A Japanese-American erotic martial-arts thriller with a lust for fancy writing, a plot lifted from The Big Sleep and Fu Manchu, bloody pages strewn with haiku--all of it padded unmercifully with Japanese history and warrior lore. Weird murders are happening in New York, you see: a death by an exotic poison masked as a drowning, another man split from shoulder to pelvis by a sword stroke, etc. And Nicholas Linnear, who has given up a lucrative advertising job to recover his Japanese-bred soul, finds himself involved with saving the life of millionaire internationalist Tomkin--who is apparently the object of an oriental assassination project which features the handiwork of a ninja, a magically skilled killer with a sword and poisons. (Ninjas are like samurai, but are often hired by them to do dirty work samurai wouldn't touch.) Tomkin has two daughters--alcoholic nympho-lesbian Gelda (with whom he has had incest) and Justine, a rather deranged masochist who has fallen for Nicholas yet can't trust him--but the source of the conspiracy must be Japan-related. And Nicholas, son of an English colonel (who has discarded his Jewish blood) and a Japanese-Chinese beauty (whose death by ritual suicide and beheading Nicholas witnesses) is obviously the sleuth for the job. Ultimately--after red herrings galore--the assassin turns out to be a childhood acquaintance who has arranged this whole series of murders mainly to entrap Nicholas these many years later (they are rivals in the martial arts and Nicholas' mother murdered the assassin's father). My, my. . . Van Lustbader works hard to put this all together--perhaps inspired by the success of Trevanian's Oriental/erotic/violent Shibumi--but the ornate mixture of styles and genres will put off most of the blood-and-sex audience, who usually prefer their gore and titillation straight up.