Middle-aged photographer Robert “Foss” Fossick has been living as a recluse since his wife died in a tragic holiday accident, prone to panic attacks and guzzling fistfuls of medication to make it through the day. When his senile mother takes a fatal fall on the nursing home patio, she leaves him in possession of a shoebox addressed to a mysterious “Mr Satoshi,” and he is reluctantly drawn into a quest to find the man. This mission will take him from London to Tokyo and later to Hokkaido, in a journey that’s as much about leaving the past behind as digging it up again.
Solicitor-turned-author Jonathan Lee was posted to Tokyo by his law firm in 2007, and wrote "Who Is Mr Satoshi?" on returning to England. As debut novels go, it’s extremely accomplished, even if the frequent literary flourishes can get a bit much at times. Why merely lie down when you can “lay sprawled on the arctic wastes of a foreign bed?" Lee’s portrait of Japan is rich with detail—the “men with left-swerving hair” at a fish market, the “skeletal neon lights” adorning buildings—but also susceptible to cliche. Within hours of touching down, Foss has befriended a pink-haired grad student in Starbucks who speaks fluent English and—wait, it gets better—works at a love hotel run by an ex-sumo wrestler with a Dolly Parton fixation.
I nearly stopped reading at that point, but thankfully the author doesn’t let the narrative spiral out of control after his initial flirtation with kookiness. At heart, this is a tale of loss, and it’s shot through with moments of genuine poignancy, especially as Foss gets closer to solving the riddle that he’s inherited. If the support characters strain credulity at times, our protagonist is a wholly believable creation, insecurities and all, and his emotional journey is what anchors the novel.
This story originally appeared in Metropolis magazine (www.metropolis.co.jp).© Japan Today