In the third book of Winther’s (The Leopard Sings, 2011, etc.) Cat Trio series, an American lawyer’s business trip to Japan turns deadly.
Spirited, resourceful attorney Chelsea is a full partner at San Francisco firm McClosky, Warner & Jarvis. When Eric, her charming boyfriend, asks her to visit Japan and negotiate a contract for his travel company, she agrees. Although the last-minute trip fills her with trepidation, events in Japan proceed smoothly. Men wearing red peonies in their lapels whisk her from the airport via limo directly to Hayashi Associates’ headquarters while Chelsea’s luggage is sent ahead to a hotel, and Mr. Hayashi accepts everything in the contract without question. When the meeting ends, he hands her a manila envelope, sealed with wax and his personal stamp, for her to deliver to Eric, and he assigns her a man to guide her around Kyoto. Later, at her hotel, Chelsea meets Yoshi Moore, an English literature professor visiting his mother’s side of the family; to assuage their mutual loneliness in the formal, contemplative nation, they decide to have dinner and sightsee together. But Yoshi realizes that all is not well when he figures out that Hayashi’s man is yakuza—a Japanese gangster. Winther’s writing is a joy to read; she knows Japan incredibly well, from the copious tea drinking to the hidden shrines of Tokyo. (There’s also a fair amount of untranslated Japanese, but it never impedes the narrative.) Chelsea is a fun, flirty character that readers will likely root for, even when she’s less than glamorous: “Her looks weren’t up to courtroom standard, her face the hue of a sliced cucumber and the dark crescents under her eyes a reflection of her eyebrows.” The novel’s long chase, which takes Chelsea and Yoshi through the cities of Honshu Island to its rustic seaside, is enlivened by descriptions of beauty and menace: “She set the chairs down, facing each other...their frames casting long, bony shadows across the tatami.” Readers will likely forgive the slow pace of the novel’s final third, as it allows genuine romance to bloom between Chelsea and Yoshi.
A tasteful, witty and well-executed romantic thriller.