"Rising Sun" by Michael Crichton (part 2)

"Rising Sun" by Michael Crichton (part 2)

 I imagine that someone who's much more interested in Japan, Japanese culture and Japanese-American relations than I am would find Rising Sun a veritable treasure chest (with a good old-fashioned crime story thrown in to make things spicy). The information (and bubbling paranoia) may be dated - the book was released in 1992 - so it might serve better as a historical snapshot than a finger on the pulse of Japanese-American relations. And at that, it works great. As a novel, however, it disappoints.

 If the characters were interesting, this book might have stood more than a fighting chance - but they're another disappointment. The liaison (also the novel's narrator) who gets called in to investigate the case is chosen because he understands Japanese and Japanese culture, but he never does anything that has any influence on the plot. He defers everything (including talking with Japanese suspects, dignitaries and businessmen) to the retired police captain. The captain does all of the explaining in the book, rendering the liaison's skills redundant, and his presence even more so. In fairness, the liaison was new to the position and might just have been in the wrong place at the wrong time. As an audience surrogate, though, his being buffeted from plot development to plot development, hanging on the captain's coattails and doing whatever he's told prevented me from really sinking my teeth into him, or the story.

The retired captain has a chequered past, and a penchant for playing by his own rules. You can see where this is going. He has the case (anti-climatically) figured out from early in the novel, and strings the narrator (and us) along to confirm guesses and run errands. And, I'm imagining, so he (the captain) has someone he can explain the differences between Japanese and Americans to.

The supporting cast melts into the background without much comment. There's the disgruntled and racist American chief of police, unethical reporters, obnoxious forensics officers, the sneaky and complicated Japanese liaison and budding Japanese-American love interest (not for the captain, no, he's too much of a maverick for love). The revelation of the killer's identity comes off as only a moderate surprise - probably because among the chapters and chapters of Japan's involvement in the trade of microchips to the American market, we had forgotten that a murder had taken place.