Furutani, Dale 1946-
FURUTANI, Dale 1946-
PERSONAL: Born December 1, 1946, in Hilo, HI; adopted by John Flanagan, c. 1951; married; wife's name Sharon. Education: California State University, Long Beach, B.A.; University of California, Los Angeles, M.B.A.
CAREER: Owner of private consulting company for automotive industry; president of a software company; Yamaha Motorcycles, parts marketing manager; Nissan Motor Corporation USA, director of information technology; writer.
AWARDS, HONORS: Macavity Award for Best First Mystery Novel, and Anthony Award for Best First Novel, both 1997, both for Death in Little Tokyo; several awards for poetry.
Death in Little Tokyo, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1996.
The Toyotomi Blades, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1997.
Death at the Crossroads (first part of trilogy), Morrow (New York, NY), 1998.
Jade Palace Vendetta (second part of trilogy), Morrow (New York, NY), 1999.
Kill the Shogun (third part of trilogy), Morrow (New York, NY), 2000.
Author of three nonfiction books; contributor of numerous articles to periodicals.
WORK IN PROGRESS: Blood on the Pacific Rim (working title), a "Ken Tanaka" mystery.
SIDELIGHTS: Mystery writer Dale Furutani has paved the way to success for Asian-American crime novelists, being the first to win a major mystery award. A sansei—third-generation Japanese American—Furutani, whose mother was Japanese, was born in Hawaii in 1946 and moved to California at age five when he was adopted by John Flanagan. There, Furutani found himself a minority; sometimes he was the only Asian student in his school, and he frequently experienced racial prejudice. "This was the early fifties," he noted in an online interview with Claire E. White for Writers Write, "so the war wasn't that far away, and some kids thought I was personally responsible for Pearl Harbor." As a boy, Furutani absorbed the stories of the "camp generation" of Japanese Americans—those interned during World War II—and when he began writing fiction he was determined to preserve as much as possible of this legacy in his work.
Furutani worked his way through California State University in Long Beach by writing articles and serving as contributing editor for several magazines. After earning a degree in creative writing, he attended the University of California, Los Angeles, where he received an M.B.A. in marketing and information systems and began a successful career as a consultant in the automotive industry, owning his own consulting company for nineteen years. Furutani also served as president of a software company and as parts marketing manager for Yamaha Motorcycles before becoming director of information technology for Nissan Motor Corporation, USA—a position he still holds. During his career he has written three nonfiction books and has won prizes for his poetry.
In 1993 Furutani's friend, mystery writer Michael Nava, suggested he try a mystery, and Death in Little Tokyo was the result. The novel features the debut of Ken Tanaka, a Japanese-American amateur sleuth who, at the novel's start, is hosting an L.A. Mystery Club weekend. Playing the role of a private eye, Tanaka is hired by a woman who thinks he's the real thing; soon he finds himself a suspect in a murder plot that touches on blackmail and Japanese mobsters.
Furutani was intent on making Tanaka an authentic character. "Most of the Asian-American detectives I read didn't have the right 'aji' [taste]—they didn't resonate with me and I couldn't identify with them," the author explained to White. But Tanaka resonates with readers; reportedly, both Asians and non-Asians have told Furutani that they find Tanaka a very sympathetic character. Although Death in Little Tokyo received only lukewarm praise from reviewers, who found the book contrived and sometimes pedantic, it was nominated for an Agatha award and won a Macavity award and an Anthony Award for Best First Mystery Novel.
Furutani followed this popular success with another "Ken Tanaka" mystery, The Toyotomi Blades. In this book Tanaka is invited to visit Japan, where he is soon caught in a tangled web involving the possession of a seventeenth-century sword and the Yakuza, the Japanese mafia. To his surprise, Tanaka feels a bit alienated in the country of his ancestry—he doesn't speak the language or understand all of the customs. Placing his detective in Japan, Furutani explained, enabled him to explore a theme of great interest: racial versus cultural identity.
Taking a vacation from his fictional protagonist Tanaka, Furutani completed a trilogy set in seventeenth-century Japan comprised of Death at the Crossroads, Jade Palace Vendetta, and Kill the Shogun. The series, inspired by one of Furutani's many visits to Japan, focuses on the masterless samurai Matsuyama Kaze and his attempts to find the kidnapped daughter of his murdered master and mistress. Drawing upon extensive research, the three books synthesize historical detail about everyday life during the period while providing adventurous and violent plots. "It occurred to me that most of the historical fiction about ancient Japan dealt with the nobility," Furutani commented in his Writers Write interview. "My protagonist comes in contact with the peasants, merchants and entertainers which formed the common classes of ancient Japan."
Death at the Crossroads concerns the events leading to Kaze's status as a ronin or masterless samurai. In Jade Palace Vendetta Kaze discovers that the wealthy merchant whose life he has saved harbors deadly secrets. The trilogy's finale, Kill the Shogun, finds Kaze in Edo with the dual purposes of saving his late master's daughter from a brothel and eluding those who think he has plotted to kill the local Shogun. Although bearing no resemblance to the "Ken Tanaka" books, these historical novels received warm reviews and attracted an audience of their own.
Some critics were particularly enthusiastic about Jade Palace Vendetta. A Publishers Weekly reviewer declared that Furutani writes with "the unhurried care of a master craftsman … visual poetry, horror and beauty nightmarishly juxtaposed." Jenny McLarin in Booklist found the novel to be an "entertaining story full of heart-stopping sword fights," and Library Journal correspondent Rex E. Klett deemed it "essential reading for historical mystery fans." With the publication of Kill the Shogun, several reviewers expressed hope that Furutani would continue to write historical mysteries, with or without his mystical and mercurial Kaze as the hero. Klett described Kill the Shogun as a "colorful adventure," and McLarin called it "compelling fiction." A Publishers Weekly contributor concluded that, despite its position as the last volume of a trilogy, the work "stand[s] alone as a complete and entertaining period mystery."
By 2002 Furutani, who lives in Los Angeles with his wife and Labrador retriever and still holds his position at Nissan, was busy working on a third "Ken Tanaka" mystery; this one deals more straightforwardly with interracial marriage and features the disappearance of a sumo wrestler.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, May 15, 1999, Jenny McLarin, review of Jade Palace Vendetta, p. 1673; August, 2000, Jenny McLarin, review of Kill the Shogun, p. 2119.
Kirkus Reviews, August 15, 1996, p. 1189.
Library Journal, October 1, 1997, Rex E. Klett, review of The Toyotomi Blades, p. 129; July, 1999, Rex E. Klett, review of Jade Palace Vendetta, p. 140; August, 2000, Rex E. Klett, review of Kill the Shogun, p. 166.
Los Angeles Times, July 26, 1998.
Publishers Weekly, September 2, 1996, review of Death in Little Tokyo, p. 117; August 25, 1997, review of The Toyotomi Blades, p. 49; June 28, 1999, review of Jade Palace Vendetta, p. 57; July 31, 2000, review of Kill the Shogun, p. 75.
Washington Post, October 10, 1999.
BookBrowser, http://www.bookbrowser.com/ (November 6, 2003).
Dale Furutani Web site, http://members.aol.com/Dfurutani/ (November 6, 2003).
Writers Write, http://www.writerswrite.com/ (January, 1998), interview with Furutani.*