Starred Review from Shelf Awareness

In this refreshingly innovative detective novel, Hammett Unwritten author Gordon McAlpine follows the life of a character cut–via the vicious blue editing pencil–from a novel.

Takumi Sato is a Japanese-American in the Manzanar relocation camp during World War II who has written a novel featuring Sam Sumida, a Japanese-American sleuth investigating his wife’s murder. In order for the book to be published, Sato has to agree to change his own name, his protagonist’s ethnicity and various other elements of the work. But Sumida has come to life and simply will not die.

Sumida walks into a movie theater on December 6, 1941, to watch The Maltese Falcon, and emerges after what he believes is a few hours to discover it’s January 22, 1942, and his world is in complete chaos. No one knows who he is–in fact, there’s no evidence he ever existed–but everyone is hostile toward him. With nowhere to go and a million baffling questions, Sumida sets to work unraveling this isolating conundrum.

Woman with a Blue Pencil is the intricate plaiting of excerpts from Sato’s novel, The Orchid and the Secret Agent, published as William Thorne; correspondence from Sato’s editor, the woman with the blue pencil; and a novella merely labeled The Revised. McAlpine ingeniously blends the three plots to create a multi-dimensional, absorbing mystery, simultaneously examining the shameful incarceration of Japanese-Americans in camps by the U.S. government. He also takes hilarious, yet subtle, jabs at the tropes of “commercial” fiction.

McAlpine’s creative talent is rare and this novel is an exceptional literary treat. —Jen Forbus

Discover: When a character takes on a life of his own, even the blue editing pencil can’t eradicate him.