In Vancans’ debut historical thriller, a covert Japanese faction threatens to detonate nuclear weapons on American soil as revenge for the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings.
A vintage World War II–era B-29 bomber crashing into the Statue of Liberty on Thanksgiving Day is an orchestrated act and only the beginning. A group called the Bushido Element takes credit and claims to have two fission bombs targeting two unnamed U.S. cities. The group further demands that America change the terms of Japan’s 1945 surrender, removing Article 9, which prohibits Japan from maintaining a military force. The U.S. sends Garret Wakefield, an Asia intelligence operative, to Kyoto to find Jesuit priest Robert Cody, a former Army officer who investigated the 1945 disappearance of Lucky Strike—the same bomber used in Japan’s recent strike. Cody was also an anti-nuclear activist who, if not part of the attack, can certainly help locate the Bushido Element before the group triggers its weapons. Vancans’ methodically paced novel takes an intriguing approach by doling out sympathy for the aggressors. The book opens with Asoku Tamura, who’s in Hiroshima with her children when the city is bombed. But there are other motives behind Japan’s assault: the son of key Bushido member Saburo Rashima, a descendant of a hibakusha (a survivor of the atomic devastation), has severe physical problems related to the fallout; and China’s takeover of Taiwan, made vulnerable by the lack of U.S. defense after 9/11, is the reason Japan wants a military. Vancans keeps the story largely in Japan, but suspense holds on in America because no one knows where the bombs are. There are also a few mysteries unresolved until later, the most fascinating being how exactly Japan managed to hijack Lucky Strike, which in 1945 was carrying a third atom bomb to drop on Kyoto. The narrative does on occasion become repetitive. In particular, Wakefield tends to ask questions to which he already knows the answers, such as those about the connections between Saburo and his great-uncle Takamori Rashima or Takamori’s mistress, Fujiko. It’s unclear whether it’s Wakefield’s interrogation tactic or that he simply doesn’t remember; either way, it unnecessarily slows down the story. The ending, though, adds a nice turn when an unlikely ally comes to America’s aid.
A sufficient thriller that, without truly condemning either side, profoundly examines the consequences of war for the U.S. and Japan.