Interview by MysteryPeople Contributor Scott Butki
Barry Lancet has done it again: he’s written another thriller that crosses from America to Japan to North Korea and China, educating readers about cultural and political issues in the four nations.
The Spy Across the Table is Lancet’s fourth in his series about Jim Brodie, who works as an expert on Japanese art (often selling it to rich Americans) and runs a detective agency in Japan that he inherited from his father. As with the other books in the series there’s plenty of hooks, twist and surprises in addition to a variety of interesting characters.
One of the things I like about Lancet’s series is he has a section in the back of each book called About Authenticity, separating truth from fiction. As a former journalist who likes his fact and fiction kept separate this is a move I’d like to see more writers doing.
As this book starts Brodie has arranged for one of his American friends to meet a Japanese friend of Brodie’s. After their meeting, both are found murdered. Despite his shock, Brodie pursues the killer and others responsible, a chase that will take him across several countries. Meanwhile, the First Lady, a college roommate of one of the victims, enlists Brodie to find the killer.
Lancet was kind enough to be interviewed for his new book. I previously interviewed him here for his prior book, Pacific Burn.
Scott Butki: How did you come up with this story for this book?
Barry Lancet: I asked myself what’s keeping me up at night? As an American expat living in Tokyo on the far edge of the Pacific, I didn’t have far to look. The North Koreans were once again rattling their sabers and spouting off about going nuclear, while the Chinese were grabbing new territory, paving over uninhabited atolls to build airstrips. Everyone in Asia was on edge, though the rest of the world paid attention only sporadically. That was 18 months ago. I had no idea that these two countries would soon be grabbing major U.S. headlines as they have of late.
SB: Would you set the stage for readers?
BL: Jim Brodie is at the Kennedy Center in D.C., attending a special performance of a Kabuki theater troupe from Tokyo. He introduces his Hollywood set-designer college buddy to the renowned Tokyo stage designer of the Kabubi show, who Brodie also knows. As Brodie takes in the play, his two friends go backstage to talk shop and are inexplicably gunned down.
Brodie goes into shock and vows, using all his connections in the U.S. and Japan, to track down the killer, then unexpectedly finds himself dragged into a dangerous game of espionage. Trying to sort through the intrigue, he stumbles onto a covert plot by North Korea and China to grab the personal secrets of America’s most influential leaders—secrets so damaging the foreign governments will stop at nothing to get them.
SB: I last interviewed you for Pacific Burn, which alternated between the U.S. and Japan. What made you decide for this one to also include action in North Korea and China?
BL: I wanted to pull away the curtain and show readers what’s really going on in North Korea and China. How and why the countries are at loggerheads. I also wanted to lay out the nightmarish plight of every North Korean defector once he or she decides to escape. For starters.
SB How did you research this book, especially the North Korea and China parts?
BL: I visited South Korea for the fourth time and went to the DMZ, a frightening place. It’s worse than the Berlin Wall and Checkpoint Charlie were. There’s a sequence in the book that captures the intensity of the place. I talked to experts on North Korea. And, of course, I made the rounds in Japan as well. I toyed with the idea of going to North Korea but everyone in Japan talked me out of it, since snatching American visitors seems to have become a new North Korean pastime.
SB: How similar are you to the protagonist, Jim Brodie?
BL: We both speak Japanese. We both have gotten into our share of scrapes. We have many of the same interests (travel, art, a general curiosity about most things). His daughter is younger than mine, and I have a son as well. He has fewer fillings than me…I think.
SB: For your last book you mentioned that “many readers have told me that they learn something along the way, and they’re happy. For me, I offer that as a bonus to what I hope is an intriguing, fast-paced story.” Are there educational parts in this book? Do you try to keep it historically accurate?
BL: Yes to both questions, but it’s all woven into the meat of the story and I promise you it’s painless. Through Brodie’s eyes, you’ll be able to get inside the head of the Chinese and North Koreans and into the two countries’ extraordinarily tense relationship. There are plenty of surprises.
SB: What would you hope readers take away from this book?
BL: First and foremost, I want to write an entertaining story. Along the way I add things I’ve seen in my travels and life abroad. I hope some of the deeper details will resonate long after they close the book.
SB: I understand you have a planned Brodie back story? What’s the status of that one?
BL: It’s in the works. It’ll answer a number of lingering questions, such as the last days of Brodie’s father in Tokyo, how the top yakuza enforcer known as TNT came to be in Brodie’s debt, and much more
SB: What’s the status of a movie adaptation of one of your books?
BL: Abrams held onto the option for two years for a proposed TV series, then he was swallowed whole by the Star Wars franchise and rumor has it that only his doppleganger has been sighted since. At the moment, my agent is in touch with another Hollywood producer, though I haven’t signed on the dotted line as yet.
SB: What are you working on next?
BL: Aside from the Brodie prequel, I’m working on a standalone novel with a new main character, living in a new place and wrapped up in an entirely different world.
You can find copies of The Spy Across the Table on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.
Check out Scott Butki’s blog for more interviews with great mystery writers.