28 August 2014

Library Limelights 65

Martin Cruz Smith. December 6. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2002.
Long ago I was smitten with Arkady Renko in Gorky Park, and devoured all the subsequent novels featuring the incomparable Moscow detective. Here, no Arkady; instead a great device the author uses to explore all the disparate elements underlying the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour: a most engaging fellow by the name of Harry Niles. Son of a Baptist missionary couple, having lived in Tokyo most of his life (colourfully reenacted as a street urchin), Harry's lens encompasses a broad if jaundiced view of international machinations, sometimes being accused of being more Japanese than the natives. His reputation as a gambler and profligate ne'er-do-well is belied by his humane but anonymous acts of benevolence. He has wriggled out of many a tight spot before.

Spy or informer? It's all we can do to follow the web he's woven in an attempt to stop the impending war. At times Harry has credibility with officials of different stripes; but his dramatic reckoning comes when they all hunt him down, right up to the crucial moments. His biggest nemesis, Ishigami, is particularly fearsome as a crazed, born-again Samurai. The reader's immersion in the doomsday climate is complete; the suspense is brilliantly built. Until the last minute, we don't know if Harry will make it or not. Highly recommended for historical fiction fans. And whoopie, I see Smith's latest Renko novel (Tatiana) is out; already on my TPL holds!

He had literally run into her when they met, Harry at the wheel of his car, Michiko bloody from a crackdown on the last Reds in Tokyo, a police sweep that scattered the comrades over rooftops and down alleys. Harry had pulled Michiko into the car and driven off, the first in a series of impulsive decisions he regretted, such as taking her home, patching her head, letting her stay the night. She left in the morning and returned a week later, her hair hacked short, with a pack containing a prayer wheel and the works of Marx and Engels. She stayed another night and another and never left Harry's for good; that was two years ago. If he'd left her on the street, if he'd given her over to the police, if he hadn't fed her the morning after he'd rescued her. That was probably the worst mistake of all, the fatal bowl of miso. ... Gratitude was always a dicey issue in Japan; the very word arigato meant both "thank you" and "you have placed a sickening obligation on me." (38)

With his bowed legs, shaved head, mustache and spectacles, Tojo fit the bill of a cartoon Japanese. Harry remembered him from the geisha houses in Asakusa as a loudmouth with a big cigar. In fact, what always struck Harry was how un-Japanese Tojo was. Most Japanese strove so hard for modesty they could be virtually inarticulate, while the general had a paranoid's talent for public ranting. On the other hand, his paranoia was well deserved. There were army officers ready to shoot Tojo because they thought he wasn't warlike enough. (72-73)

Close to zero hour:
"Harry, you must get on that plane tomorrow.""My thought too."Alice was quiet for a moment. "Do you imagine if I thought anyone would heed our warning of an attack, that I would abandon my post? It's too late for warnings, Harry. There are no brakes on the bus and no ears on the driver. This crash is going to happen.""We can try." (299)

Lee Child. Never Go Back. New York: Dell Mass Market Edition, 2014.
Say hello to Jack Reacher again, in Child's umpteenth novel about the man. Reacher never goes stale because he always meets a new problem-situation thrust upon him, and the prose is no-nonsense, pedestrian style. In this case, the ex-army MP, a drifter by choice, goes to DC on a whim. Visiting his old command post triggers a series of planned traps and unpleasant encounters designed to get rid of him. The mysterious opponents (are they army? government? private interests? all three?) have a probable connection to Afghanistan. He forges doggedly ahead in his usual, meticulously logical way like a well-oiled machine ― no introspection here: Reacher is a physical Superman but more or less verbally inarticulate.

The female interest, Major Susan Turner, was made a target for career disaster so they team up after Reacher busts her from prison. She turns out to be just as tough as Reacher: his ideal woman? The nearest he seems to come to human emotion is thinking to himself a few times that she's "worth it." One of the traps involves a brand-new idea of family for Reacher. As they chased around the eastern seaboard and then Los Angeles, I got a little tired of Reacher's continual reference to the coin toss and 50-50 odds. But Child is always great for macho fight descriptions. And anyone who can employ the description "voiceless alveolar fricative" (150) has my admiration.

Dining out:
The cafe was a rural greasy spoon as perfect as anything Reacher had ever seen. It had a black guy in a white undershirt next to a lard-slick griddle three feet deep and six feet wide. It had battered pine tables and mismatched chairs. It smelled of old grease and fresh coffee. It had two ancient white men in seed caps, one of them sitting way to the left of the door, the other way to the right. Maybe they didn't get along. Maybe they were victims of a feud three hundred years old.
Turner chose a table in the middle of the room, and they rattled the chairs out over the board floor, and they sat down. There were no menus. No chalkboards with handwritten lists of daily specials. It wasn't that kind of place. Ordering was clearly telepathic between the cook and his regular customers. For new customers, it was going to be a matter of asking out loud, plain and simple. (219)

Dining again, their cryptic relationship:
Turner chose a booth at the front window, and they watched a bus go by, and Reacher said, "I'm a detective and I know what you're going to say."She said, "Do you?""It was always fifty-fifty. Like flipping a coin.""That easy?""You have no obligation even to think about it. This was my thing, not yours. I came here. You didn't come to South Dakota.""That's true. That's how it started. I wasn't sure. But it changed. For a time. Starting in that cell, in the Dyer guardhouse. You were taking Temple away, and you looked over your shoulder at me and told me to wait there. And I did." (511)

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