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I think I read this about 13-15 years ago, around 2002-2005, having learned of it online. The protagonist was male, I think of Japanese descent. He was always on the move, either breaking into a building to sleep, or picking up a girl at a bar to have a place to sleep. The book opened with him slipping out on his latest conquest. I think he meets a girl and then she disappears, and later that night, he's attacked by a floating head that comes through his window (that time, I think he was slumming in a building he'd broken into, maybe a laundromat?). I want to say the floating head is explicitly noted as a rokurokubi, the Japanese spirit. He pound it to the ground by impaling it through the ear with his knife, and interrogates it, confirming that he was its target. I think the daylight kills it.

In the end, he winds up in some sort of reality-warping fight with the villain, something which I want to say involved a clay amulet or necklace, which is broken by the end of the conflict, with the very end confirming that he still has powers.

The book was in English, and I think I got it from the library in Newark, OH where I was living at the time. I remember the cover being dark, maybe black, with at most minimalist cover art. I keep wanting to say that black arrows had something to do with the title, but that detail is hazy. There may have been a sequel, but if so, I don't remember any details about it.

  • Also: youtu.be/0nDlbvHndPo – Spencer Oct 3 '18 at 20:14
  • @Spencer: No, no arms and legs, just the head. – FuzzyBoots Oct 4 '18 at 0:43
  • Wow, this sounds familiar, but I'm just not remembering what. – mkennedy Oct 7 '18 at 0:48
  • @mkennedy Yeah. It's frustrating, particularly since I'm pretty sure I ran into it on either TVTropes's YKTS or here. – FuzzyBoots Oct 7 '18 at 2:31
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    @FuzzyBoots I keep thinking of Wen Spencer or Charles de Lint or R.A. MacAvoy, but they're all read long enough ago that even reading synopses isn't helping. – mkennedy Oct 8 '18 at 2:13
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+50

The Art of Arrow Cutting by Stephen Dedman.

Michelangelo Magistrale, aka Mage, (and how's that for a name!) is a young drifter in a small Canadian town, on his way to wherever the Greyhound will take him. He meets a disturbed young babe looking lost and frightened at the terminal who gives him a key before hopping the bus to Calgary. After a nasty scrape with Tucker, a hired hitman pursuing the girl, Mage makes his own way to Calgary in search of her. There, he takes up with Takumo, a young unemployed Japanese-American stuntman. One night, at the youth hostel where the two of them are crashing, they are viciously attacked by a bakemono, a Japanese demon who is nothing but a disembodied pair of hands and head. After fighting it off, they act a little more glibly about it than I might have. Takumo then discovers that the key can open any lock he puts it to, and can probably do other things as well; Mage has had no luck finding the girl, so the two men head down to L.A., where Mage suddenly finds himself under arrest for her murder and facing extradition back to Canada.

It turns out that the key is being sought by Tamenaga, a Japanese business tycoon who is also one of the Yakuza's most ruthless overlords. Tamenaga will stop at nothing to get "the focus," and begins sending hitmen, and worse (demons) after Mage and Takumo.
The Art Of Arrow Cutting - SFReview

This seems to match your description pretty well.
Other links: The Art of Arrow Cutting - Amazon
The Art Of Arrow Cutting - GoodReads
The Art Of Arrow Cutting - Google Books
The Art Of Arrow Cutting - SFReview

  • Hah! I thought the title had something to do with arrows. That matches my vague memories almost perfectly. How did you find it? – FuzzyBoots Jan 17 at 16:04
  • @FuzzyBoots reddit :) – Niffler Jan 17 at 22:54
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    @FuzzyBoots at first i was a little hesitant because of how adamant you were that it was just a floating head whereas this had hands and head. – Niffler Jan 17 at 23:25
  • Frankly, I forgot about the hands. – FuzzyBoots Jan 18 at 0:09

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