Billy Chaka’s in another pickle. The wiseass Cleveland-based reporter for popular teen mag Youth in Asia has been ordered by his editor to take some unwanted R and R after slapping the director of Wildman for Geisha! during the Chicago Film Festival. But he’s no sooner packed off to Japan than the cryptic night porter at Hokkaido’s Hotel Kitty keels over in his room. When Billy tries to inform the hotel staff of the porter’s demise, he learns of the almost simultaneous death of 27-year-old rock star Yoshimura Fukuzatsu. This is big news for readers of Youth in Asia; Billy’s editor cuts short his R and R and puts him on the case. And it’s only page 24.

Chaka is the invention of author Isaac Adamson, who until a few years ago was another underemployed would-be novelist. Adamson, who’s 30, grew up in Colorado and graduated from the University of Colorado at Boulder with a degree in film studies. He moved to Chicago in 1996. His first Billy Chaka book, Tokyo Suckerpunch, took three years on and off–“mostly off”–to write and was published in 2000 by Harper Perennial. It went on to sell over 8,000 copies, and a few months ago, just as Adamson’s second novel, Hokkaido Popsicle, was released, Fox Searchlight Pictures picked up the movie rights to the first.

Over the course of Popsicle, as Chaka pursues the mystery of Fukuzatsu’s death, he becomes involved with sumo-sized kickboxers, a Swedish stripper, and various colorfully named yakuza. Did Fukuzatsu die of a heroin overdose? Was his death orchestrated to increase record sales? And where does the Phoenix Society for Cryopreservation and Life Extension come in?

Adamson started writing because it was logistically easier than filmmaking. Before Suckerpunch came out, he’d never even been to Asia; his experience with Japan was limited to John Woo movies, Haruki Murakami novels, and the mini-series Shogun. His research, he says, was conducted almost exclusively on the couch–“I just read a lot of stuff, watched movies, and got my hands on any kind of pop culture.”

Adamson sees his hero as “sort of a goofier version of Philip Marlowe,” and his work reads like a manga-drenched homage to Raymond Chandler–one in which hard-boiled dames co-exist with cell-phone-wielding Shibuya teens against the candy-colored commercialism of the urban landscape. Though he’s since made a couple fact-finding trips, it’s unlikely his vision of Japan will take a dive into gritty realism in the next two Chaka novels. Says the disclaimer on Hokkaido Popsicle’s copyright page, “as for Tokyo, the city exists somewhere on the border of fantasy and reality. It’s just that kind of place.”

Adamson will read from Hokkaido Popsicle on Saturday, July 13, at 7 PM at Quimby’s Bookstore, 1854 W. North (773-342-0910). He’ll be joined by author and musician Alan Goldsher, reading from his novel Jam. Adamson will also appear solo at 3 on Saturday, July 20, at Barnes & Noble, 1701 Sherman Ave. in Evanston. Both events are free.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Kevin Weinstein.