The Flower Arranger by J.J. Ellis – a murder mystery set in contemporary Japan


Murder in Japan sounds complicated, but this book caters for those with no knowledge of Japanese culture or language. J.J. Ellis manages to combine a stunning mystery with several strands of family strains. This marks the introduction of two characters who have different motivations for tracking down the killer, an experienced police Inspector and a young journalist. Tetsu Tanaka, known as Tanaka, is a family man with a keen sense of responsibility, a little hesitant in the seedier side of Tokyo life, but determined to discover the truth. Holly Blain is a young reporter from the U.K., whose assimilation into Japanese society and language is impressive to all who encounter her. Assigned to show business coverage, she is ambitious to cover crime and more exciting stories. The instincts of both lead them in unforeseen ways to follow the trail of a flower arranger, a killer whose signature seems to be the use of beautiful flowers. The discovery of a body in terrible circumstances soon becomes potentially linked with the case of a missing girl. While all these elements may be familiar to readers of crime fiction set anywhere in the world, this book has a particularly Japanese flavour in every respect. This comes from a deep knowledge of Japan from an outsider’s point of view. The delicacy of the flowers throughout is in sharp contrast to the violence of the death of the victim. While there are frequent Japanese words and phrases, the meaning of each becomes obvious from the context, and the writer is skilful in introducing new ideas and information in a completely understandable way. I was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this novel.


The book opens by looking at the activities of three characters. The first is a mysterious man who is arranging flowers in a Japanese style, remembering his mother. Immediately we learn that in his pursuit of ikebana, the art of flower arranging, has led him to “borrow” or steal some rare orchids from a distant island. Chillingly he wants to fill the space in the arrangement. The first sight of Blain is linked with her perfect Japanese and her role at the newspaper, reporting on the schoolgirl bands much loved by both teenage girls and older men. Her knowledge of music from various cultures is of great importance, as well as her ability to size up a person and strike up conversations easily. She is ambitious to become a serious reporter in the field of crime, even if it is going to be difficult as a woman in a male dominated society. Tanaka is attempting to deal with a distraught father from France whose teenage daughter has gone missing, a situation not helped by his deliberate omission of what he had really been doing. It is only when Blain finds some leads that suggest that young women have been disappearing that Tanaka truly discovers that a relationship with this unusual reporter may be mutually beneficial. 


While I had my initial doubts about  following a book set in Japan, I was pleased to discover that I quickly became involved in the story. It is a very clever novel with a complex yet understandable plot, and the pace picks up as a murderer is desperately sought. References to American music and various cultures make it a colourful read, and I enjoyed the deep knowledge of Japan the author demonstrates. A very enjoyable read, it is challenging and informative throughout. I recommend it as a contemporary crime novel in an unusual setting which I found enthralling.