cover image Empire


Gore Vidal. Random House (NY), $22.5 (3pp) ISBN 978-0-394-56123-3

Lustbader (The Ninja, Shan) seems here to be attempting a combination of Shogun and The Godfather, with some Ludlum tossed in, but it doesn't work. Philip Doss, assassin for a secret U.S. agency, dies in a car wreck in Hawaii. Top Japanese gangsters, a Japanese business cabal and the U.S. agency all try to discover the culprit. Masashi Taki, head yakuza (Japanese Mafia) has plans to bomb China; the businessmen want to recover a secret diary wthat would expose and ruin them; and the secret agency is trying to find a very high-level mole. Doss's son Michael, painter and martial-arts ace, is recruited by his father's boss to solve the mystery, which, we are told in long flashbacks goes back to 1946 occupied Japan. What seems like a cast of thousands thrashes through 40 years of operatic plot that ends with a plop. We move across the Pacific, the past and the present, but the scenery never changes. Even with all the violence, the cardboard characters and inane plot have as much punch as cotton candy. (May)