Friday 19 October 2018

Indie Spotlight: Matthew Legare

Indie spotlight focusses on self-published authors and self-publishing. Here, Matthew Legare discusses his new novel Shadows of Tokyo, the first in a projected historical thriller-noir series set in pre-World War II Japan. The second book, Smoke Over Tokyo, is coming soon.

Matthew is an indie author publishing under the Black Mist Books imprint. He also reviews new fiction and interviews authors on his blog.

So, over to Matthew…

Set in December 1931, at the intersection of the Great Depression and Japan’s invasion of Manchuria, the geisha Reiko Watanabe learns of a dark conspiracy. Her lover, the fascist firebrand Masaru Ryusaki, has ordered the assassination of one of Japan’s leading politicians. Worse yet, Ryusaki is allied with rogue officers in the Imperial Army who plan to launch a coup d’état and establish a military dictatorship.

With no other options, Reiko alerts Ryusaki’s rival, the honorable Police Inspector Kenji Aizawa, to the assassination plot. However, Reiko must help Inspector Aizawa secretly or risk losing her lover and her livelihood. But Reiko Watanabe is no demure, submissive Japanese woman. Headstrong and independent, she leads a double life as a moga, a modern girl, and is accustomed to getting her own way.

Torn between honor and duty, Reiko and Inspector Aizawa must forge an unlikely alliance and stay one step ahead of Ryusaki. Each must navigate through their own treacherous waters. Ryusaki’s protégé, the fanatical army officer Lieutenant Hajime Nakajima, suspects Reiko of treachery while slowly losing his grip on sanity. Meanwhile, Inspector Aizawa realizes his own commanding officer is a secret ally to Ryusaki and the conspiracy.

Racing against time, Reiko and Inspector Aizawa uncover a shadowy conspiracy that reaches into the upper echelons of government, international finance, and even to the Imperial Throne itself.

I was inspired to write Shadows of Tokyo while learning about Japanese history in the 1930s. I’m fascinated by the many coup d’état attempts and assassinations that happened in the run-up to World War II. In the West, we tend to gloss over this era with only a few words: the Japanese Army took over the government, invaded Manchuria, then China, and then attacked Pearl Harbor.

However, that line of thinking is overly simplistic and often times just plain wrong. There were a number of armed coup d’état attempts but none were actually successful.

We tend to think of Japan at this time as a military dictatorship but that is not entirely correct. The Japanese then had more political freedoms than their counterparts in Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia. There was a mass culture of music, fashion, and movies, all greatly inspired by the West. Japanese politics was very complex with multiple factions fighting against each other for dominance.

Another thing I noticed was that there are virtually no English-language novels about Japan in the 1930s. I have only read four in total. I love detective and thriller novels set in Interwar Shanghai, Weimar Berlin and America during the Great Depression. Prewar Japan was just as fascinating. I wanted to infuse my love of the thriller detective genre and history together to create something that hadn’t been done before.

The Reiko Watanabe/Inspector Aizawa series goes back in time to the Japan of the early 1930s, when war with America and China was not a foregone conclusion. Reiko and Inspector Aizawa must thwart assassination plots, criminal conspiracies, and brewing coup d’états, in an effort to save Japan from sliding into what’s been dubbed “The Dark Valley”.

Book 2 of the series, Smoke Over Tokyo, is due out later this year. It continues the series but is also a standalone thriller. Reiko and Inspector Aizawa must investigate the strange suicide of a politician with connections to a yakuza family, the Okamura Gang. They soon find themselves in the middle of a power struggle between the coldblooded Chizuru Okamura and her younger brother, Katsuro, an officer in the Imperial Navy. Horribly disfigured from recent fighting in Shanghai, Katsuro becomes infatuated with Reiko, who must discover what the Okamura siblings are really plotting.

Using bribery and deceit, Chizuru is poised to take over the government through corrupt politicians, while Katsuro seeks to launch a coup d’état with other navy officers. As they try and thwart both schemes, Reiko and Inspector Aizawa untangle a web of conspiracies involving the Army Secret Service, opium dens, corruption, and assassination, while all Japan hangs in the balance.

A prequel, Conspiracy in Tokyo, is also available free to download here. Set in March 1931, just before Shadows of Tokyo, this novella is based on a real-life coup d’état attempt and details exactly how Inspector Aizawa and Masaru Ryusaki became such bitter enemies.

When writing historical fiction, I feel that reading academic books is great but they only give you an overview. While writing Shadows of Tokyo, I read contemporary news accounts and memoirs of both Japanese and Westerners who lived through the 1920s and 1930s. Anything published at the time will give a more personal perspective on everyday life, not just the major political events. For example, in James Young’s Behind the Rising Sun, I learned that many Japanese women preferred drinking gimlets, so I made it Reiko’s drink of choice. Hugh Byas’ 1942 book Government by Assassination provided great insights into the motives of Japanese assassins and patriotic societies, so I incorporated them into the novels.

Watching movies made during the time is also extremely helpful for research. I’ve seen about fifty silent Japanese films made between 1920-1935, all of which offered great insights to how a Japanese apartment was laid out, what furniture was there, the body language between people, and what products they consumed. I was shocked at how many posters of Western films appeared in old Japanese movies, which is why Reiko has them in her apartment. It fits with her moga character and it’s also historically accurate.

When writing, the best advice I can give is: wait to edit. You will cut hundreds if not thousands of words out, so don’t worry about your manuscript being too long initially. Edit each chapter just enough to where it’s not terrible and then move on. There will be time for major edits after.