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The Earthquake Bird

The Earthquake Bird

5.0 3
by Susanna Jones

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A haunting first novel set in Tokyo, "The Earthquake Bird" reveals a murder on its first page and takes its readers into the mind of the chief suspect, Lucy Fly -- a young vulnerable English girl living and working in Tokyo as a translator. Lucy grew up in England, and still harbors painful memories of her childhood in Yorkshire. Only her fascination with music and


A haunting first novel set in Tokyo, "The Earthquake Bird" reveals a murder on its first page and takes its readers into the mind of the chief suspect, Lucy Fly -- a young vulnerable English girl living and working in Tokyo as a translator. Lucy grew up in England, and still harbors painful memories of her childhood in Yorkshire. Only her fascination with music and language provide her with a final break from her past, allowing her to move to Tokyo and start a new life as a translator of technical books. There, she begins an intensely erotic affair with a brilliant and secretive photographer named Teiji. But when Lucy befriends Lily Bridges, a young woman who has also fled trouble in Yorkshire, her life begins to unravel. Lucy doesn't like being reminded of what she left behind in England. Nor does she like Teiji's friendship with Lily. Now the police have accused her of killing Lily, because it is becoming apparent that Lucy has had the motive, the means, and the opportunity.

Editorial Reviews

bn.com review
Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers
Susanna Jones's exceptional debut is a thriller set in Tokyo, where 34-year-old Lucy Fly -- an English expat who translates "tedious" technical manuals -- has agreed to help a new arrival, Lily Bridges, navigate her first confusing weeks in Japan. Like Lucy, Lily has also fled an unhappy life in Yorkshire, but as Lily insinuates herself into Lucy's life, Lucy finds that she has gained a friend but lost her sometime lover, Teiji. "I had been in possession of a lover and a friend. Now I had neither. They had stolen themselves from each other and me."

When Lily disappears and her body is found dismembered in Tokyo Bay, Lucy becomes the chief suspect and the focus of an intense police interrogation, through which she narrates her life story. From her unwelcome birth through her painful Yorkshire childhood, Lucy illuminates her growing fascination with music and language, both of which helped provide her means of escape.

But Lucy now must struggle to prove her innocence in the murder of Lily. Alas, the first person she must convince is herself. "The defendant must decide how to plead. And here is my plea. Not guilty, but not not guilty.... I, of all people, should not be too hasty to judge." As she probes ever deeper into the enigmatic mind of Lucy Fly, Susanna Jones creates a brilliantly rendered drama of psychological suspense in which the ghostly vestiges of guilt, the thin line between love and obsession, and the seeming clarity of language combine to cloud the judgment of both character and reader alike. (Fall 2001 Selection)

