British writer Susanna Jones was praised for her first novel, The Earthquake Bird (2001), a psychological thriller and police procedural set in Tokyo. Unfortunately, there are no police in Water Lily. There is no help when it is needed and no one to find and punish the murderer.
Runa Wada teaches at a private high school in her native Japan. She has an affair with one of her students, a boy of sixteen, and when she receives a threatening note with a picture of them leaving a “love hotel,” she decides it is hopeless to stay at the school or even in the country. She steals her sister’s passport and heads for China, where she blindly anticipates help from an acquaintance she has not heard from in seven years. Meanwhile, Ralph Turnpike, from Carlisle, England, is in Japan to acquire another Asian wife. His first is no longer around; he tells his half-brother that she has gone back to Thailand.
Runa is a sympathetic character only in relation to the egotistical loser and violence-prone Ralph, who is rejected by all the potential Japanese brides. Their stories are told in alternating chapters, and throughout nearly the entire novel it is obvious that eventually they will meet and that the result will be disastrous.
Jones is effective in creating settings, including the crowded Shanghai ferry from Japan to China, where Runa encounters Ralph, and in giving some insight into Japanese customs and the Asian bride-market. To the extent that the story is memorable, it is because it is so dismal.