© 2002 Martin Cruz Smith
Between his girlfriend and a samurai intent on revenge, Harry Niles isn’t sure who will try to kill him first. Raised in Japan to American parents, Harry is a misfit who trouble would find even if he didn’t seem to court it, earning money through less-than-licit gambling and currency exchanges. Yet he does, altering Naval ledgers to provoke suspicion and — hopefully — ward the Japanese away from attacking the west, and pursuing the wife of a married man despite having his own very jealous mistress, one with a penchant for honor killings. Though Harry has no overt reason to think his adopted country is about to wage war against his parents, there’s a certain something in the air– indignation and the will to fight. December 6 takes place over the course of a couple of days; as Harry, pursued by both the military police and a frustrated army officer he last saw (and stymied) in Nanjing, looks for a plane out. As much as he loves Japan, he is not Japanese; his heart may give the emperor loyalty, Tokyo may have been his home for decades, but he will never be accepted as anything other than gaijin, an outsider . Flashback scenes fill out the book and delivers a sense of Harry’s sincere love of the Japanese nation despite his status as a perpetual resident alien, and the growing militarism of the state. As the hour of Japan’s great gamble draws near, the police grow desperately bold, needing to know what exactly Harry knows, and eventually a rash of beheadings ensues. December 6 is most interesting for its setting, pre-war Tokyo, here alive with passion and intrigue, streets filled with laughter and the clamor of trade. Soon it will be a wasteland, consumed in fire after Japan chooses to live by the sword. Harry is an interesting character, sympathetic for his man–of-both-but-neither-world status if for nothing else. The man who hunts him is also fascinating, though not at first; he starts off as a psychopath, an agent of the wanton murder in Nanjing, but his violence proves to have less to do with passion, being filled with dark purpose. I rather liked the un-expected role he took on in the ending. The writing, too, is lovely at times, much more so than the contents.