Read this exclusive Q&A with author Barry Lancet, and then make sure you're signed in and comment for a chance to win a copy of all three Jim Brodie thrillers!
Barry Lancet broke onto the scene in 2013 with his debut novel, Japantown, the first in his acclaimed Jim Brodie series. Brodie, an antiques dealer and Japan expert, was called to help police decipher the only clue at an otherwise perfect murder in San Francisco’s Japantown: an obscure Japanese character left at the grisly crime scene.
Hailed as the next Jack Reacher, Brodie captured the imagination of readers and critics alike. The author, a former editor and expat living in Japan, was praised for weaving in Japanese art, history, and martial arts into the fast-paced story. Japantown landed on several “Best Debut Novel” lists, took home the Barry Award, and was optioned for television by J. J. Abrams’s production company.
Lancet’s second Brodie novel, Tokyo Kill, successfully avoided the sophomore slump. A Shamus Award finalist for “Best PI Novel of the Year,” Tokyo Kill was declared a must-read for Asian leaders by Forbes magazine because of the way the story bridged the Japan–China gap when a 96-year-old Japanese WWII vet is forced to confront his violent past in an unexpected way.
Lancet has kept the momentum going with his newest novel, Pacific Burn. In this third installment, things heat up when Brodie’s artist-friend Ken Nobuki is shot and the assassin nearly takes out Brodie. What seems like a random act of violence, soon reveals itself to be a larger plot—one that may relate to an alleged cover-up concerning the nuclear plant meltdown in Fukushima, Japan. Ripped from the headlines, Brodie’s latest outing is already receiving strong buzz and is arguably the best in the series.
Lancet was kind enough to answer a few questions:
Your first two books were either nominated or won awards and optioned for television by none other than Star Wars’s J. J. Abrams. Did you feel any pressure on this third Jim Brodie novel?
No pressure, only a desire to raise the bar for myself and make the next book better than the last. Pacific Burn was a story begging to be told—about murder, greed, and undue influence played out over both sides of the Pacific.
The story involves the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan. What inspired you to weave the tragedy into a Brodie story?
I was winding up edits on Japantown when the earthquake-tsunami-nuclear plant meltdown decimated northern Japan. There were towns radiated, people missing, and allegations of cover-ups by the utility running the plant in collusion with the Japanese government—what some called the “nuclear mafia.” This not only hit close to home for me, as an expat living in Japan, but it had all the makings for a thriller.
Speaking of your expat status, what took you to Japan?
I went on a lark—taking the long way around from California, on my way to London and Paris. I wanted to work in Europe for a few years as an editor, but what I found in Japan sent me into a tailspin.
So much was different. So much was fascinating, but not immediately clear. I needed to learn more.
Plus, there were about six publishers putting out books in English, so I added Tokyo to my job-hunting list. I headed on to Europe, didn’t find the conditions as I had hoped, went about other business for five years back in California—but something inexplicable pulled me back to Japan. So I went and found a career there as an editor. It was a big leap. I’ve now lived in Tokyo for more than 20 years.
As you mention, before creating Jim Brodie, you were a career editor. What lessons from that side of publishing, if any, have helped you as a writer?
The best books have a unique take on the world. Those are the ones that resonate with readers. Those are the ones they come back to.
To that point, Brodie is certainly a unique creation. He straddles the art world, but reluctantly had to take over his deceased father’s high-end security firm/PI business in Tokyo while maintaining his antiques shop in San Francisco. What makes him tick?
He knows a second world extremely well—in his case Japanese culture. He has absorbed it all—the language, the history, the art. When a person becomes deeply vested in another pursuit, horizons can expand. This can lead to a deeper understanding of many other things, and in Brodie’s case, it helps him with the investigation firm that fell to him when his father died.
Has living in Tokyo in any way impacted your ability to connect with U.S. readers or promote the book?
No, not really. With the Internet and social media, the world is a much smaller place now. Also, I make it a point to be in the U.S. when a book is launched. This time, I arrived stateside in late January, and I’ve already started the U.S. book tour for Pacific Burn. I won’t head back to Japan until mid-April. Each book allows me to meet readers old and new, and catch up with family and friends, so it’s great fun.
Since you have a handle on Japanese cuisine, where’s the best Japanese food in the U.S.?
There are some excellent places in New York City, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, and I have no doubt others have sprung up elsewhere. I’ve heard tales of a great one in Las Vegas.
That said, I eat differently in the United States than in Japan. With all the brilliant Japanese restaurants at my fingertips in Tokyo, when I head overseas, I target places where the cooking is inventive, fresh, and different from what I can find in Japan.
For any foodie readers, I wrote a piece about the places I like in LA’s Little Tokyo here, where I went mostly homey and simple.
Favorite thriller writers?
I hate this question because there are so many. I read Steve Berry, Lee Child, Michael Connelly, Nelson DeMille, Daniel Silva, and a few others regularly, and then sample a lot. And one of the joys of having been doing this for a little while now is newer writers have been asking me for blurbs. There’s a lot of new talent out there.
Last, what’s been the best thing about being a writer so far?
Having the freedom to write what I want and showing readers the things I am seeing overseas—in the context of a great story. And then, meeting those readers online, at book talks, and at conventions. They come from all over the country and from all walks of life. They make all those nights alone at the keyboard worth it.
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Barry Lancet is the author of Pacific Burn (Simon & Schuster February 9, 2016), the latest in his Jim Brodie mystery-thriller series.The first book in the series, Japantown, won the Barry Award for “Best First Novel,” and the second, Tokyo Kill, was a finalist for a Shamus Award for “Best P.I. Novel of the Year.” Lancet divides his time between Japan and the United States.