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Query Letter: City Under One Roof: A Brilliantly Conceived Thriller Set in Alaska

For writers, some novels instantly invoke concept envy.  You hear the three-sentence pitch and think d*mn that’s a brilliant idea, I need to read it/wish I’d thought of it/ wonder how she came up with it.  Iris Yamashita’s City Under One Roof is one such book. The debut murder mystery is based on a real remote Alaskan town where every resident lives in a single apartment building connected to the rest of the world by one narrow roadway.  In other words, the detective, witnesses and possible suspects are all virtual co-inhabitants.


The Barry-nominated debut won considerable praise. The Washington Post and Book Riot called it one of the best thrillers of 2023, and Reader’s Digest dubbed it one of the best fiction books of 2023. Yamashita just released a sequel, Village in the Dark, which has been equally well received.


Yamashita was kind enough to share the query letter she used for City Under One Roof (originally called Rabbit Hole, Alaska).  In addition to changing the titled, she later switched the setting from a real village to a fictional one.  The letter puts her writing skills front and center and, of course, highlights her incredible qualification: an Oscar nomination for screen writing. I really like how this pitch quickly sets the scene and pulls the reader into the book’s moody atmosphere.




On a fog-draped highway of Southeast Alaska, a lonely tollbooth station marks where two lanes narrow into one. The road continues almost warily, into the mouth of a dark tunnel carved into the side of an Arctic mountain. This two and half mile artery is the only road connecting the world to the town of Whittier. All 160 full-time residents live in one concrete, high-rise building known as the Begich Towers. 


It is in this surreal city where a gruesome crime has taken place. A severed hand and foot still in its shoe are found washed up on the shore of the bay, and this is how Detective Cara Kennedy finds herself in Whittier on the wrong side of the rabbit hole on a case that no one wants, investigating a body that no one is missing, stuck in a place where no one wants to be.


RABBIT HOLE, ALASKA is a female-driven mystery. The narrative is told from three separate points of view—Amy Lin, a Chinese-American teenager who first discovered the body parts (the Rabbit); Cara Kennedy, a detective from Anchorage who has tragically lost her family in a manner that makes this case personal to her (Alice); and Lonnie Mercer, a woman with schizophrenia who keeps a pet moose named Denny and wears a different colored beret every day (the Mad Hatter). Answers will be difficult to find in this place where people are as icy as the weather and everyone has something to hide, including Detective Kennedy herself. While the central mystery will be resolved by the end of the book, what happened to Detective Kennedy’s family will be left open for a possible trilogy to complete.


I am an Academy Award-nominated screenwriter seeking to make a leap into prose fiction. I was hired by Clint Eastwood to write the Japanese perspective of the Battle of Iwo Jima. The film, “Letters from Iwo Jima” was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. I was also hired by Disneyland International to conceive and write a 30-minute stage show called “Out of Shadowland,” with music written by Tony Award-winning composer, Jeanine Tesori. The show is currently running at the Tokyo DisneySea theme park. I am also a member of the Screenwriting Faculty at the American Film Institute Conservatory.


Thank you for your consideration.


Iris Yamashita

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