Release date: 09/01/2002
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.
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. Agent, Knox Burger. (Oct. 1)
Forecast:While it offers less action and intrigue than Smith's usual fare, this should do well on the basis of Smith's reputation, and then via word of mouth, aided by a 10-city author tour, which could even widen his audience.