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The Earthquake Bird    by Susanna Jones order for
Earthquake Bird
by Susanna Jones
Order:  USA  Can
Warner, 2002 (2001)
Hardcover, Paperback

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

The Earthquake Bird is a psychological thriller reminiscent of those written by Minette Walters, though not quite as polished. The author jolts the reader to full alertness in the potent first paragraph when a tremor wakes her on the day she is pulled in for questioning. 'I mention the incident not to suggest that there was a connection - that somehow the fault lines in my life came crashing together in the form of a couple of policeman ... I am simply relating the sequence of events as they happened.'

Lucy Fly is an English (Yorkshire) woman working in Japan as a translator. Pieces of the dismembered body of her friend Lily have been pulled out of Tokyo Bay and Lucy was the last person seen with her. Unfortunately a nosy neighbour heard them quarrel and so Lucy is suspect. She is a most reluctant witness who, at the same time as she avoids disclosing what has happened to the police, indulges in reminiscences for the benefit of the novel's reader.

The story is told in the first person, and reveals a lonely woman with a very unhappy past, who has come to terms with life in a country as far from her origins as possible. She has made a few friends in a female Japanese colleague, other expatriates, and a group of older women who get together to make music. Then she falls for Teiji (a compulsive photographer who works in a Japanese noodle shop) and is asked to help a newly arrived and needy compatriot, Lily Bridges.

The picture of Lucy slowly coalesces into one of a disturbed individual with a shadowy past. The first clue is her habit of slipping into referring to herself in the third person. As the story unfolds, the reader begins to wonder about this woman's role in them, while at the same time feeling sympathy for her experiences. As Lucy gradually loses herself in the dark shadows cast by events, the reader is equally bemused by their ambiguity and the surprises that unfold.

When I noticed that this novel was set in Japan, I expected something like Sujata Massey's mysteries. But The Earthquake Bird is quite different in style, with its Japanese setting (how to properly slurp up noodles or details of a trip to Sado Island) well integrated and subsidiary to the plot. This is a story for anyone who enjoys psychological suspense with a deep vein of horror. It grabs your attention in the beginning and will hold it well after the ending, as you ponder all the implications and possibilities - as a first novel, this is quite a debut.
Note: This book will be available in N. America in September 2001

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