Every good martial-arts student knows that “you don’t talk back. You don’t ask rude questions. You don’t cop an attitude—that’s the sensei’s prerogative.” The sensei, or teacher, in this case is the iconic Yamashita, master warrior. The student is Connor Burke, who’s been at it—the demanding, humbling process of martial-arts training—long enough to acquire extraordinary competence. He’s going to need it, because things are about to get hairy indeed around Yamashita’s dojo. In California, a famous karate teacher is found dead; a short time later, there’s a second martial-arts–related death, and then a third, this time in New York. In each case, the killer leaves his bloody signature behind: Ronin, Japanese for a gunslinger with a grudge. Connor and his brother Mick, an NYPD homicide detective, become convinced that the object of Ronin’s antipathy is none other than Yamashita, and that the killings are a deranged and convoluted way of stalking him. They’re right. “From hurt to hate is a small step,” the sensei acknowledges. He understands that the blow he long ago inflicted reluctantly on a supersensitive ego was severe and that the immeasurably talented Ronin craves payback. But no one realizes until it’s almost too late the complexity of Ronin’s revenge strategy, and the lethal role it includes for Connor.
Strong story, good writing, colorful setting. Donohue, who has black belts in karate and kendo, has published extensively on the marital arts, but this is his fiction debut, and an impressive one it is.