Manguel’s essay on dismantling his 35,000-volume library.
- I really want to write a new police procedural crime series like this but set it in Abiko. I will start on it after I’ve done the next Hana Walker novel.
- Here’s what I plan to read this Golden Week and the rest of the month.
- They’re all talking about wabi sabi now.
- But I talk about my pictures, Shakespeare and competing with cram schools.
- Looking for an English translation of another Keigo Higashino mystery? You’ll have to wait until November.
- Question of the month: WHAT ARE YOU PLANNING TO READ THIS SUMMER?
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: Who is your favourite sleuth? And I got two expert testimonies worthy of your time:
MATTHEW DONS: The greatest fictional detective of all time must be George Smiley. Although John Le Carre’s Smiley is usually thought of as a spy master, the first two Smiley novels are straight detective stories.
In “Call for the Dead,” Smiley investigates the apparent suicide of a suspected communist, believing it to be murder. And in “A Murder of Quality,” Smiley finds himself trying to solve the murder of the thoroughly unpleasant Stella Rode.
Smiley is a slow, methodical detective, and a very likeable character. In “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” he uses his skills to uncover a traitor in SIS. (MI6) As he interviews suspects and witnesses, Smiley follows the trail to a Soviet mole, and expertly lays a trap to reveal his identity. In “Smiley’s People,” George Smiley is once more investigating a murder, this time the assassination of a retired Estonian general, shot in the face on Hampstead Heath.
Smiley has such an impressive mind and is able to manipulate seemingly minor clues until they form a pattern, revealing mysteries within mysteries, such as how Moscow Centre is able to run a double agent who has burrowed deep into the British intelligence service.
Smiley comes across as gentle in most of his dealings, and we are constantly reminded of his weakness: his affection for his nasty, childish wife, Ann. Having said that, he’s extremely determined, almost ruthless, and is very cunning.
In George Smiley, Le Carre has created a complex character who the reader naturally sides with, but whose foibles are just frustrating enough to be completely believable.
GUY YATES: So, from a short list of twenty I decided to pick one from each country so that should make things a little easier. It didn’t. How can I pick between George Smiley (John le Carre), Aector McAvoy (David Mark), Sean Duffy (Adrian McKinty), Peter Grant (Ben Aaronovitch) and two ‘No Name’ detectives supplied by Derek Raymond and Len Deighton (his Bernard Samson series also made the cut)? That’s not even the full list of UK sleuths as Christopher Fowler’s Bryant and May and James Oswald’s Inspector McLean loom large in that list too. All of the foregoing I have read and met on more than one occasion so the lure of following them on their travails keeps me coming back and seeing how they are getting on with their lives.
Perhaps I need to limit myself to non-UK sleuths then? Not much easier. Many Scandinavian ‘suspects’ to wade through there too: Inspector Van Veeteren (Hakan Nesser), Inspector Sejer (Karin Fossum) and Carl Mørck (Jussi Adler-Olsen) three that sprint readily to mind. There are also many I have met only once and am just trying to find the time to go back and develop a friendship with. In wider Europe I have Italy’s Inspector Montalbano (Andrea Camilleri), the French trio of Commissaire Adamsberg (Fred Vargas), Aimee Leduc (Cara Black) and ‘Bruno’ Courrèges (Martin Walker) and Germany’s Bernard Gunther (Philip Kerr) and Gerhard Self (Bernhard Schlink).
Sad to admit, but in Asia I don’t have many from Japan to list. I read wide in Japan so though I have read many Japan sleuth-based novels I have met their sleuths typically only once so they didn’t make the shortlist. But in passing, my introduction to Japan-based detective novels was through Sujata Massey’s Rei Shimura series. I enjoyed following Rei and still have her final one to get through. Hana Walker is also still waiting for me to read her a second time! Wider in Asia I have Dr. Siri (Colin Cotterill), Inspector O (James Church) and Inspector Chen (Qiu Xiaolong). The wider Asian ones win not only on strong characters but delightfully described settings.
So from all the foregoing who’s the favourite? That really is tough. Gun against the head I think it will go to Bernie Gunther but only by the thinnest of cigarette papers from Dr. Siri and Bryant & May tied for joint second. Why? Simply, when a new book of their exploits is published I’m quick to obtain and read it. (In passing, I still have a backlog of Montalbano to get through that he’d have won it if I was up to speed on his series). It was sad to read earlier this month that Philip Kerr had passed away. There is a ‘final’ Bernie novel to be published next year. I try not to think too hard whilst reading but Kerr has forced me a little more than others to push that thinking a little harder of what he is writing. He is also teaching me a history of Europe during the 1920s to 50s. A fascinating time and rich in lessons to be learnt with respect to how some of the world is behaving these days. Bernie also has a good line in sarcasm and blunt talk. Highly recommended to those that have yet to meet him. Start with the first in the series – March Violets – and treat yourself to one a month. You’ll be finished just in time for his fourteenth outing.
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 to a friend, post it on social media, or, perish the thought, buy one of my books. Abiko salutes your sacrifice.
Next month, I have no interviews lined up, if you know of a likely candidate, or have a good book to recommend for me to review, drop me a line.
All the best,