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by Seicho Matsumoto
Bitter Lemon Press, August 2016, $14.95

Like a geisha’s subtle touch, the death of Mr. Tsunao Asai’s lovely wife leaves behind mystery and innuendo. At the time of her death, Mr. Asai himself is halfway across the country fulfilling the unsavory work obligation of “not-watching” a painted companion kneel in front of his boss. Such superiors take all the credit for his hard work in the Ministry of Food and Agriculture. Mr. Asai resents that. He also resents the fact that his wife, Eiko, has denied him sex since their wedding day.

Eiko dies of a heart attack outside a cosmetics shop in a posh part of Tokyo. Satisfied that her premature passing is due to her heart condition, Eiko’s family cremates her body before Mr. Asai even returns home. But when he visits the scene of her death, every detail seems wrong. The cosmetics shop has no customers. The neighborhood’s only other businesses are hideaway “couples hotels.” Why would Eiko have even been there?

As Mr. Asai unravels the truth, readers get to know this browbeaten bureaucrat, the traditions of respect he must follow in 1970s Japan, and what he is capable of orchestrating on his wife’s behalf—or really his own. Expertly translated to preserve its Japanese rhythms, Seicho Matsumoto’s sly pacing wraps deceptively gentle fingers around your wrists and tugs you into the pitch-black disintegration behind the exterior of the quiet, ever-diligent Mr. Asai.

Lucie Smoker
Teri Duerr
August 2016
Bitter Lemon Press

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