PURSUED BY RUTHLESS KILLERS AND TORMENTED BY HIS OWN DEMONS, WILL JACKIE SHAW GET OUT OF JAPAN ALIVE?
‘DRY RIVER captures a sense of place with such vivid, visceral, and violent detail that you can smell the sweat, the blood, and the wasabi.’ RAYMOND BENSON
When ex-undercover agent Jackie Shaw visits northern Japan for a holiday, he is in search of relaxation, an escape from the brutality and tragedy of his past.
But when a local man is butchered as he spies on a young woman in the seedy heart of Sapporo’s entertainment district, Jackie is dragged into the hunt for a terrifying serial killer and begins a long and bloody battle with vicious yakuza gangs.
From the twisted underbelly of one of Japan’s largest cities to the vast, unforgiving wilderness of the northern territories of Hokkaido, DRY RIVER is a uniquely menacing and compulsive thriller which will take you to places you’ve never been before.
If you like Barry Eisler, Mark Dawson, Adrian McKinty or James Clavell, you’ll love John Steele’s books. DRY RIVER is the third book in John’s Jackie Shaw series and the most gripping yet!
‘John Steele’s picture-perfect depiction of the yakuza world in Japan is not only accurate, it is frightening.’ Raymond Benson, author of Blues in the Dark and the five-book The Black Stiletto
1. typical writing day
2. where the idea for the series came from
3. a piece on the main character
4. journey to getting published
The Jackie Shaw books began with a beer and a bet.
I had been living in England for three years and was having a couple of jars on the roof of the apartment building in which I was living. I had had the creative bug since school and was lucky enough to have seen some short stories in print and on the websites of a couple of American crime or horror anthologies and websites. My friend and I had downed a few bottles by the time he challenged me to write a novel.
I laughed. Short story guidelines for publication are incredibly tight, with a maximum word count of between 2,500 and (on the generous end of the scale) 5,000. The leap to a novel of 90,000 words or more was less likely in my head than waking up sober the next morning. But the drink flowed and Dutch courage kicked in and I accepted. I would finish a first draft of a novel in twelve months for an all-expenses-paid night on the town courtesy of my mate. If I failed, I put my own hand in my pocket and stood him drinks for a night.
Then I got down to what many writers do best and with alacrity. Sod all. Procrastination. TV boxsets. Itemising my future purchases when my numbers came up on the lottery. Months passed. Christmas came and went. January kicked in, cold and bleak. And my wife bought a home pregnancy test and gave me the best news I’d heard since she said the words, ‘I do’.
My hometown is a complex, exhilarating and exasperating place. My wife is Japanese, a country with a distinct and unique culture forged in centuries of isolation. My child would be born in England. How could my son or daughter ever understand the religious, nationalistic, political Gordian knot of Northern Ireland?
They wouldn’t. But I could give my child, when they were old enough, a sense of life back in the days when policemen were still checking under their cars for explosive devices every morning; armed soldiers were patrolling through shopping malls; and terrorists and paramilitaries were in a demented competition of one-upmanship as to who could commit the most vile, brutal and depraved atrocity, not forgetting the terror and hardship they inflicted on their own communities. The result is my first novel, Ravenhill.
I know former policemen and soldiers. I remember acquaintances who joined paramilitary organisations. These men, and others I read of in my research, became Jackie Shaw, a policeman in Belfast undercover with a terrorist group, and his antagonists, hard men and thugs hanging violence and criminality on a cause or, after the ceasefire in the late nineties, turning to blatant organised crime.
In the course of writing and researching a first draft of my fourth book a few months ago I discovered a friend from the nineties was brutally murdered, the police believe by the very paramilitaries portrayed in Ravenhill. Loyalists, claiming fealty to the British Crown. But what of the other side of the equation, the Republicans? What of the supposed instances of security force collusion back during the ‘Troubles’ in Northern Ireland.
The result is Seven Skins, my second novel. The book features former players from Republican terror organisations and the Crown forces, struggling to find their identity in the modern day. It examines
some of the bizarre and repellent victimhood claimed by the very people who bombed, shot and murdered their way through the population twenty years ago, and how the younger generation are poisoned by the bigotry of the old. It touches on organised crime in London, and human trafficking. It is violent, dark, noir and, I hope, propulsive: the novel never stops moving as a narrative, on the run just like Jackie and the young girl he protects amid the chaos.
And so to Dry River, my third novel, published in August by Silvertail Books.
I had my concerns about setting the book in Japan. It seemed a leap, from Belfast to London to the other side of the world. Until I realised I had made the same kind of journey: Belfast to New York, back to Belfast, to Hungary then Japan and, now, England.
So, Jackie Shaw finds himself in the northern Japanese city of Sapporo on the island of Hokkaido. I know the town and area well: my wife is from Sapporo and I spent a decade living and working in the city. On a trip to get away from the horrors of his past, Jackie becomes embroiled in a yakuza power-play among local organised crime, the mind games of a beautiful hostess and a Tokyo gangster, and the visceral carnage of a deranged spree killer in a Tengu demon mask. The book covers the dichotomy of Japan – the conservative, ordered society of the daylight hours and the sultry, carnal, seedy night in the cities with a simmering aura of threat lurking in the shadows far from the blazing neon; the urban sprawl of the cities and the harsh, breath-taking, vast wilderness of the northern territory; the formal, harmonious, collective concept of tatemae – the face an individual presents to the world – and honne – the true feelings and desires of oneself.
And, like Seven Skins, the novel is steeped in the world of outsiders existing in the nooks and crannies of society. The foreigners who live and work in Japan. The yakuza, many Korean, Chinese or misfits looking for an identity and brotherhood in a deeply homogenous country. The crazed right-wingers seeded throughout organised crime in Japan. The Burakumin, Japan’s dirty secret, the detested, victimised and denigrated caste of ‘unclean’ in the society, ignored by many and persecuted by some.
It’s a wild ride in a wild place. A long way from Belfast. A long way from that rooftop where I sank those beers with my friend and began this journey.
I won the bet; he still hasn’t coughed up that night out.
Thank you, John Steele and Book On The Bright Side Publicity & Promo
About the author
John Steele was born and raised in Belfast, Northern Ireland. In 1995, at the age of twenty-two he travelled to the United States and has since lived and worked on three continents, including a thirteen-year spell in Japan which inspired Dry River. Among past jobs he has been a drummer in a rock band, an illustrator, a truck driver and a teacher of English. He now lives in England with his wife and daughter. He began writing short stories, selling them to North American magazines and fiction digests. Dry River is his third novel and the third Jackie Shaw book. The first two, Ravenhill and Seven Skins, are published by Silvertail Books.
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