Obituary: Peter Martin

by Mike Barrett

Special to The Japan Times

Peter Martin, former director of the British Council who was also a Japan-inspired detective novel writer known as James Melville, died recently. He was 83.

Born in London in 1931, Martin studied philosophy at university but eventually pursued a career in the arts and cultural diplomacy. He joined the British Council in 1960 and, after a stay in Indonesia, it was his posting to Kyoto in 1963 that began a long and productive relationship with Japan.

As the only “official” British figure in Kyoto at the time, Martin entertained British politicians and other dignitaries as well as writers, artists, musicians and actors.

In the course of his duties, he found the time to learn Japanese thoroughly, opened a new cultural center, supervised the British Pavilion at Expo ’70 in Osaka, and was rewarded with an MBE.

In 1974, Martin started composing a story based on the murder of an American in Japan and the character of Superintendent Otani of the Kobe police was created. Under the pseudonym of James Melville, he produced eventually 13 Otani novels, fast-moving intrigues full of vividly observed detail and insights into Japanese life and culture, with titles such as “The Wages of Zen” and “The Bogus Buddha.”

After retiring in 1983, Martin wrote full time, and his books were mostly inspired by Japan. They include “The Imperial Way,” a brilliant historical novel about the 1936 military coup, and “The Chrysanthemum Throne,” a history of the Imperial line.