Publishers Weekly
"If Lily had never met me she would be alive now," says Lucy Fly, the narrator of Jones's intriguing debut. She is being interrogated by Tokyo police for her friend Lily's murder. Making matters worse, Lucy's lover, Teiji, has also gone missing. Ten years ago, Lucy left behind an unhappy life in Yorkshire, England, to lose herself in the exotic, anonymous bustle of a faraway city. Now in her 30s, she is content with her job as a translator and her otherwise Spartan existence, fixating on Teiji, a photographer and loner rather like herself. Then she meets Lily, who also comes from Yorkshire and is on the lam from her stalker boyfriend. At first Lucy resents this reminder of her past, but she soon grows attached to the lonely, insecure girl. Lucy is full of contradictions: though once sexually promiscuous, she is jealous of Teiji's ex-lover, a mysterious woman who only seems to exist in his photographs. Jones's pacing is skillful and deliberate as she replays the troubling moments from Lucy's past distant and recent that seem to point to her guilt (for instance, Lily is not the first person of her acquaintance to have met an unfortunate end). The descriptions of Japan's landscapes, language, people and customs are delivered with fluency and intimacy, yet with the slightly detached clarity of an expat. Some readers may find Jones's intermingling of first- and third-person narration self-conscious and distracting "What I had chosen to share with him was my very first sexual encounter, Lucy's first crunch into the apple" and the hazy ending raises more questions than it answers. But this is less a whodunit than an examination of the slippery nature of truth and memory, obsessions andbetrayals, all of which Jones handles with confidence and skill. National print advertising. (Sept. 17) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Though this small gem of a first novel revolves around a murder and is being billed as a psychological suspense, it defies ready categorization. Ten years after leaving her native Yorkshire for Tokyo, Lucy Fly, who uses her fluency in Japanese to translate technical documents, is arrested for killing her friend and countrywoman Lily Bridges, with whom she was seen arguing shortly before Lily disappeared. Lucy's story unfolds as neatly as origami, from her dysfunctional upbringing, including the death of a brother, through her sensuous love affair with Teiji, consummated shortly after their eyes meet for the first time. In concise prose perfectly suited to its setting, Jones reveals how Lucy loses both friend and lover and is at risk of losing even more. Jones, who worked as a teacher and radio script editor in Japan, captures the sense of a foreign country and culture and creates an unusually provocative protagonist. Word-of-mouth and book group interest alone would likely propel this to success. Recommended for public library fiction collections. Michele Leber, Fairfax Cty. P.L., VA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
As she walks in the rain amid the skyscrapers of the Shinjuku district, expatriate translator Lucy Fly looks down into a puddle and sees a reflection of Teiji, as intense and independent as Lucy herself, a young man who works in a noodle shop by day and takes photographs by night. From that moment, her life will never be the same. As the two become lovers, Lucy retreats into a world apart. Content with the second self who completes her, she needs no other companionship. She keeps up a few friendships for old times' sake-one with Natsuko, a fellow translator who works in Lucy's office and looks constantly for happiness in the natural beauty of the Tokyo landscape; another, more remote, with Mrs. Ide and Mrs. Katoh, who played with Lucy in a string quartet until the death of their first violinist, Mrs. Yamamoto. But the friendship that proves most dangerous is with Bob, a bland American she meets at the dentist-because Bob introduces her to Lily Bridges, another expatriate Englishwoman from Yorkshire, who represents both the past Lucy wants to forget and the future she cannot face. And while Lily's presence is a source of pain to Lucy, her disappearance is a source of peril, threatening not only Lucy's freedom but her life. As it rocks gently back and forth between past and present, Jones's narrative is spare, but spares nothing. Gripping and haunting-an unforgettable debut.

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Early this morning, several hours before my arrest, I was awakened by an earth tremor. 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 policemen -- for in Tokyo we have a quake like this every month or so, sometimes more, and this morning's was nothing special. I am simply relating the sequence of events as they happened. It has been an unusual day, and I would hate to forget anything.

I was between the covers on my futon, in a deep sleep. I awoke to hear my coat hangers hitting the sides of the wardrobe. Plates in the kitchen rattled and the floor creaked. The rocking made me nauseous but despite that, I hadn't realized why I was moving. It was only when, from outside, the familiar sound reached my ears that I understood. A tinny voice croaked in the wind from far away. I sat up in the dark, shivering.

Since Lily's death and Teiji's disappearance, I have become nervous about many things. I pulled open the wardrobe door and crept beneath the clattering coat hangers. I put on my cycling helmet, reached for the flashlight that I keep taped to the wall, and crouched in the corner. I shone the light around to check that my whistle and bottle of earthquake water were with me. They were. A cockroach ran across my bare leg and settled on the floor beside me.

"Go away," I whispered. "Get out. Do you hear me? I don't want you here."

The cockroach's black feelers shifted slightly in my direction. Then it shimmered away and disappeared through an invisible crack in the wall.

It was some moments before I realized that the wardrobe was still. The earthquake had stopped. The night was quiet. I crawled back into the warmth of my futon but couldn't sleep. I knew now I was not alone in my flat. I pulled my pillow under my face and curled up on my side. I have many tricks to deal with the problems of ghosts and insomnia. One of them is to test my Japanese. I took then word for earthquake, jishin, and tried to think of words with the same pronunciation but different characters. Putting together ji, meaning "self," and shin, which means "trust," produces "confidence." With other written characters an earthquake can become an hour hand, a magnetic needle, or be simply oneself, myself. Here I ran out of ideas. There must be more words but I could think of none. I would normally be able to count seven or eight words before dropping off, but this morning my game wasn't working.

