As the novel opens, Steph, the principal character, is just arriving in Japan with the specific aim of making as much money as possible as quickly as possible. However, her friend Annabel seems to have vanished – and her other friend Julia does not seem to recognise her, let alone welcome her. Something is clearly wrong.
Having found Annabel’s abandoned diary, Steph sets out to find out what has happened to her friend and quickly becomes involved in the hostess trade. As the novel moves on, Steph’s own quest is intercut with two other storylines. The first, a set of emails from Chastity, an established hostess, shows the harsh reality of the life that Steph is moving into. The second, the memoirs of Mamasan, owner of one of Roppongi’s oldest clubs, explores how the trade has developed and changed over time. By the end of the novel, these strands are drawn together into a twisting conclusion which will keep you gripped.
Quinn has clearly drawn on some of the recent writing about Japan and the significance of the geisha. However, her portrait is far from romanticised, and whilst her hostesses are certainly as elegant and glamorous as the traditional geisha and maiko, Steph’s world revolves around alcohol, sex and money – a fragile combination which puts her in significant danger.
If the novel has a fault, it is in the slow reveal of Annabel’s diary – it is hard to believe that Steph, curious as she is, would not read the whole book at once. However, this is a minor point, and by stringing this out, Quinn is able to keep us guessing at what has happened to Steph’s friend – and what will happen to Steph herself – making us turn the pages rapidly as the end approaches.
I picked this book up in a used-book shop while on holiday. It appears to be out of print at the moment but there are cheap second hand versions available and I recommend you look one out.