From Martin Cruz Smith, author of Gorky Park and Havana Bay, comes another audacious novel of exotic locales, intimate intrigues and the mysteries of the human heart: December 6.
Set in the crazed, nationalistic Tokyo of late 1941, December 6 explores the coming world war through the other end of history's prism—a prism held here by an unforgettable rogue and lover, Harry Niles.
In many ways, Niles should be as American as apple pie: raised by missionary parents, taught to respect his elders and be an honorable and upright Christian citizen dreaming of the good life on the sun-blessed shores of California. But Niles is also Japanese: reared in the aesthetics of Shinto and educated in the dance halls and backroom poker gatherings of Tokyo's shady underworld to steal, trick and run for his life. As a gaijin, a foreigner—especially one with a gift for the artful scam—he draws suspicion and disfavor from Japanese police. This potent mixture of stiff tradition and intrigue—not to mention his brazen love affair with a Japanese mistress who would rather kill Harry than lose him—fills Harry's final days in Tokyo with suspense and fear. Who is he really working for? Is he a spy? For America? For the emperor? Now, on the eve of Pearl Harbor, Harry himself must decide where his true allegiances lie.
Suspenseful, exciting and replete with the detailed research Martin Cruz Smith brings to all his novels, December 6 is a triumph of imagination, history and storytelling melded into a magnificent whole.
A tinted review in adult Forecasts indicates a book that's of exceptional importance to our readers but hasn't received a starred or boxed review.DECEMBER 6Martin Cruz Smith. Simon & Schuster, $26 (352p) Smith hits on a clever historical conceit here, rolling back events one day before Pearl Harbor and setting his story not in the United States, but in Japan. For Smith, the foreign locale is a given, yet similarities to his previous crime-based novels (Gorky Park; Rose) stop there. This is not only a meaty character study of American Harry Niles, but also a piercing examination of Japanese culture during the years leading up to WWII. The only child of Baptist missionaries, Niles grew up on the streets of Tokyo, but as a gaijin, he's always been treated as an outsider. He's a slippery sort. He owns a nightclub, the Happy Paris, yet spends most of his time in more shadowy pursuits con games, gambling, possibly even a little espionage. But one thing is clear: he loves Japan and is convinced that the country will doom itself if it provokes a fight with the U.S. He says so loudly and publicly, and his outspokenness quickly marks him as a troublemaker. As the bombing of Hawaii begins, Harry becomes a man on the run. Smith's plot, meandering at first, steadily gains focus. Enriched by cameos of historical figures, it builds to a powerful climax. All the while, Harry is surrounded by several well-drawn secondary characters who illustrate the chasm between the two cultures his prickly "Modern Girl" lover, Michiko; the tradition-bound samurai, General Ishigami; and a host of stolid American and Japanese officials who have no idea what hell lies ahead. The plot slips a few too many times into distracting flashbacks, yet Smith's narrative rarely strays from its mesmerizing evocation of time and place.