The Crime Readers' Association

Spotlight on Lea O’Harra

5th November 2015

Welcome to CWA Member Lea O’Harra who is advertising her novel Imperfect Strangers with us this month. Lea’s book was published in the UK in Sept 2015 by Endeavour Press.

Imperfect Stranger: Synopsis

When President Nomura, head of a small private university in southern Japan, is found in his office with his throat cut, the quiet provincial town of Fujikawa comes alive with conspiracy and secrets. Why are official university documents missing from the crime scene? And what is the meaning behind the Japanese doll left on Nomura’s desk by the killer? Darkness and deceit begin to rise to the surface, shattering the everyday façade of peace and conformity. Chief Inspector Inoue of the local police force soon learns that the victim had a number of enemies. It’s not long before Inoue discovers that nearly everyone involved in the case is harbouring their own secrets and lies.

However, when a second university employee is murdered on campus in the dead of night, Inoue’s Commanding Officer – Superintendent Takenaka – takes over the case and makes a sudden arrest, eager for the high profile case to be closed as soon as possible. But whilst everyone is convinced they have caught the murderer, Chief Inspector Inoue is certain that they have the wrong man. Inoue faces his greatest challenge to date – risking professional ruin and disgrace in a race to find the killer. t with everyone around him a potential suspect, who can he trust? Can the small town of Fujikawa ever return to normal? Or is it impossible to find perfect justice in an imperfect world? ‘Imperfect Strangers’ is a gripping murder mystery and an intriguing dissection of modern day Japan. ‘A thrilling page-turner.’ – Tom Kasey, best-selling author of ‘Cold Kill’.

We asked Lea to tell us more about her inspiration behind Imperfect Strangers

“I have lived in Japan for over thirty years. Soon after my arrival I became interested in the notion of the ‘mask’ in Japan. Japanese wear many masks. There is, for example, the mask of inscrutability behind which most of them tend to hide their true thoughts and feelings when in the presence of strangers or in a potentially awkward situation. I sometimes call it the Japanese ‘putting on the scroot’. The ordinary Japanese can adopt a look of blank impassivity with frightening ease. Then there is the Japanese woman’s tendency to apply lots of makeup, layers of cream and powder so thick she seems to be wearing a kind of mask. Also, there is the popularity of the surgical mask, worn by many during winter or during hay fever season to protect themselves from infections that might be spread by others and, equally, to protect others from any contagion they might be capable of passing on.

This widespread use of masks in daily life here gave me the idea for how I might fashion a murder mystery: how my culprit might try to conceal identity in committing the crime. I first came up with the idea for the novel in 1998. I happened to be visiting Britain and chanced upon an advertisement for a crime fiction competition. I submitted a chapter and then left my copy lying disregarded in a drawer for fifteen years before deciding to try to complete the murder mystery I had thought of so long before.

My greatest challenge in writing my novel was plotting out the story with its requisite twists and turns. I feel unbounded admiration for such an author as Agatha Christie, always capable of providing lots of hints but red herrings, too, in her stories, keeping up a sense of suspense throughout. In the event, my characters seemed to take on a life of their own and to tell me how the story should evolve.

As for what I most enjoyed in writing Imperfect Strangers, I suppose it was that I could try to describe the Japanese way of thinking and acting to people unfamiliar with this country. The visitor to Japan, particularly if he limits his travels to the big cities, might think it not so different from other countries, but we ex-pats resident here for many years know that’s quite untrue. The Japanese are unique in many respects, possibly because of historical reasons: the centuries they spent in the past in self-imposed isolation from any other country.

Although it is a safe and fascinating place to live, like any nation, Japan has its troubles, and I outline not only the many virtues of this country but also some of the problems it is currently facing. Imperfect Strangers is a dissection of modern Japan as well as a murder mystery. It touches upon such topical subjects as the growing popularity of international marriage in what has traditionally been a homogeneous society, the Korean fingerprinting issue, gender discrimination in the workplace and at home, tensions between the general populace and far right, purportedly patriotic elements, and Japan’s demographic crisis precipitated by an aging population and a shrinking birthrate. It is a whydunnit as much as a whodunnit.”

Lea O’Harra, November 2015.

Lea O’Harra is the pen name of Wendy Jones Nakanishi more details can be found on her CRA Author’s page.

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