War-ready Japan becomes as nostalgically wonderful as the doomed central Europe of Alan Furst in the latest masterwork from the author of Gorky Park.
The gripping pleasure that put Smith (Havana Bay, 1999, etc.) at the top of Cold War–era thriller lists was his detailed and utterly believable revelation of Moscow as a weary city full of real people. Here, it’s Tokyo—on December 6, 1941. Smith’s guide to the tinderbox megalopolis is Harry Niles, an American supposedly in the care of his drunken uncle (the only iffy premise) while his missionary parents beat the bushes for potential Baptists. As a gaijin—foreigner—Harry is the permanent victim of his schoolboy chums in their re-creations of samurai sagas. The games may be imaginary, but the beatings are real, and Harry gains legendary survival skills along with the language and cultural understanding of a native. December 6 finds him the owner of Happy Paris, a nightclub featuring the d.j. skills of Michiko, a Modern Girl as thoroughly independent and wily as the cynical Harry. The pair’s prickly relationship is complicated by Harry’s occasional wanderings with the code-breaking wife of a fatuous British peer and by the mortally frightening news that Colonel Ishigami, whom Harry caused to lose face as Ishigami was removing heads in Manchuria, is in town and looking for him. He’s not alone. Harry’s tormenting childhood friends have grown up, one of them making it into the inner circle of Admiral Yamamoto, and they too appear to have plans for Harry, whose own fate may narrow down to getting out of Tokyo before the balloon goes up. At the heart of Harry’s problems is the little bit of bogus intelligence he’s slipped into the military machinery in an effort to forestall the war that would inevitably obliterate the adopted country he loves so passionately.
Intelligent, jazzy, romantic, unbelievably tense, completely absorbing. Worth the wait.