I tried another strategy. I imagined Teiji was behind me, circling me with his twiggish arms, rocking me to sleep, as he had done in the happy days when we slept together like spoons. We both loved earthquakes then, as much as we loved thunderstorms and typhoons. I felt comforted by the memory and I may have dozed off for half an hour or so. When I awoke again, the room was light. I folded my futon and kicked it into the wardrobe. I grabbed a package of instant noodles for my lunch and drank a quick cup of tea. At seven o'clock, I set off for work feeling no more tired, no worse than I have felt for the last few weeks. I expected a normal day at my office.

The police came for me in the afternoon. I was at my desk working on the translation of a new design of bicycle pump. I was concentrating hard and didn't notice the arrival of my visitors. The work was not particularly difficult -- my job is to translate tedious technical documents, and I do it very well -- but it took my mind off recent, disastrous events. I became aware that my colleagues had stopped working and were looking in the direction of the door. I raised my head. Two policemen stood in the entrance. I wasn't surprised. I'm sure no one was. My co-workers looked from the police to me and back again.

To be arrested in the middle of the office, in front of an unsupportive audience, was a degradation I didn't want. I leaped from my seat hoping to preempt the police officers' strike.

"It's for me," I muttered. "I think they just want to ask some more questions. No big deal."

And before I could cross the room: "Ms. Fly? We're taking you to the police station for questioning in connection with the disappearance of Lily Bridges. Bring your alien registration card."

I stood before the two dark blue uniforms and tried to edge them toward the door.

"It's in my pocket. I never go anywhere without it. But I've already answered a lot of questions. I can't imagine I have anything else to tell you."

"There are new developments. We'd like you to come with us down to the car."

I was nervous. There was only one potential development that I could think of, but I didn't dare ask my question. Had they found the missing parts of Lily's body? By now the disparate pieces may have been washed ashore with the tide, or caught in nets by the night fishermen. Perhaps the police had been able to put her back together again and make an official identification. That would be a formality. According to the newspapers, the police knew they'd found Lily.

Nothing has been the same in the office since that morning a couple of weeks ago when someone brought in the Daily Yomiuri and passed it quietly from desk to desk until, by the afternoon, it had reached mine. The headline announced: "Woman's torso recovered from Tokyo Bay. Believed to be missing British bartender Lily Bridges."

And no one would look at me after that, not properly. I don't know whether they thought I was a murderer or whether the whole horror of Lily's death had left them too embarrassed to talk to me.

The police led me out of the room -- as if I didn't know the way -- and down to the car on the street. I didn't look up. I knew my colleagues were watching from the window but there was no need to wave them goodbye. I shouldn't think we'll meet again. I shall miss one of them, my friend Natsuko. She wanted to believe in me, but the headline was too much even for her and she had deserted me.

My own reaction to the news story was that Lily wouldn't have approved of the wording, brief though it was. She was a bartender only in Japan. At home in Hull she had been a nurse. She was a fine nurse, as I discovered on our hike in Yamanashi-ken, when I slipped and fell on the mountainside. She led me down and bandaged my ankle with such efficient compassion that I almost cried. But in the bar she was clumsy and meek. Her voice was so high and whiny it made people want to jump behind the bar and get their own drinks. The bar job was only intended to be temporary.

But now Lily's dead and I'm in a police station. It is my first brush with the Japanese legal system, apart from a few avuncular questions when Lily first disappeared. I'm not sure what they want from me this time, but it seems serious. I am sitting on a bench in a corridor. The men who brought me here have gone away and there are two policemen fussing around nearby. An old fat one and a young thin one. The fat one is persuading the thin one to speak English to me to find out whether or not I can speak Japanese. I have not bothered to tell them that my Japanese is fluent, that indeed I am a professional translator. It is a fact they should know, if they know anything at all. They have reached an agreement. The thin one faces me.

"Hello. I'm going to be the interpreter." His English is slow, hesitant.


"Could you please tell me your full name?"

"It's on my alien registration card. I gave it to someone before."

This information is imparted to the other officer, in Japanese. The reply comes back in Japanese, then English.

"It's not my job to know what happened to your alien registration card. Your full name."

"Lucy Fly."

The fat one knits his brow.

