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Beautifully-written, smoothly-readable, and waltzing with elegance and the intrigue of espionage, Tessa Morris-Suzuki’s The Lantern Boats is an accomplished work of historical fiction. Melding criss-crossing personal stories with the bigger-picture political climate of occupied Japan, it’s rich in details of time and place, with swathes of charisma that make single-sitting readings all but impossible to resist. Adding to the intrigue, the book’s characters are based on real people. The novel opens with an evocative scene describing the swell of the Sumida River illuminated by paper lanterns in a ritual for the dead, of which there are many as a result of the US firebombing raids that ended six years ago. Then we meet Kamiya Jun, a young war orphan with nothing - “no home, no family, no documents, no identity.” Being invisible makes him ideal spy material, and so he’s tasked by the Americans to spy on Vida Vidanto, a beautiful Japanese poet they suspect of being a communist spy. Meanwhile, part-Japanese, part-Scottish Elly Ruskin feels compelled to spy on Vida herself - she suspects her journalist husband, Fergus, of having an affair with the poet, and all while they’re in the process of adopting a child. The worlds of spy and spied-on intermesh powerfully when Fergus finds Vida’s strangled body, and then follows a gripping quick-fire succession of secrets unveiled, a tragic casualty, and hopeful beginnings.