‘The thought that there was something about him I did not like was dangerous.’

When a young woman is found drowned in Yokohama Harbour under suspicious circumstances, downtrodden Korean eel salesboy Han compels the eccentric Glaswegian artist Archie Nith to seek the truth. Discover more in this extract from the thrilling The Hotel Hokusai.


The Hotel Hokusai
By T. Y. Garner
Published by Ringwood Publishing


My sister, Yoona, used to have an old doll made of straw that our mother had made with bindings to separate the various body parts. The straw was noosed tight into a tiny neck, and after a long, thin face with watermelon seeds sewn on for eyes, it was bound again near the top, leaving an inch or two of straw bunching out so the hairstyle resembled the fruit of the gardenia. Because we called that fruit chija, this became the doll’s name, and like a plant she managed without a nose, mouth or any clothes. Soon after the Reverend Hare came among us, he found Chija lying on the floor of the room where we all three then slept. 

Through the doorway I watched him ‒ it was a fascination for me, watching him when he didn’t know he was being watched ‒ as he picked her up and examined her. He turned her over and even smoothed the strands of straw that passed for her hair. He was smiling to himself, and I proudly thought it was at the care and skill with which the doll had been fashioned by my mother. Years later ‒ perhaps a year before I was put on the ship – another incident made me remember this first one and see it in a new light. 

We were playing. Or I was not playing, I was too old for that. But it was a wet afternoon and I was keeping Yoona entertained by the elementary game of hiding Chija, who had long since been surpassed by a proper doll which the Reverend had brought back from a rare trip to the capital. This was a smooth-cheeked, glass-eyed creature in a lace dress, human enough to be baptised with the Reverend’s approval. Susan reigned supreme at my sister’s bedside, but Chija, who could be stuffed anywhere and contorted into various positions, still had her uses. Having exhausted the hiding places in the house, I decided to take her outside and place her at a corner of the window, hiding ‘in plain sight’. While Yoona closed her eyes and counted, I opened the front door silently and ran round the side of our wooden dwelling ‒ straight into our Protector and Benefactor. I backed away, clutching the doll tight to my chest, and began stumbling out some explanation as to why I had not been studying. 

‘Ah-ah,’ the Reverend held up his hand. ‘Excuses do not excuse.’ This was one of his favourite admonitions in the classroom, but when he said it he was never truly angry, and I could see from his faint smile that this was the case now. 

‘You are off to perform some voodoo, I suppose?’ 

I must have looked confused, because he bared his teeth and plucked Chija out of my hands. ‘This,’ he said, holding her up by the ragged bunch of stalks on her scalp, ‘reminds me of the brrranch of witchcraft known as voodoo.’ 

I knew something of witches and witchcraft ‒ he had told us before how in his country, many years ago, people used to believe that certain women worked with the devil, they were accused of being witches and burned at the stake. The accusations were false, he said, there was no such thing as witchcraft, although there were undoubtedly women who believed in it. 

‘Voodoo, Sir?’ 

‘It is a practice of certain Caribbean islands, on the other side of the world from here.’ 

‘How does it work?’ 

‘One makes a model of one’s enemy ‒ usually a crude doll such as this,’ he waggled Chija in my face. ‘Then … Let me see …’ He dug in the pocket of his blue waistcoat and extracted one of the sharp little wooden sticks he was always fashioning to poke food out from between the wreckage of his teeth. ‘But anything sharp will do. Now, you have to focus on the face of your enemy, and say what is it that you want to happen to them … perhaps warts on the face or a rash on the stomach, or braining by coconut. Then, jab in the requisite place.’ He stabbed his toothpick into Chija’s stomach. I flinched and he laughed. 

‘Don’t look so alarmed, boy, it’s all prrrimitive superstition and nonsense!’ 

I lay awake in the dark that night, a few feet from my sister’s sleeping form, remembering the first time I had seen him looking at Chija. So, it had nothing to do with love and admiration, I thought – only amusement at our primitive state. He was our minister and teacher and, as mother always reminded us, the father we never had before. The thought that there was something about him I did not like was dangerous. I knew this, but in spite of it I found myself fantasising about making a Reverend Hare doll, and sticking sharp sticks into it, especially the thing that dangled between his legs. I wanted this appendage to burst into flaming warts, dry into a hard crust, and then break into flakes like a piece of wood on the fire. It was to punish him for the noises he and my mother made at night, on the other side of the thin wall when they thought I was asleep. 


The Hotel Hokusai by T. Y. Garner is published by Ringwood Publishing, priced £9.99.

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