"Rooshy Furai," I say, making an effort to be cooperative. When the police questioned me before, my friend Bob warned that I should try to act normal, although it goes against my nature, and I will be as obliging as I can.

"I'm thirty-four years old."

He doesn't respond.

"I was born in the year of the snake, in fact."

"And you work in Tokyo, in Shibuya," the old, fat policeman says in Japanese. When it's relayed into English, I reply, "That's right."

"Company name?"

Again, I wait for the translation before I answer, "Sasagawa."

"You're an editor there?"

My young, thin friend obediently conveys this to me.

"A translator. Japanese to English." I expect the coin to drop but it doesn't.

"How long have you worked there?"

"About four years."

"So you speak Japanese." The interpreter says, "So you speak Japanese."

"Yes," I say. Wake up, I think.

"Yes, she does."

The policeman looks at me. It is a suspicious, unfriendly look that I feel I have not deserved. Not yet. "Pera pera," I say. Fluently.

"You didn't say so."

"I wasn't asked."

The interpreter leaves, in something of a huff. I am glad to be rid of him. I didn't think much of his accent. I'm left with the old fat man.

My captor shows me to a chair in a small room. He sits opposite me and looks everywhere but at my face. I'm not complaining. Why should he have to look at my face? Lucy is not an oil painting, as everyone who has seen her knows. When I am comfortably seated, though, he forces his eyes upon my face only to find that now he can't let go. There's something about my eyes, I know this.

"I want you to tell me about the night Lily Bridges-san disappeared."

"Do we know which night she disappeared?"

"The night after which she was never seen again. As far as we know, you were the last person she spoke to."

"I've already told you about that."

"I'd like you to tell me again."

"I was in my apartment. The doorbell rang. I answered it. It was Lily. We spoke for a minute or so and she left."


"I went back inside."

"After that?"

"Nothing. I don't remember. I was bringing my washing in when Lily called. I probably returned to doing that."

"One of your neighbors saw you on the walkway outside your front door, speaking to Bridges-san."

I rolled my eyes. "Then presumably he or she saw what I just told you."

He stares at me. Like a teacher waiting patiently for a child's confession, knowing it will come.

"OK. I went after her about five minutes later. There was something I'd forgotten to tell her."

"So you spoke to her again?"

"No, I didn't find her."

"You assumed she was going to the station?"

"Yes. I don't know where else she could have gone. I don't believe she knew my area of Tokyo well."

"The route from your apartment to the station is fairly straightforward, is it not? And the streets are well lit at night."

"That's true, but I didn't find her. I don't know where she went."

"Would you tell me the nature of the conversation you had at your front door?"

I shake my head.

"You don't remember it?"

"I remember it."

"Then please share it with me."


"Your neighbor reported that you were angry. You shouted at Bridges-san."

"I don't shout."

"You weren't angry?"

"I was angry."

"Your neighbor said that you appeared to be carrying something, a bundle of some kind."

I snort. "Who is this neighbor? Miss Marple?"

I know very well that it was my vacuuming neighbor from next door. She has always struck me as having a fertile imagination. She vacuums aggressively for hours every day and sometimes in the middle of the night. There must be some wild ideas inside her head. Besides, she is my only immediate neighbor. There are just two apartments above the gas station and one is mine. I suppose it's a pity we never became friends, but it's too late now.

His face is blank.

"I was carrying nothing. Nothing at all."

He stares at me. "Think carefully. Please."

I think hard, to be polite, but I am feeling tired.

"As I told you, I was bringing my washing in. It's possible that when I answered the door, I was holding some item of clothing. But still, I am not so absentminded that I could have gone after Lily with something in my hands. And if I had found myself running down the street with a pair of knickers in my grasp, I would remember."

"I wonder what it could be that your neighbor saw."

"My hands were empty."

"Bridges-san was a close friend of yours."

I pause. "Yes."

"Tell me about your friendship."


"Lily was your best friend, wasn't she?"

"She became a close friend. I didn't know her very long."

"Other friends?"

"Mine or hers?"


I am not going to tell him of Teiji, my friend above all friends.

