Not to bore you with Tales of Book Shopping, but when I opened this book I found the sales receipt, dated 5/24/03 from the about-to-go-out-of-business Stroudwater Books. Everything 75% off. A little reminder of the brick-and-mortar bookstore bloodbath. The store was on Dover's "Miracle Mile" at the time. Previously, the building was a Star Market, then a Service Merchandise. It's now a Planet Fitness.
I had been (and still am) a fan of Martin Cruz Smith's series about the Russian detective Arkady Renko since reading Gorky Park back in the 80s. Even though this isn't a Renko book, the Smith name plus the steep discount made it an easy choice.
Not that it matters, but also purchased at the same time: Funny Money by James Swain, read last October); Authentically Black by James McWhorter, read back in 2012; and Managing RAID on Linux by Derek Vadala, which I'm pretty sure I never got around to reading and left in my "free, take me" pile at my ex-workplace when I retired.
Sorry. My bookshelves are full of unread guilt. And the blog is my place to confess my lack of literary diligence.
Back to the book. It is mostly set in 1941 Japan, a country that sees itself as sorely beset by the oil embargo established by the US and the Allies. The protagonist, Harry Niles, is the son of missionaries, but he's far from saintly, involved in shady business dealings, prostitution, and the like. He loves much of Japanese culture, but it often doesn't love him back.
There are flashbacks to previous episodes in Harry's life, outlining how he came to the precarious position he finds himself in, on (what we know, but Harry doesn't) the eve of Pearl Harbor and the US entry into World War 2. He is (a) balancing a Communist Japanese mistress, (b) trying to avoid a psychotic samurai who's out to kill him, (c) having an affair with a married Brit, with whom he is planning to escape, (d) attempting to pull off a ruse involving tons of missing oil.
Minor complaint: There are a lot of characters, and my tiny brain had a hard time keeping them straight. Especially during the flashbacks.
There is a lot of action, twists, and surprises packed into the last handful of pages. And all along, Smith does a masterful job of picturing prewar Japan, sights, sounds, smells, mindsets. There are cameos from General Tojo and Admiral Yamamoto. As I've said about Dennis Lehane's historical novels: Smith either did a hell of a lot of meticulous research, or had access to a time machine.