The Earthquake Bird – Susanna Jones

I took a small step forward so that the tips of my shoes entered the water and were reflected over the hotel. He didn’t look up. He shifted round the puddle with the camera against his eye all the time. Then he shot the picture, including my feet. I kept my position and he lifted his head to look at me. His eyes sesarched my face as if he couldn’t quite find what he wanted. He put his camera back to his eye and looked at me through the viewfinder, like a child peering through an empty toilet roll tube to see the world in another way.

So I have to admit, crime fiction, I just don’t get it. It’s at best, formulaic, and at worst, formulaic. I know that’s an sweeping generalisation, but aside from celebrity memoirs, there isn’t a genre that completely fails to interest me like crime fiction. Someone disappears, dies, or both (in either order) and someone else tries to work out whodunnit, not restricted to but including an ageing-flawed-crossed-the-tracks-a-few-times-grizzled-veteran cop. There are obviously some great crime writers and I know it’s a huge genre, it’s just not my bag. So, why did I read The Earthquake Bird, a whodunnit focused not around the cop, but someone who mighthavedunnit? It was a gift, and I hoped the setting in Japan would lift it from the monotony of a crime novel.

Sadly it didn’t. Jones’s prose is sparse and functional, and in this novel, because of the setting, seems almost Murakami-light. There is the same randomness of the actions and descriptions of the characters, which borders slightly on the unbelievable, yet never quite becoming absurd, which is a neat trick, but does leave me feeling that Japan in literature is, well, just a little bit weird.

I didn’t like Lucy, the narrator, at any point during the book, did not warm to her, did not feel anything but a mild annoyance towards her. While it was obvious she did not commit murder, Susanna Jones deserves credit for creating a protagonist that is almost completely unlikeable, I read on in a vain hope I might understand why on earth she kept suddenly referring to herself in the third person while recollecting her stories. I expect there was a reason but I couldn’t muster the interest to work it out. I also didn’t get the connection between her life story, and the crime, it was like a memoir written on the wall of an interrogation room because she happened to be there at the time. Take away the corpse and it could of been on a bus station wall.

While I didn’t completely guess who committed the murder, it was mostly because I didn’t care. Although I did see the major event between the 3 characters coming a mile off. I rushed through the 260 odd pages in one evening not to confirm what I thought, but to get the book out of the way.

So that’s it really, I don’t really like writing negative reviews, I considered following the saying if you don’t have anything nice to say say nothing at all, but it would have made something of a short review. I’m happy to admit my own prejudices against the genre might have clouded me, and I’ve barrelled past the nuances that such books contain, but you can’t love ’em all.

There is a moment of quiet. Then, a rustling in the trees as if someone is creeping toward the house. My skin turns cold. I am absolutely still. I tell myself it’s the neighbours’ dog but I know dogs don’t creep. My mouth is dry. And then I hear it. The unmistakable sound of a camera clicking. The whirr that follows it as the film winds on for the next shot. I look for Teiji but see only trees and bushes.

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