"Natsuko. She's my colleague. Bob. He's American. I met him in the dentist's waiting room. I taught him how to say 'a dull nagging pain' in Japanese. He's an English teacher so he can't really speak Japanese. And Mrs. Yamamoto. She ran the string quartet I used to play in. Mrs. Ide and Mrs. Katoh too. Second violin and viola."

"Did Lily Bridges know these people?"

"Only Natsuko and Bob. Mrs. Yamamoto died before Lily came to Japan. She never met Mrs. Ide and Mrs. Katoh."

"Why did Lily Bridges come to Japan? What is your understanding of her intentions?"

"She liked Hello Kitty."

He looks up, suspicious.

"I don't know why she came."

I do know. I'm not going to tell him about Andy, her boyfriend, and how he followed her and planted bugging devices in her handbag and beat up a window cleaner for climbing up his ladder to the bedroom window while Lily was changing her top, as if he could have known she was there. I will not tell him that she came to Japan secretly, giving up a job she loved, to escape from that boyfriend. I won't tell him because he already knows. I told the police before. So did Bob.

He stands and opens the door to let another one in. Now there are two. I squint and read the kanji on their name badges. The old one is called Kameyama ("turtle mountain") and the new one is Oguchi ("small mouth"). Oguchi is young, with soft, hairless arms and the stoop of a teenager who has grown too quickly. He sits a little farther back than Kameyama and looks worried. Kameyama leaves the room saying that he will be back soon. Oguchi plays with the left knee of his trousers. His fingers are long and bony, like his nose which he reaches to scratch. His eyes dart all around the room but he knows I'm watching him and he doesn't look at me. He bats a mosquito from his neck. It dances up before his eyes and moves closer and closer to his face. He bravely attempts to ignore it but it is starting to make a fool of him. Then, with more violence than is necessary, he smashes his hands together, wipes the squelch nonchalantly on a white handkerchief. He turns his eyes to the door, waiting hopefully for Kameyama's return. I notice he is blushing slightly. I think he fancies me.

Kameyama is very busy wherever he is and does not reappear for a while. Oguchi bows his head and scribbles something on a notepad. I am left to wonder at my future, and what control I now have. I think of Teiji and how, if he were here with me, I would not care what happened next. But it's nicer to reflect on the past, and more useful. If I think of what has already happened, I can start to make out how the past became the present, how my friendships turned to nothing, and why I'm here.

I picture Teiji sitting opposite me in Oguchi's chair, taking my hand and stroking the tips of my fingers, caressing them like soft cool water. I shiver at the imagined sensation and that is enough to take me back to Shinjuku, the place where I first saw him. That night I believed he was made of rain and nothing else.

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Earthquake Bird 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book reads very easily and has enough of a view into Japanese culture so as not to distract the reader. It really held me in suspense until the end.
Guest More than 1 year ago
only tried it out of curiosity as AN Wilson (an english reviewer) though it superb. i have to agree with him. i am an english lit graduate and so have read hundreds of books, and this is one of the best. i womt tell you what it is about or why i love it, just read it and you'll see what i mean when i say it is fantastic!!
harstan More than 1 year ago
The Japanese police find the dismembered torso of a female in Tokyo Bay. They believe the victim is Lily Bridges, a Yorkshire, England woman who tended bar in the city. The prime suspect is a compatriot, Lucy Fly, who works as a translator. The third person involved in a triangle with the two women is photographer Teiji, but he has vanished.

The police question Lucy who speaks about herself as if she was referring to someone else. Lucy sort of hints at doing the crime, but has not actually confessed. Instead the vulnerable Englishwoman never quite explains why she left her country or what she is doing in Japan, nor can she provide depth to an alleged deep love affair with her missing Japanese lover, or fully elucidate her relationship with the culprit here and in England. The police (and the readers) wonder if she really killed Lily or is she just a crazy person unable to cope with life?

THE EARTHQUAKE BIRD is a powerful debut tale that is part psychological drama and part police procedural. Because of elements from both sub-genres strongly used in the story line, readers do not know which way the plot will spin until the novel reaches its disturbing but clever climax. Susanna Jones has written an incredible shocker of a tale that will leave the audience demanding more books like this triumphant chiller from a new talent whose abilities will send tremors throughout the genre.

Harriet Klausner