(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

James Melville began his Superintendent Otani mystery series with the publication of The Wages of Zen in 1979. The series reflects an interest in Japan resulting from the author’s posting there as a cultural diplomat in the 1960’s as well as his long-time interest in mystery fiction.

The Otani series falls into the police procedural genre of mystery writing. Otani is by no means a great detective but is extremely competent in directing the operations of a large Japanese prefectural police department. Melville employs both realism and humor in his work, and he uses highly innovative plots and an interesting array of characters that together provide a rich vehicle for the exploration of cultural differences between Japan and the West. His work has been well received critically and has been compared to the classic works of Georges Simenon as well as to the writings of such modern authors of the ethnic mystery as H. R. F. Keating, Tony Hillerman, and James McClure.

Although Melville has done other mystery writing and has published works in other literary genres, it is the Otani series that forms the basis for his reputation.


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Davis, J. Madison. “Interpreting the East to the West” World Literature Today 80, no. 6 (November-December, 2006): 13-15. A brief discussion of Melville’s work placed in the context of other mystery writers who have used Asian settings and characters.

Friesen, Lynette. Review of Death of a Daimyo, by James Melville. Library Journal 109, no. 18 (November 1, 1984): 2082. A review of Death of a Daimyo that calls it the best book in the series. Notes the novelty of placing Otani in England to highlight the cultural differences from an unusual perspective.

Melville, James. “Diplomatic Baggage.” Review of Diplomatic Baggage and The Reluctant Spy, by James Melville. Publishers Weekly 242, no. 47 (November 20, 1995): 68. A review of the first of Melville’s two books in the Ben Lazenby series. Provides a plot summary and a brief description of the principal character.

Melville, James. “Living with Series Characters.” The Writer 104, no. 8 (August, 1991): 12-15. An article in which Melville discusses the problems involved in creating and working with series characters and offers advice on the topic for fellow writers.

Plaisance, Ellen Kocher. “James Melville (Roy Peter Martin).” In British Mystery and Thriller Writers Since 1960, edited by Gina Macdonald. Vol. 276 in Dictionary of Literary Biography. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Gale, 2003. A discussion of Melville and his work including brief plot summaries of the thirteen Superintendent Otani mysteries.