Rosenheim (Fear Itself, 2012, etc.) brings back swashbuckling Special Agent Jimmy Nessheim in a noirish World War II–era thriller that’s rich in atmosphere if light on momentum.
In the weeks before Pearl Harbor, Nessheim works a tedious assignment in Hollywood, consulting on B-level movies and keeping an eye on various local communities as the country braces for the possibility of war. One of Nessheim’s informants, Billy Osaka, has vanished from Little Tokyo, an enclave teeming with immigrants and gangs and nisei, second-generation Japanese-Americans suspected of divided loyalties. As Nessheim tracks Osaka’s trail through a netherworld of illicit gambling rings, duplicitous Russian émigrés and loutish Hollywood directors, his boss back in Washington, FBI Assistant Director Harry Guttman, probes rumors that Soviet intelligence has wired $50,000 to a Japanese bank in Los Angeles. At a private meeting in Rock Creek Park, Thornton Palmer, a State Department official, reveals to Guttman that the Soviets are spying on their erstwhile American allies, scuttlebutt that Guttman is inclined to believe after Palmer is found dead hours later. Rosenheim shifts dutifully between Guttman and Nessheim, their investigations merging amid a bumper crop of blood-stained corpses, double agents and two-faced femmes fatales. After Guttman is nearly killed by a mysterious assassin, Nessheim pursues his leads to Hawaii, dodging and weaving among criminals and military and eventually landing in the brig at Pearl Harbor, where he witnesses the audacious attack he’s surmised is imminent. The ghosts of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler loom large here, as do the classic films Chinatown and Casablanca, lending Rosenheim’s prose a velvety texture. But the plot never escapes its own plodding rhythm, even as Rosenheim attempts to spruce up prosaic scenes with cameos from historical figures like J. Edgar Hoover, Clyde Tolson and William Stephenson.
Genial, leisurely political suspense that fails to deliver thrills.