By Jason P. Hyland, Deputy Chief of Mission, U.S. Embassy Tokyo

It had been wet and overcast all autumn, but this particular day a low-pressure front had swept over the country, bringing with it especially high winds and heavy rainfall. As night fell the winds dropped, but the cold rain showed no sign of letting up.


Kosuke Okita had arrived back home three minutes earlier and had only paused to loosen his tie before settling back in an armchair and lighting a cigarette. The low-pressure front had brought a touch of winter with it and a chill was in the air. The room had been left empty all day, but it was still only the beginning of October and it shouldn't be this cold.

This is the opening passage of "The Obituary Arrives at Two O'Clock" by Shizuko Natsuki. I am looking at the copy she signed for me, flipping through the pages and marveling again at her amazing gift. “Murder at Mt. Fuji” was another wonderful work by Ms. Natsuki.

“The Obituary Arrives at Two O’Clock” autographed by Shizuko Natsuki

“The Obituary Arrives at Two O’Clock” autographed by Shizuko Natsuki

I had the privilege to meet her and get to know her when I was serving as Principal Officer in Fukuoka, where she spent much of her adult life. I treasure this book, and the chance I had to see the magical world of a dedicated and talented writer. I mourn her passing on March 19 this year.

I remember her as an elegant and perfectly composed Japanese lady, who expertly and lovingly looked after her family, fulfilled all her obligations, and still found the time day after day to write and write and write and give all of us readers the pleasure of her meticulously plotted murder mysteries and her insights into Japanese life and human passion. I recall getting close to the end of "The Obituary Arrives at Two O'Clock" and still not knowing "who done it," and when Ms. Natsuki  revealed the last details it not only made sense, but every single detail fit perfectly. No loose ends in her writing. None. A writer who mastered her craft.

I have a soft spot for writers. My mother, Betty Hyland, was a writer. Although she was always committed to art as I was growing up, she only fell into writing in her forties. It became the consuming passion of her life. She once told me when she was very old, "I wish I could stop writing, but I can't." She would sit at the dining room table with a long yellow legal pad and write her first drafts in longhand, then type them up, and sit in bed at night with her black cat marking up her text. I admired how dedicated she was to her craft, even as she looked after her family.

I reflect on the courage and determination it took so many women of that generation to pursue their passions, and it is truly inspiring to see how they did it. We have to admire their extraordinary qualities as women and artists. We can hope that all the different pieces of a full life, like the intricate plot of a Natsuki story, will fall perfectly into place.