In screenwriter Yamashita’s whodunit, City Under One Roof (Berkley), the entire population of an Alaska community lives in one building.
Where did the idea for this novel come from?
Over 20 years ago, I saw a documentary, about Whittier, Alaska, which could only be accessed by boat or through a tunnel by train or car. The idea of this very isolated town, where almost all of the residents lived in one building, stuck in the back of my mind. Finally, when I was thinking of writing a mystery, I thought that city would be a great setting.
You’ve summarized this book as Alice in Wonderland meets Fargo. What aspects come from Lewis Carroll?
I was looking at Anchorage police detective Cara Kennedy driving through this single-lane tunnel, the only way to get to the city. It’s a very narrow tunnel, and as you drive through two and a half miles of this, you feel like you’re falling through a rabbit hole. And I thought of her ending up in this really strange “Wonderland,” where there’s going to be a lot of odd characters. So Cara is like Alice, and Amy Lin, whom Cara is always chasing, and who’s going through tunnels to find clues, is like the White Rabbit.
Did you have any direct experiences that enabled you to capture the isolation of Point Mettier, which is the novel’s version of Whittier?
Apart from the pandemic, when everybody learned what it’s like to be holed up somewhere, when I was a teen, I lived on the tiny island of Guam for five years. I felt like I was stuck there, without much to do, and I worked that time in my life into Amy, my teen character.
What led you to tell the story from three perspectives?
I jumped on that approach immediately. I think it’s because I’ve listened to audiobooks where there were multiple narrators, and I always thought they were very interesting. But I didn’t know, right away, which characters to focus on, exactly. I knew one would be my investigator, Cara, right off the bat. I waffled back and forth about who the other two would be. I wanted to have distinctive voices, because I wanted to make sure that the characters were distinguishable enough that you’d know who was speaking just by the way they speak.