Melville's plots are skillfully paced and thematically engaging, involving the unusual and out of the ordinary without becoming fantastic or implausible. (In The Bogus Buddha two separate strands end in murder: tensions between academics at a summer school on Japanese culture and an underworld struggle between gangsters.) But the real attraction lies in the characters and their relationships. One-off characters sometimes have leading parts, but it is Otani's family and assistants who take on a life all of their own, often threatening to steal the story. "Ninja" Noguchi, a slightly seedy figure with contacts throughout the underworld, and ladies' man Kimura, responsible for anything to do with foreigners, are particularly memorable, as is Otani's wife Hanae. But we keep returning to Otani himself, who centres everything.