In chapter one of Hirahara's seamless and shyly powerful first novel, a Japanese PI unsettles prickly, stubborn Mas Arai, Hiroshima survivor, widower and estranged father, and the other elderly Japanese-American gardeners who hang out at Wishbone Tanaka's Lawnmower Shack in the seedy L.A. suburb of Altadena. The PI's disturbing questions concern a nurseryman called Joji Haneda, reported dead in the atomic blast that leveled Hiroshima in August 1945, but who was actually still alive in California in June 1999. A month later, Haneda is brutally murdered. Mas must revisit his past and open old, still festering wounds in order to solve the crime, while the specter of bachi, akin to instant bad karma, hovers over him like the black clouds of his recurring nightmares. In his cherished 1956 Ford truck, unlikely sleuth Mas pursues a trail that leads him to an all-night noodle shop, an illegal gambling loft and a chow-mien bowling-alley/cafe. After his truck and dignity are stolen, Mas enlists the help of two lovingly rendered, all-too-human friends: Haruo Mukai, whose long white hair hides a false eye and shocking keloid scar, and Tug Yamada, a gentle, honorable giant willing to put his own life on the line for others. Peppered with pungent cultural details, crisp prose and credible, fresh descriptions of the effects of the A-bomb, this perfectly balanced gem deserves a wide readership. Agent, Sonia Pabley. (Apr. 6) Forecast: The subtle, tasteful jacket art, combining elements of a rising sun and a lawnmower, will attract readers of multicultural literary fiction. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Fifty years and more after Hiroshima, another bomb ticks away among the Japanese survivors in L.A. A month before Joji Haneda dies in the hospital, word goes out among his fellow gardeners all around Ventura County that someone's looking for him. More than one someone, in fact, since two visitors from Hiroshima, private eye Shuji Nakane and Shine magazine writer Yuki Kimura seem equally eager to find him, the reporter because he's trying to ascertain the fate of his grandfather, who was working in the Hiroshima train station when the bomb fell, the shamus for reasons he'd rather not say. Nakane's quest seems more equivocal-Joji's old compatriot Masao Arai is convinced he's behind the theft of his beloved 1956 Ford pickup-but Yuki's bears more bitter fruit. Riki Kimura, the grandfather he's trying to put to rest, has been living as Joji Haneda for many years, and when Yuki gets too close to the truth about him, he ends up under arrest for murder. Stung by the fact that no one, not even those closest to the alleged Joji, will admit the deception, Mas Arai puts his meager resources on the line to vindicate Yuki and set the record straight once and for all. Given the immensely promising background, there's surprisingly little mystery here. But debut novelist Hirahara's prismatic writing nails a Japanese-American subculture and a troubled past few of her readers have ever confronted directly. Agent: Sonia Pabley/Rosenstone Wender