The Quiet Covenant of the Flowers

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The Quiet Covenant of the Flowers
Author: Teru Miyamoto
Specifications: ISBN  978-4087710205
395 pages
13.6 x 19.5 cm / 5.4 x 7.8 in (WxH)
Category: Fiction
Publisher: Shueisha Inc.
Tokyo, 2016
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Kikue Alcott, 63, a naturalized U.S. citizen of Japanese descent, dies of a sudden heart attack on April 14, 2013, while bathing in a hot spring during a visit to Japan. Her American husband Ian died a year earlier of pancreatic cancer, and her only daughter Leila died when she was six, so she has no family left in America. She had long been on poor terms with her only brother and his wife in Japan, but had come to regard their son Gen’ya Obata, now 33, with great admiration during the time he lived in Los Angeles and earned an MBA at the University of Southern California. Indeed, it is Gen’ya’s name that the police find as an emergency contact on the travel insurance papers she is carrying. He in turn contacts the Torrance, California law office that is listed as another emergency contact, and when in due course he flies to Los Angeles to have Kikue’s ashes interred next to her husband, he learns that Kikue has named him sole heir to her considerable estate.

Gen’ya has known since he lived in Los Angeles that Rancho Palos Verdes, where his aunt lived in recent years, is a very posh neighborhood, but he is nevertheless flabbergasted when Kikue’s friend and attorney Susan Maury tells him that the estate he is to inherit is worth some $42 million—including the home that has a market value of $10 million. He is even more stunned when Susan informs him that the original draft of the will had also contained lines stipulating that if Kikue’s daughter Leila is ever found, 70 percent of the estate should be passed on to her—though Susan had had to advise Kikue that the stipulation would never stand up in probate. The surprise here for Gen’ya is the possibility that his cousin might still be alive: his understanding has always been that she died of leukemia when both he and she were six.

According to Susan, the truth is that Leila disappeared on April 5, 1986. Kikue and Ian Alcott were living in a Boston suburb at the time, and on this day, the mother and child had gone to shop at a new supermarket that had just opened. Leila told her mother she was going to the restroom and never returned—and in spite of every effort the police had made to find her, she had remained missing for the 27 years since. Realizing that his aunt’s true last wishes were for him to find his cousin, Gen’ya resolves to do everything he can to that end—so that Kikue’s estate can go to her rightful heir. He moves into his aunt’s home while he first takes care of the burial arrangements and then, over the next month or so, pursues the mystery of what happened to his long-lost cousin.

He discovers that Leila’s disappearance was a carefully orchestrated plot put together by Kikue and her friend Kyōko Hoshi, along with Kyōko’s soon-to-be second husband Kevin McReed. Kikue had obtained an American passport for Leila under the name Melissa Hoshi, and on the day in question, Kyōko was waiting for Leila in the supermarket restroom with a disguise for her to change into, while Kevin waited outside in a car to drive them to the airport. There they all caught a flight to Montreal, where Kevin lived. Kyōko and Kevin got married shortly thereafter, and in time they obtained Canadian citizenship for their “daughter” Melissa. Kikue and Kyōko had originally gotten to know each other while working for the same auto manufacturer in Japan, and they had both subsequently married American men and moved to the Boston area. Kyōko had then turned to Kikue for help when her first husband turned violent and abusive, and Kikue had continued to offer her support after the divorce. But the closeness of their relationship did not explain why they had carried out a criminal false-disappearance scheme.

Kikue’s husband Ian was a dependable man. Hardworking, mild-mannered, and not much of a talker, he drank a little wine but not to excess, and he enjoyed fishing as a hobby. His older brother had taken over the Alcott Industry Group, the motor-manufacturing company founded by their engineer father, while Ian himself had made a success of a subsidiary used-car business. Busy as he was in managing the business, he always made time for Leila and seemed to be the perfect father to her. But then when Leila was four, Kikue thought she saw him fondling Leila in what seemed like an inappropriate way, and when it happened again and then again, she decided she needed to somehow separate Leila from her father. If she sued for divorce, she would have no resources of her own and would likely lose custody to the wealthy Ian. So she had enlisted Kyōko’s help.

Leila had been a slow developer as a child, and it had caused some concern, but as Melissa McReed she has grown into a well-adjusted and accomplished woman. Having graduated from the Department of Education at the University of Montreal, she is now a high-school math teacher in Ottawa, and she also serves as a riding coach at an equestrian school. She is happy with her circumstances and doing well.

Gen’ya invites Kyōko and Kevin McReed to visit him in Rancho Palos Verdes. He proposes that they put their heads together to figure out how they can honor Kikue’s last wishes without exposing the McReeds’ crime. Kyōko is initially wary, but once Gen’ya assures her that all evidence has been burned, she details for him exactly what happened on the fateful day. Gen’ya tells the McReeds he will retain possession of Kikue’s estate until an appropriate time to hand it over to Leila, and the McReeds promise to reveal everything that happened to their daughter. Gen’ya then heads back to Japan, secretly brewing plans to return to Los Angeles and launch a soup company together with some of his local friends using Kikue’s own recipes.

The title of the story comes from a scene shortly after Kikue begins to suspect Ian of abusing their daughter. On a night when Leila is having trouble sleeping, Kikue takes her in her arms and carries her outside to a flowerbed in the yard. There she tells Leila, who as been very slow learning to talk, that she can speak with the flowers and plants in her heart. Plants may not talk in voices, but they speak in their hearts, she says, and someday Leila will learn how to speak with them. Then she’ll be able to understand people’s hearts, too.