Indie authors have to hustle to get their books reviewed. Just before my publisher released The Kimono Tattoo, she and I scrambled to find journals willing to carry a review. I was disappointed time and again when journals turned us down.

It’s discouraging really.

My local paper, the journals I had pinned my hopes on in Japan, one by one they declined.

And then, when I’d given up all hope, David Cozy came out with his upbeat review in the Kyoto Journal, the one journal I had longed for above all others.

Now, two years later I’m thrilled to find another encouraging review of The Kimono Tattoo in Booklife. I love that the (anonymous) reviewer was able to acknowledge the “literary” aspect of the novel and look past the fact that it doesn’t conform exactly to the mystery genre.

“Copeland handles the milieu with sensitivity and an eye for the killer detail, and an infectious sense of cultural discovery, even as the suspense tightens.”

Thank you! I know it takes time and effort to read a book closely and write a cogent review. Much appreciated.


Booklife Review, Editor’s Pick: The Kimono Tattoo

Rebecca Copeland

Kyoto comes to vivid life in this polished, thoughtful thriller, the debut novel from Copeland, a critic and editor who has translated several works of Japanese literature into English. That experience informs the mysteries of The Kimono Tattoo, which finds delicious suspense and surprise in the streets and garment manufacturers of Kyoto, and in the pages of a new work by Shōtarō Tani, an esteemed writer who, years after vanishing, wants narrator Ruth Bennett to translate his unpublished, unfinished, and narratively unstable latest novel. Presumably autobiographical, that manuscript, for Ruth, becomes “a dark door.” She’s jolted by a scene in that work of a heavily tattooed woman apparently murdered—a woman named for the author Shōtarō’s real-life sister, Satoko, a designer and businesswoman who had once revolutionize the kimono industry but now has long been absent from public life.

Even more jolting: news announcements of the discovery of a real-life corpse, possibly Satoko. Ruth grew up in Kyoto, and soon she sets herself to making sense of this mystery, especially attempting to unravel possible messages in tattoos described in the text. That demands research and investigation that will send Ruth into the worlds of skin art, kimonos, and even the yakuza. Copeland excels at capturing the intuitive work of ferreting out urgent secrets, presenting detective work and translation as fascinatingly related skills: Ruth must probe the curious facts until she reveals truths that a killer prefers to keep hidden.

The investigation comes with a cost: a threat to innocents Ruth cares about. The novel’s literate and humane, leaning on the “literary” in “literary thriller.” It’s also gripping, with deftly plotted twists of bursts of deadly action in both the narrative present and in the fiction-within-the-fiction that, increasingly, seems like it might not be fiction at all. Copeland handles the milieu with sensitivity and an eye for the killer detail, and an infectious sense of cultural discovery, even as the suspense tightens.

Takeaway: Gripping literary thriller about translation and possible murder in Kyoto.
Comparable Titles: Suki Kim’s The Interpreter, Amy Tasukada’s The Yakuza Path series.
Production grades:

  • Cover: A
Design and typography: A
  • Editing: A

  • Marketing copy: A