In Kingston’s debut thriller, an American investigates a secret society that controls Japan’s economy.
Economist Scott Maxwell is attempting to devise a quantitatively precise metric that captures trade imbalances between the United States and Japan. In the process, he meets Tori Tahashi, a Canadian-Japanese filmmaker whose cousin Sachi Yoshida was murdered by an unknown party. Sachi had been secretly recording the goings-on at the Bonsai Club, an exclusive members-only redoubt in Tokyo that serves as the headquarters of the shakai, a secret society that’s existed since the 12th century and manipulates much of the Japanese economy. The shakai figure out that Tori is in possession of Sachi’s footage, and they send operatives to break into his home and steal it. Scott and Tori join forces to investigate the shakai, and they fly to Japan after Scott’s contact in the CIA provides Tori with false documentation to conceal his identity. Kingston thrillingly chronicles the shakai’s dogged pursuit of the main characters, revealing the group to be essentially a criminal organization with nationalistic objectives—one that’s fully prepared to murder their enemies, if necessary. The narrative also provides a peek into the group’s inner workings as it follows the rise of Akio Morita, a new initiate, through its ranks. However, the novel is mainly a vehicle for presenting a trade-imbalance theory, which the author articulates with impressive clarity; it holds that Japan sneakily subsidizes its exports, manipulating the market and its own currency and thus destroying any possibility of fair trade with the United States. The theory is compelling enough that readers may wish that Kingston had developed it in greater detail, as the rest of the cloak-and-dagger plot is formulaic and unconvincing. Also, the prose style, especially in dialogue, can be breathlessly melodramatic; for example, the Kani, members of the shakai, often speak like comic-book villains: “You have begun to understand the power of the Kani, the responsibility that transcends the individual. You'll soon learn how to call upon this power, as you may one day be called to fight the enemies of the Empire.”
A compelling economic theory wrapped in a shopworn plot.