Book Review: THE EARTHQUAKE BIRD, an atmospheric mystery set in Tokyo

Jones, Susanna - The Earthquake BirdThe Earthquake Bird
Susanna Jones

In The Earthquake Bird, police officers come to take translator Lucy Fly in for questioning in the disappearance and likely murder of Lily Bridges, a woman recently arrived from England. Lucy refuses to answer most of the officers’ questions, even if they might help her. While confined by the police, Lucy considers her past and how became a murder suspect.

Ten years ago, Lucy Fly left England for Tokyo, cutting off all ties with her family. The only girl out of eight children, always told she was strange, she had sought refuge in isolation and in fake languages. As an adult, it was natural she sought a country where she could escape.

Even in Tokyo, Lucy had few friends: just a co-worker, the other members of a string quartet in which she played cello, and occasionally other ex-pats that post often exasperated her. Yet when she met amateur photograph Matsuda Teiji by stepping into the frame of his picture, she became caught up in the relationship, though it was often a mystery to her and he seemed to set the terms of their contact.

Though Lucy was uninterested in seeing anyone else, her acquaintance Bob asked her to help a new arrival, Lily Bridges, who spoke no Japanese, find a place to live since Lily seemed overwhelmed and anxious. Lucy reluctantly agreed.

Lucy’s traumatic past, her relationship with Teiji, and her budding friendship with Lily layer and intersect, opening up childhood wounds that echo in the present. But, do they make her a murderer?

The Earthquake Bird is written in economical, elegant language and offers a lovely view of Tokyo from the perspective of an outsider. Its commentary on translation and in living in two languages is also interesting. To some extent, the book is a commentary on the tendency to rewrite and reinterpret memories and the past and the possible danger involved. I also liked the idea of Teiji experiencing the world so completely through photography and how that affects Lucy.

The mystery element of the story was less compelling. We know from the beginning that Lily is missing and likely dead. What happened to her is wrapped up in the final pages of the novel. Arguably, the mystery wasn’t the point, but it was positioned that way, so I was expecting a little more.

Furthermore, the author used some techniques, such as the similarity of Lucy and Lily on the page, that had no consequence in the narrative. Additionally, another frequently used device (which I won’t describe to avoid spoiling it for anyone who cares) seems like it will be very important but also has no resolution or explanation by the end of the novel.

People who are interested in a portrait of Tokyo or a unreliable narrator’s excavation of her past will likely enjoy The Earthquake Bird. Those who are looking for a more conventional mystery, though, will be disappointed.

Book Review: THE NIGHT OLIVIA FELL, tangled in the lies we tell

McDonald, Christina - The Night Olivia FellThe Night Olivia Fell
Christina McDonald

One October night, Abi Knight receives a call every parent dreads. Her daughter, Olivia, has been in an accident. She fell from a bridge and a passerby found her on the shore. Though brain dead, the hospital is forced to keep Olivia alive because she is pregnant, another shock to Abi.

Though Olivia has bruises on her wrists and there is evidence of cyberbullying on her computer, the police decline to investigate. Anthony Bryant, a victim’s advocate from nearby Seattle, joins Abi’s crusade to find the truth about what happened to Olivia the night she fell, though he may not be what he seems. And getting to the truth may be difficult when Abi has surrounded Olivia with lies her whole life…

The Night Olivia Fell is told in two timelines, the present, in which Abi is investigating Olivia’s fall, and about six months earlier, in which Olivia is trying to find out the truth about her past after she sees her doppelganger at a school event held at the University of Washington.

Although I found Olivia’s sections juvenile and slightly annoying (as might be expected as they are told from her point of view), they were also incredibly poignant given what we knew about her fate. As she was on her own quest for answers, Olivia pushed against her overprotective mother and started developing a voice of her own.

Abi, backtracking the last months of Olivia’s life, had to face her overprotectiveness of her daughter and her tendency to live vicariously through her.

The Night Olivia Fell questions the validity of lies we tell to protect others, the role of trust in relationships, and the bonds of love even beyond death. Although heartbreaking, the novel is a compelling read with a satisfying conclusion.

Thank you to NetGalley and Gallery Books for providing an advance reading copy in exchange for an honest review.